Change is Good

Published in Ottawa Magazine, May 2013 issue.

——

How a terrible accident a decade ago turned software engineer and government worker Jith Paul into a key player in Ottawa’s film industry.

Many filmmakers would say they started on their path the second they picked up a camera as a child.  Others realized if it the first time they watched a film that truly inspired them.  For Jith Paul, however, it was the injury to a vertebra in his back that launched his film career.  In 2002, Paul, who was working as a software engineer at the time, fell while working out at home, injuring his back.  In the aftermath, he worked with an occupational therapist to relearn how to walk.  But as he took care of his physical recovery, Paul’s mental focus was on how to follow his dream of working in the film industry.

Now, just over a decade later, the 41-year-old finds himself overseeing–he jokingly labels himself president, CEO and janitor–Treepot Media, one of Ottawa’s fastest-growing production companies.  But how does someone make such a drastic jump–from a secure job consulting with the government to a player in the notoriously unpredictable film industry?  ”Sometimes you need a catalyst to reorganize your priorities in life,” Paul says.  ”And after the back injury, I decided maybe film was something I wanted to try more than just as a whim.”

In 2007, Paul entered the broadcasting program at Algonquin College.  Two years later, a new graduate with limited experience and no real job prospects on the horizon, he lucked out by meeting Heather Farmer, who organized the Indie Attic.  This weekly event took place at the now defunct Cajun Attic, a small second-floor music venue in the Market.  On Wednesday nights, independent bands used the place as a space to jam.  Public admission was free, and Paul, along with anyone else who had a DSLR camera, was able to shoot the performances.  The bands quickly realized the benefit of having free videos of their gigs and linked to them through their social media pages.  Paul collected and organized these videos, facilitated a stream through iTunes, and dubbed the project Treepot TV.

In 2010, he officially founded Treepot Media, a production company focused on producing and collaborating on documentaries, short films, and music, even and promotional videos.  (The first film he produced won at the 2011 Ottawa International Film Festival and was a semi-finalist in the CBC Short Film Face-off competition.)

In the time since, Paul has increasingly turned his focus to creating documentaries that deal with social injustice on a global scale, all the while continuing to stoke the flames of Ottawa’s film community.  Over the past two years, he has orchestrated a number of independent showcases, offering local filmmakers a chance to come together and present their work to the community.  These showcases have played at the Mayfair and Bytowne, as well as a the Centretown Movies in the Park series.

If local filmmakers are going to succeed, he says, a system is needed for encouraging and fostering collaboration, learning and creativity among all the players.  ”One of the things that really frustrated me when I first graduated was that some filmmakers quickly slipped into thinking, ‘Okay, we just need a job to pay the bills’.  It frustrated me that people would just give up that reality,” says Paul.  ”So it becomes about a community that works together and helps each other so that we can succeed.”

That commitment to community and collaboration rings true in Paul’s most recent project, an interesting take on the chain-letter tradition.  Currently referred to as the Cliffhanger Project, it will see six local filmmakers each produce a scene to collaboratively create one feature film.  The catch? Filmmakers will have only two months to produce their scene, and they can’t begin until they see the scene before theirs (they must continue the story from where the previous scene left off).  Explains Paul: “The filmmakers will have complete creative control over their chapter, with the exception that they have to follow the game–you have to continue the story.  You can conceivably kill everyone off, but where’s the fun in that?”  The first of these webisodes will be posted in May.  As the community balloons, many local filmmakers have become quite skilled in the art of making shorts.  But Paul hopes this project will push the envelope and encourage creators to consider producing features as well.

As for his own goals, Paul hopes to shoot on film one day.  ”There’s something romantic about not knowing how something will turn out until you develop it,” he says, noting that he hopes to convert Algebra, his directorial debut, to film. (The digital short took the prize for Best Technical Quality at Ottawa’s Digi60 Festival in December.)  Mostly, though, he simply looks forward to continuing to tell stories.  ”I love that the Biography channel’s tagline is Everyone’s Life Is a Biography.  Whether its fiction or reality, I like to tell stories,” he says.  ”Visual storytelling is what filmmaking is, at the end of the day.  Once you strip off all the technology and all the administrative stuff, it’s just a very old tradition.”

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