500 days without a shower – Documentary filmmaker Dianne Whelan preps her new adventure

Dianne Whelan with her 18-year old Jack Russell, Lily, on Granville Street. August 22, 2014. Photo by Katja De Bock

Dianne Whelan with her 18-year old Jack Russell, Lily, on Granville Street. August 22, 2014. Photo by Katja De Bock

If you’re experiencing the moviemaker blues it’s time to get inspired by local WIFTV member, journalist and photographer-turned-filmmaker Dianne Whelan. If you know Whelan’s former work, you’ll remember her expeditions to the Canadian Arctic and Mount Everest’s base camp, both turning into award-winning films.

“I made 55 days without a shower on Everest, and might break the record on the next project,” says Whelan, whose next expedition may well lead to 500 days in the dirt. “I’m trying to be the first person in history to do the [entire] Trans Canada Trail.” 

Whelan intends to start the 1 1/2-year trip along the – unfinished – Trans Canada Trail on April 1st, 2015 in St. John’s, Newfoundland, the ancestral province of the Whelans. Whelan’s ancestors are a mix of French and Irish, and the French part has generations of Mi’kmaq weaved in. “I feel like my soul is Native, my heart is French and my mind is Irish,” she laughs.

The Trans Canada Trail - status: August 2014

The Trans Canada Trail – status: August 2014

The Trans Canada Trail is one of the world’s longest networks of multi-use recreational trails and will span nearly 24,000 km between Nunavut, St. John’s and Victoria, BC. In Fort Saskatchewan, AB, its course changes north in a loop along the Mackenzie River to the Beaufort Sea before returning south along the Yukon. Whelan intends to hike, bike, canoe and snowshoe the trail, or use other modes of non-motorized transportation (she’d surely appreciate your offer of horses, Prairie-dwellers).

Whelan plans to have the film released in early 2017 and a book ready later that year, around the time of the trail’s expected completion. 2017 will also mark the 25th anniversary of the origin of the trail and Canada’s 150th anniversary of Confederation.

Whelan likes journey stories ever since reading The Hobbit – a story about a sympathetic hero on a vital quest against insurmountable odds – because they reveal human character. Her previous journey was beautifully penned in the 2014 behind-the-scenes book Base Camp – 40 Days on Everest. The book tells the personal story of Whelan the filmmaker, who invested her line of credit, her health and personal relationships to complete a 40-day stay at Mount Everest’s notoriously dangerous base camp. The trip was captured in the award-winning vérité documentary 40 Days at Basecamp.

However, in spite of being a storyteller, Whelan is also a smart businesswoman. She gets emotional talking about the English-Canadian independent film industry, which often depends on volunteer or deferral work.

“I only work for free for myself,” she says. “Maybe there isn’t a lot of money in doing independent work, but when you have creative control of your vision and you execute that to the best of your ability, you might not get money, but you sure do get respect.”

Dianne Whelan filming on a glacier. Photo: Carolina Ahumada Cala

Dianne Whelan filming on a glacier. Photo: Carolina Ahumada Cala

seven summits of monetization

Whelan’s film projects come with a five-year multimedia strategy, including selling articles, stills and footage to diverse media during the shooting period, an independent theatrical release, monetization on several digital distribution platforms and the creation of add-ons such as behind-the-scene books or transmedia projects.

She’s happy to share some tips how to avoid bankruptcy with fellow Women in Film members:

1) Work hard, and find experienced partners. “I may not put out a lot of films in my lifetime, but I will ensure they are of high quality,” says Whelan, who worked with editor Janice Brown, whose experience goes back decades. “It’s about learning from masters of the trade.”

2) Hire a journalist [or publicist] to help you pitch stories during production and film release. Make sure to make buzz, market your film during the shoot, make good production stills and communicate your story, she says. Start with the big vision, even if you have to narrow it down later.

3) Find a local or timely angle for your story. As the Everest book came out last April, at the beginning of the climbing season, tragedy occurred: 16 Nepalese Sherpas died in an avalanche, and their colleagues subsequently went on strike, making media headlines worldwide. For Whelan, who pointed out awareness for the dangerous job of the Sherpas in her book, this was an unintended turn of events that worked in terms of the release of the book.

4) If you can, avoid the festival circuit (you’re essentially not making any money except for occasional artist fees as at VIWIFF). Rather, concentrate on one premier festival for media exposure.

5) Try to organize your own independent theatrical release. Whelan “dragged her butt” across Canada and part of the United States to 63 theatres, raising money and awareness. “The reason you want [local] media is for people to know that the film exists. So when it does come out on iTunes, people will recognize it.”

6) Discuss digital distribution platforms with other filmmakers; try out a few, set a deadline if they don’t work out for your film. “That’s what [the platforms] need to understand: their success is built on our success,” says Whelan. “If it is not fair, don’t dance with them.” Most platforms are non-exclusive and some cater to niche audiences.

7) Try to get your film ready for iTunes as soon as you can. Whelan recommends the Toronto-based agency Juice, that can get your film iTunes-ready for a $1,200-fee – For Whelan’s Everest doc, iTunes has so far proven to be more lucrative than all other platforms combined.

Whelan’s films can also be seen on BC-based platform mediAm, the brainchild of film construction coordinator Doug Hardwick, which was presented at VIWIFF14 and is now open for business. Whelan consulted for the platform and has high hopes for its success.

By Katja De Bock

If you have a story to tell or if you would like to blog about fellow WIFTV members, please contact the office at info (at) womeninfilm (dot) ca!

5 thoughts on “500 days without a shower – Documentary filmmaker Dianne Whelan preps her new adventure

  1. Pingback: Whelan’s next adventure | Base Camp: 40 Days on Everest

  2. Reblogged this on westsidebeat and commented:
    Meeting Dianne Whelan and her dog Lily was so uplifting. I didn’t intend to write such a long article for the Women in Film blog, but then Dianne gave me all this input I couldn’t refuse. Well… here she is, preparing her next adventure.

  3. Dear Ms. Whalen:
    Saw you on the news tonight and just wanted to point out that you should be wearing your poppy on the left-hand side over your heart as is the proper way.

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