Mark Pragai of Montreal, Quebec moves closer to dream of making movies across the border
By Amy Nicole Tangel
During the height of the pandemic, when the border between Canada and the U.S. closed, there was a moment when filmmaker Mark Pragai said he felt his dream of coming to the United States to work and make films was taken away.
Mark, like countless others, had his entire career placed on pause-going from a day-to-day life filled with people, connection, creativity and building on his emerging film career to sudden isolation.
“My whole life kind of shutdown at that moment,” said Mark.
In the beginning of March 2020, just prior to the shutdown, Mark moved to Toronto going forward with his network and film career. His initial thoughts he said was, “it was going to be a great steppingstone towards meeting all the requirements” he needed to obtain a Visa to work in the U.S., but low and behold on his birthday, March 11 the border closed.
Feeling like his career ended and everything he worked for was one after another “drying up,” Mark said he decided to move back to Montreal where he stayed with his dad. He just dealt with the situation the best he could, but, at times, the seeming loss of so much was almost too much for him to bare.
“I remember a day where I almost packed up all my things in my car and road-tripped across the border,” he somberly reflected.
Prior to Covid, Mark said he frequently began traveling to the states in 2019; primarily L.A. to simply visit with friends and network. Soon enough he naturally became interested in pursuing how he could bring both worlds together.
Born and raised in Montreal, the filmmaker who has made award winning commercials for major companies such as Nutella and most-well-known for his work with the major Canadian fashion retailer, Simons said his first inspiration to capture images came from his mother who was a photographer. Adding to his passion to create, Mark said he was also instilled early on by his father, a craftsman, and his late engineer grandfather who built a family auto body business where he learned to build a car from top to bottom.
Although Mark sadly lost his mother to cancer at the young age of 14, he said the memories he has of his mother and her work is something that played large part in the career path he has taken. While he studied basic photography and learned how to work in the dark room in high school, he said it wasn’t until university when he started working with digital.
“All through that I was taking photography courses sort of as a way to connect with my mom,” he said.
In a truly organic method of being a self-taught filmmaker, another skill which has inadvertently benefitted his cinematography comes from his lifelong practice of figure skating. Mark said ironically, his years of skating has not only enhanced his filmmaking by naturally allowing him a fluid motion of movement with a camera, but it has also helped him to stand out among the rest.
Mark’s college years consisted of a focus on fashion and graphic design that eventually led him to production design. Being raised by a photographer mother, a metal working father and a grandfather who built with wood Mark said he takes from it all when building sets and making films. Whether it’s a music video, commercial or movie; fashion and dance is where Mark said most of his body of work lies.
“The visual aspect, which is really important to me as a cinematographer is everything,” he said.
When he decided to make filmmaking his life, Mark took a giant leap-of-faith leaving behind a full-time job and committed to opening his own doors no matter what. He partnered with two fellow friends and independent filmmakers and said they simply started shooting anything they could come up with.
Collectively and independently, Mark began working with other peers, Jose Antonio Fernandez and Vins Price to create reels to build his portfolio and eventually began entering contests; leading him to create one of his biggest published projects for Nutella. The commercial ran in Europe and for Mark, he felt it was the “moody” vibe captured through his filmmaking concept of “emotional storytelling” that stood out from the rest.
“It was a breakfast commercial we made moody. People don’t make moody breakfast commercials,” he said.
For the past 6 years, Mark has been active as the head to Raindance Montreal, a networking and film training division of Britain’s Raindance Film Festival created to support Canadian filmmakers. The extension of the largest independent film festival, Mark said was previously led by friend and actor Adam Bernett, but when it was time for him to move forward with his own career, he passed the torch to Mark.
Raindance Montreal has been a venture that Mark said he felt went under the radar for years in the international film industry, but thanks to his passion for networking the events held by the organization have soared to new heights.
“We (Raindance Montreal) became the biggest English-speaking film networking event in Quebec for filmmaking,” he said.
Canadian filmmaking Mark feels does not have the best view and the way the films get funded he said, “is a detriment to the films that get made there with everything being government funded,” citing there is no incentive to try and sell the movies. This mindset has fueled Mark’s passion to not only expand his own work to the U.S., but to help open doors for other Canadian filmmakers.
“For Montreal and our vibe, we are independent filmmakers trying to make professional looking projects,” he said.
Mark’s passion for people and joy for life seemingly comes through in every photo he takes and he is ready to bring everything he has to offer to the U.S. to create films here. Once he is approved, Mark said he plans to take residence on Long Island to be close to the city but will be traveling to L.A. for projects as well.
Long Island has been a welcoming stop for Mark over the past few years he said thanks to his friends and networking with the Long Island Film Festival (LIFF). Meeting “likeminded people” he said has been an inspiration to him and he is eager to for what the future holds.
“It’s in my blood. I love talking and I love hearing people,” he said.
To learn more about Mark’s work and his career you can visit markpragai.com.
Photos & videos courtesy of Mark Pragai