ALUMNI SUCCESS: James Mattagne’s journey from VFS Film Production student to Crave

By VFS, on June 4, 2024

Producer James Mattagne has had quite the journey in the entertainment industry. Though it's been a mere six years since James graduated from Vancouver Film School's Film Production program, what he's been able to accomplish since is nothing short of remarkable. His demo reel offers just a glimpse of his incredible work. Let's jump ahead to May 2024; the indie horror film Lowlifes, which James Executive Produced, premieres on Crave in Canada and on Tubi in the USA/Latin America, marking his biggest success to date.

But how exactly does one go from VFS student to a Producer with over 30 credits on IMDb and a title on Crave? The answer, in James' own words: hard work! (We're also fortunate to have James join us for our next Online Industry Talk; more on that at the bottom of this article.)

In Lowlifes, the survival instincts of a road-tripping family are put to the test when they have no other choice but to stay the night at a remote homestead.

Originally from Belgium and the UK, James started his VFS training in 2017; though he knew very little about film production, he was fueled by childhood dreams of becoming a filmmaker. At VFS, he came in knowing he wanted to make films but not which specific department would be the best fit for him. Having the opportunity to learn all of the different roles – from pre-production to post and everything in between – really helped James zero in on producing and cinematography as his main interests.

James described student life at VFS as “one big family”. His fondest memories were hanging out with his Film Production cohorts and wandering downtown Vancouver. “Everyone had left home to pursue the same dream” he recalls. “Every student had the same level of empathy.”

Towards the end of the program (during the Term 6 mini shoots), James and his classmates decided to shoot a car commercial; however, they did not have a car to do so. After being turned down by dealership after dealership, James finally got a “yes” from Lamborghini. They eagerly took James up on his offer and, along with his fellow classmates, he produced a sleek, behind-the-scenes short on the Huracán.

Even after receiving his diploma, James continued to hustle & network to ensure that the local Vancouver film scene knew his name. In 2019, while James worked as a Film Production TA at VFS, the Batwoman series filmed its pilot at the historic Vancouver Art Gallery. James took the initiative to show up on set and express his interest in helping out however he could. He was hired on as a Set PA the next day.

James' determination landed him the opportunity to produce commercials for Lamborghini and McLaren.

After school, James' career really took off when he joined Vancouver's Front Street Pictures in 2021. He started as a Producer's Assistant and worked his way up to an Executive Producer; he's been credited on numerous titles with the production company, including Lowlifes.

Who better to tell you all about this chilling horror flick than James himself!? We had the chance to chat with James about his VFS experience, the making of Lowlifes, and the important lessons he's learned along the way.

Tell us all about Lowlifes. How did it feel to find a home for the film on Crave?

I've been leading and shepherding the Lowlifes movie from the very beginning, from pitching it to the networks to delivering the final product. Lowlifes had an ambitious script, but we faced the challenge of a limited budget and just 12 shooting days to bring it to life. The production was very indie film-focused, relying on the resourcefulness and creativity that characterize independent filmmaking. We brought some of our crew members from the short contents we had previously created, elevating many of them to the next step in their careers with this feature film.

I was fortunate to work with a fantastic duo of directors, Tesh Guttikonda and Mitch Oliver, and a team of incredible filmmakers who all brought their own touch to the project and shared our drive, dedication, and dream of creating quality, entertaining content. The production process was intense but incredibly rewarding. Despite the constraints, our collaborative efforts and problem-solving skills ensured we stayed on track and brought our vision to fruition. The shared passion and commitment of everyone involved made all the difference.

Finding a home for Lowlifes on Tubi (in the US and Latin America) and Crave/CTV (in Canada) was immensely satisfying. Securing distribution is often one of the most challenging aspects of filmmaking, but with the support of Front Street Pictures, we achieved it. Seeing our film reach audiences across multiple platforms and have positive reviews validated all our hard work and reinforced our belief in the project.

Can you describe your experience at VFS? Did the Film Production program prepare you for the industry?

It's been profoundly rewarding on both a personal and professional level. The immersive, hands-on approach to learning provided me with a robust foundation in filmmaking, perfectly aligning with my preferred style of education. Being surrounded by industry professionals as faculty was invaluable; they offered insights and practical knowledge that deepened my understanding of the craft.

One of the aspects I most appreciated was the school's encouragement to explore all the different departments within filmmaking. This approach, urging us to try everything even if we didn't initially think we'd pursue it, was eye-opening. It allowed me to discover unexpected interests and strengths, ultimately guiding me to specialize in the areas that resonated most with me.

Collaborative projects with fellow students were another highlight. These projects reflected real-world settings, helping me refine my skills, foster creativity, and build a strong sense of teamwork. VFS didn't just enhance my technical abilities; it also broadened my perspective on the North American film industry. The school equipped me with the tools and confidence to navigate and thrive in the bustling world of film production.

A behind-the-scenes image of James working on-set to bring Lowlifes to life.

It sounds like life's been busy for you since graduating! Can you tell us a bit about what you've been up to?

Since graduating, my journey has been a whirlwind of exploration and creativity. I initially moved back to Belgium for six months to evaluate my next steps and decide between pursuing a career in the European or North American film industry. I quickly realized that there is no single blueprint for achieving success in the film industry. Everyone's path is unique, and it all depends on how much you're willing to push yourself and embrace the unknown. This uncertainty can be daunting, but it's also where the magic happens.

In Belgium, I had the incredible opportunity to produce a commercial for the prestigious French Champagne brand Laurent-Perrier. This project was my first project since I graduated VFS and was a significant learning experience, especially as it was my first time shooting in a country where I had no established crew or resources. In 2020, I produced my second commercial project in Belgium, which was for the iconic automotive brand McLaren. Despite the challenges, these projects were a blast to shoot, a success, and were very well received by our clients.

Inspired by these experiences, I decided to return to Vancouver, where I had built a network and where the type of content I aspired to create was thriving. I began working as a Teaching Assistant in Cinematography and Producing at VFS, my two favorite departments. My 9-to-5 job was just the beginning of my day; after hours, I would switch gears and don my Producer hat, dedicating another six hours to creating content every day and on weekends. This included short narratives, music videos, commercials, going to film events and building my portfolio. In 2021, I joined Front Street Pictures as a Producer's Assistant and worked my way up to Producer.

What lies ahead for you? Are you already chasing that “next big dream?”

I'm always on the lookout for the next exciting project. Each network has its unique content needs, so staying attuned to what fits best and is in demand is crucial. Currently, I have several projects in development that I'm focusing on. I also have a short film in post-production and once that is complete, I'll be shifting my full attention to the development and business side.

The thrill of creating something new and seeing it come to life keeps me motivated. My goal is to continue pushing boundaries and exploring different genres and formats. I'm committed to crafting compelling stories that resonate with audiences and myself. The journey is ongoing, and I'm excited to see where it leads next.

What are some of the most valuable lessons you've learned throughout your career?

A few key lessons I've gathered along the way:

  • You cannot please everyone. People have their own agendas, ways of thinking, and working. It's important to pick your battles and focus on what's best for you and the project. Sometimes, you need to be a bit selfish and put yourself first and decide what is best for the project; otherwise, people might take advantage, and you could lose yourself in the process. Film is a collaborative medium, so creative differences are inevitable.
  • Keep creating and pushing yourself. It's crucial to continually produce content and strive for improvement. As a producer, having a portfolio of work to show can instill trust and comfort in potential investors or networks. Your body of work speaks volumes about your capabilities and dedication.
  • Don't be afraid to ask. Many people hesitate to ask for what they need or want, but if you don't ask, you'll never know the possibilities. The worst answer you can get is "no," and you haven't lost anything by asking. On the contrary, you often gain new opportunities. Embrace getting out of your comfort zone!

James' journey is proof of the age-old adage that ‘hard work equals success.' The hustle never stops but the rewards that await hardworking, persistent, and passionate artists are endless. Congratulations, James, on everything you've accomplished. We know this is just the beginning.

James will be joining us for our Online Industry Talks series on June 11.

If you still have burning, unanswered questions, James will be joining VFS online on June 11 for our next Industry Talk! This is your chance to hear directly from James as he discusses even more behind-the-scenes stories of Lowlifes, the importance of building a diverse, multi-piece career portfolio, what he credits for his success as a Producer, and so much more. The talk will be followed by a Q&A. Register here for FREE.


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