SAIT Filmmaker Debuts First Feature-Length Film


What does it take to be an independent filmmaker in Canada?

ThomasLee_Story“Develop a thick skin,” says SAIT alumnus Thomas Robert Lee (FVP ’10). A first-time writer and director, his film Empyrean was screened at the Calgary International Film Festival(CIFF) in August.

“Hold yourself up to a level of quality in the kind of film you would like to watch. And don’t think just because you’re an indie filmmaker in Calgary that you can’t strive to make something that will stand up on an international scale.”

Lee began writing Empyrean, his first feature film, after graduating from SAIT’s Film and Video Production program in 2010. It took him three years to write the script, another year to raise the funds to produce the film, eighteen days to shoot and another year for post-production work. After five years, Empyrean was finally ready for the big screen. Lee submitted it for consideration at CIFF and it was accepted into the line-up. Now, a Canadian distributor has picked up the film and will eventually be releasing it in theatres.

The film is a modern-day science fiction drama about a man named William Fischer who is in a horseback-riding accident and ends up in a coma. When he comes to, Fischer experiences a psychic awakening and as his reality crumbles, his personal life and his marriage all begin to buckle under the pressure.

“It’s a story about time and memory,” says Lee. “Fundamentally, it’s about the search for meaning.”


Philip Letourneau, one of Lee’s past instructors at SAIT, remembers him as a happy, honest, co-operative team player who was always striving to do his best.

“Filmmaking is very hard,” says Letourneau, “and if you’re trying to take the independent filmmaking route it’s incredibly difficult. It takes a tremendous amount of commitment, vision and drive – especially in the Canadian industry – and that’s something to be admired.”

Lee and his team on Empyrean will be submitting the film on the international festival circuit for the next year before he expects it to be released in theatres and through on-demand services. In the meantime, Lee has been working on his next script, “an English folk horror about the occult that explores the complex bond between mother and daughter.”

“Film has always been my passion,” says Lee. “To make a good film, you have to make something that’s important to you – not what you think everyone wants to see.”

Written by Alison O’Connor

Source SAIT Polytechnic