James Shavick: Helping the next generation of talent

For a man who has made his living behind the lens of a camera, James Shavick is surprisingly relaxed in front of one.

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Tag(s): Fine & Applied Arts

As our photographer sets up a shot, James assumes the nonchalance of a model—hands in pockets, left knee bent, foot resting on the door behind him, easy smile.

Perhaps the stance is learned by osmosis from James’s years working in the Shavick family business, Holt Renfrew. James’s father, Lenard Shavick, was president of the Canadian high-end department store chain from the mid-1960s onward, and James literally grew up in a “fashion house.”

James’s path took a different course—into filmmaking—eventually leading him to become the founder and CEO of Shavick Entertainment, as well as CEO of OUTtv, Canada’s only gay- and lesbian-themed television channel. He’s made 107 movies and close to 800 hours of network television, including several number-one series in the U.S., such as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The New Addams Family and a number-one HBO movie of the week, Exception to the Rule.

James is a member of the Television Academy (the Emmys) who also receives Oscars screeners from the Academy of Film and Television, due to his senior membership in the Writers Guild.

Doctor Shavick, I presume?

It’s this storied lifetime of film and television achievement that has earned him the Doctor of Fine Arts (honoris causa) awarded by Capilano University’s Faculty of Fine and Applied Arts in May of 2015.

Charming and gracious, James alternates between characteristically Canadian self-deprecation and easy self-assurance. At his Kitsilano home, James is reassuring—“leave your shoes on, it’s concrete, everything is ok!”—then casually rattles off the original artwork decorating his walls.

“That’s an Andrew Dodson there, that’s a Fred Herzog above the TV, that was a Gathie Falk there—it’s on exhibit—that’s a Lichtenstein, that’s a Picasso and that’s a Damien Hirst and that’s a what’s-his-name who does the upside-down trees,” he says (referring to Vancouver photoconceptual artist Rodney Graham). “And the Impressionists are upstairs,” he concludes.

Being mentored

James got his start in the first film cohort at Concordia University (then Sir George Williams University) in 1970. He started making documentaries and selling them to the CBC while in film school, lingering an extra year at school to make use of the ARRI 35mm BL2 camera and Steenbeck editing machines.

“The second movie I made—don’t laugh—was called Mundon Barnes of Tibbits Hill. It was my first major sale at the CBC.”

Lionel Chetwynd had written the script for Mundon Barnes and in 1976 was set to direct Two Solitudes, James’s first feature film for which he had optioned the rights to Hugh MacLennan’s iconic novel. When Chetwynd was nominated for an Academy Award for his work on The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz, James—by association—suddenly found himself a hot commodity at the age of 26.

“It’s not like I knew what I was doing, because I didn’t!” he recalls. “I didn’t know how to make a feature. I was very fortunate to have a lot of senior people helping me,” James says.

“There were many moments in the making of that first feature where I thought my life was ending,” James laughs. “It was so daunting, and I was so unprepared.” One of his mentors was his production manager, Mychèle Boudrias, from whom James says he learned something very important.

“It’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” James says. “You have lots of up and downs, but you can’t let it get you down. Really, longevity is what gives you a career.”

Giving back

James mentors Capilano U film students and generously supports the School of Motion Picture Arts so that students can make their first short film.

“Unless you have something under your arm, it’s hard to get a job if you want to be a director, producer or actor,” he says. “I give because you have to help the next generation coming up—at the very least, I can give back. I’m glad to do it, because I come from a family where giving is important.”

 James is currently mentoring Capilano U grad Jason Friesen, a Métis producer working on a series for Aboriginal Peoples’ Television Network (APTN) called Nations at War. The series takes an Indigenous perspective on historical battles between Canada’s First Nations and colonial powers.

“Jason’s absolutely brilliant. He’s so good, it’s like whoa—if I had been that good, I could have ruled the world!” James says.

“I’ve always hired young people and given them amazing opportunities, and they’ve always given me no reason to have not done it,” he continues, citing filmmakers like Shawn Williamson of Brightlight Pictures (who sits on Cap U’s School of Motion Picture Arts advisory board) and producer Brad Van Arragon who “got their start in my factory and then lapped me because they had the real talent!

“I look to hire Cap grads,” James says. “I try to hire people who have the talent but who also understand how to interact with other people. Cap teaches people very well—they’re not a fish out of water when they hit my set.”

Submitted by: Communications & Marketing