John Albanis is a rockstar, just not in the way that he intended. The word rockstar has lost some of its impact in the past ten years. It used to mean someone who is capable of things so far above the norm that they are almost otherworldly. That doesn’t apply to most of the individuals it used to describe but it most certainly applies to this incredibly successful producer and director. Whether you know him for his work on films such as: Hot Tub Time Machine, Hector and the Search for Happiness, Psychic Driving, Distemper, the Jesse Stone TV film franchise, or music videos…you have definitely seen his work. When he was growing up in Calgary, begrudgingly working in his parent’s pizza place, he decided that seven days a week as a small business owner was not for him. Recognizing his destiny in the Arts, he packed up and moved to London to claim his position as the newest rockstar in the UK, via Canada. Within two months the band broke up (as they always do) and this struggling artist ended up working in finance. While proving his intellect and resiliency, the corporate world (and the films The Usual Suspects and Pulp Fiction) reawakened his desire for a creative life. Moving back to Canada led to an association with New Crime Productions and HBO (working on The Jack Bull). The dominos would fall from there to a series of productions including the aforementioned ones and numerous others. In truth, John did go to London to become a rockstar, it was simply to be behind the camera rather than holding a guitar. While he may have garnered more personal adoration from screaming fans in a stadium, fans of his film work likely outnumber potential music fans many times over.
One of the most beloved and unexpected hit comedies of the past decade is Hot Tub Time Machine. This multi-award nominated comedy is a return to the R rated films of the 80’s. Rather than mocking the era, it celebrates these times when things were a little more straight forward (at least we thought they were) than in present day. Hindsight might show us that fashion, music, and even social interaction had its laughable traits, all of the heart of an 80’s buddy/action/romance is contained in this feature film. Add Russian energy drink to a hot tub portal and you get…as ridiculous as it still sounds, a Hot Tub Time Machine. Don’t let the title fool you (the two of you who haven’t seen the movie yet), this film is full of emotion and laughs. The amazing worldwide box office and video sales prove that word of mouth about the film made much greater impact than any title could. Albanis had worked with John Cusack on HBO’s “The Jack Bull” in Canada. Cusack’s producing partner, Grace Loh, brought Hot Tub Time Machine to film in Canada and John was brought on as Creative Producer to round out the team. Many components had been established before Albanis signed on. He explains, “Grace and John had taken over the project for MGM so the other leads: Rob Corddry, Craig Robinson, & Clark Duke were already on board, contracts signed. As a producer, you never want to be forced in to a casting decision, but in this instance it was a blessing in disguise because the guys had such fantastic chemistry; it allowed us to focus on the casting of the supporting roles. The script was also being constantly rewritten and I was heavily involved in this process. Since the story involved time travel, there was a lot to keep track of narratively. Due to the fact that it is an R-Rated comedy, there was constant input from the lead actors and lots of improvisations that we wanted to incorporate into the film. We were literally re-writing material and introducing new material throughout the principal photography. From a production standpoint, this makes things very complicated. Anything new that was dreamed up, had to be ‘produced’ last minute. This resulted in emergency casting sessions for new roles integrated into new scenes that were shooting in a few days. Sometimes that meant finding new locations at the last minute in order to accommodate new narratives. It was pretty manic but somehow, all that energy fueled the film; you can feel it when you watch it. John adds, “I was also heavily involved in the music. Craig Robinson’s character was a musician and played in a band which performed several tracks in the film. I oversaw casting of his on screen band and was also in charge of producing all of the musical prerecorded sessions with Craig Robinson’s real life band (The Nasty Delicious) who we flew in to Vancouver for the sessions. All of these tracks had to be recorded prior to filming these scenes. My producing duties in music carried all the way through to post production. This film was a throwback to 80’s comedy classics, which always had such great soundtracks. We needed this film to compare. I had a large music budget to work with which was fantastic and allowed me to place some great signature 80s tracks from some of my favorite bands of that era. Such nostalgia!” In addition, Albanis was also the lead producer overseeing VFX. This film has over 200 VFX shots, many of which were extremely complicated to produce (done via Toronto based VFX company Mr. X).
While more known for his work on feature films than music videos, Albanis was enticed to work with Toronto based music video production company The Field. When The Field’s Cherie Sinclair approached him about creating a treatment for the song “Echoes” by a band called The Wilderness of Manitoba, he wasn’t sure if he’d be interested… until he heard the song. John confesses, “I was immediately connected to the song. I envisioned a lost soul crossing a harsh and rugged landscape in search of its missing love. In my mind, these ‘lovers’ happen to be giant plastic orbs. It was an odd concept; the type of concept that people would either love or hate. Thankfully, the band totally got it and I was awarded the job. I shot the video in Death Valley – and it turned out exactly as I envisioned. The label loved the final product. I still get bands reaching out to me about collaborating with them.”
John Albanis seems to be constantly in the orbit of music. While he isn’t creating it himself, he is enabling it and presenting it to all of us in a way that intensifies the emotional impact. One wonders if he has regrets that he didn’t find his way to a concert arena, standing centerstage. John reveals, “I only have two regrets: not investing in Apple stock when they started their rebound in the early 2000s…I was a huge Mac enthusiast, and getting a tattoo when I was 16 years old. Thank god for laser technology!”