It isn’t a conventional prerequisite for becoming an independent producer. But a First Class Honours Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Systems Design Engineering from the University of Waterloo frequently comes in handy.
“After five years of hanging out with brilliant geeks in engineering school, I realized I didn’t want to spend my career designing and building machines,” says Brian Hamilton, Executive Producer and partner at Omni Film Productions. “I wanted to be surrounded by artists, in all their unpredictable, passionate and creative glory.”
After more than 40 TV projects and $100 million in production under his belt, Brian has had the privilege of working with many talented filmmakers and artists, while not forgetting his computer geek roots.
Brian turned his high school Super8 filmmaking hobby — creating send-ups of James Bond films and beer commercials — into a career. After engineering school he headed to the Banff Centre for the Arts to study television. It was good timing for a computer whiz interested in post production, because Avid was just releasing their first Mac-based editing system.
While he was studying in Banff, Brian also met his future wife, Mavis. And, after an 11-day kayaking trip to the remote Queen Charlotte Islands, where they were chased by bears and humbled by wind and waves, Brian and Mavis decided to move to BC and restart their careers on the west coast.
Brian’s new skills as an Avid editor opened the door to freelance opportunities at various production houses around Vancouver in the early 1990’s. But he was especially drawn to the kind of wildlife and environmental documentary work that Michael Chechik was producing at Omni Film Productions. Brian approached Michael to executive produce his first TV series - “Hi-Tech Culture”, and for the next decade, Brian transitioned from editor to producer, developing all his projects under the Omni Film Productions banner. In 2003, Brian (along with Gabriela Schonbach and Andrea Droege) had the opportunity to become a partner in Omni Film. Brian jumped at the chance.
Omni sets the bar high in their productions by focusing on quality and story. They deliberately target the high end of the market. “You are only as good as your last show, so you had better be proud of everything you produce.” says Brian.
Omni also prides itself on developing rich interactive content wherever possible. “Hi-Tech Culture was the first television show in Canada to have its own website, and we have kept current ever since.” says Brian. “As a self-professed computer weenie I am not shy about adopting new technology. But we are careful to stay back from the bleeding edge — we don’t want to invest huge dollars in unproven markets.”
Highlights on Brian’s current development slate include Beowulf: Blood of Kings, which was developed for HBO Cinemax in the US and TMN/Movie Central in Canada; and Angel Time, based on Anne Rice’s latest novel. He is an Executive Producer of Arctic Air, CBC’s newest drama series premiering in January 2012.
Recent scripted projects which Brian executive produced and/or produced include: Defying Gravity, for CTV, BBC, ProSeiben, and ABC; Robson Arms for CTV; This Space for Rent for CBC andAlice I Think for CTV. On the non-scripted side, he executive produced Pure Design for HGTV Canada; Word Travels for OLN and Smart Cookies for W Network, as well as Make Some Noise, a 13-part music/activism series for CBC, which won the Gemini for Best Youth Non-Fiction series, the Shaw Rocket Prize, and the prestigious Japan Prize for Youth Programming.
Twenty years into his career, Brian remembers that breaking into the business can be daunting. And he advises new producers to network and learn everything they can about why the industry expands and contracts, so they can maximize the chances of success by choosing appropriate projects for buyers who are eager for new ideas.
“It is not for the faint of heart,” he says. “You must not be awestruck by movie stars or names in lights. You need to passionately love creating entertainment content. If you have fire in your belly and can take the zigs and zags with grace, you will succeed.”
Brian currently serves as Chair of the BC Branch of the CMPA, and is also a member of the national CMPA Board. He also sits on the board of the Crazy8’s Short Film Festival.
“When I first came to Vancouver as a freelancer it was scary and discouraging at times. The CFTPA (now the CMPA) offered a rare opportunity to network with the most experienced producers in town, the people I aspired to work with. Volunteering alongside them, I learned a tremendous amount. The CMPA connects you with fellow producers who despite being competitors are also hugely generous with their time and advice. Working together, the CMPA is a way to influence the future of our business and to give something back.”