Film 101 With David Winning

Born in Calgary in 1961, Director David Winning has worked on numerous films and TV series. He made his first film aged 10, but it was his 1987 feature, “Storm” that brought him his first taste of success when it was distributed by Cannon International and released on Warner Home Video. His second feature “Killer Image” (1992) starring Michael Ironside and veteran character actor M. Emmet Walsh received its US Premiere as a Finalist at the 1992 Houston Film Festival. Since then, David Winning has directed numerous features and episodic television dramas including “Stargate Atlantis,” “Earth Final Conflict,” “Dinotopia” and “Andromeda.” He has won over 60 awards including The Directors Guild of Canada’s Outstanding Achievement in a Television Series – Drama.

The creative side of David Winning believes filmmaking is an art form, but he always tells people “the process is a little like painting a picture when seven people are holding the brush. The director is the ringleader: the job is to get creative forces working together to get the best result. I like to create an environment that’s fun for people to work in. It’s such a delicate balance, especially when you’re trying to coax the best performances out of actors, especially when the material is tough. You have to create a little cocoon for them to work in.”

M. Night Shyamalan said he was inspired to pen “The 6th Sense” after watching “Are You Afraid of the Dark, The Tale of the Dream Girl,” directed by David Winning.

But who inspired David? “My idols were and are Stanley Kubrick and John Carpenter; two complete opposite ends of the spectrum. I’ve modeled myself off bits of both their careers. I’m a workaholic and pretty happy about it. I’ve been making films since I was ten, have always had a passion for it and am happy that I’ve been able to carve out a career doing this kind of work.”

David Winning was only 9 when he started in the entertainment industry. “I actually started out as a ventriloquist and magician. Used to do shows for schools and libraries, etc before discovering a passion for special effects. I started making films when I was young. Dad got me a Kodak Instamatic Super 8mm camera that I was glued to for most of my teens. My first professional job was working as a dubber-loader for a sound studio in Calgary.

I also got experience as a director’s assistant at ACCESS Television; an educational programming channel in Alberta that produced docu-dramas.

I directed my first feature STORM at age 22 in 1983. This led eventually to directing episodes of Paramount’s FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE SERIES in Toronto. 13 features and 20 series later; I’m still around. When I was 10, I became obsessed with creating effects with superimpositions, double-exposures and pixelation. This is an animation technique where you use live actors and move them a bit at a time to create flying sequences or driving on the ground with an invisible car. This interest in film as stories began to develop and it just became a very serious hobby through my teens.

Starting with a documentary about my parent’s trip to the zoo in 1971. I struggled for a long time in my twenties working on passionate projects that took years to finish. Most of my twenties were spent making my first feature STORM; which I loved. In some ways, you realize later that if you hadn’t spent years making those first films, you wouldn’t have had the career that followed because STORM led to everything else I’ve ever done. I was asked at age 27 to direct episodes of Friday; filming in Toronto, Canada and that became my first paying job. Success in the entertainment business seems to always be a matter of good timing. When Preparation meets Opportunity, as the saying goes.

At the age of 15, David made a short super 8 film called “The Visitors” about a thief that encounters images of himself in a house he’s broken into, an experience Pretty cool for a high school student, huh? It taught me how to make films – he describes it as “pretty cool.” It was the first time he worked with a crew. “All my work up until then had been so solitary. Then I directed another short film when I was 17 called “SEQUENCE”; kind of a precursor to “Storm.” It was funded by a Canada Council grant and shot on 16mm in the summer of 79. In his early teens he made several super-8 “mini epics” which can be found on Youtube. One day he plans to preserve them on DVD. “Some of them are pretty good too! I’ll have to put them as extras on some of my features like M. Night Shyamalan does. Might be worth a chuckle.”

David Winning has some words of wisdom for anyone who wants to carve out a career in film. “Don’t ever EVER give up. It’s a hard job, but if you decide to give in, believe me, there are thousands behind you very eager to take your place. I believe it order to succeed in this crazy biz; you don’t have to necessarily be the most creative director or the one who thinks of the coolest shots. You just have to simply want it bad enough.” But it is not all plain sailing. “I worked as a ticket taker, bouncer, bartender, you name it. Raised a whole bunch of money and was all set to go to film school in LA.

Shocked my Dad when I was 22: told him I was going to instead make my own feature! My own film school for four years. No better way to learn. Pretty traumatic at the time but it all worked out. I used to be asked the question; what would you do if you hit the lottery and won $20 million. Make a movie? Of course not, I’d make ten!! Big budgets can really be overrated.

The creativity on the screen does not have a dollar figure attached. In some ways, my earlier feature work was forced to be more creative because we had no money and had to cut corners. Makes you think further than “outside the box” – forget the box, there is no box. My only big budget experience to date in the feature world has been the Power Rangers Sequel for 20TH Century Fox. 23 million dollars and a 12 week shooting schedule.

I was directing eight camera units; including an underwater and miniature unit. The movie grossed nearly $170 million in video sales and was the 4th highest selling cassette in the US in 1997. Makes you think. All the other movies have been shot in 16 days for less than 1.5 million. A few of them are better movies too.”

But David is not one for resting on his laurels. “I think I’m going back to Winnipeg Canada to shoot a couple more low-budget movies over the winter. We shot “Something Beneath” there in 2006 with Kevin Sorbo. Minus 45 in underground sewer pipes in the winter was memorable. I’ve got a bunch of projects in various stages of development; always trying to keep busy.

Optioned a great monster pic script from a friend last year that I’ve been working on called GHOSTS OF ODESSA; cross between THE ABYSS and CON AIR. A bunch of prisoners are sent down to a Russian Sub to find out what’s wrong with it.” “I’m currently developing a couple of other indie feature projects for production next summer and fall; likely in Canada. Also have just been re-approached about a possible project in India being co-produced by Wes Craven.

Also recently have been talking to a production company about a spy thriller shooting next summer in Hawaii. Always something coming down the road. The cool thing about the job is you really never know where you’re going to be next week. I was touring the JFK museum in Dallas a few years ago, and while there got a phone call from Hungary regarding ABC’S DINOTOPIA series – two days later I was in meetings in Budapest! And shooting there for three months! Travel miles are very healthy in this job.”

“I really got into the business because of the brilliant 1976 thriller “Marathon Man.” That’s really the genre I think I was meant for, but it’s all drama and it’s all entertainment, whether they’re in spaceships or on horses.”

But it is sci-fi that David has made his own. “I really enjoyed my stint on Andromeda the past few years and I was sorry to see it go. I can vividly remember being fourteen and running home after school every day to watch re-runs (even then) of the original Star Trek on an old B&W television in my parent’s basement.

It’s very cool to come full circle three decades later and still feel like I’m contributing in some way to the Roddenberry legacy. Careers seem to take funny paths. In the early 90’s I couldn’t get out of Children’s TV (Goosebumps, Afraid of the Dark? Sweet Valley High), then the Lance Henriksen thriller PROFILE FOR MURDER abruptly threw me back into adult gruesome murder thrillers. Now I’m behaving myself in Science Fiction. It’s a fun ride. It’s always good to have stuff you can actually show your mother though. I just finished a trilogy of monster movies for SYFY Channel and RHI Entertainment starring Bruce Dern, Kevin Sorbo and Robert Englund.”

In his career, David Winning has been an actor, writer, producer and director, but which “part” has he enjoyed playing the most? “Probably after twenty years, I guess the honest answer would be producing and directing is where I needed to focus. I’ve never had the total control since my first feature that I had in the 80’s and I’m finding a desire to get back to my roots.

Episodic television has been very seductive, lucrative and educational but you really hunger to get back to the reason you picked this business; independent features. That’s happening now. Danny Boyle’s film 28 DAYS LATER… starring my friend Naomie Harris (DINOTOPIA, PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN) had such a profound effect on me in the last few years, and I’ve been so inspired to get back to Indy features. That’s were all the fun is anyway.”

You can find out more about David Winning at