New Westminster filmmaker’s short on distracted driving wins ICBC award

By Grant Granger – New Westminster News Leader
David McDonald was a tyke attending F.W. Howay elementary in New Westminster during the 1990s when he began experimenting with a video camera.

He’d make improvisational films he admits weren’t that good, but he sure had fun making them.

McDonald’s fascination with film is finally starting to pay off. Last week, McDonald, 24, was named the winner of the distracted driving category in a short-film contest for young filmmakers sponsored by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia. He did a 1:39 film titled If Lives Are In Your Hands that shows how taking a phone call while driving is just as dangerous as talking on a cell while working in serious situations.

“I looked at texting and driving and what that really is; it is a dangerous thing operating a heavy vehicle that could kill,” said McDonald.

So he developed scenarios to demonstrate just that.

In one, a surgeon continues to talk on his cellphone while the patient he’s working on goes into cardiac shock and dies. A second has a construction worker using his automatic nail gun while talking on the phone, eventually firing a nail into the neck of a coworker. In a third, a firefighter carrying a body is talking on the phone while the rest of his colleagues abandon the building because of a gas leak that leads to an explosion while the firefighter is still inside.

Then it goes to a graphic saying, “If lives are in your hands your cellphone shouldn’t be” before cutting to a mom, with two kids in the back seat, ignoring a phone call before the words “Don’t text and drive” come up.

McDonald, who has a film degree from Simon Fraser University, got a lot of help from family and friends so he didn’t have to spend much money. His father, for example, is one of the surgeons in the operating room.

To keep costs down McDonald used a hand-held HD camera and utilized a lot of visual trickery. Although there are four in the operating room scenes, he rented just two surgery costumes. He shot separate scenes of two actors on each side of the body, and when they’re all in the shot it’s a composite. He rented just one firefighter outfit and shared it with several characters. He’s pretty pleased with one sequence of firefighters evacuating a staircase.

“There’s one shot of me running down the stairs five times. I composited them all together,” said McDonald.

Being a filmmaker is all McDonald has wanted to do, which hasn’t fazed his parents. His father was one of the surgeons in the film.

“They’ve helped with every project, bringing food to locations or finding older actors for me,” he said. “I’m sure they think it’s an unusual choice, but they’re supportive.”

With Greater Vancouver being a hotbed of filmmaking, McDonald has been getting lots of work around town. He likes many aspects of the trade such as editing, sound, costumes and production. That’s why he wants to be a director.

“The director gets to have a hand and say in all of them,” he said.

He recently directed a motion comic film called The Gwaii and is also working on a documentary on Inuit people in Northern Quebec struggling to deal with a hydroelectric dam that has messed up the area’s climate and ice floes called People of the Feather. In the future he’d like to do music videos and commercials, and eventually television shows and feature films.

For his efforts, McDonald won $7,800 in filmmaking equipment and software. His film has been posted on YouTube. Two other New Westminster filmmakers also did well in the distracted driving category with Kasey Lum coming fourth for Distracted and Sonia Suvagau fifth for Deer Haunt.