Kevin Eastwood Explores Life and Death in the VGH Emergency Room

Scene from ER | Image courtesy Knowledge Network, Erich Saide
Posted: Mon, 2014-09-22 14:26

Alumnus Kevin Eastwood (’99) is an award winning filmmaker who has worked on everything from dark comedies (Fido, the 2007 movie about a boy and his pet zombie), to TV biopics (2008’s Elijah), to documentaries dealing with serious global issues (Eco-Pirate: The Story of Paul Watson in 2011, and Oil Sands Karaoke in 2013). These projects, and the many others to his credit, have found critical, commercial and financial success and made Kevin a sought-after producer and director. Still, the unprecedented success of his latest project, Emergency Room: Life and Death at VGH, exceeded all his expectations.

Emergency Room premiered on January 21st, 2014 on BC’s Knowledge Network, and brought in record-breaking audiences: nearly 200,000 people tuned in for the first episode, making it the most watched program in its timeslot and the biggest documentary series premiere in the history of the network. That same episode has been viewed more than 120,000 times online through the Knowledge Network’s website,, and subsequent episodes have continued to bring in huge audiences across the province. In fact, the network had to increase its bandwidth to accommodate the surge of visitors to the Emergency Room webpage, where fans view episodes, engage in heathcare debates, and share their own ER stories with the world.

Kevin Eastwood Kevin credits much of the popularity of the show to its true documentary style, which stands apart from many of the ‘reality’ shows currently dominating television programming. He points out that Emergency Room has no narration, which means “the audience is not being told what to focus on or feel. They are relating to the people and the situation from their own perspective.” This allows viewers to experience and interpret the unfolding story on their own, which makes every story that much more personal. It also helps that the show covers subjects which are very relatable for most Canadians: workplace concerns and relationships, the over-burdened health care system, and, ultimately, the more universal issues of life and death. Kevin also praises the Knowledge Network, for recognizing how to properly deliver a show like Emergency Room. Each episode is allowed to run exactly as long as it needs to tell the story – the production team never has to sacrifice story for commercials or preset timeslots. “If you are a writer, no one tells you how many pages you have for your novel,” he says. “We don’t have to stop for commercials, or end at a certain time, so the rhythm of the show is very natural, and the audience feels like they are really a part of the scene as it is happening.”

Due in part to the opportunities created by institutions like the Knowledge Network, Kevin considers British Columbia one of the best places in Canada for documentary filmmaking. He advises students and new filmmakers to learn as much as they can about the entire process, from location scouting to funding applications, because every new skill may lead to a new opportunity. These days, Kevin draws on his own experiences and varied background to create projects he knows will be both professionally and personally satisfying. And he believes new filmmakers should use the same criteria when considering their own opportunities. He encourages them to “be idealistic and aim high,” and select projects that contribute to the local and national landscape as much as possible. As Kevin’s own experience with Emergency Room: Life and Death at VGH has shown, sometimes an issue that seems local can have an impact that is global.