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The life and dreams of a young filmmaker

We chat to Mason Cade Packer about his love of filmmaking from a young age and his most recent award-winning film, Generation G.

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Young filmmakers, Mason Cade Packer and James Murray were the recipients of this year’s Creativity and Culture Award for the Making A Difference film competition run by Inspiring Stories. Their film Generation G is a short documentary that tells the story of four anonymous graffiti artists contributing to the cultural rebuild of  Christchurch post-earthquakes. They wanted to tell a story about Christchurch from a different perspective and were influenced by what they perceived as a lack of vibrancy in the city. They have been questioned on their ethics upon making this film as they worked in the highly fraught environment of post-quake Christchurch where stories have been told and misconstrued endlessly over the years. We talk to one half of the Generation G duo, Mason Cade Packer, about his journey as a young filmmaker, which started with making short lego films with a home video camera as a 5-6 year old.

You’ve been making films since you were very young. What was it about film that first ignited something in you?

Jeez, this is a hard one. I think it was a mixture of just simply being infatuated by screens; video games, television, films and the power those had, the influence of them, as separate mediums. When I was really young, I’m talking like 5-6 years old, I used to make short lego films with our family home video camera. I know a lot of my later inspiration for working in the film industry came from my older brother Cody, who is also a writer/director, currently based in Chicago, IL.

Tell us the story of the first film you made: How did you come up with the idea and why?

My first film was ‘Predator’, a short documentary about the inhumane act of shark-finning in New Zealand. It was created for The Outlook for Someday Film Competition in 2013 I think. It was a hell of an endeavour for my first film. I got the incredible opportunity to work alongside “Shark Man” Riley Elliott on bringing the message to life. My close friend at the time was invested in the cause, and ran her own anti-shark finning organisation, so she was the inspiration for starting the project. From there it just branched out. I made trips to Auckland and Wellington for protests, seminars and events. I interviewed some of the most knowledgeable people in the country about marine biology. And, I sneaked undercover, as a 13-year-old boy, into a Chinese restaurant, with a hidden camera and microphone and uncovered a secret menu item that used shark fins. So, yeah.

Who were your influences or main supporters in your fledgling film making days? How did they influence or support you?

Parents, parents, parents. It’s pretty cliché, but they usually are your biggest investors when starting out this early, of both time and money. If you can prove your devotion to a project, they will always help you out. Aside from that, I had the luck of attending one of three high schools in New Zealand that offered an NCEA film program, so I was surrounded by peers and teachers who would spill countless hours and resources into my bringing my ideas to life.

Your films tend to highlight a current issue in society: What do you see the role of film making to be in society? What types of issues/stories/subject matters attract you or spark your imagination?

Yeah, this one is a bit of a coincidence actually. Most recently I’ve made a film on surviving cancer. My older works include shark finning, food waste, euthanasia, which all play into environmental sustainability and now ‘Generation G’ addresses cultural sustainability. The thing is, I’m no better than the next guy/gal at saving our environment. I drive my car, I occasionally don’t recycle, I’m probably pretty wasteful with food myself, so I admit to not being all that passionate about these topics in my day to day life. However, when they arise and combine with my love of storytelling and film-making, I grow closer to the importance of these issues, and creating documentaries around them is always a huge learning experience for me.

Going back to coincidence; I don’t even want to be a documentarian. I’m sick of making the bloody things, but year after year a new issue or topic sparks my interest and I’m pulled right back in. What do I see the role of film making to be in society? I don’t know, I’ve been pretty conflicted about this recently. There’s been a small array of ‘important’ documentary films that have achieved high praise, especially with the Oscar season just passing, but ultimately I think that a film or film-maker should be judged not on the issue or topic but on how well they tell the story of said topic.

For example, Ava DuVernay’s “13th” is an incredibly important film about black history in America. It’s a film that showcases a part of history that everyone should know about, but the filmmaking is bad, in my opinion, and I don’t know whether films should achieve that much praise just based on the topic. If I am going to be continuously pulled down this documentary path then I want my films to be equal part good as they are important to society.

Sum up Generation G for me in a couple of sentences.

Generation G is a short documentary about the cultural rebuild of Christchurch post-earthquakes. We delve into the minds of four anonymous local graffiti artists to see how their work, publicly labelled as vandalism, could be the next step in bringing life back to the city.

What is the main issue or challenge that you wanted to highlight in this film?

For me it was just important to tell a new side of a recycled story. Everybody knows about the quakes, the hardships, the loss, and we didn’t want to touch those areas and do it distastefully. So, as an outsider to this half-ruined city I wanted to know why this place is so damn bland and boring. Where had all the culture gone, and was there a movement, or could we create one, to bring it all back?

How did you decide the most powerful way to tell this story?

James and I decided we wanted the film to be visually stunning, which was a hard task when paired with the importance of keeping identities anonymous. We kept it simple, we kept it colourful. Obviously this question is directed at one thing; why script a documentary and cast actors as the interviewees under the aliases of real artists. The only reason: We couldn’t get all four of the artists we wanted to agree to an interview. So we scripted it, filled their mouths with our words and pushed a fake message. But still, an important message.

What were the challenges you met along the way and how did you overcome them?

Ahh. At every turn there seemed to be someone who thought what we had done was ethically and legally wrong. We were fine on the legal side, you can’t defame an alias, we knew that, but the ethics were questionable. I think that’s what makes it a good documentary, you can love or hate what we did, but you can’t really disagree with the message.

What are you most stoked with having achieved through the making of this film?

I grew a lot closer to my classmate and good friend James. This was a very 50/50 film for us both, putting in huge amounts of equal time. Whereas I come from a one-man-band background.

What advice would you give someone pursuing a similar creative career or pathway?

This question is always so much pressure. Everyone always says the same stuff. “Don’t give up”, “keep making things” blah blah. I’d say the biggest thing for me is being confident. Be confident in your abilities, and if you’re not, then put in 4 hours a day for a week learning whatever you need to learn until you are confident. Be ahead of the game. Creative industries are jam packed with people just like you, so if you know more, and push harder to get to the front of the line you’ll make it in some way.

What are the most useful resources that you turn to as support for a career in the film industry?

YouTube. The internet. We use it all so much that we underestimate the power of it. Read articles on shooting, directing, colour, editing. Watch video essays. Rinse and repeat. There are so many hidden resources online. It’s just about paying attention, replaying/re-reading and digesting the information, and then testing it on your own projects.

Written by

Hannah Mackintosh

12 Apr 2017

Hannah is a Wellington-based writer, community organiser and lover of stories.