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  • Annette Dawm

The Magic of Storytelling with Rob McCallum

Rob McCallum is an award-winning filmmaker who has covered a variety of topics throughout his career—from his favourite video games, searching for his mom and telling the story of Ernie Coombs/Mr. Dressup. Rob said that regardless of the subject matter, he hoped that people would have “an emotional response” to his films. He added that he would like them to “consider different aspects of their life, their outlook, and to consider what is really important to them and the world.”

“It’s all about storytelling in whatever form, to be honest. Movies, songs, gaming, books, nursery rhymes–it all hit me hard when I was young. I would watch and re-read my favorite things hundreds of times discovering new aspects and details with each viewing. So, as a result I started telling my own stories early on….In high school, I made my first films. From then on, I was hooked.”

In 2016, Rob’s film, Missing Mom was released. The documentary follows Rob and his brother, Chris as they try to determine why their mother disappeared from their lives several years earlier. Their search takes them across Ontario and beyond. Many small towns and cities like London are featured.

The support Rob has received from London and the surrounding area has meant a lot to him: “The arts council has been instrumental and when it existed, local press was always very kind. I’d be remiss if I didn’t include local business and establishments like The Hyland, Heroes and Game Cycle. All have been great to me over the years.”

For McCallum, Missing Mom was easier to make than most of his projects because the majority the people he interviewed were his relatives. However, he didn't know whether or not they would actually find his mom: "I didn’t know what the outcome of our quest would be but I always knew the meaning of the ending would be the importance of effort and determination."

Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe also had several behind the scenes obstacles. For example, the team booked interviews with some of Canada’s most talented people and they rebuilt the set of the show. In total, the documentary took five years to make, but to watch everything come together was “pretty thrilling!”

“We’d been working towards it for months, seeing plans and discussing the approach but we didn’t get studio access to build [the set] until a bit later. So to it see it come alive was magical…. The power of a community that believes in something is unstoppable.”

“….I loved learning about Ernie and his friendships with people and how that varied a bit person to person. It really helped paint a picture of him for me. While his words were always gold, you really felt it was the genuine article when you heard about some of his top notch actions for others. There was also a cool pie fight story that was beyond silly! It almost made it into the film!”

Luckily, many of Ernie’s home movies did make the cut: “Those moments helped ground him as a person; it erased any of the facade I felt while seeing him on the show. It was beyond special getting access to that material. It was an honor and responsibility that I took incredibly seriously.”

Since the release of Mr. Dressup: The Magic of Make-Believe in 2023, McCallum has been incredibly busy with press tours and award shows, all while working on other things. He is looking forward to some “downtime” with his family and “developing new projects and continuing to share existing ones with new audiences”.

Finally, for anyone wishing to follow in his career path, Rob McCallum noted that it is important to “find a way to tell stories by any means necessary”, whether it’s “making movies with cell phones, or writing with a pen and paper.”

For more information, please follow Rob on Instagram.

Photo courtesy of Rob McCallum.

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