Making an independent film today can take a lot of guts. For a creative producer like Matthew Cervi, the process of creating a film - from script to screening - can be long and arduous. Selecting a script, he says, is not something that should be undertaken lightly. “You need to feel passionate about it, right off the top. It just blows you away, when you read the script... you see such immense possibilities for it.”
Cervi’s dream to make films was born when he first saw Raiders of the Lost Ark on the big screen as a child. It quickly became his favourite film of all time. “It was one of my first films in a theater with a cool hero and bad guys and action... it’s just one of those films I can watch over and over again and enjoy it just as much as I did the first time.”
The magic of that moment continued to inspire him throughout adolescence and with the support of his parents and a bit of luck, he left his hometown of Vancouver in 1994 to study film at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles. During his time there, he spent a year interning at Valhalla Motion Pictures, under producer Gale Ann Hurd (The Hulk, Terminator) on the Paramount Lot, which he says was a great experience.
After finishing school, Cervi followed his heart back to Vancouver to get himself established. His first solo production effort certainly had impressive results: the 2005 short Milo 55160 starring Patrick McKenna was critically acclaimed. It won several awards, including a Genie for Best Live Action Short Drama, a Leo Award for Best Short Drama, Best Short award at the Canadian Filmmaker’s Festival, and Best Short Drama at the Yorkton Short Film Festival.
Building on this success, Cervi formed his own production company, Mad Samurai, in 2006. The company is based in Vancouver, and is currently focused on two major feature-length productions, with several others in the works. Cruel and Unusual is the first BC-based film in two decades to be supported by the Canadian Film Centre. The film was written and directed by Merlin Dervisevic, also from BC, and Cervi says both were happy to base this project in their hometown of Vancouver: “CFC wanted to try and expand and go outside the Toronto borders, and they thought that it was a great opportunity with us . . .” The film centers around a man who accidentally murders his wife, and is then condemned to eternally relive that day. It will be released later this year.
Cervi is also very excited to see the release of The Colony, a $16 million-budget apocalyptic thriller that will appear in theatres in the coming months. It was an experience he describes as “surreal” and “disorienting.”The film was shot 60 stories underground in an abandoned Cold War-era fallout shelter in North Bay, Ontario. While it took a bit of negotiating with the Canadian military to secure the NORAD facility as a shooting location, Cervi says it was well worth all the effort; “it’s very distinctive—there’s huge concrete doors and the walls and the textures, so definitely wouldn’t look like just an office building under snow!” The film crew had to go through security every day, and would often spend up to twelve hours inside at a time. These kinds of conditions seem perfectly appropriate for a film about an apocalyptic Ice Age, a small group of underground survivors, and the struggle for survival against feral cannibals.
Cervi credits the CMPA with allowing him to secure an internship when he returned to Canada after school, and hopes to take advantage of the mentorship program for some of his own productions in the future. With changes in funding opportunities, Cervi says that organizations like the CMPA are essential in order for independent productions to thrive, and to help independent creative producers fight for their interests within a threatening economic landscape.
While the future looks promising for Mad Samurai, Cervi says that up-and-coming producers would really struggle to make independent, creative films were there not an organization like the CMPA to advocate for their interests. “And I don’t think a film like The Colony, a... fully Canadian, non co-production film, would have happened, for example... I don’t think a lot of people understand the role of a creative producer, and what they do, and how difficult it is, and the sweat equity they put into a project...”