Toronto Filmmakers: A Conversation with Yonah Lewis & Calvin Thomas

Last month, I was happy to get the chance to chat with directing duo Yonah Lewis and Calvin Thomas.


Lewis and Thomas are both Sheridan film graduates who operate out of Toronto. Their latest thriller, White Lie, has been praised nationwide. Their meta comedy Spice It Up, a favourite of mine, is set and filmed at Ryerson too!

White Lie is available to stream in Canada on Crave and Hoopla, as well as on-demand. Find out how to watch their other features on the Lisa Pictures website (Lewis and Thomas’ production company).

What was an average day like in film school compared to being real filmmakers?


Calvin Thomas:  It was 15 years ago that we were in school. So that dates us a little bit. Now, day to day is so much better than being in school. 


I think the most valuable thing that came from film school was meeting each other. Our collaboration started in film school about 15 years ago last week. 


We didn’t produce anything particularly valuable in film school. We arguably didn’t learn all that much in film school, but what film school did do was bring us together, and that certainly has been the most valuable thing.


What was the transition like into White Lie after a trio of smaller productions?


Yonah Lewis: We were nervous about it. White Lie was our fourth film as directors. On all of those previous films we had a very small crew, mostly made up of friends, family. All people we knew well, and all people getting paid next to nothing. So they were there to be part of the film, not for the paycheck. 


Obviously, (for White Lie) we paid everybody and everybody made money, but we found that people really cared about the project itself. That was sort of refreshing. We were very nervous about that. 


CT: The same concerns are “Do you have enough money for each day? How are you resourcing that money? How are you making sure that it goes as far as it needs to go?” 


It scales up obviously and it takes a longer time. It took a long time to raise the budget for White Lie, just because the number is so much higher.


How do you feel about Toronto and English Canada’s film audiences?


CT: Some of our smaller films and I think some of the smaller films that TIFF has played (are) the Canadian movies. There is kind of like a cap to that audience. 


The question of how you grow interest- I really don’t know.  Coverage for film, arts and entertainment keeps getting cut and keeps getting smaller. 


YL: As a general rule, most Canadian films over the last X-amount of years, have not been knocking people’s socks off. So there is a disinterest in most Canadian film. 


I think that we need to be creating better movies. The more great films we create, people in this country, and people in other countries will care. 


Most of the time, Canadian films often feel a little bit like subpar American films with slightly smaller casts and slightly smaller budgets.

At the end of our exchange, the duo had some advice for myself and my RTA peers who are planning their practicums.  


CT: If we had made a more interesting short in film school, that would have been way more valuable than us leaving with high grades. 


Hear their full advice and our in-depth conversation below in the 30-minute video.

Click here for my earlier conversation with filmmaker Evan Morgan. Stay tuned for more interviews!

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