Story by Michael Seguin
Photography by Cyril Bagin
When it comes to local talent, Windsor has no shortage of stars. However, none have been quite as meteoric as visual effects artist and filmmaker Corey Mayne.
Mayne, a Windsor native, is an accomplished VFX artist with over 10 years’ experience. After completing a three-year Media Arts program at Sheridan College, Mayne went to work for Sony Pictures Imageworks on 2007’s Beowulf. After completing the film, Mayne was offered a job at Pixar, where he lent his skills to films like Up and Brave. While there, he also worked on converting some of their older films, like Toy Story and Ratatouille, to 3D. From there, Mayne worked on critically acclaimed shows like Game of Thrones, Penny Dreadful, and Vikings, among many others.
Mayne is making his directorial debut this year with Willa, a 12-minute adaptation of the Stephen King short story of the same name.
Mayne’s lifelong passion with filmmaking was planted at an early age. “The earliest memory I have is catching the end of Batman one night at my grandparent’s house,” Mayne recalls. “I just remember being taken aback. The world they created was just so surreal. And there’s all these stunts and action going on and I was like ‘how did they do that?’ I remember feeling that again with Jurassic Park. Terminator 2 was probably the biggest movie for me, though. I probably saw it before I should have. I remember the T-1000 morphing itself back together. I was just like, ‘What the hell is that?’ I remember having nightmares about it, but it’s still my favorite movie.”
From there, Mayne began making his own movies on VHS, using a VCR equipped with audio dubbing. It was in his high school communications class at Holy Names that Mayne met Barbara Szeman, who would eventually go on to produce Willa.
“[Szeman’s] got quite the reputation around the Toronto film industry because she’s done some really huge shows as an assistant director,” Mayne reports. “She’s been in the trenches which really came in handy because this project was pretty ambitious. Her skill is being able to foresee a lot of issues that can come up and strategizing for them.”
The two Windsorites began planning out their first solo project after Mayne’s tenure at Pixar.
“Once I was back in Canada, me and Barb got together,” Mayne says. “We wanted to do anything we could to work together and do our own thing. We had a lot to learn at that point, but it was a major decision. We decided to buckle down and plan out the production infrastructure that we’d need to make the film we wanted to make. It took a long time because we both had to work and pay bills and keep our jobs in the industry. We spent every weeknight and every weekend developing something and applying for grants. It was all very time-consuming.”
Mayne eventually decided to adapt “Willa,” a short story by acclaimed horror author Stephen King. The story involves a man who sets out to find his missing fiancée at a train station.
“I’ve always been a Stephen King fan,” Mayne confesses. “I’ve read a ton of his books and I remember reading ‘Willa’ a long time ago. It felt like a classic campfire ghost story. I was always a fan of Tales from the Crypt and The Outer Limits. Actually, there’s an old—like a really old—Twilight Zone episode that’s almost identical to it.”
Mayne and Szeman were able to create Willa thanks to Stephen King’s Dollar Baby program. For the exorbitant cost of one dollar, filmmakers are granted the rights to adapt one of his short stories.
“Barbara and I were looking for our first project,” Mayne reports. “The fact that Stephen King, one of the most successful authors of all time, has this program for fans and filmmakers—it was like how could we not take advantage of this? It would have been a missed opportunity.”
Although the film was shot in Toronto, Willa was a distinctly Windsor-esque production. The City of Windsor assisted with the film’s budget, awarding Mayne the Arts, Culture + Heritage Fund. In addition, the films cast—Kelsi Mayne, Adrian Jaworski, Nick Szeman, and Madison Seguin—are all Windsorites.
“Windsor was running the show,” Mayne laughs.
When asked how difficult it was making the leap from visual effects artist to director, Mayne was nonplussed. “It was actually easier than most people would admit,” Mayne confesses. “I guess because I had an idea of what I wanted to do the whole time. The only difference is that you’re less sedentary as a director. You have to socialize with everybody. And everyone comes to you with questions. I guess the tricky part is trying to articulate what’s in your head all the time. So you do become a better communicator.”
The film was shot at night, entirely with a crew of over 100 volunteers. The crew consisted of Toronto's most professional film crew from Shape of Water and Suicide Squad, in their respective fields. Mayne recalls staying up all night to shoot his film and then dragging himself into work the next morning.
“A typical film day is 12 hours or more,” Mayne says. “I went to work the next day and everyone was like, ‘Wow you look like you just died.’”
For Mayne, Willa was also a family reunion of sorts. His little sister, Kelsi Mayne, a country music singer, plays the titular Willa in her brother’s film.
“Working with my sister was really easy,” Mayne admits. “Because we’ve grown up together, we kinda have a shorthand. She’s younger than I am, but I think she works harder. She’s always been a straight A student. She excels at things she doesn’t even like. It was very carefree for me because I knew I could just trust her with anything, and she will excel at it. And it was fun to share that experience with family.”
Willa is set to premiere later this year. “We have entered it into around 40 festivals,” Mayne states. “Some mainstream ones and some smaller ones I think it will do very well in. I just hope that all the hard work everyone has put into this project gets to be exhibited. It deserves to be seen in theaters. It’s really atmospheric. The sound and picture are amazing. Everyone’s said the same thing: it looks and sounds like a Hollywood feature. I want it to be a fun, thrilling short ride.”
While Mayne and Szeman have already achieved what few could even dream of, the pair are not content to rest on their laurels. On top of furthering their careers in the industry, these two Windsorites have already begun developing their next major project: a feature film.