This Web Series Competition is Revitalizing Vancouver’s Film Scene

Zia Marashi and Kristyn Stilling's competitive web series helps to connect local creators in Hollywood North.

June 15, 2017

By Aryn Strickland

Despite being the third largest centre for film and television in North America, many creators in Vancouver are often left feeling uninspired and disconnected. It’s a situation VanChan co-founders Zia Marashi and Kristyn Stilling have found themselves in on several occasions: they both work in the film industry as production coordinators and have lead roles in organizations like the Whistler Film Festival, but in the past have struggled to find time to practice their own craft. “B.C. film, as a whole, is very much supporting this American machine and I think of lot of [filmmakers] find themselves a part of projects where they are coordinating or on set, but they don’t really have much contribution,” says Marashi.

And while most continue to produce original content for the city’s smaller film festivals, Marashi and Stilling decided to combat the issue by creating their very own competitive platform. It’s “our love letter to the Vancouver indie community,” says Stilling. “A lot of people start off [thinking] I’m going to make stuff and then the dream kind of gets shoved to the side. We want people to re-embrace that dream.”

They knew that, by adding a web series to the mix, filmmakers would be motivated to produce work more regularly because of the time-sensitive nature of the the medium—and feel relieved from not having to make a full-length film. “[VanChan offers creators] immediate gratification,” adds Stilling. “To see it, and an audience react to it, within a few weeks of them completing [a film]—that type of turn-around doesn’t happen very frequently.”

Zia Marashi and Kristyn Stilling at the second annual VanChan awards.

Recipe for Success

VanChan’s survival-of-the-fittest format is what makes it stand out from other local festivals. Every six weeks, the site calls for submissions of five-minute pilot ‘webisodes.’ From the dozens of submissions, 10 are selected (by a jury of VanChan volunteers and competition leaders) to show at a monthly screening where the audience is asked to vote for their favourites. The top five will return the following month, ready with a new episode, to compete against a fresh batch of pilot submissions. It’s a tried-and-true formula that they’ve been developing for more than two years in Vancouver, with a surprisingly star-studded origin.

“When I was enrolled [at Capilano University] I was a big fan of the website Channel101.com,” says Marashi. “It was created by Dan Harmon and spawned the careers of The Lonely Island and the Rick and Morty show. Justin Rowland and Jack Black had some short sketches in there. But it was [based] in L.A. and New York.”

Marashi reached out to the creators in a bid to have them start a branch of the website in Vancouver, to which they kindly responded with a “thanks-but-no-thanks,” but encouraged Marashi to blueprint his own website using their format. So, while organizing a film school event for his alma mater, along with Stilling, Marashi suggested the idea as an alternative to meet-and-mingle events. “We had an event to meet some of our alumni…and talk about what they are doing and it just kind of felt hollow,” says Marashi.

But having access to Channel101‘s model was too good to not share with the broader film community. Stilling’s immediate response was that “VanChan is a way better idea—let’s do that except let’s not make it exclusively for alumni because obviously there are so many content creators from all different schools and all different professionals that move here and just want to try [filmmaking].”

Using the same competition process made popular in the States, Vancouver’s own channel, VanChan, was born and the Capilano film school events committee that had brought Marashi and Stilling into collaboration was dismantled so they could focus their energy on getting it up online.

Scenes from the April 2016 VanChan screening.

Reigning Champs

Two years on, VanChan has been running smoothly with screenings of new episodes each month and two Oscar-esque award ceremonies under its belt. They also have a slew of fan favourite videos—their longest-running web series, Butt Floss, an over-the-top gross-out comedy that parodies everything from The Magic School Bus to the popularity of behind-the-scenes docudramas, was voted back to the channel a whopping 11 times.

It’s a genre that seems to prevail for most voters: the current web series to beat (with five episodes and counting), Dr. Sunshine’s Office is a comedy that follows the socially inept Dr. Sunshine who doles out ridiculous and crude diagnoses. “I think a big reason why is that comedy is just better told over a short time,” says Marashi. “We have a time limit and to do a drama is a little harder—not to say that you can’t do it!”

The competition is guided by only two stipulations: (1) videos cannot be longer than five minutes; and (2) each video must have a title screen. Past submissions have included everything from horror-comedies such as Derrick & Sally: Bathtub Killers and animations like All My Pants, which follows a pair of jeans as they struggle to rise above their material rank. All genres are accepted—as are submissions from creators outside of Canada.”We’ve shown films from all around the world, but it’s a Vancouver channel so [Vancouverites] get to program it,” says Stilling.

From the beginning, Marashi and Stilling’s goal has been to support and motivate Vancouver film. “We’re creating more of a spotlight on Vancouver cinema and Vancouver culture,” says Marashi. “I think where we are after two years is a huge achievement because we’ve connected all these separate bodies of filmmakers.”

VanChan’s next screening takes place Saturday, June 17 and the line-up promises plenty more comedy with pilot episode about millennial woes and the adventures of self-help gurus who will assist people in finding love at any cost—plus the return of Dear Diary, a series with professional actors reading out a young teen’s inner thoughts and the final installment by current champion, Dr. Sunshine’s Office.

Dr. Sunshine’s Office is the leading web series on VanChan right now.

VanChan June Screening

When: Saturday, June 17, 2017 at 7:30 p.m.
Where: Tiki Bar, 1489 E Hastings
Tickets: $8 (online), $10 (at the door) or $6 (for students with ID)

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