Gold star Productions was started by Ken Frith nineteen years ago. The company consists of a strong producer-director partnership between Frith and director Jason Bourque. The pair met at Vancouver Film School in 1996, and have been working together ever since. Over the years Gold Star has become known for documentaries, films, music videos and commercials.
Like all artistic endeavors, producing is a practice that takes years to master. From Frith’s perspective it took several years of experience after film school to begin to feel like he was mastering the process.
“I think you’re working for yourself it takes longer than maybe if you were to go work with an existing company, which is already fully established, because if you do it that way you end up probably acquiring quite a few skills in a much faster way. In this case, it took longer, probably, about five years at least, before I started to feel as though things were starting to be in a better position for me. But at the same time, what you’re able to do, is to develop a greater range of skills, because you’re responsible for all aspects of a project, from the moment it goes on paper, to delivery.”
During the first few years of Gold Star Productions, the company got involved with music videos, thanks in part, to the Much VIDEOFACT funding program. Frith says music videos were a great training ground in his beginning years of producing. Although the entire process of creating them is far shorter than that of a short film or TV show, you still need to complete all the same steps. Sometimes Gold Star produced as many as 15 music videos a year.
Every production has its own ups and downs— the process of getting from script to screen can often be just as convoluted as the path to becoming a producer. Music for Mandela, a 2013 Gold Star documentary production, was an international hit and won the Amnesty International Audience Choice Award that year. But at one point it seemed like the film might not even be completed. The original financers in the U.K. retracted their interest, and so Frith had to scramble to rewrite parts of the script to remove copyrighted parts. Luckily, the Harold Greenburg fund stayed on board, and production went forward. The team even got to travel to Robben Island, the site of Mandela’s 18 year incarceration, and go on a tour of the prison guided by a personal friend of Mandela himself. Experiences that transcend your role as a producer can be one of the most fulfilling aspects of the job, according to Frith: “When you get moments like that, that go above and beyond your work, it makes it very, very rewarding.”
Gold Star’s latest feature Black Fly is also its oldest. While the thriller about a serial killer in a small town premiered at VIFF in 2014, the idea for Black Fly was conceived by director Jason Bourque decades ago. Bourque’s script also turned out to be the first that Frith had ever laid eyes on, back in 1996. Frith says it was worth the wait; getting a passion project finished can often simply be a question of timing, and finding the right person to believe in your idea (in this case, the script was selected by Telefilm).
The year ahead looks busy for Gold Star—two thrillers and a sports documentary are in development (though we don’t have any more details yet). Frith says being a member of the CMPA helps him keep track of the pulse of the industry while he’s busy with productions: “it’s almost like having a newspaper on the industry that you can read every day.”
For producers starting out in the business, Frith emphasizes the importance of making connections, asking for advice and doing your own research. Unlike other industries, you don’t necessarily come out of school ready to practice your trade. Learning to produce can be a long process that involves a lot of self-directed learning. If you’re an eager self-starter with lots of ideas in your back pocket, producing might just be the thing for you. Remember, the best part is always saved for last: “You remember those days when you were basically staring at a computer screen and reading a story treatment, and now you can pop that blu-ray and see it . . . to me that’s kind of the coolest part of the job.”