Hanging around with Upside Down Girl director
James Vanderwater gets inverted

By Laura Cicchirillo

When 22-year-old James Vandewater set out to direct his film Upside Down Girl, he knew he had a lot of work ahead of him to get it just right. The film was not your average student-production. When Vandewater was in his final year of Ryerson’s film program, he had a vision for a film that was more ambitious and technically complex than anything he had done before. The production of Upside Down Girl required an upside down set, and Vandewater, along with his producer Kevin Krikst, achieved this without using any special effects.
For months, the ambitious duo dipped into their own pockets, arranged fund-raisers, bargained with companies for discount-equipment, and took out bank loans. When Vandewater finally had the set and equipment he needed ($16,000), Upside Down Girl became a reality. The film won two Best Picture Awards at both the YoungCuts Film Festival and Air Canada enRoute Student Film Festival.  The exposure has garnered this Torontonian the respect of fans, judges, and filmmakers. He is currently directing a behind-the-scenes documentary for war-film “Passchendael,” which will be aired on Global and part of the DVD.

FC: How did you get people to help you build the set of Upside Down Girl?
JV: People were sort of happy to help. The way it works at Ryerson is, everyone including myself had to do certain roles on other films, like set decoration, directing, producing, shooting, or doing sound editing. So everyone was getting credit for their classes. We weren’t paying anyone. Also people seemed to be interested in doing set-stuff because we had to build an upside down set.

FC: What is the biggest reward for being a director?
JV: The biggest reward is when the day goes well. The most rewarding moment on “Upside Down Girl” was when we shot the first couple of days on the upside down set, and we had no idea if it was going to work. So we sent the film away and got the transfer back immediately, and we watched it, and it worked. It looked like she was upside down. We were overjoyed. It was so rewarding to know that, whatever else happened with the shoot that day, we made it look like she was on the ceiling.

FC: Why did you want to become a filmmaker?
JV: My father works in scenery. He builds sets for a living. I used to visit him on set. So I sort of got a behind-the-scenes look. It takes hundreds of people with specialized skills to make a movie. There’s not a whole lot of romance to it. That is what interested me. It just kind of stuck.

FC: How old were you when you created your first movie?
JV: When I was about 10. My family had a little video camera, and I built a city in my room with boxes and Legos and toys and stuff, and I filmed a little stuffed animal destroying the city. I didn’t actually make a movie, until Grade 12. 

FC: Are there any directors that have been a big inspiration to you or do you try to set your own path?
JV: I really loved the Coen brothers. Everything is just so well thought out. Everything is really unique. There isn’t a typical story. The story arc is all very original. You don’t really know what’s going to happen to the characters. They’re not archetypical villains and such.

FC: What is your favourite movie?
JV: There Will Be Blood. I saw it recently and it blew my mind.

FC: What about as a child, what was your favourite movie then?
JV: Definitely Aliens and Terminator 2. I loved science fiction and action.

FC: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
JV: My dream is to have an independent production company with the group of people that I work with now, the people that I graduated with. We work together in several different capacities. We are always sort of developing our own stories and independent films, but we also want to be able to bring in an income to do it for a living.

FC: What is the biggest challenge you face when creating a film?
JV: Money. Filming is so expensive, and to do it less for a few thousand dollars is tough. It’s getting cheaper with cheaper equipment, but it’s still expensive. Also, I compare it to coordinating a large event. It is an event where you have to bring all these people together, everyone’s got to be interested, and everyone’s got to work at the same level of work we’re working at. We never pay anyone. That’s part of the problem, too. As a director, I have to try to keep it together. That’s a skill I didn’t know I had, to keep things moving.

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