Last week someone asked me if I create backstories for my characters, a tough question to answer when I was trying to determine who to cast. I used to create extensive backstories, being very specific that they influence their mannerisms, but recently have found that this sometimes can crush any sense of spontaneity. I don't want to create an environment that it limits an actor's ability to live in the character. However, at the some time I need to be specific enough that they have something to latch on to. For example, in this upcoming project the two lead characters are in their late 20s; the story takes place present day in a small town in the "real world"; the defining years for them are 2001, 2004 and 2005. This informs the actors what possibly could be happening in their characters' lives during this time in the "real world". They could've just graduated from high school and then 9/11 happened. How does it affect their point of view on the world? They could've been in their mid-twenties when 2004-2005 rolls over, and for many people this could be a cathartic experience in dealing with where they want to be in life, who they love, or what they are struggling with. It's a fine line, determining how much to create for an actor and production in general. You want to create a skeleton, a framework, that other people can fill in and hang on to. For some, all this character work might be a much for a tragedy/psychological thriller, but I think it adds depth to the person we see on screen. We start caring, and I think that's important in storytelling. http://bit.ly/1eLEW8u
The process for casting took a little bit longer than anticipated, which is good, because we had many great actors come out so it was highly competitive.
Below is a first look at the cast:
Steve Bradley as Michael
Garrett Black as Brandt
Christine Reade as the Cop
and introducing Gareth Rees as Colby.
One of the challenges of making a film is locations. Any filmmaker can tell you that finding a location is a matter of who you know, what they are willing to provide, or in some cases when they will be away. Producer Steve Menchions and I started the process last month. Through his knowledge of the lower mainland, we narrowed it down to an area. The City of North Vancouver has a small town sleepy feel to it, kind of like Twin Peaks. We shot a coming of age film, Up and Down, there last summer and the contrast of low rise buildings against tall trees really appealed to me. It provided a sense of place tucked away from the busyness of the world. At the same time, it is a place trying to be bigger than itself, and with the City of Vancouver across the harbour, it is constantly reminded of its true status. This feeling of finding one's place lent well to the themes explored in this film about a girl who finds love to be more complicated than the yo-yo tricks she is trying to learn.
For "What is on the Menu", I want to capture the small town feel again. The restaurant where our protagonist works does not draw attention to itself on the outside. The restaurant looks old, but has been kept up so it is in reasonably good shape. The same feel can be said about the things inside the restaurant; items are forgotten treasures that trigger old memories. This idea of polishing something old to keep looking new, reinventing oneself, is a strong theme running through this work. My first choice for a location is run by a lovely Korean couple who appear to be friendly to the idea of filming in their restaurant. I just have to be prepared with a back up plan in case they are not willing to let us in for free. http://bit.ly/1eLEW8u
It's almost become a tradition that we get together for casting around mid-winter. Starting in 2009, a narrative would develop in the autumn and then through the process of refinement we would somehow arrive at the casting stage. This past autumn generated a lot of stories for me. I was refining old ideas, having new ones of a personal nature, and even became inspired by what was happening in the news. Through submissions and pitching, What is on the Menu, came out and here we are.
I never thought I would be telling a tragedy a year ago, but after a couple of years of coming of age dramas I wanted to do something different. This month's casting call had over 170 submissions and through the tireless work of our casting director, James Wilson, we screened 50 of them yesterday. I'm looking at the possible cast with fresh eyes this morning, and it's still a challenging choice to make. I have to consider how each actor plays off the other actor, their ability to take direction, the qualities they inhibit with respect to each characters' backstory and where they "fit" in the fictional world created. For the first time, I may have to do a call back. Call backs are good problems because it means we some great talent out there and it's very competitive. That's why I do this as often as I do, to get better, and sample the great talent that's available in our community.
If you have a moment, please check out our campaign: http://bit.ly/1eLEW8u. Every dollar helps. Very special thanks to the generosity of people for contributing their resources, time and funds yesterday.
We've surged passed $800! A HUGE thank you to Peter Litherland, Lisa Urakabe, Julian LeBlanc and Mark Leung for supporting Made In BC film! http://bit.ly/1eLEW8u
We live in a caffeinated world. So much of what we do is timed around when we consume it that one can probably map out the peaks and valleys of our day in conjunction with our sleep cycle, eating schedule and exercise regiment. Knowing this is really important for me as it allows me to better understand my creative process. I figured out that I'm a morning person. I starve myself just a little bit and run on caffeine in order to zip through my emails, and write spontaneously. I'm a spontaneous writer and operate best when I don't think too much about something. It just flows out like the caffeine that drips into my veins.
It does mean that I have to be careful when I'm making decisions later in the day. Obviously, everything slows down, but I can get caught up in details and get tangled in them later on. If this happens, it is best to sleep on major decisions. Basically, I can survive on coffee and sleep, two things that oppose each other. I'm not saying that this will be my process forever. It will change as all bodies change. One thing I've learned through this process is that change is inevitable, and a little coffee helps along the way. http://bit.ly/1eLEW8u
We just lost our location sound guy. He was not able to commit to the project for the little funds we have, which is totally understandable. People have to put food on the table, and they simply can't make art for art's sake. Location sound is one of those positions where you need someone competent to be in there or it will mess up everything else down the line. Unfortunately, there are not enough sound people available and the general public thinks of sound as an after thought. Much emphasis has been put into the visuals that there are not enough people studying sound so the ones qualified are highly sought after.
The Good News: we received a commitment from our Director of Photography (DOP) on the project. Toby Gorman will be working with me again for the 6th time. Our shooting window is March 17 - 23, 2014. He's committed to being the DOP regardless of camera and other projects offered to him for better pay. Thank you Toby, thank you. Below is a film we did together back during the 2010 Winter Olympics. Just in time for Valentine's Day! http://bit.ly/1eLEW8u
I've finished revising the script and believe it to be my best work to date. We've received over 170 submissions for our 4 acting roles thanks to the talent of our casting director, James Wilson. Looking forward to our audition day on February 16. The biggest concern now is the budget. We've only raised $245 which is just 3% of our goal and there's only 18 days to go. We have to shoot March 17 - 23, 2014 and despite having won a non-cash prize through Cineworks, we still need funds to feed people, obtain supplies for the art department and make-up, and have a contingency to secure locations. Yesterday, I reached out to some of friends and colleagues telling them about what I'm doing. The idea that social media allows your friends to stay connected with you and vice versa is a bit of myth. People have their own lives and time has to be spent to sit down and meet with them. It's a full time job. I'm going to try my best. Glad, I only have 671 friends. http://bit.ly/1eLEW8u
On a rainy Tuesday night, we all gathered for a story editing session led by Gorrman Lee. Some of us were new to the process and unsure what would result from having our stories read out loud. By the end of the night, everyone came away with a better understanding of their stories and the potential impact it had on our audiences. Writing is a solitary endeavour and filmmaking can occur nowadays in a vacuum that valuable lessons can be learned through the sharing and questioning of ideas. My film is a tragedy so Michael's demise (protagonist) has to be brought upon himself. I think this will be one of my most interesting films. Okay, now I have some revisions to make...
Cineworks' 8 x 10 THE SWEETHEREAFTER Winners (Left to Right): Producer Naomi Parks, Director Christopher O'Brien, Director Blair Dykes, Producer Hayley Ashenden, Director Jason Karman. Not in picture: Story Editor Gorrman Lee, Producer Steve Menchions and Executive Producer Jon Onroy.