Divisionary tactics

The filmmaking team Urban Peace Division is thinking big, and has the potential to back it up. Carsten Knox catches them before they hit LA.

Andrew Hines and Alex van Helvoort live and breathe film, but they find time for other interests. They met at the water fountain at Armbrae Academy on Oxford Street when Hines was in Grade 11 and van Helvoort in Grade 8, and bonded over a shared enthusiasm for dirt biking, leading them to document it.

“We made a video that was mediocre-to-alright,” says Hines. “But we had a blast doing it and that’s sort of what got us hooked.”

They also shoot skeet. Long-haired and quieter of the two, van Helvoort shows a purple and yellow recoil bruise the size of a mango on his right bicep, the result of mishandling the butt of the shotgun.

Now 20 and 24, respectively, the duo try to avoid the bruising mistakes, or at least, are quickly learning to overcome them. Their production company, Urban Peace Division, is on the verge of going big. Along with their sound engineer Joel Waddell, 20, they are about to spend a few weeks in Los Angeles with a crew of more than a dozen, helming a video for the Texas band Smile Smile, with videos for local melancholy songsters The Museum Pieces and San Francisco avant pop act Thee More Shallows slated for later in the year. With all this going on, the filmmakers still manage to appear casual, though Hines is packing a Blackberry beneath his hooded sweatshirt. Laughing, he illustrates how holding it in public makes him look like an asshole.

Both are still photographers as well as film fanatics. Von Helvoort has just finished his second year at NSCAD in the photography program, and Hines, an English major—to get his “head back into writing”—at the University of King’s College, says being the son of photographer Sherman Hines drove him towards this career.

“He would have his cameras with him all the time. He’d pull over to the side of the road and set up to take the shot, and he’d call me out of the car and lift me up to see through the viewfinder. It’s like passive diffusion of 24 years of my dad saying ‘This is what looks really nice, this is how you should frame this and this is how you use light.’”

Hines spent two months last year at the University of Southern California studying film and television, working in buildings funded by Hollywood heavyweights such as Robert Zemeckis and Steven Spielberg. Not only was the experience enriching for the collaborative contacts he made, including the future executive producer of the Smile Smile video, it allowed him to get his feet wet in production.

“We’d been working on a lot of things conceptually,” says Hines, “but going to LA and having to deal with actors, a camera and crew, once I saw that I was able to do that and do it well, then it was full steam forward.”

Hines returned from LA and a former classmate at King’s, Alexis Asselin, got Hines and van Helvoort to direct and edit environmental documentary short called The Changing Tides. It led to an aborted doc about the group of skateboarders who are travelling across the country for a cancer charity. Refusing to lose momentum when one project goes down, UPD pitched a concept video to Smile Smile.

“The initial interaction came through MySpace,” says Hines. “I heard their music, did some research and then got in touch with them. They were very obviously keen for success, and if they were hot for it, I wanted to be a part of it.”

The band responded to the UPD treatment, and though Hines credits a certain amount of luck in it working out, getting out there and working hard has allowed for the luck to happen. “A lot of people are into what we’re doing. We’re getting a lot of traffic on our website now.”

Though Urban Peace Division is busy, Hines and van Helvoort aren’t finished with school: Hines is applying to the American Film Institute for his masters in directing. With aspirations as a screenwriter and a director, van Helvoort says he’s still happy to pursue his degree.

“When you talk about practical and real world experience, it’s the best environment because there’s so much emphasis on the idea. You should be trying things and making mistakes. It helps with telling stories, and what we’re really interested in is storytelling.”

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