When the British Academy of Film and Television Arts hands out the hardware during its annual awards presentation at the end of this month, one man with St. Albert roots is going to be in the audience with fingers firmly crossed.
Paul Kane graduate Trent Opaloch was the director of photography on District 9, one of last year’s most talked about and best-regarded films by audiences and critics alike. While most people raved about the film’s vision, story, plot and visual effects, none of that would have captured peoples’ imaginations without the stylized cinematography courtesy of Opaloch.
“It kind of took us by surprise, the amount of positive feedback that [it]got. It just had this crazy reception. It was nuts!”
He felt the first wave of energy at last year’s San Diego Comic-Con during the first public screening, describing a group of attendees who perfectly mimed an action during a particular scene. Already he could see a glint of the movie’s status as a phenomenon.
“It was just the coolest experience. The whole thing just took off from there. It had amazing word of mouth.”
From there, he and director Neill Blomkamp went to Los Angeles where critics were already eager for their arrival, and it all was all uphill from there. The $30-million film eventually earned more than $100 million domestically.
Opaloch’s success is the culmination of several years of effort and a good solid background in his field. His stepdad, also a director of photography, introduced him to the work during his teen years.
“He would bring me out on shoots, and I would load mags and stuff, help him with the gear and everything. That’s how I got into the whole thing,” he began, talking about the effort involved in nature cinematography. It really didn’t interest him at first because of all of the long hours stalking animals and remaining still.
“As a 15-year-old, that just drove me nuts!”
While the bugs in the northern part of the province were too much for the teenager to take, the filmmaking bug had already bitten. While taking music at Grant MacEwan College, he would find pamphlets and other papers left behind by students in a screenwriting course.
“That was the first thing that planted the seed.”
He went on to take his technical training at Confederation College in Thunder Bay, the same program his stepdad took in his youth 20 years prior.
After a move to Vancouver Opaloch busied himself working on commercials and music videos until a fateful meeting with Blomkamp.
“He was working as a visual effects artist here in Vancouver. We did a handful of music videos together and just became friends through that. He made a name for himself because we would have no money at all in these budgets and when you would see the finished product, it would just look like a million-dollar video. It was just fantastic so, of course, the producer loved him. He’s just a really creative individual.”
The working friendship is continuing as Opaloch already expects to sign on to Blomkamp’s next film, tentatively scheduled to start shooting this summer. “He’s at the writing stage right now. I know the story; it’s very exciting. I’m really looking forward to starting that whole process. It’s completely unrelated to District 9.”
Until then Opaloch will have some time to prepare an acceptance speech and the ‘defeated but gracious’ look for the TV cameras, just in case.
“This has just been amazing. This whole [awards]thing has just been so cool. I’m so happy to be nominated but obviously there were about 300 guys behind me that were pushing forward to arrive at that end result. This is a shared thing and it’s an honour for everybody.”
The nominees for the Oscars were just announced yesterday and, while Opaloch wasn’t on the list, District 9 is up for Best Picture.
The British Academy of Film and Television Arts will be awarded on Feb. 21.