No one ever said making a feature film would be quick and easy, and producer Victoria Westcott considers herself lucky she knew that going in.
Still, it wasn’t until she and her sister Jennifer, both of whom are based in Victoria, began pre-production on Locked in a Garage Band six years ago that they realized just how challenging it could be.
It was an uphill climb to make their 2012 coming-of-age flick, about a group of high-school musicians who find themselves locked in a garage on the day their rock band breaks up.
Victoria, the producer, and Jennifer, the writer-director, got their feature debut from page to screen with a lot of sweat equity, support from friends and $20,000 raised through online crowd-sourcing platform Kickstarter.
The film’s success prompted their collaboration with new partners on Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer, a film that Jennifer wrote long before Locked in a Garage Band.
“We shot our first movie knowing that we needed to prove we could actually make a movie,” recalled Victoria, 40.
Her latest gig is as executive producer on the upcoming computer-animated Christmas feature, written and directed by Jennifer, 43.
“We’ve been talking about this movie for quite a few years now. It’s been a long road.”
The title character is a miniature horse who gets a chance to fulfil his dream of joining Santa Claus’s reindeer team when Blitzen announces his retirement three days before Christmas.
Samantha Bee, Martin Short, Josh Hutcherson, John Cleese, Morena Baccarin (Homeland) and Jeff Dunham head the all-star voice cast.
“When Jennifer first wrote the script, it was live-action, and then she realized this [animated] version was meant to be, because, you know, it’s about reindeer,” said Victoria.
Her sister, a mother of three with more than a dozen screenplays under her belt, won the 2009 Praxis Screenwriting Competition before making Locked in a Garage Band.
Jennifer’s script for Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer was also a Praxis award-winning script, and won an Angel Award, which recognizes family films that celebrate peace, at the 2013 Monaco International Film Festival.
Their company, Elgin Road Productions, named after Jennifer’s family’s former home on Elgin Road in Oak Bay, is collaborating with Toronto-based Awesome Entertainment, which produces global 3D animated features.
“It took a lot of hard work, but we’re doing it,” says Victoria, who will talk about her producing journey at a professional development workshop from noon to 5 p.m. on March 18 at CineVic, 764 Yates St., in Odeon Alley.
“I’m doing this workshop as karma. CineVic helped us so much when we did our first movie.”
She will discuss the differences between producing a micro-budget, crowd-sourced feature and collaborating on a $20-million animated feature.
She will also talk about coming up with an idea for a marketable film, the finer points of pitching, building a creative and production team and working with sales agents, to inspire participants with movie-making dreams of their own.
“Producing a no-budget, 10-day [shoot] garage-band movie was a calling card for us,” said Victoria, who will also provide insight into what a producer does.
One of her eye-opening experiences, she said, was learning about the importance of international sales agents such as Double Dutch International.
That’s why, to their amusement, the Westcott sisters can now say that, in addition to having their feature debut shown on Superchannel, via iTunes, at legendary New York music club CBGB’s Music and Film Festival, and at London’s Raindance Festival, they’re really big in Russia.
“Who would ever have thought we’d play in Russia?” said Victoria, who also discovered there are “pages of pirated versions” of Locked in a Garage Band on Russian websites.
“It’s important not just to get your film seen, but into the hands of people who can help you line up other projects and find financing,” she added.
While having high-profile names attached to a project such as Elliot: The Littlest Reindeer is an invaluable marketing tool, it’s essential to give stars a reason to get onboard, she said.
“Actors of that calibre are not going to sign on to projects they don’t believe in,” Victoria said. “Everything comes back to the script. That’s my personal producing belief.”
The Westcott sisters are continuing to embrace that ideal while focusing on family fare, a lucrative market at multiplexes, where films such as Moana and The Lego Batman Movie have been packing in audiences.
“We feel we have a strong voice within that genre. There’s such great storytelling, and going to the movies together is still such a great activity for families.”
As they move forward, they’re continuing to draw upon their experience, including a lesson learned from making their first feature when their crowd-sourced funding dried up.
“We learned maybe not to use credit cards as much,” said Victoria with a laugh. “At the same time, we couldn’t have finished that film if we hadn’t pulled out our cards.”