How Carol Baldwin got me into the Feature Film Business

John Raymonds
Feb 3, 2016 · 12 min read

Some of you, like me, might have been fans of a long ago, as in 1978, BBC series called Connections. It was a fascinating show that attempted to connect significant breakthroughs in the world to a chain reaction of events, be they intended or complete accidents, over long periods of time. For the purposes of this story, I am starting at a point in my life where my professional life became successful enough where it allowed me to support some charitable causes that were offering unique experiences that I had somehow found a passion for in my life…

As a fan of television and film it was intriguing to see something like a walk-on role offered to the winner of a charity auction. Thus, you can see me a few times on “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” To the Bone (2006). After meeting some of the other backgrounders I actually thought it might be something I could look into for my spare time. That is, keeping my day job and hooking into casting calls, like the others were doing, and perhaps even getting a SAG card. Yes, for some reason those long boring days in ‘holding’ actually seemed like it would be fun to do as a small part of my future.

Being a science fiction fan, when an offer for lunch on the sets of Stargate SG-1 and Battlestar Galactica came up it was something that I could not pass up even without a walk-on role! Thus, my first, and what I thought would be my only trip to Bridge Studios in Burnaby, BC was during September of 2006 supporting the Waterkeeper Alliance.

Then, just over a year later, I won a Charityfolks auction in December of 2007 for “The Ultimate Sci-Fi Experience with this Walk-On Role and Lunch on the Set of Stargate Atlantis with Stars Joe Flanagan and Amanda Tapping!!!!”

On a side note: was one of the best online auction sites for celebrity related experiences. From start to finish I never had anything but a professional experience. Their business model has since changed from auctions to, “You email us with your dream experience and we try to make that dream a reality,” and I have no experience with them outside of auctions but it is my hope that they still do make dreams come true.

The writer’s strike, and afterward my own calendar, made the scheduling of the experience difficult to say the least, and then came the word, “The producers have advised that they can accommodate a walk on role in our last episode of the season.” — which was also the last episode of the series! So, in September of 2008 I was back to Bridge Studios in Burnaby, BC! This time not just for lunch but for one of those background roles I so enjoyed from my previous Law & Order experience.

To makeup, to set, on camera — it was all a bit of a whirlwind. In between there was lunch with Joe and, before I left, Amanda Tapping visited from her time on Sanctuary. She was there to prep for her day on set tomorrow, when I would not be around anymore, and to thankfully take the time to say hello to me while there.

Yes, I mentioned already I am a fan of television, film, science fiction, etc. I started watching Stargate SG-1 in the days of live TV. Okay, it was not literally live, but what I mean is that it started out on Showtime and moved to the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy) in a time when TiVo did not exist yet, never mind digital streaming. On top of that it was actually a chore to continue watching it since the Sci-Fi Channel required a digital cable box, or some iteration of programming, beyond what was in the house at the time. The bottom line is it was a different time for television and one thing I know I did during my visits was to thank the people I met for providing that entertainment. It made life better. Not that life was at all bad — just that, at least for me, those stories being told were something I looked forward to. I am not one of those super fans that can recall the detail of every episode. In fact, I am quite the opposite — I am the kind of fan that gets lost in the story for that brief, and welcome, distraction then returns to the day at hand and promptly forgets most of what I just saw on the small screen!

While on set, after getting David Hewlett to sign an Atlantis publicity photo in the back of a Puddle Jumper, we starting talking about the digital SLR I had. It was a Canon 30D in the days when using an SLR for video was just starting to become a real “thing.” He ended up going down the dark side by getting a Nikon (hey, you can’t save everyone!) but after the set visit I traded emails with him pointing to the work of Vincent Laforet and others and talking about possible projects where I might even be able to help support in some way post his Dog’s Breakfast effort.

In helping make the post visit connection to David, the Unit Publicist knew I was talking to him about possibly working together on something and thus ended up asking me separately if it was okay to introduce me to someone else. Saying yes, I was introduced to Bernie Melanson in March of 2009. Well, from that connection a few days later I was reading my first script “Rock Bottom”. Never thought about financing a film before but here I am looking at a potential project with a role being written into it just for me! Yes, I was still coming off my high of thinking being a backgrounder might be in my future and here I am being scripted into something.

Well, as that project slipped for various reasons, something I would find out is seemingly mandatory in this business, I was introduced to a person named Aaron Gilbert in December of 2009 to talk about possible funding on a troubled project the same potential lead actor from Rock Bottom starred in.

I finally met Aaron in person in February of 2010 while he was out in New York City (New Jersey is my current home base) and, with the troubled project finding light of day without me, we talked about other opportunities. In May of 2010 my second script for a project called “Jabberwocky” was now in my hands. I made some script notes and it was surprisingly nice to see SyFy had all of my same concerns and more. (In other words it was nice to feel like someone who actually knew what they were doing) Moving forward with Jabberwock (somehow it lost its ‘y’) in August of 2010 I had my first iMDB credit of Executive Producer. Though I never made the adventure of visiting set in Bulgaria — background roles are fun, but not that fun — I did help bridge the financing for SyFy in bringing what I still believe today as one of their better ‘made for SyFy’ movies to the small screen. Yes, about a year later in September of 2011 it was fun to see my name appear for the first time in public — though I am sure few on the planet made notice of it!

Meanwhile, somewhere in between, near the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, I became more interested in what Aaron was building with Bron Studios than I was with the idea of supporting further individual projects. Then, in February of 2011, during a ferry ride over to Vancouver Island to the set of Foreverland, Aaron and I struck up a basic framework to become partners going forward in seeking world domination. (A term I am borrowing loosely from David Hewlett) In other words, from somehow getting to Burnaby, BC to visit sets and do a walk-on role I now am a partner in a new studio venture with an office address in that same town — 2,400 straight line miles from where I call home. The television and film industry might be new to me but the idea of building a business was not. So, a much as it may seem like I may have made a decision solely based on a fandom of what it was doing, the real excitement for me was being a part of something just starting out. It might not have been Facebook, Uber, or Twitter, but that little team coming together had a long term vision to build something special and that was one thing I knew how help make happen.

It seems like a lifetime has passed in the five years since the beginning of that partnership. Bernie, who introduced me to Aaron, was at the studio for only a short period of time. He has spent the bulk of his time since then out of the film business and now in the gambling industry — to which I also invested with him there but we can save that detour for another Medium story down the road. Film festivals, awards, and with each project behind we grow a little smarter for the ones in front of us. The story inside of Bron itself would make for many connections of fortunes and wrong turns but the single most important one to me is that of Aaron Gilbert himself. Of all the people I could have run into in the film business somehow I was lucky enough to have one of the most honest ones run into me.

Over those years my own IMDb list of credits expanded quite a bit and there are two projects on there that I actually did help make happen with David Hewlett. Haunter was a film David’s long time friend Vincenzo Natali was directing and Debug was a film David both wrote and directed himself. (Both films were produced by the amazing Steve Hoban of Copperheart Entertainment)

2015 was a great year for Bron Studios and it looks like 2016 will yet another significant leap forward — taking us into productions that make past efforts look like they happened a lot longer ago than they actually did. Here it is just January and we made history at Sundance with The Birth of a Nation. To put this ‘history’ into perspective one needs to compare it to other deals and when attempting to take all of it in, that is why I left Park City, UT with tears of gratitude in my eyes. It was the biggest sale in the fest’s history and it also marks the largest sum ever paid for a finished movie at any festival, including Cannes, Berlin and Toronto.

‘I Saw the Light’, the story of the legendary country western singer Hank Williams, will be released by Sony Pictures Classics on March 25, 2016 to theaters. (You can catch a trailer for it as well as get the soundtrack on iTunes)

Then, on April 29, 2016 Netflix will be releasing the ‘Special Correspondence’ film it acquired from Bron Studios in 2015.

With obviously much, much more to come throughout the rest of the year and beyond…

The lunch on the Set of Stargate Atlantis was an auction item in support of the Carol Baldwin Breast Cancer Research Fund. When the fund coordinated that experience for a donation to their cause I am sure all they hoped for is some additional money and exposure to further their cause. What I am sure they still do not know about even today is that small effort also turned into a film studio business employing hundreds of people, across numerous productions, in the past, present and future, in all parts of the world.

…but the Baldwin story does not end there…

As I write this we are currently in production for “Drunk Parents” staring who else but Alec Baldwin in one of the lead roles. His appearance in the production is out of pure coincidence as no one involved in the process even knew about the story above as the project was coming together.

…but the Baldwin story still does not end there…

At a board of directors meeting in Burnaby one of the legal firms we use introduced a new partner to us, David Davoli. Finding out he lives in New York City, a stone’s throw from me as compared to Burnaby, I had to ask him about who he was and how he got into the film business. When he started to tell me the story of how becoming Alec Baldwin’s assistant was his introduction to the industry I had to laugh and comment that neither of would be on this Vancouver SkyTrain going back to our hotel without Carol Baldwin.

If you have read this far you might think it is an interesting story, but so what?

#1 Follow your passions — you can never know how far they will take you.

“You can only become truly accomplished at something you love. Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off of you.” — Maya Angelou

In winning those experiences I had no intent of anything happening beyond the enjoyment of those moments they would bring. In talking with David Hewlett, Bernie Melanson, and later Aaron Gilbert I had no intent beyond helping out on some projects people happened to be working on. It was not until well down the road where everything clicked into place — matching the things I love doing with my abilities to do things well.

#2 On the flip side — you can never know how far your actions will change the lives of others.

As Carol Baldwin does not know how she changed my life, and the lives of so many others, with one simple action we all can be the catalyst for change in the lives of others. Ironically, the moments in between doing what we think is important seem to produce the most impact.

“The true test of a man’s character is what he does when no one is watching.” — John Wooden

John Wooden is certainly correct in his statement and the deeper meaning is character is most visible when you speak or act without the intent of anyone actually hearing or seeing you. In the case of the Carol Baldwin Fund the intent was to raise money. It did so when the auction was won and the item was paid for. The everlasting affect outside of the organization, however, was in the moments that experience brought together. In my own personal life I can remember situations where people have mentioned things I have said to them that have changed their own lives in some way. I respectfully nod, thinking to myself, I have no memory of ever saying that to them. It is not that I did not say it. It is rather that the intent to change or advise someone was not there and therefore the memory was not either.

#3 It is a freakishly small world — the six degrees of Kevin Bacon always surround you.

On that same trip out for the board of directors meeting in Burnaby I was speaking with our VP of Production & Development for Bron Animation who casually mentioned he saw I was somehow involved with Dave Asprey of Bulletproof Digital via LinkedIn. When I affirmed the connection he went on to say his kids go to the same school Dave’s kids go to and that we should both visit Dave’s amazing Bulletproof Biohacking Lab by taking a hop over to the island the next time I come out Vancouver way.

As the rock finds trouble seeing the ripples it produces on a pond’s surface, while it continues its journey downward, so do our eyes have trouble seeing all of the connections around us as we move forward with our one immediate purpose.

For all of this, I thank you Carol Baldwin.

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John Raymonds

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Looking for the unique and outstanding in our everyday world - investor, movie maker, and geek philosopher. Follow me on Twitter and Instagram @jraymonds.