At one time or another, we have all experienced a connection with a movie. Perhaps it was the plot, characters, special effects, or the lasting impression the film made. Actor, director, and producer, April Mullen, was drawn to the performance side of acting at a young age. “I did a bunch of theatre and would produce my own performances in my backyard for the neighbours,” says Mullen, who recalls performing in a production of Alice In Wonderland at the age of 13 at the Mayor’s picnic. She enjoyed how the stage allowed her to be who she wanted to be. “I was a bit shy, but on stage I could be bigger than life,” explains Mullen.
Throughout her high school years, Mullen remained focused on acting. After completing a B.F.A. Honors in Theatre from Ryerson University and then attending the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, in the United Kingdom, she moved to California to begin her career in acting. Mullen arrived in the midst of a stage and writer strike, but that didn’t deter her from pursuing her goals. “At Ryerson we focused on creating our own work from nothing. A friend, Tim Doiron, and I, created a theatre show and I directed it,” says Mullen. When Mullen and Doiron realized there was little return on their project, they set their sights on film. “Tim wrote a mockumentary called Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Way of the Tosser, I directed it and we produced it together. It was our first feature and we had to self-finance the film which is risky to do,” says Mullen.
From this point on, Mullen and Dorian were infected with the buzz. “We got addicted to the aspect of creating an entire film based on our own work and seeing it through from beginning to end,” says Mullen. The pair started their own production company, Wango Films, which is named after the catchphrase “Wango Baby” from their second film Gravytrain. “Wango Baby” means happiness. It’s the joy of us creating our work and the excitement of our final product. The Wango stamp on it is to inspire others and bring positivity to the world,” says Mullen.
Mullen and Doiron often have to work on a very tight schedule. Wango’s latest film, Farhope Tower, was filmed in fourteen days. “To accommodate the tight schedule, we used a lot of steady cam which created suspense,” says Mullen, who put her steady cam operator on roller blades. “Our goal was to push the limits on what we could accomplish in a short time frame while staying true to the cinematic parts of it,” explains Mullen.
As the first woman to direct a Canadian live action fully stereoscopic 3D feature film, she is gaining a solid reputation as a female in the industry. “I’ve been a part of the small percentage of women working in the industry,” says Mullen. “I would say the challenge is where you come from and how focused you are.”
“There are few people in the industry who are magnetic. They draw you in and make you want to be a part of it,” says Robert Lalonde, Talent Agent and Manager of the Niagara Integrated Film Festival.
When directing, Mullen isn’t set on a specific camera style, she simply lets the movie dictate. Mullen recently directed the film Below Her Mouth using an all-female crew to capture the intimacy and perspective of the two main female characters. She uses her instincts to make choices that achieve the best performance from her actors. “When two actors listen to each other and connect there is a spark. I like to get them to listen to their partner and forget they are on camera,” explains Mullen. “We could create a strong and unique sense of honesty and know what it is like to fall in love,” says Mullen. Her strive for perfection and willingness to step outside the box while directing makes her films unique. “I love watching actors interact and elevating their performance to the next level,” says Mullen.
Mullen has taken her kicks in the industry – literally. Just prior to the shooting of Farhope Tower, she was injured while participating in a kickboxing class in Los Angeles. “I was on crutches and we were debating how I was going to direct and act in the film,” explains Mullen, who knew she had no time to recover with the strict 14 day shooting schedule. “I didn’t know where to put my crutches, they were clumsy and big and I never sit down when I am directing,” explains Mullen. With swollen feet, she persevered to finish the film on schedule and it opened with a bang.
“Farhope Tower was the opening film at the 2016 Niagara Integrated Film Festival and definitely one of the highlighted events of the festival,” states Lalonde.
To date Mullen has filmed five of her movies in the Niagara Region. She appreciates the benefits of shooting here. “I travel a lot, so if I can shoot where I want, I shoot at home and my family is a part of that,” says Mullen. “The Niagara Region is beautiful. Everything we need is at our fingertips. We can put our crew up in a hotel here and create a team feel. You might not get that with a blockbuster,” explains Mullen. “The joy for the project shows on the screen and that is what Wango Films is all about.”
Her speciality is doing anything that is not a specialty. From horror to drama, Mullen and Doiron are not set on one genre of film and continuously look for unique ideas to push their envelope forward. “Tim wrote 88 after reading about someone who went into a dissociative fugue state. From there we created a narrative revenge thriller,” says Mullen. 88 was shown at the Pen Centre Landmark Cinemas and sold in over 25 territories.
Mullen is proud to be a self-made entrepreneur who has learned from the ground up. “I never feel indecisive. I’m comfortable because my tool belt is so heavy from doing many jobs,” says Mullen. “I don’t equate my career choice with success,” says Mullen. “I do feel very proud that I have the knowledge and freedom to create my own work and earn a living.”
Although Mullen admits that at times it is a miracle that any film gets to the final stages, she is grateful to be in a career she loves. “I feel blessed that I am able to constantly create. It has never been about how big or small the project is. I get lost in the creativity and creating something with a team,” says Mullen.
Mullen is just hitting the tip of the iceberg with her potential. She recently wrapped up directing Aftermath, a science fiction television filmed in Vancouver, BC and the premier of Below Her Mouth at the Toronto International Film Festival. Most certainly another original film from Wango is in the works. For more information visit www.aprilmullen.com
Written By: Jill Tham