- Toronto, Ontario - Many musicians have made the jump from music to film, challenging their creative skills in the thespian art. Sometimes it translates poorly, while for others, it comes naturally, as their experience in the performance of music on the stage and in music videos lends greatly to an ability to act out scenes without musical accompaniment or lyrics. However, to make the jump from being a musical producer to a film director represents a rather unique challenge, and it is one that Dave Thompson is taking on himself.
I had the chance to talk to him about his newest film project, Wormwood, and many of the challenges that he has faced in the process, in addition to learning a bit about his journey through music towards film. When one talks with him, it is not hard to get the sense that Thompson is highly motivated, seeking out this new creative passion of his without compromise. Dave Thompson is a music producer and mixer at Digital Underdog Productions in Toronto, Ontario, though Canada is not his original home. He was born and raised in Sydney, Australia to a family that could hardly be described as musical to say the least.
Thompson described his early self to me as a kid having "really low self esteem, as many kids do." Music became something that he could develop himself in through practice and repetition, since as a kid, he simply wanted to matter by becoming somebody. Around 15-years old, however, tragedy struck his family as his brother died, pushing Dave to move to Brisbane, Australia, where he had to make new friends. Music helped him connect with new playing partners, which pushed him to diversify his talents in music by picking up not only the guitar, but also the bass and keyboard. "I have had to wear a bunch of different hats basically...playing different instruments made me employable," said Dave, "...in some of those bands, I would start as the bass player, then move to guitar when that slot opened up or was required, so by becoming indispensable, I became valued."
By the time he turned 16-years old, he was already touring in Top 40 band around Australia. The experience was immensely appealing for him, opening up new opportunities for him. "Some aren't built for [for long-term touring]," said Thompson. "For me, I loved touring, the newness of a place, the happiness in people that you meet, and you get to leave before they end up hating you." Thompson's relatively easy-going personality lent itself well to that experience, making him rather adaptable to the constant grind of adjusting to life in a new city every night. By 17-years old, he began to take up residence as a studio session player, while continuing to do stage shows. Thompson eventually made the transition to life in North America and to this point, he has played well over 4,000 stage shows supporting such famed acts as, or playing on the same stages with, David Lee Roth, Kid Rock, 3 Doors Down, and the Foo Fighters.
While music remains Thompson primary creative outlet, he found that it wasn't enough. "Music has always been such an emotional outlet for me, with the focus being on love, passion, moodiness, longing, yearning...many emotions, but never anger," said Thompson. While some bands and musicians use music as an outlet for anger, it was something that he wasn't comfortable with. "I only realized recently that I was really pissed off, especially about my upbringing and what happened to my brother. I didn't have a healthy outlet for it, in a safe environment like a stage." As a result, it manifested in other areas of his life, which he described as unhealthy and damaging. Thus it is rather surprising when Thompson confessed that his journey into acting and film was somewhat by happen chance. He explained to me that it began at a Christmas party in Vancouver with an agency, where competition entries were being taken for part scholarships at a local acting school. In a drunken moment, Thompson filled out the draw and forgot about it. It wasn't until a few weeks later when he was contacted by the school, saying that he had won the scholarship and should come down and check out the school. "I went to the school and met with the very respected head of acting there, Mel Austin Tuck," said Thompson. "He asked if I wanted to be an actor and I replied not really. He asked me why I was there if I didn't want to act. I explained that I won a part scholarship and was about to leave when he asked me what I did for a living. We started a very honest conversation about music and life, talking about emotionality in art, the process of truth, and three hours later, I wanted to give it a try. I fell in love with it instantly."
Thompson has found himself involved with several film and television projects since, but Wormwood represents something unique for him in that it is his own "passion project." It revolves around a "large man-made nuclear disaster that basically devastates most of the earth. There are survivors, and they learn about a special shipment that they must find to survive." Thompson's work on the film involves writing, directing and producing credits, which will see him film in the Ukraine, Toronto, Ontario, and Vancouver, British Columbia in the process. The project was inspired largely by the recent reactor meltdowns in Japan and how it devastated the country and the region. After some thorough research, Thompson explained to me that a script started to come together, then a teaser trailer comprised of actual footage from his own location scouting in Chernobyl, Ukraine.
"Ryan Salzberg, a wonderfully talented cinematographer in Toronto loved the idea," said Thompson, which resulted in his support in shooting a new trailer idea for the film. From there, support for the film began to grow as experienced actors were attached to the project, drawing on experience from such television and film projects as Fringe, The Killing, and Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief.
"We just attached a producer who has a vast history in TV and film for the past 30 years as an actor, the latest being Tucker & Dale Vs. Evil," said Thompson. Yet one of the most encouraging aspects about the process, according to Thompson, has been how strong of a sense of community the film industry has, which generally go against the cutthroat, back-stabbing stereotype of Hollywood that has disenfranchised and been the figurative death of many aspiring filmmakers. For Thompson though, the experience has been entirely different, as he considers himself "blessed to have people available to work with who are an inspiration."
And that community will be hugely important as Thompson and his crew face some of the challenges that are ahead with the upcoming shoots in the Ukraine, such as the risk of possible exposure to radiation, but Thompson believes that such an environment can only benefit the filmmaking process. "The energy of shooting in a place like that will be amazing on film," he said. "I would prefer that to CGI and digital matte."
Making much of this possible for Thompson has been the Internet, which has turned out to be essential to bringing this dream of his to fruition through a variety of means. Initially, the Internet proved critical for the research stage through the wealth of information available, combined with providing access to important contacts around the world on the topic, such as the Ukrainian Film Commission for securing filming rights. Secondly, the Internet has proved critical for marketing the idea, especially since the project is still in its embryonic form with the script still being developed. "The Internet allows me to market the ideas and build awareness while Wormwood is being made," Thompson told me.
Yet for Thompson, Wormwood is just the beginning of his quickly growing creative film passion, as he has future scripts in the works, as well as a television pilot presentation upcoming. All the while, Thompson continues to work full-time as a music producer and mixer, seemingly not wasting an ounce of his creative energy. What is striking about Thompson is his ambition. Many creative types are filled with ambition, bursting at the seams with dream after dream, but few have the motivation to make those dreams a reality. For Thompson, he has taken a rather unorthodox journey into filmmaking, varying significantly from the path that many musicians have taken. His ability to bring together a creative group towards a focused goal no doubt borrows from him experience as a music producer, thus making his potential very promising. I look forward to the finish product which Thompson expects to debut in 2013.