Jim Durward: A True DIY Filmmaker

Jim Durward is 100% confident that no one makes films like he does.  With three features under his belt, including the 2013 AMPIA nominated drama The Beekeeper, Jim has accomplished what few filmmakers have in just a few years and he has done it all by himself. Literally.

This Calgary filmmaker didn’t go to film school and some would say he had a late start in the industry. Jim spent a career in business finance and then retired in 2010. It was then that he caught the creative spark and discovered he had an idea for a new TV series. Yet when he approached a production company to bring the pilot to life, the experience took him down an unexpected road.

Perhaps not having the traditional film experience gave Jim a fresh perspective, because the added costs of hiring seventeen crew members and spending $50K on a top-notch editor didn’t sit right with him.  He explains, “I don’t have the time for empire building and I don’t have the money for it.”

It was a light-bulb moment that challenged him to learn the ropes, build his skills and cut costs by being his own Jack of all trades. Now, Jim is his own writer, director, producer, lighting technician, sound mixer, editor, caterer, gaffer, and has even stepped in front of the camera as an actor when needed. It’s an unusual way of making films and one that he acknowledges are labours of love, not money-making ventures. His films take time and require an immense amount of multitasking, but his work hasn’t suffered for it. Though he may be the lone ranger on set, he still manages to produce a film with 14 locations, 35 actors, animals, car-stunts and fight scenes, all for under $25,000.

So where do the resources go? Finding actors and paying them well. “Yes! You can make a feature for $25K. It’s all about the story and the acting,” he says.  He didn’t understand why many low-budget films would overrun themselves with crew and then expect the actors to volunteer for experience. “The artistic factors don’t get appreciated or paid,” he said. Again, that didn’t sit right.

Jim stays non-union, choosing to assist up-in-coming actors in building their resumes and demo reels with rich dramatic work. He acknowledges it can be difficult for actors to show what they can do when they’re stuck in the background and very difficult to have a career without a break. Discovering talent and providing these opportunities seem to be Jim’s greatest passion.

In 2013, Jim’s actor Gino Akbari received an AMPIA nomination for his performance in The Beekeeper, in a category filled with ACTRA actors from Hell on Wheels and Heartland. For Jim, witnessing this moment was more satisfying than his own recognition.

Jim knows very well this is not how you make money in the industry. But he focuses on telling stories and giving new artists the opportunity to shine. So if his films are labours of love, he doesn’t mind that at all.