Do not give up. Challenges and setbacks are part of the learning process;
Believe in yourself. Know your value and love what you do and what you represent.
Learn to collaborate with people with different backgrounds and experiences as you will be surprised to see how much and how fast you can learn from them.
As a part of our series called “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me When I First Became A Filmmaker”, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Martin Thaw.
Martin Thaw was born in Toronto, Ontario and is currently a grade 10 student enrolled in the International Baccalaureate program. Fluently bilingual (English and French) and an avid writer, he regularly contributes to his school’s newspaper and a Toronto charity that promotes creative writing skills for youths. Martin is passionate about mathematics, science, computer programming and photography starting from a young age. He believes that his early exposure to multiple languages (in his case Chinese, English and French) helps him learn mathematical and programming languages effectively. In 2020, he competed in the Canadian Computing Contest and the Canadian Intermediate Mathematics Contest and ranked 1st out of 3769 and 119 out of 7819 contestants respectively. He enjoys reading and collaborating with others on projects. In 2019, together with other high school senior students, he led the creation of Educents, an online blockchain-based platform intended to incentivize disadvantaged youths to attend school. He believes that technology in general and blockchain in particular can be used to advance beneficial social causes. He also takes pride in serving as a student leader at his school to mentor students on computer programming and robotics since grade 7. Martin’s involvement in filmmaking stems from his volunteer work at a senior care provider where his social, language and hands-on tech skills helped develop great friendships with the senior residents. Through close interactions, he learned about various common neurological illnesses that seniors faced and this prompted him to research and produce his first film “A Beautiful Brain in a Beautiful World”. It is a science research-based documentary short film examining the development of human brain organoids (or mini brains) using human stem cells in an effort to understand the development of the human brain and the underlying causes of neurological diseases. This film was officially selected into the prestigious New Media Film Festival 2021 and the Raw Science Film Festival 2020; at the latter festival, his film also earned the first runner-up finalist position in the Best Youth Documentary Short category. His recent science research-based documentary “The Vengeance of the Animals” details how human’s negligent interactions with nature and wild animals have opened up the door for deadly diseases like COVID-19 to penetrate into the human environment. This film earned him various accolades in several other prestigious international film festivals where it was officially selected and screened for its educational value.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit of the ‘backstory’ of how you grew up?
Thank you for having me. I am fortunate for having grown up in an environment that is free, positive, non-judgmental and somewhat untraditional. My parents are very open-minded and disciplined and have a great influence on me. We share stories and jokes during family gatherings. My family is culturally and linguistically diverse and the diversity always gives me lots of wonderful opportunities to experience the greatness and uniqueness of each culture. In the first seven years of my life, I spent a lot of quality time with my maternal grandmother who lived close to me. Those were the memorable years during which I did lots of fun things like puzzles, folding origami, reading interesting children books that my aunts brought from Asia, visiting different ethnic food markets, learning calligraphy and experimenting with Asian cooking. At the same time, I am also very proud of my family roots in Montreal, Quebec where my paternal grandparents were born and raised. I always look forward to spending time with them and many relatives in Montreal during holidays when I would bake, play tennis, practise French with them and listen to interesting stories that happened to my ancestors and relatives from across the world.
Can you share a story with us about what brought you to this specific career path?
Frankly, I did not expect filmmaking to become my hobby. In 2019, I volunteered as a tech assistant at a senior care agency. My duties were to socialize with senior residents and show them how to use tablets and conduct internet searches to find interesting articles, videos or songs. The idea was to create a happy and positive atmosphere during my 2–3 hour visits with them. There were four tech assistants and I was the youngest and the only one who spoke French. I instantly became their popular assistant due to my hands-on tech skills and French-speaking ability. Soon I became friends with all the residents and learned a lot of important life stories about them. Of all the stories, the one that spoke to me the most was about the common neurological issues faced by seniors. Remembering how my maternal grandmother passed away abruptly several years ago, I started researching the causes of brain diseases and stumbled upon cool studies on how neuroscientists developed “mini brains” using human stem cells. I saw pictures of little human brain organoids grown in the laboratory and thought they would be perfect material for a science documentary, science fiction or even a love story. That was how I got my inspiration for making my first film.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that occurred to you in the course of your filmmaking career?
The funniest incident that happened was that my voice was undergoing different stages of changes as I was narrating different segments of the films which I started making two years ago. I had to redo many of the recordings because my voice was very unstable and cracking a lot. It would have worked out just fine if the recordings were for a horror film.
Who are some of the most interesting people you have interacted with? What was that like? Do you have any stories?
The friends I met at the senior care agency are very fine people to spend time with. Many of them had a great sense of humour and they taught me the importance of cherishing life. In addition, I would mention that in 2018 and 2019, I had the great opportunity to participate in blockchain hackathons with other students from my high school. We worked with a group of very bright computer scientists and engineers from The Blockchain Learning Group, (“BLG”, now known as Convergence.tech), a Toronto based technology solution consultancy company. I learned how to program a blockchain wallet and a blockchain based platform using Ethereum blockchain technology. I was very amazed by blockchain technology and how it could disrupt the traditional way of conducting businesses with greater transparency, integrity, security and without involving costly intermediaries. These features required the implementation of very innovative programming concepts that greatly intrigued me. It was a fascinating and intense learning experience. I also got to work closely with Adam, the main technology lead at BLG, and we have become friends and continue to stay in touch. In particular, I am very impressed by how committed Adam and BLG are in using blockchain technology to advance social causes. Their projects included helping goat farmers in Mongolia to secure fair compensation for the natural cashmere produced at their farms. They applied blockchain to help securely track the supply chain of the product they sought to protect. Their work is based on their strong commitment and firm belief to apply technology to advance a great social cause. I truly admire their social commitment. Their work is both noble and innovative. I have learned so much from working with them.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
It was a great opportunity in my life and journey that I got to spend the first seven years of my life with my maternal grandmother. She grew up in a war zone in China in the 1940s with her siblings. Her parents died when she was three and she managed to overcome a lot of hardships throughout her life. She cherished every moment in her life and had an exceptional sense of humour. She felt that growing up in extreme deprivation enabled her to be creative, audacious and perceptive. I really look forward to writing a novel or perhaps producing films to honour her great life adventures. I think they will be successful humour stories.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I do not think I am in a position to give any insightful life lesson quote at the age of 15. Having said that, I strongly believe that having integrity, being open-minded, having goals and perseverance are important. Once you have these key elements, people trust you, they are willing and able to work with you and you can achieve what you desire. Of course, trying to develop a sense of humour and humbleness always helps no matter what.
I am very interested in diversity in the entertainment industry. Can you share three reasons with our readers about why you think it’s important to have diversity represented in film and television? How can that potentially affect our culture?
Filmmaking is a creative process; the more dimensions a creator can explore and add to the creative product, the more able it will be to speak to and connect with a wider audience. Diversity, whether it relates to ethnicity, language, gender, religion or age, is a key component for enriching the content of any creative film production. Adding diversity also makes the films more relatable. We live in a diverse world and with globalization happening in all aspects of our lives, reflecting real-life diversity in films makes perfect sense. My life experience so far has involved many different cultural exposures and it has been a great and rewarding experience. So I can imagine that adding diversity in filmmaking will surely be an interesting and a more balanced experience for both the filmmaker and the audience.
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?
I am researching Algorand and a few other blockchain protocols as I would like to understand how blockchain technology can be streamlined with different improved features. I am also reading and writing about the theoretical models of optimizing the learning rate for efficiently training neural networks to minimize errors in predictions. Apart from these science related subjects, the next film I have in mind will likely be relating to the life story of a great inventor.
Which aspect of your work makes you most proud? Can you explain or give a story?
Volunteering at a senior care agency, writing for Ripple Foundation (a Toronto charity that promotes literacy in youths) and setting up a social entrepreneurship entity like Educents. These are rewarding things that I enjoy doing in regards to causes that I value a lot. Also, the short documentaries I made were intended to raise the awareness of neurological issues, medical and stem cell research and the socio-biological-environmental impact of human behaviour. I hope I can send some meaningful messages.
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- Always be yourself as that is the easiest thing to do without running the risk of contradicting yourself;
- Identify your passions and make a serious commitment to pursuing them;
- Do not give up. Challenges and setbacks are part of the learning process;
- Believe in yourself. Know your value and love what you do and what you represent.
- Learn to collaborate with people with different backgrounds and experiences as you will be surprised to see how much and how fast you can learn from them.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I always feel that the cost of WiFi access is a little high. If all the advances in the internet and digital technology are meant to benefit people equally, perhaps we should look at how we can equalize and minimize the cost of accessing these wonderful advances. I hope eventually WiFi will be free (or at half of its current cost) for everyone, or at least in the immediate future, WiFi should be free to all students during school hours.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. 🙂
Is it possible to ask to meet two people instead of one? Lol. I would like to meet Ms. Oprah Winfrey as I think she is a true inspiration for anyone. Another person I would like to meet is Mr. Elon Musk as I think he has some great visions and I would like to know how he sees the world in the next 50 years.
How can our readers further follow you online?
New Media Film Festival
Helsinki Education Film Festival International 2020 (HEFFI)
Prague Youth Film Festival 2020 (PYFF)
International Green Culture Festival Green Fest
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!