Paul Armstrong Interview

If you’re an independent filmmaker in Vancouver, you know Paul Armstrong and it’s most likely he’s helped you along the way. There are few others better at producing, networking, and organizing. We had a conversation with Paul about his experience and his passion. 



HNMAG: Where are you originally from?

Paul Armstrong: Vancouver. People always say one of the few from here, so I’ll add that in too.


HNMAG: When did you initially get involved in Film & Television?

Paul Armstrong: I went to the University of York in England. While studying cultural history there, I got involved in theatre through the University’s Drama Society. I even helped behind the scenes at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival at a full-scale musical production of Guys & Dolls. I wasn’t even thinking about film at that time, although I did go to many foreign and independent films on campus.


HNMAG: Were you producing?

Paul Armstrong: Not that production of Guys & Dolls. I helped to promote it and was a stagehand each show. But while at the University I did produce a theatre festival with a neighbouring university. 


HNMAG: Did that experience lead to work in Vancouver?

Paul Armstrong: When I returned, the only person I knew in the arts was a family friend, the casting director Coreen Mayrs. I told her that I was interested in getting involved in the film industry. She brought me in for a screen test for The X-Files and that led to an audition I didn’t get but I did work background in a scene with David Duchovny. It was March 1995 and that was my first start in film. A few months later I worked as a production assistant (PA) for one day and I decided I didn’t want to do that. Soon after I started work as the assistant to the head of the film program at the Vancouver Film School (VFS) for a year. That’s where I started running film screenings after being approached by Brett Isfeld who wanted to screen VFS student films on 16mm once a week at Popeye’s Bar & Grill in Kitsilano. Shortly after I decided to screen non-student shorts as well, starting with a retrospective of the leading short filmmaker in town at that time, Ken Hegan, who I also asked to host. He did such a great job he hosted my screenings for the next eleven years, and even some Crazy8s Galas after that! As far as I can tell, we were the first to screen narrative, dramatic short films in Vancouver on a regular basis. 


HNMAG: Did that become the Celluloid Social Club?

Paul Armstrong: In Summer 1997 I was at the Cold Reading Series at the ANZA Club where Jeanne Harco and the now late Cathi Black approached me saying they loved what we were doing with the Indie Film Night, which is what the short film screening event was called by then. They suggested we add a social networking component to it. So we teamed up and founded the Celluloid Social Club. But the premiere on November 13,1997 was raided by the police because another vendor was using the space for rave parties, so the next month we moved to the ANZA Club. The premiere of Indie Film Night at the VFS Web Cafe was also shut down by the police because the screens were too big. This all led to me being voted 2nd most dangerous person in the Vancouver arts scene in Loop Magazine. It wasn’t easy showing independent short films in the 1990’s!


HNMAG: Did that lead to your work in television?

Paul Armstrong: Because of all the film connections I made at the Celluloid Social Club and other things I was doing at the time, including theatre publicity for Vancouver’s longest running play, ‘Tony N’ Tina’s Wedding’ and working on a TV special Aardvark directed by Ken Hegan, I was called up by host Fiona Forbes to produce the daily live TV talk show Daytime on Rogers. For one year I helped book five guests a day, five days a week, including Seth Rogen, Michael Bublé, and the band Quiet Riot. 


HNMAG: You were there for a year?

Paul Armstrong: I was itching to work on feature films when I was approached to work for a film company with the first film being Maze starring Laura Linney and Rob Morrow, who also wrote and directed. I helped get the song ‘Tropicalia’ as the title song from the musician Beck as I had met him through his mother and brother who had been guests on Daytime. Rob wasn’t available to go to the Market screening at the 2000 Cannes Film Festival so I went in his place. That was the first of my twelve times attending the Festival, the most recent being last year. 

HNMAG: What was the first play you produced?

Paul Armstrong: Stuck, written by Michael P. Northey. We formed the Young Offenders Theatre Company and put on many plays, most at the Vancouver Fringe Festival. For ten years from 1999 to 2009 I produced two plays a year, including plays from Shakespeare to Strindberg to Mamet. The last play I produced was Matters Domestic directed by William B. Davis, ‘Cigarette Smoking Man’ on The X-Files. After that I became too busy with film, but I do miss theatre.


HNMAG: What did you do in film after working on Maze?

Paul Armstrong: My first producer credit on a feature was as Associate Producer on Exiles in Paradise by Wesley Lowe in January 2000, one of the first HD feature films shot in Canada. It was set in Vancouver and partially based on a true story. One year later I produced by first short film, Mon Amour Mon Parapluie directed by Giada Dobrzenska, written by and starring Tara Hungerford with cameos by local writers Douglas Coupland and William Gibson. 


HNMAG: You later went on to produce Moving Malcolm.

Paul Armstrong: In the early 2000’s I was helping develop three feature films and they were all green-lit around the same time and shot within one year from 2002-2003: See Grace Fly by Pete McCormack which was nominated for a Genie Award for Best Actress for Gina Chiarelli; Ill Fated by Mark Lewis which screened at the Toronto International Film Festival and Slamdance; and the million-dollar, Telefilm funded Moving Malcolm by Benjamin Immanuel, on which I was the lead producer. The film starred Benjamin, John Neville and Elizabeth Berkley from Showgirls and Saved By the Bell. 


HNMAG: Was Elizabeth Berkley your first choice for the role?

Paul Armstrong: Benjamin was at Sundance with a Bruce Sweeney film where he met Jennifer Beals and Elizabeth Berkley. Later Beals accepted the offer to play the part but she became unavailable when she got on the Vancouver-shot TV series The L Word. So Elizabeth Berkley stepped in. She was very proud of that performance. I traveled with the film every month for a year to festivals, including its premiere at the Montreal World Film Festival where it won a Special Jury Mention. Ben travelled to many festivals as well including the Kolkata International Film Festival. 


HNMAG: Have you produced any other feature films since then?

Paul Armstrong: Yes, in 2012 I produced the Telefilm funded feature Lawrence & Holloman written by Daniel Arnold and Matthew Kowalchuk, who also directed. The film did very well on the festival circuit and in 2014 I literally travelled around the world with it including to the Cannes Film Market and Shanghai Film Festival. And in 2019 I wrapped the jazz documentary feature Cool Daddy directed by Roger Larry featuring the local legendary jazz singer Kenny Colman and his son Chase. Unfortunately, it didn’t get the festival screenings we had hoped for as the Pandemic hit but it did get a lot of play on CBC GEM and CBC Doc Channel which had funded it.


HNMAG: How did you get involved with Crazy8s?

Paul Armstrong: Through the Celluloid Social Club I co-founded the Hot Shot Shorts Contest which made a film a year for seven years, including Marshall Axani’s Anxious Oswald Greene which won a record 14 LEO Awards. I also ran the Bloodshots Horror Contest and the Vancouver Film Race. Because of my experience running these and my film producing and event experience, including producing the First Weekend Club’s screenings, in 2013 I was hired as Executive Director of Crazy8s. But I already had a long history with Crazy8s, having been at almost every screening right back to its first one in 1999 and screening many of the films at the Celluloid Social Club. After nine years and fifty-four films as Executive Director and one year as a consultant I stepped down, as did the other past Executive Director, Erin Mussolum. Grace Chin is now the Executive Director. One accomplishment I am proud of was getting Crazy8s as a designated partner in Telefilm Talent to Watch, a feeder program that funds feature film projects. In our first year in 2020, our applicant, Crazy8s alum (Cypher 2017) Lawrence LeLam, had his feature The Chinatown Diner green-lit. With myself and Erin Mussolum executive producing and Thomas Affolter and Lynne Lee producing, we shot it late last year and its currently in post-production. 


HNMAG: Are you producing feature films again?

Paul Armstrong: I’m developing something of my own right now. One of the reasons I moved on from Crazy8s was to be able to develop this project and to go back to feature films. Also, after a five-year absence due the Pandemic, I’m re-launching the Celluloid Social Club in the Fall at the Anza Club. We are hoping to get Ken Hegan back if he is in town to co-host the long delayed 25th Anniversary show. On with the show!

We have had conversations with many very talented Canadian performers, writers, directors, and composers. It should be clear to most of our regular readers that making wonderful and entertaining movies set in Canada happens and can continue to grow. Paul Armstrong is responsible for directly and indirectly bringing Canadian stories to the big screen. It’s too early to discuss his new project but we are crossing our fingers for him. Nobody knows Vancouver better and he is the right person to make things happen in this little, beautiful, city. 

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