David Lester is a director, producer, and writer based in Toronto. Having been obsessed with the films of Alfred Hitchcock and Stanley Kubrick from a young age (and enticing all the ladies with his riveting Dial-M-For-Murder date nights), David very logically decided to study economics. Thankfully he flunked out of school and realized filmmaking was his true calling.
David’s directorial debut, Frozen Marbles, won the Cinespace Best Director Award at the Lakeshorts Film Festival in 2015. His second short, Alison, premiered at the Calgary International Film Festival in September 2016. It became a Vimeo Staff Pick upon its online launch in March 2017, raking up over 75,000 online views and counting.
With his second passion being music, David has naturally gravitated toward directing music videos. His video for Citizen Fame’s Reverie can be seen online and on Rock TV and MTV in Germany and Switzerland.
David is currently in pre-production for his next short, A Beer With Ella, and developing another music video. When not sitting in the director’s chair himself, David works passionately as a third assistant director in Toronto on various TV shows and films around the city.
We had an amazing opportunity to speak with David about his career. Oh, and we asked David for clarification on the Dial-M-For-Murder date nights. He said, “Well, it all starts with a stack of VHS tapes (this was 11+ years ago and I hadn’t replaced all my tapes . . .), a thorough explanation of why each movie is perfect, what a MacGuffin is and why they’re not annoying, and a listening of the soundtrack. All while trying to convince the other that suspense is fun. Super easy task.”
With that said, check out David’s interview below.
David, you are working on some pretty amazing projects and we can’t wait to speak with you about them! Let’s start with Alison. Tell us more.
Alison was written by my wife, Jessica Rose, and it was one of those rare moments where I read the script and felt it was ready to shoot based on the first draft. She created such beautifully flawed, human characters and I instantly connected with it. I’m a long-term relationship kind of guy, and the film allowed me to explore some of my questions about commitment and love and that tricky balance between loving someone and potentially compromising yourself. The short was self-funded, and I’m lucky to have worked on lots of sets over the years and have amazing filmmaking friends who were willing to help me out on their day off. We knew Jessica would play Alison, and I had previously worked with Kristopher Turner on Saving Hope – he was the first name that popped into my mind. They both did a remarkable job, having never met before this film and were thrown right into the middle of this extremely complicated, intimate relationship. The film premiered at the Calgary International Film Festival and did some cool festivals, but we really found our audience when it was selected as a Vimeo Staff Pick. It was very cool to see this tiny little film we made with no budget go viral and end up resonating with so many people.
Let’s talk about your other film, Frozen Marbles.
Frozen Marbles was my first short film, written by Karen Moore (who is now a producer and writer on Workin’ Moms – go Karen!). It’s a story of two sisters who stay up all night on the anniversary of their mother’s death. It was the perfect filmmaking boot camp for me. I already knew how to run a set and be judicious with my shots and my time, but it was the first opportunity I had to really express my creativity as a filmmaker and I managed to pull together some of the best talents in the business to learn from. We also put a lot of thought into the lenses we used, and I was really lucky to be one of the first filmmakers in Canada to get to use the brand new anamorphic lenses for the Alexa. The film looks beautiful, thanks to our DP Daniel Grant, which I still think is especially impressive given we shot the whole thing in one room (…and a quick kitchen shot). After our festival premiere, someone came up to me and Jessica with tears in her eyes and said ‘Thank you.’ Knowing you’ve touched even one person makes the entire experience worth it. That’s really all I hope for.
Let’s talk about The Handmaid’s Tale. Tell us about your role.
I still pinch myself that I get to work on this show. I’m an Assistant Director, so my major roles include directing the extras/background in the scene and coordinating with every department to achieve each shot. The ADs are the managers of people and the keepers of time, making sure that everyone is doing their job quickly, safely, and efficiently. On other shows I’ve done, the background is often used in a more practical way, with their movement being the major factor in the scene. With The Handmaid’s Tale, we’re creating an entirely new world. The physicality of each performer, the way they glance at one another, the pace at which they walk, how they use their hands, etc., all impact the story we are telling in a profound way. It’s the most creative I’ve ever been able to be on a show. I’m so proud to be part of this series, and watching my friends and peers win Emmys for their hard work was really exciting.
You also direct music videos. How has your experience with that being different than making short films or tv shows?
So far, I’ve been surprised that I’ve found directing music videos to be more challenging than directing short films. I’m very much used to the linear nature of storytelling that you find in film and TV, and I have to keep reminding myself that there are very few rules with music videos. There is still a story to tell, and having some structure is necessary, but there is so much more freedom within the structure to get really creative. The editing process for a music video can be more exciting, though. The videos are prepped with my desire for how certain shots should be cut and which frame rates to use for specific moments, but there’s so much more discovery in the editing room and opportunity to be surprised. Sometimes you even find things that felt like mistakes on the day that end up in the final cut. In my last video for Citizen Fame, Reverie, there’s a take where the lead singer accidentally knocked the Movi rig and the camera sharply panned left – what seemed like a big mistake in the moment ended up being the shot we used in the final cut!
Are you preparing to do more solo projects?
Absolutely. I have another script written called A Beer With Ella that I’m working to get off the ground (but requires a larger budget than my previous films), and another short about a baseball player dealing with some off the field problems. I’m also currently writing my first feature script, which is a cool learning experience for me.
You’re an avid director, who continuously hones his craft. What keeps you inspired?
It sounds cliche, but I think generally most of my inspiration just comes from life. The films that I am most drawn to watch and make are ones that are really just about the human experience, and those moments in life that that might seem trivial or insignificant to the naked eye but have a profound and lasting impact on us. You know, those little things that were said to you as a child that your parents tossed off without thinking but end up shaping your whole worldview. The stuff we talk to our therapists about over and over! But I’m also very inspired by other people’s art, watching films, seeing other creative, passionate people do what they love. There is something very exciting and almost intoxicating about the process of creation and it’s very contagious. And working on a show like The Handmaid’s Tale is like a master class in filmmaking; I’m so fortunate to be surrounded by artists at the top of their game in every respect who teach and inspire me daily.
Thus far, what has been the best experience working in the industry?
It’s hard to choose one experience, but directing Alison has to be the most rewarding experience so far. It really was a passion project, and I really love to work alongside my wife, who I think is an extraordinary artist. I really love the whole process of filmmaking, but seeing a project through that came from her brain and was so personal for her, was really special for me. I also can’t say enough about The Handmaid’s Tale. I screamed when it won at the Emmys, probably louder than I scream while watching a hockey game. When you work on a show over the course of eight months, you’re spending countless hours with the crew and the relationships you form can be so rewarding. And on this crew, in particular, I have formed lifelong bonds with people I see at their best and worst – or most delirious (usually at the 15-hour mark…).
Do you have any upcoming projects that we haven’t mentioned?
We’re in the post-production stages of my latest music video. I’m hoping for its release to be early in 2018 and I can’t wait to share it. Look out for it, friends! And I’m hoping to get my next short film off the ground in the new year.
Complete this sentence, if I had an opportunity to do anything I want, I would ___________.
Travel the world, film in every country, experience different cultures, taste all the (meatless) foods of the world, and tell the stories of those I meet along the way.
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