Robert Cuffley states there was one film in particular that changed his life, inspiring him to become a filmmaker. That film was the original Star Wars released in 1977.

“It transported me to a place I had never been and showed a world I had never imagined. I wanted to make people feel the same way,” Cuffley says about the George Lucas classic.

Cuffley studied film at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT) as well as the National Screen Institute (NSI) and Canadian Film Centre — both located in Toronto.

He says his time at SAIT taught him the technical side about film — something he really puts to use — but that the NSI and the Canadian Film Centre taught him more about theory.

He had to analyse films debuted in different eras and also learned about the three act structure which incorporates the element of storytelling.

After post-secondary, Cuffley’s plan was to direct a film, make a movie and move to Hollywood — but it didn’t happen right away.

“Then reality hit me, and I worked in a coffee shop for four years … and I got very bitter!” Cuffley recalls.

Stuck at home in Calgary serving coffee, Cuffley made many pitches to direct music videos.

“[It’s] how you want the music video to look. We would all write a three page pitch. This is going to happen, it’s going to look like this.”

Fortunately for Cuffley, it worked out. He made around 50 music videos, directing many genres: folk, electronic, country, and rock, and others.

Whenever Cuffley directed a music video, he tried to create some sort of storyline.

Cuffley had been sitting on the script for his first film, Turning Paige for a long time.

A poster of Robert Cuffley’s debut film, Turning Paige. The film follows high school student, Paige Fleming, turning her life tragedies into fictional stories. Photo courtesy of Robert Cuffley.

His financiers, distributors and producers, who initially supported his music videos and short films, granted him the money to make his dream a reality. It was jointly financed by Chaos Film, Telefilm Canada, and Superchannel.

“Because I was a first-timer, there was a lot of support,” Cuffley said.

Turning Paige has been rewarded multiple times since its release in 2001.

Cuffley won two awards from the Alberta Media Production Industries Association. One award granted to Ken Berry for best editor in a drama. The other awarded to Cuffley for best director in a drama exceeding 60 minutes.

Turning Paige also won awards at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Best Canadian screenplay and best new Western Canadian film director for a feature film.

Since his success with Turning Paige, Cuffley has been making feature films as a full-time job.

Cuffley’s wife, Tania Therien, has a mutual love for film as well. She helps alongside her husband with production.

They have known each other for 21 years and have been married for 13.

“I don’t trust anyone’s opinion more than [hers],” Cuffley says.

Therien also enjoys visiting the set from time to time.

She says, “The first movie I was there for the whole thing, but for the second and third we had kids so we just dropped in.”

Chokeslam is Cuffley’s newest movie, co-written with screenwriter Jason Long.

The film is a collaborative project between Cuffley and Long marking their third written script together. Long co-wrote on Turning Paige and they have continued to work together since.  

“We’d kind of hash [out] … who are the characters? What’s the story? What do we need to do in this scene? What do we need to do in that scene? And create a working outline basically. And once we were happy with it we would take our respective chunks of the script and go home and work on our own and then swap,” explains Long.

Cuffley is currently busy with upcoming projects. Right now he is finishing editing a short horror film called Penny Whistle and is in the process of writing an untitled thriller that he plans to direct.

“The thriller is about two women who decide to make extra money by being cam girls,” Cuffley explains.

In his long lost list of things to accomplish, Cuffley also has two television projects he wants to do.

“[One is about] a former movie star who has entered rehab and is trying to adjust to regular life again. The other is about a high-profile corporate physical protection, like a high-end bodyguard for someone and it’s a series.” 

With a busy agenda, award recognition and a pocket full of ideas, Cuffley is on a roll. He will continue to establish himself as a Calgary filmmaker under his own direction.

“I’m composing, cutting, directing and writing. All myself. Very self-satisfying.”

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mpintea@cjournal.ca

Editor: Abby LaRocque | alarocque@cjournal.ca