Cradle of a Certain Harbour City Culture

Zachary Tannar and Jeff Monson stand like pillars at the entrance of their HCCS headquarters located on Lois Lane at the heart of the China Steps.
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The infamous China Steps of Downtown Nanaimo, located between Victoria Crescent and Terminal Avenue, has this post-historical aroma of a cultural genesis and if you look ever so closely, you might be able to see a spry blue building that cradles a certain Harbour City culture; enter: The Hub City Cinema Society (HCCS). 

This nonprofit is a community made by filmmakers for filmmakers to connect, support, share, and collaborate. It’s a haven for the contagiously ambitious storyteller who wants nothing more than to pick up a camera and film their Imaginarium.  

Zachary Tannar, acting president of HCCS, and Jeff Monson, cofounder, have scribed the genesis of this quasi-extracurricular organization, and though the Society has been setting records with the attendance of its members, humble beginnings are an integral part of their story. 

“Perseverance, it’s a word that just…. it’s a very important word. When the group first started, we used to rent out that Harbour City Theatre, and I forget what event exactly it was that night, improv night or a script session, but there was just [Zach], me, and Ray,” Monson said in an interview at the HCCS studio. “I remember that night very clearly, and we’re just like ‘shit, maybe we’re doing something wrong’ and then we had a Christmas break and then in January, the first week of January, we had a Film Jam there and what, like thirty people showed up to it.” 

The Society tries to host one event each week and you don’t have to be a member to attend, though members have priority in the workshops. The event themes vary, but are intended to build a framework for directing, cinematography, lighting, audio, and makeup, all instructed by professionals. There are also improv and movie nights, social gatherings, and pro talks where experienced filmmakers host informational discussions, including a small dose of true stories from behind the reel.  

The most interactive and creative event is what HCCS calls the Film Jam. As their website explains: “The Film Jam is [their] most popular and exciting event! At the planned time and place, everyone is welcome to come and make a movie together. The challenge is to come up with a story and shoot it in six hours. If you want to make a movie, then you don’t want to miss this!” The last Film Jam was held at Maffeo Sutton Park in June.  

HCCS currently has a record number of 72 cast and crew members registered on their webpage directory, where filmmakers may browse through the profiles of actors and production workers. Another record was set for the number of attendees at their script writing session: 23 members, non-members, actors and writers huddled around a projector and read the first act of various scripts brought forward by the courageous and astutely nervous writers of Harbour City. 

“I know some events are more intimidating than others, especially if you come for your first script session and you want to show a script—that’s bold. Usually I suggest, come for one, experience it, and then the next one you come to, we should show your script,” Tannar said. 

Two distinct posters hang on the wall: one is the fifth episode of the Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back; the other is a promotional poster of HCCS’s Cinefest where a man with a ginger mullet eats popcorn while wearing 3D glasses
HCCS’s Cinefest is juxtaposed to George Lucas’s second astronomical masterpiece

As the three of us talked about various topics regarding their Society acting as a theatre of dreams, it often seemed like their words would float around the studio and then suddenly be pulled in by the vortex of movie paraphernalia that orbits the walls. Casablanca, Gone with the Wind, Rocky, and The Empire Strikes Back spread in a glamourous historical map, reminding viewers of their conquest across generations; these posters and props are like regalia that Hollywood has presented the world to wear on walls and ourselves, to remind us of the universal definition of ‘classic’ films.

If HCCS’s location and purpose doesn’t surprise you, then maybe its Vice President will. Toby Watson has worked with Quentin Tarantino on Hateful Eight and other such movies like Godzilla and Black Panther. He even worked on Game of Thrones (hopefully not Season 8). He completed a BFA from CCS Detroit in Fine Arts and Digital Media, and with 11 years of experience, this Senior Visual Effects Artist is the type of guy you want to share a room with—especially if you are paying thousands of dollars of tuition to apply for a job in the film industry.  

“Sometimes he’s just talking with directors on the phone, sometimes he’s in the room with them. He told me about being in the room with Ron Howard and they just talked about work, it’s their job, this is what they have to talk about. To have a guy of that level, working with people of that quality, who is, again, our Vice President—and he’s also sharing,” Tannar said. 

It only costs $5 a month ($60 annually) to become a member of HCCS, and then you can sit in the same room with Hollywood or Amateurwood professionals and absorb every fragment of inspiration and advice from pundits who have the pay-cheques to make your student loan nightmares a fairytale.  

The Society’s Board of Directors consists of eight people, all of whom volunteer their time for the general welfare of the institution. Having answered a bundle of preliminary questions through Facebook messenger, Tannar mentioned that the primary reason the Society became a nonprofit was to become eligible for grants that would help fund them. HCCS has received a grant from the city of Nanaimo for the fourth consecutive year, with the potential of a significant increase in 2020, which could allow the organization to hire an employee to further facilitate the needs of the consensus.  

“We’ve had people with experience like Greg Jeffs and Toby, and these other people come in and you’re like, ‘Wow, what would this guy want with us, he’s already been there, done that.’ But that’s the sort of thing about going back to your roots, I think that’s the thing about these guys; they’ve been in the industry for so long and they’re reconnecting with our eagerness and our open canvas that is the first-time filmmakers and the hungry independent filmmakers. We’re not tired,” Monson said.  

Matt Haley, the founder of Haley House Productions—a local production company which has shot four short films and has nine feature length scripts awaiting production—has been a member of the HCCS for eight months and attempts to attend all of the weekly events.

“I try to go to most of them. I’m a shy introvert so meeting people is always tough for me. These events give me an opportunity to go out and meet people with similar interests,” Haley said.

To Haley, the cost for membership is a small price to pay for something you’re passionate about. He describes the milieu as aspiring and fun, with a wide range of personalities and talents that collectively precipitate invaluable experience. He personally likes to gravitate to the more serious of the filmmakers and his production rate reinforces his desire for finding like-minded people.  

Before founding HCCS, Tannar was an after-school care assistant, but now the gentle and soft-spoken film endorser is a full-fledged autodidactic freelance filmmaker and photographer, and most importantly, the keystone of this filmmaking hub. Jeff Monson was a security technician for ten years and is now a chef at the Modern Café, but despite his day job, this man is serious when it comes to living with no regrets. You might find him at the Vault on Open Mic Wednesdays under the alias J-Monez, hitchhiking beats from the audience and freestyling to them, or just sitting outside the venue, sipping green tea and talking about screenplays that some creative writing students have never heard of. *Cough.*  

Monson’s definition of success is trying your very best to achieve your goal. The fact is, if you’re serious about your creative future, these are the type of guys you want to befriend. It’s the type of content HCCS creates that you want to find and nest in. You never know who you’re going to meet, what feedback or opportunity you’re going to get, and more importantly, there’s an underlying lesson that post-secondary education just can’t teach: trudge. Keep on trudging. Eventually you’ll meet water. 

Then swim.