As a filmmaker, Ryan Mains is always on the lookout for his next project.
As an employee for Hollywood Suite, a group of four Canadian specialty movie channels based in Toronto, much of Mains’ inspiration comes from the movie world – past projects have included documentaries on Night of the Living Dead as well as one, Ferris’s Room, about an artist who painstakingly re-created the bedroom from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.
But sometimes the catalyst for a new endeavour can come from an unexpected place – the internet, in Mains’ case.
In the summer of 2017, the Elgin Park Secondary grad, who now lives in Mississauga, Ont., was browsing social media when he came across Kevin Porter, an Ontario firefighter and paramedic who, at 41 years old, was training to make it in pro hockey long after most professional athletes his age have hung up their skates.
Mains messaged Porter, which led to a meeting over coffee, at which time the pair decided to join forces for what became Relentless: The Kevin Porter Story, a four-part docu-series that details Porter’s dogged attempts to make it as a pro athlete.
“My pitch to my bosses was that, ‘Well, we tell good stories here and this is a story that needs to be told because it’s really interesting,” Mains, who studied film at Simon Fraser University, explained. “And thankfully they signed off on it.
“It’s been interesting – it’s certainly the longest project I’ve ever done… it spans a pretty huge time in his life – we started filming when Kevin was 41 and he’s 45 now. It’s been a really fun project and I’m actually kind of sad to see it end.”
The series covers Porter’s journey – as well as detailing his history with the sport, including a series of injuries and family tragedies that happened in quick succession while he was growing up in Kitchener.
More than once in the series, Porter says he felt like those events combined to rob him of a chance at a pro career as an up-and-coming teenage athlete. And though he put away his dreams of athletic glory while he grew up and started his career, an incident he experienced as a firefighter is what spurred him to reignite his passion, and his goal of playing professionally.
One question, posed by a Toronto sports-radio host about Porter’s story – and used as a voice-over in the first episode – serves as something of a mission statement for the entire series: “Is there a statute of limitations on a dream?”
Skating your way this September: Our latest original docuseries, Relentless: The Kevin Porter Story 🏒— Hollywood Suite (@hollywoodsuite) August 24, 2021
Follow Ontario-based paramedic and firefighter Kevin as he pursues his lifelong dream of playing professional hockey in his 40s. https://t.co/a6Qr3Ld1bt pic.twitter.com/3GfbbLnkGg
Without giving too much of the series away, Mains’ cameras follow Porter through numerous training sessions and tryouts with minor-pro teams from Brampton, Ont. to Rapid City, Iowa. Mains wasn’t with Porter every day, but noted that he relied on Porter to keep him in the loop regarding new developments – be it a tryout halfway across North America or a practice session with a former NHLer or Olympic skating coach.
Mains said that Porter was a natural in front of the camera, and as open about his goals, struggles and dreams as he was on social media, where he has gained a robust following.
“The thing about Kevin is he puts himself out there. There are haters and people who think what he’s doing is ridiculous, but he does not care. He’s just doing it for himself and he wants to see how far this will take him,” he said. “It’s very commendable and very inspirational.”
Mains, who worked in the film industry in B.C. – primarily in location scouting and commercials – before moving to Toronto, called the documentary “the most special one” he’s ever worked on.
Where it differed from his other work, he noted, was that this was what he called “a follow doc” – essentially documenting things in real time – as opposed to projects about subject matter that is in the past. It meant that while the project moved ahead, the 40-year-old Mains did not know how exactly, the story would end.
“This isn’t a reality show, I really wanted to keep the integrity of the documentary form. If I asked a question, he’d just talk – I never said, ‘Hey can you say that again this way?” I try not to become too involved in directing real life,” Mains said.
“In my mind, that’s what I was always wondering. It’s the first project I’d really done where you’re waiting for life to happen,” he said, noting that documentarians can often start filming a project only to shelve it midway through upon realizing it isn’t as interesting as it originally appeared.
Unfortunately for Mains and Porter, life did in fact happen, in the form of the COVID-19 pandemic which threw a wrench into the last little bit of filming. For Porter, it also meant cancelling a professional tryout camp he was planning to attend overseas.
“(COVID-19) definitely affected things, for sure. It created obstacles and we were definitely not done filming (when the pandemic hit),” Mains explained.
That said, there is an ending to the story – and Mains is pleased with the result, even though he insists in projects such as this one, it’s the process he enjoys the most.
“I’m very much process-driven in the work, so for me, making films, it’s not even necessarily looking at the finished product and being happy with it, it’s more about the process along the way. And this one was the most special, when it comes to that.
“It was just nice to see it all come together, and I think it was nice for Kevin, too. I think it’s also just nice for people to know these kinds of positive stories, especially now, with the world situation we’re in.”
For information on the series, including how to watch it, visit https://hollywoodsuite.ca/relentless/