Unionville resident Stephen Wallis developed an interest in writing scripts at an early age. It just took him some 30 years to turn it into a full-time career in the motion picture business.
The 52-year-old has been involved in making films as a writer for 14 years. Overall, he has 14 writer credits, 11 producer credits, 10 director credits and two actor credits. He has done two films this year: Afterwards, shot February at Huntsville, and Campton Manor, shot primarily at Barrie in March. Both are fictional.
Afterwards, described as a dark yet spiritual drama that follows the journey of a man who’s been abandoned in the frozen north for 30 years after his death, is scheduled to be released sometime in the fall. Campton Manor, a fictional story about a writer who sees ghosts and investigates a famous case back in the ‘20s, is slated to come out sometime in 2019.
“I’ve always felt I was destined to do it,” Wallis said when asked about how he became involved in a career making movies. “I could read and write at four years old and my parents showed me book about Shakespeare plays, not that I understood anything about (the stories). I was literally writing plays when I was five years old.”
Wallis’ youth included playing rep hockey through the late ‘70s and ‘80s. He was involved in a media program in high school and, after enrolling at the University of Waterloo in psychology, he left to enroll in film school, but was frustrated with the teaching. He then had to park the idea of pursuing a career in film because of family reasons.
“I had a daughter when I was 19 and was trying to be practical – kind of having a regular existence rather than following my dreams,” he said. “I was literally being a dad.”
He was running the European operations for an IT/marketing firm for several years in the early ‘90s, travelling all over the world and making good money. But he yearned to pursue a full-time career in film making.
“It didn’t matter how much money I was making,” he said. “It mattered more about doing something with my life. There was a point, I guess, in my mid-30s where I made a decision that you can be one of those people that watches life go by and talk about all the things you could have done or one of the guys that went out and did it. I lived in the United Kingdom and Ireland and France, but one of the reasons I’ve become good as a writer is I’ve been able to take that experience of travelling, mostly by myself, and look at the world a little bit more with open eyes. I’m pretty sure if I started (a career in film) at 23 instead of 37 I’d be even further up the chain, but that’s okay. I’ve been very lucky. A lot of people like what I do as a writer.”
Wallis began doing his films in California because he said the Canadian film world isn’t kind to people who are starting out in the business.
“The system is kind of built for big American movies,” he said. “You see all these Canadians going to L.A. getting their first couple films done and then kind of coming back when you have a bit cache. I’m at least the point now where I can make a phone call to pretty much any agent anywhere and they’ll pick up the phone. If I had stayed in Canada trying to make these films here to start with I would have been dead. I would have never had that chance.”
His first film was A Christmas Too Many, which he wrote and directed. Starring Mickey Rooney, the story is about a Hollywood legend who invites her not-so-normal family home for the holidays. His next film was To Kill A Mockumentary, which is a comedy about a group of mockumentary film makers shooting their first studio film. The two were shot eight months apart.
“I was moving pretty quick at that point and then things kind of slowed down,” he said.
But he has been motoring in recent years.
“Over the next 12 months we’re probably going to do only about eight films as we get ourselves figured out how to do them properly,” he said. “When we shot the two we realized how little sleep you get. What we’re going to do is shoot two films at a time, take a month off to make sure we get the prep everything going, and then shoot two films back to back. Take another month to six weeks off and do two more. That’s pretty much going to be our format from now on.”
One of his methods is to hire veteran actors to expedite the filming process.
“I’m not like the guy who discovers people,” he said. “Our films tend to be a little dialogue heavy sometimes. You need people who have done it a thousand times. We used Kenneth Welsh in both Campton and Afterwards. You want to use those kind of guys because they are professional and give you amazing performances. We try to stick to that.
“I’ve always been able to get people to work for a lot less than they normally make. Hollywood has gotten into a realm where everything is video-game type of movies or big tent poles, which, I hate to say, you can write in a weekend if you want. They’ve gotten away from the meatier things and we were able to position ourselves with the actors. They want to kind of get back to something that makes them feel good as an artist.”
He shot a film, Defining Moments, in Unionville last year. One of the film’s stars is Burt Reynolds.
Wallis’ company is called Magic Doors Films. His vice-president is Markham’s Susan Ilott. He now lives full-time in Unionville.
In the photo, a scene from Stephen Wallis’ latest film, Compton Manor. Photo courtesy of Stephen Wallis.