Tell us a little bit about yourself.
I’m a filmmaker. I’m originally from St. John’s, Newfoundland. I work in film and TV. I’ve directed two feature films – We Were Wolves and Suck It Up – and co-directed another one called Ordinary Days. I’ve directed on a number of TV shows – Baroness Von Sketch Show, Schitt’s Creek, Burden of Truth, Little Dog, Saving Hope, The Detail, and This Hour has 22 Minutes, to name a few.
Your mother was a production designer. Do you think you would have followed the same career path if you weren’t exposed to filmmaking in that way?
I’m not sure. It was definitely ingrained into my experience of being a kid. I spent a lot of time on and around sets and was always drawn to the madness/magic of filmmaking. I think having my mom work in the industry – getting to see what really goes into the making of a movie – made it feel more like a tangible thing. I could see a way in. But I never really considered pursuing it myself until after university.
You made your first short film through the Newfoundland Independent Filmmakers Cooperative (NIFCO) and that got you hooked on directing. What about creating that short pushed you to do this as a career?
At the time I was writing a lot of fiction and was really interested in photography. I think initially I saw film as a way to bridge those two things. I adapted a story into a script and got support to make a short film through the First Time Filmmaking program at NIFCO. But I think what actually hooked me was the process of making the film itself. Like, everything about it. All the preparation, collaboration, planning, decision-making, problem-solving, multitasking…It ticked a lot of boxes for me. And there was something undeniably magical about seeing actors perform a scene you’d written. I loved working with the cast and crew to figure out exactly what I was trying to say, and how to best express it. It was heaven. In the middle of the shoot day, I remember being struck with this realization: “Ah, so this is what I want to do forever.” I had never felt that before. Even though I was just barely beginning – like, so green – I knew without a doubt that this was what I wanted to pursue.
You’re a 2010 graduate of the Director’s Lab at the Norman Jewison Canadian Film Centre and an alumnus of TIFF Talent Lab, TIFF Pitch This, and Women in the Director’s Chair. How did those experiences help your career?
There are so many great opportunities for training and development through organizations like the CFC, WIDC, TIFF, WIFT, NSI to name just a few. I’m so thankful for all of these experiences and how they’ve helped me connect with a community of filmmaking peers and mentors across the country.
You directed all twenty-three episodes of the CTV digital series “Space Riders: Division Earth”. The show won the 2014 Canadian Screen Award for Best Digital Series and four Canadian Comedy Awards, including Best Director. What was it like to receive those types of accolades?
Space Riders will always be one of my favourite projects. Dan Beirne and Mark Little created this insanely hilarious – and very ambitious – show. We were forever struggling with the fact that there wasn’t enough money or time, and yet with our incredible cast and crew, we were able to make something totally unique, weird and wonderful. After all that hard work, winning the CSA and the Canadian Comedy Awards felt…really good. Someone recognizing this crazy thing that we somehow managed to pull off. I’m so proud of that show and I only wish more people knew about it! Both seasons are up on Funny or Die now. So, y’know… https://www.funnyordie.com/
You’re directing season 4 of Baroness Von Sketch. How does your style change when directing a sketch comedy show versus a drama or something like that?
I don’t have a preference when it comes to directing comedy vs. drama vs. sketch. I love it all! I think what’s particularly fun and satisfying about a sketch comedy show like Baroness is just the sheer volume and variety of material you get to take on. In the run of a day, you could be directing a sci-fi scene, a musical number, a horror spoof… Or just five hilarious sketches set in a women’s washroom. It’s exciting to get to stretch so many muscles in such condensed periods of time.
You’ve directed shorts, feature films, tv shows, and are about to do a music video and animated short. What are the similarities and differences in your approach to these different types of media?
I think the first questions I try to ask myself are: How can I find a way into this? What about this resonates with me? What can I bring to the table to help execute (and ideally elevate) the material? Maybe I connect to the story itself, or just one of the characters, or the sense of humour of the writer. Maybe there’s something exciting visually about the material. If I read the script and images start to take shape. Sometimes it has to do more with the people involved in the project. I want to collaborate with them and go through that experience together. Every project obviously calls for different things, but I think you always draw from the same tool kit. You add to it every time you step on set. I get better at directing every time I get to direct, and I bring what I learned on the last project along with me to the next.
What’s next for your career? What have you not had the chance to work on that you’d like to work on?
The current plan is to shoot my next feature film later in 2019. I’ve been working on this project for such a long time, it feels exciting (and nerve-wracking) to finally be nearing production. In terms of the kind of projects I want to tackle next, I just want to keep collaborating with talented people to make great work, be that in TV, film or otherwise. Also, I’d love to do something with a big choreographed dance number.
What advice do you have for aspiring directors?
Develop a strong voice and a thick skin. And just keep moving forward on your own road, making work that moves you. Don’t stress about what other people’s roads look like. Their success has nothing to do with yours.
What’s your life like outside of the director’s chair?
Pretty quiet. I do all the normal things – read, cook, travel, hang with friends. There are some video games I spend way too much time playing. I think the thing I struggle with most is actually feeling relaxed when I’m not working. Letting my brain turn off when it’s time to power down. Finding a balance between career and life is tricky. I’m still working at it.
Let the readers know where to find you online.
My website is www.getsetfilms.com, and you can find me on Instagram (@jjhcanning), Facebook (@jordancanningdirector) and Twitter (@halfgamut).