A Dungeons and Dragons inspired mockumentary. A monumental and prodigious battle between palaeontologists, creationists, and the absurdly named Sharkasaurus. A straightforward bounty hunter taking on hordes of the undead. A documentary about beer. The list of unique short films coming from the deviant mind of Calgary filmmaker, Spencer Estabrooks, 42, goes on and on. His passion for film has grown tenfold since leaving his full-time job at Acmeworks Digital Film Inc. in 2015 to pursue a full-time filmmaking career.
“I like to make films that I want to watch, stuff that I care about and stuff that gets me excited,” said Estabrooks. “Genre stuff, you know, I just really like all of it.”
Estabrooks was born and raised on a farm near Red Deer, Alta. With his mother being a powerlifter who has been breaking world records all around the globe and his father being a mathematician, he grew up in an eclectic family that has definitely shaped his love for film.
“Growing up on a farm in Red Deer, with hundreds of cattle, I guess that kind of influenced my love for westerns. I mean, my grandfather was a horse doctor, there was cowboy paraphernalia all around,” said Estabrooks.
“I love film, I love doing it, and I love working on it, but I’ve got really big story ideas that I want to share with people, and I’m just trying to find different ways to share them. — Spencer Estabrooks
Being drawn to drama class and theatre productions at a young age, Estabrooks immediately took to acting. He followed his passion to the University of Alberta where he completed a bachelor of arts in film studies, and then made his way to Victoria, B.C. to complete a diploma in film production at Victoria Motion Picture School (VMPS). Estabrooks was living on Vancouver Island when he created his first short film.
“It was a post apocalyptic scooter film that we shot in a scooter pit. You know, student films are student films. It was like Mad Max but on little scooters. There was flashbacks to when they were little kids on dirt bikes, too. It was pretty stupid. But we had a lot of fun doing it. I’ve always done weird genre films like that,” said Estabrooks.
After moving to Calgary and working a variety of film-related jobs, Estabrooks managed to secure a position at a film archiving company called Acmeworks Digital Film Inc. Estabrooks quickly climbed through the ranks and rose to senior post production supervisor in which he archived and restored workflows for notable companies such as Warner Brothers, Cartoon Network, and HBO.
“We would take the cartoons and then put them on 35-millimetre polyester based film, so in a way we’re kind of going backwards in time. Digital is such a transient medium, you know. Tapes don’t last that long, DVDs last about 10 years if you’re lucky. The data just starts to degrade. So if you want to save your data at the highest quality possible, you put it on 350-mm film. It’s very fine grain polyester so it’s virtually unbreakable,” Estabrooks recalled.
During the seven years he worked at Acmeworks, Estabrooks filled the little free time he had by completing over a dozen short films. In 2009, Estabrooks released Deadwalkers, a zombie-horror meets western short film, which he considers to be his first major step into the world of filmmaking. Deadwalkers was also the first film that he worked on with his longstanding producer and collaborator, Greg Jeffs.
A Vancouver Island native, Jeffs met Estabrooks while the latter was scrupulously working on a 48-hour film project. This project consisted of a sleepless and unrestrained challenge in which teams would write, shoot, edit and score a project all within a two-day period.
“With Spencer, one of the thing that I really respected was the absolute lack of ego and the understanding that we are all aiming for the same goal” explained Jeffs. “He was one of the first and only independent and emerging directors that understood the benefit of realizing your faults and building a team around him that strengthened him and allowed him to overcome whatever obstacles that came up.”
Jeffs was quick to praise Estabrooks, reiterating how much he has grown as a director throughout his countless award winning films. The Hunt, another short that Estabrooks directed that was enhanced by the writing efforts of Jeffs, garnered the Rue Morgue Magazine Best Short of 2013.
After leaving his job at Acmeworks, Estabrooks has been on a roll. Within the first six months, Estabrooks wrote, directed, produced and edited his first feature film, entitled One Hit Die: Legend of the Lich Lord. One Hit Die, a Dungeons and Dragons meets The Office mockumentary has garnered over 60,000views online, with Estabrooks constantly updating his faithful fans through his blog.
With One Hit Die starting as a four-part web series, Estabrooks was so excited about the idea that he decided to also film a two-part Christmas special. After managing to secure funding from Telus to continue the production, Estabrooks decided to not only deliver the web series that everyone was looking for, but also his first feature length film.
Legend of Lich Lord was not only a huge hit to the massive cult following that Estabrooks had amassed through his web series, but it also did extraordinarily well on the festival circuit, winning Best Feature Film at the GenCon, Best Feature Film at FirstCity Festival, countless visual effects awards and even garnered an award for best ensemble cast.
Before the dust settled, Estabrooks began on his next passion, an Alta. beer-centric documentary titled Aleberta.
“I always wanted to do a beer documentary, but I wanted to do the biggest, best beer documentary the world has ever seen, but instead of trying to tell the biggest story about beer in history, why don’t I just tell the story about Alberta’s beer history.”
Estabrooks has remained a busy man through 2016 and his future looks brighter than ever after receiving over $20,000 on Kickstarter to complete a graphic novel adaptation of his cult hit Sharkasaurus. Estabrooks is also in the process of pitching an Archer inspired animated One Hit Die series.
“I love film, I love doing it, and I love working on it, but I’ve got really big story ideas that I want to share with people, and I’m just trying to find different ways to share them. So whether it’s a graphic novel or whether it’s animation, it’s working together with a team and building a great story together,” said Estabrooks.
- By Colin Macgillivray