Monday, March 30, 2009

Vive le cinéma!

This weekend, something historic happened in cinema.  

Although it happened locally, I hesitate to add any kind of qualifier like, " Quebec cinema", because I believe what happened last night made history not only in Quebec, Canadian and North American cinema, but possibly even in all of Western Hemisphere cinema. Hell,  it could very well be a first for the whole World of cinema! 

Last night, on the Jutras (Quebec's Academy Awards), the winner in the prestigious and traditionally patriarchal category of Best Director was - a woman! Congratulations, Lyne Charlebois - you're like our Obama of cinema...! May this be the beginning of a healthy and growing trend.

In keeping with the whole cinematic, celebratory theme of this weekend, I went to the movies and feasted on some homegrown, some "indie" and some animation. Dédé à travers les brûmes, Sunshine Cleaning, and Coraline - made for a tasty film buffet. Washed it all down with some bubbly with my boys. Even though sisters are doin it for themselves, it's always more fun to share.


Thursday, March 26, 2009


The day has finally arrived. We're going in. For all we're worth.

And I have to say, I feel pretty good. I feel like we've given our all right up to the very last second of this race and that we've built a strong proposal on the foundation of a very solid script. 

In a way it's funny - seeing what's essentially four years of work boiled down into a small cardboard box of paper - but I imagine it's probably a lot like writing a thesis. Not that I would know. But I can guess. What I do know is that it's been a hell of an education so far....

And I say, "so far", because it's far from over.

Once all the proposals have been received at the other end, the next step is booking an appointment to appear in front of the project analysts - to defend our thesis, so to speak. 

Essentially, we'll be expected to come in and field questions, concerns, challenges from the analysts, as well to provide further material to both seduce and convince the analysts that we are more than ready to make this film. That it's practically already made.

There's a whole logorithm (if I'd done my Masters, I'd know how to spell that) involved in booking those pitches. Call it the Goldilocks logorithm - when the phone lines open you have to jockey to get just the right timing - not too early, not too late.  

Still, for today at least, we've done all that we can do to make our project worth defending. I'm proud of all that we've accomplished, I'm enormously grateful to all who've helped us get this far, and I'm going to spend this weekend watching other people's doctoral theses at my local Cineplex to celebrate.

Bon cinéma!

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

T Minus 2

Well, fancy meeting you here!  Hey T - Glad you liked the flowers! Seeing you and Barbara at the office the other day - churning out all those forms and documents, burning the candle at both ends - made me feel incredibly grateful but also a little helpless. I had this sudden urge to go and make a hearty casserole, give massages - do something more to help fuel and comfort the production machine. But the race is still on and time short for all of us, so I settled for sending you the flowers I wanted to send at the end. It's not much, and you can't eat them, but I thought they'd add a splash of colour to all the black and white of looming deadlines. 

And speaking of which, T Minus 2 has bled into T Minus 1. Today is it. The eve of Deposit Day. Will Arnett's proposal package has gone out to his management. We won't hear anything before the project's submitted to Telefilm and SODEC of course, but at least it's out there and will hopefully be seen and loved by Will himself somewhere down the road.  I've put the casting thesis, the "About Elizabeth" document and the "Director's Notes" through another rewrite and hope that they're in submission shape by the end of today.

So far, missiles are all locked on target! T Minus 1.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Quick Note from the Production Office

Hey y'all, Theresapedia here, hijacking the blog for a minute to thank Tara for the lovely, lovely bouquet of flowers we got today!

Indeed we here at Production HQ have had our noses to the grindstone (with the comfy shoes, stiff shoulders and sleepy eyes that go along with) but the end is in sight!

Thanks Tara.  Now if we actually GET THE MONEY, we'll graduate to champagne :)

T Minus3

Walked into the production office yesterday and had the feeling I'd walked into a college dorm right around final exams. Barbara was at the eye of a hurricaine of papers, running on caffeine and adrenaline only. Theresapedia was well-fuelled but changing into orthopedic shoes to prepare for the marathon of photocopying coming up.  

It was the first time the three of us had actually been in the same room this whole whirlywind week.  We all stood around and looked at each other with half-crazed eyes for a few minutes and then with few words, went back to doing what it is we all need to do to get this Bastard done.

We are getting there though.  Only two days left and still some chunks missing, but the most important things are there, or are coming in.  And even though Barbara's had to make a few last-minute saves on some things that were headed south, one way or another it looks like we're going to be submitting our project for production funding. On deadline.

T Minus 2... The Finish Line's in View!

Monday, March 23, 2009

T Minus 4

Everyone's a Bastard.

In the last three days before the Big One - Deposit Day - I want to invite everyone to be a Bastard. As a show of solidarity for our Mongrel-backed film project about a young girl whose search for identity leads her to the knowledge that Bastards are Beautiful, let everyone be a beautiful Bastard for the next three days...

I know I will be.

There's still Will Arnett's letter to finish - sending his package out today so that's priority! Got it closer to what sounds right yesterday. Still needs tweaking according to Barbara.

There's "About Elizabeth" - a nicely developing work in progress. There's the "Casting Philosophy" - I made a small thesis out of it. Up for discussion as to whether it's even going to make it into the final package now.

Finally, there's the all-important, uber-document: "Director's Notes" which has recently undergone Barbara's careful scrutiny.  Will find out today what adjustments need to be made. Waiting for the art director's input to see what can be incorporated in the section on production design. And the frame that Andrew the illustrator has come up with - should see that sometime today - or latest tomorrow. 

But all in all, we're getting there. We're in the home stretch now... T Minus 3

Go Bastards Go!!!!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

T Minus 5

So I know one thing. "Sinusitis" can adversely affect a writer's B.S. meter.

The fog of my head cold is starting to lift and just re-read what I wrote yesterday (T Minus 5) and I have determined that most of it is crap.  

My letter to Mr. Arnett, my "About Elizabeth" document and my "Casting Philosophy" all have a trying-too-hard ring to them.  Forced and phoney. I'm freaking out!

For today, I will leave it at that.... Must go find the core of truth in all of this and try to commit it to text.

So, the program for T Minus 4 looks a lot like that of T Minus 5 - just with way more desperation around it.


Saturday, March 21, 2009

T Minus 6

The timeline's a bit skewed because I'm writing this on the morning of T Minus 5. Didn't lose a day or anything - worked my finger prints off yesterday, but did it from bed with what may or may not be sinusitis. Just had no juice left last night for blogging.

At any rate, T Minus 6 saw mostly ends tying up slowly but surely.  We're closing in on finalizing most of the important paperwork and refining the creative philosophies and work flows...  

Briefed our intended art director (currently suffering for his "art" in New York City!) on my approach to production design. He's going to put together some reference images and maybe even throw me a few idea bones of his own.  Also, called up a great illustrator in Vancouver and asked if he would consider doing me a solid. So, while JF is gathering images and inspiration in New York City, Andrew's going to try and illustrate one of the shots I've imagined in the film from his rain-soaked studio in Vancouver - all in an attempt to give an extra, intimate glimpse into Elizabeth's world. And just maybe put the cherry on the sundae for people on the juries - crystallizing in their minds what this film might look and feel like.  It's a long shot, but you never know...

It is starting to feel like we're in the narrowing part of a funnel right now though - all the seemingly random ingredients that we've been sporadically pouring into this project for years, is now getting increasingly concentrated and flowing down, well-ordered, into the vessel labeled "Production". 

Tomorrow (which is today) T Minus 5

Writing my introduction letter to Mr. Will Arnett - for those of you who don't know this irresistibly funny, smart, irreverent actor - please, I beg of you, if you don't watch anything else on You Tube today - watch Will on any Arrested Development excerpt. You'll never want it to end....

Writing the About Elizabeth document, dammit!

Writing that elusive thing called "Casting Philosophy" - with Barbara's help I hope to nail that "lucid yet idealistic yet realistic take on the contradictory, absurd and probably unrealistic expectations everyone has. A tad humouristic, sans sarcasm." Indeed.

Wish me luck!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

T Minus 7

Crazy day - spent the first part of it blitzing on my Director's Notes - bringing the visual as well as the musical approach more in line with how I see the project now...  At this stage in the game, I've actually come to believe that the development process takes the time it inevitably takes (i.e. lots), partly to allow everything the time it needs to mature - including the filmmaker.

The second part of the day was taken up in large part by a long-awaited meeting with an art director who had to reschedule me earlier this week - due to being very much in demand. More on how that went in a day or two...

The third part of the day brought some potentially exciting news - our casting director Andrea Kenyon has made the all-important first contact with the management of my "dream Phil", Will Arnett.  Granted, this is only an initial contact, but his management has requested that a "package" be sent to them. Halleluiah! it feels so good!  Way to go, Andrea!

The fourth part of the day was dominated by digital technology.  Holy Raw Data, Batman!  It's like, a whole new century or something.  There's an embarrassment of riches coming down the pike. And while there's no comparing digital images to those captured on film, the fact remains that the world is moving more and more in that direction.  And as one of the camera "geeks" (and I use the term respectfully) said: "When it comes down to it, it's about getting the story out there. Period.

On the subject of cameras - as intended, I had a chance to get a little more informed on the Red.  It's a digital camera (beyond HD quality) with which my DOP is currently shooting a feature film and so far, she has only great things to say about it. I've come away from this "informational social" with some very strong arguments in favour of the D 21 however.  Without going into any detail, the most important differences between the two seem to spring from the fact that the Red was designed by the Oakley sunglass magnate and hip whiz kids and the Arri D21 was designed by cameramen with film backgrounds.

I made no definitive judgments at all, but I definitely saw and heard enough tonight to believe that there's more than one interesting alternative out there in the digital domain - especially if you're still a film freak at heart.

Now, to T Minus 6.

Only time will tell how that's going to go...

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

T Minus 8

Same high-performance cocktail for breakfast today, but then got all jammed up with creating the casting scenarios. It was like being in a genetic engineering lab, like creating strings of DNA - the combinations and permutations are infinite. Between what Telefilm requires in the way of casting, what the Quebec requirements are to be eligible for SODEC money, what would be ideal and what would be remotely realistic - there still lies a surprisingly deep pool of possibilities.

Since we've settled on presenting a minimal number of possible casting "scenarios" to the juries at both Telefilm and SODEC, I have now got to whittle down my 18 possible couplings of actors to like, four.

Meanwhile, I chipped away at the Character Descriptions.  Have Marion and Phil where I want them. But need to take a good running start at Elizabeth. 

Compiled some research for the About Dolly document. And except for one missing picture of a theatre, I have Ruby/Elizabeth's travelogue completed. No word yet from Barbara on whether there's much to touch on the "Final Version" from last night.

Here's some of what's on the slate for:

Thursday, T Minus 7

Complete the Director's Notes document - particular attention to Visual and Musical Approach

Write an introduction for Casting Scenarios and eliminate 14 of those scenarios

Write an introduction for Magpie Symbolism document

Continue About Dolly document

Meet art director originally scheduled for T Minus 9

Try and attend sound and image studio DAZMO/MTL Video's demo cocktail to check out, among other things the camera my d.o.p. has convinced me might be the best for our project : The RED

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

T Minus 9

Started the day with high octane cocktail of compressed, finely ground espresso beans and moistly heated milk.

Did a set of one squat in front of the computer and rested on my chair.  Started laps around the script. After a while, went to check emails and had a message from Pierre Marchand, the producer/composer best known for his work with Sarah McLachlan - not to mention Rufus Wainwright and Daniel Lanois. From India, where he's on a four-month hiatus, Pierre read the script and wrote: "I like it." then subsequently declared himself a "very interested composer" (based on availability).  

Then he asked his management to send me a C.V. for our Telefilm application. I got it this afternoon. Now have the CV's of three out of the five key creative crew. Check, check and check.

Got a call from an art director I was supposed to meet.  He's working, needs to push the meeting until Thursday.   I do appreciate that the good people are the ones who are usually too busy to meet about other jobs...  And on the up side, this also gives me more time to work on the script.

Before I went back to that, though, I did some reps on the Character Descriptions - tweaked Marion and Phil, started Elizabeth and haven't yet got to Dolly.

It may seem odd to some, but here in Quebec (which is, after all, now my home province and where I'm requesting production funding) Dolly Parton is not a household name.  So in order to make our application as complete and "universal" as possible, I have to produce a document that introduces the uninitiated to Dolly Parton. And then go on to connect the dots between her personae and my story. This document may write itself, but then again, it may be as delicate a procedure as the script itself... Yikes.

Got all my templates ready to receive the Four Family Trees.  My Elizabeth is the same in all four potential casting scenarios. Note to self: ask Theresapedia to post the photo of our "Elizabeth in a toque" so she can live in other imaginations.  

So, have now completed the most recent pass on the screenplay.  Am sending it to Barbara for review after this posting. As planned, am calling this the "Final Version". But stay tuned for an inevitable sequel...


Goals for T Minus 8 - Wednesday

Start writing Elizabeth's character description.

Begin "About Dolly" document.

Place selected cast photos and bios into the four family tree documents.

Address whatever notes come back from Barbara on "Final Version" to hopefully send out to our potential Prairie Partners (to be announced any day), a potential French pay TV programmer and Hussain Amarshi, our distributor.

Start enhancing the Musical portion of Director's Notes document to reflect the potential participation of Pierre Marchand (

And then stretch.

Monday, March 16, 2009

T Minus 10

10 days to lift-off. 

In other words, 10 days to Telefilm. Which really means: 10 to the power of 10 things still left to either generate, calculate, find, define, refine or confirm.  Especially confirm. 

With so many ends still left to tie up before we submit the project for funding, I figure I'm going to need nothing short of the kind of rigorous, round the clock work schedule plus the physical and mental discipline usually only ever seen in East German athletes training for the Olympics. Minus the drugs, of course. 

Okay, minus most of the drugs.

Here's the thing - if I'm going to make it (more or less drug-free), I'm going to need some help. I'm going to need a sort of virtual personal trainer to keep me on track, keep me focussed, keep me pushing myself to beat my own personal best.

After what's essentially been a four-year foot race (some also call it "development"), I'm having a hell of a time pushing through that "runner's wall" in the home stretch. I'm still looking for the superhuman burst of speed that kicks in just when you think you've given it all you've got. I'm hoping for those end-game endorphins that, despite "final draft" fatigue, cramps in the brain and dehydration of inspiration, will get me across the very crowded, government-funded Finish Line.  To medal.

So, here's what I'm going to do...  I'm going to make this blog my stopwatch.  And as each day passes, I will report back here and give the blow-by-blow-down of how much progress I'm making, at what level I'm performing.  And I'll set goals for each ensuing day, counting down to the final day of reckoning - Deposit Day. I don't know what it'll do for you out there - are you out there? - but I know what it just might do for me...

It just might help me kick it hard enough in these last remaining days to put the sweetest, tightest feature film package straight through the narrow goal posts of the financing powers-that-be.
To wit...

Goals for Tuesday (T Minus 9):

Work the latest list of script notes into the screenplay to produce what will then be called, definitively (for now),  "Final Version".

Meet and make decision on Art Director.

Write document entitled "Character Descriptions" - work on Marion, Phil and especially Elizabeth.

In the absence of confirmed casting, create Four Possible "Gray Family Trees" - illustrating the following four casting scenarios:

"A-list" American + Two Canadians Tree

"B-list" American + Two Canadians Tree

"A-list" All-Canadian Tree

Pure laine (100% Québécois) Tree

And, go!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Congratulations, It's a Mongrel!

Biggest news since Dolly Parton herself wrote to tell me that she would be proud to participate in my film....


Not just any distributor either, but MONGREL MEDIA thank you very much. Arguably one of this country's most discerning and daring distributors, Mongrel has been the champion behind some of the brightest lights in Canadian and international cinema since Hussain Amarshi founded the company in 1994. 
(Check out for new releases)

Those of you who've already traveled down the Telefilm path, or have been following me on my own tangled journey there, know that a Canadian distributor is an essential requirement for production funding. And I for one, could not be more thrilled that it's Mongrel we're going in with! 

Plus, it seems very fitting that the distribution company which takes its name from the Salman Rushdie quote, "A love song to our mongrel selves" would get behind this tender little story about a bastard of sorts. 

So, to Hussain Amarshi, Caroline Habib, Tom Alexander and the rest of the Mongrel gang, let me just say : Thank you for including our nascent star in your constellation. May we all shine a little bit brighter because of it.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Coming Out

I've just emerged from my writing retreat and Barbara says I look like a "deer in the headlights".   

There's most definitely a deep exfoliation process that happens when you're isolated and "meditating" on one thing for ten days straight. Ask any monk. So, I guess it's no surprise that I had a touch of startle syndrome when I emerged from seclusion and went straight into a packed house of filmmakers gathered to hear Christine Vachon give a "master class" on independent film production.

In fact the whole thing scared the "Nell" out of me.

Going to hear one of the recognized gurus of ball-busting filmmaking pronounce on the ins and outs of getting first-time directors' stories to the screen seemed a fitting way to cap off my own little creative crusade. For those of you who aren't familiar with her work, Vachon is the producer who brought us such trailblazers as: Hedwig and the Angry Inch, I Shot Andy Warhol and Happiness. Back in the day, Vachon was at the forefront of the independent film movement in the U.S.. But as with any fringe movement that gathers steam, "independent" cinema has gradually been absorbed into the mainstream. So these days Vachon is looking out at the very same production landscape as everybody else - from studio heads in Hollywood to hosers like me.  

And as she said right off the top, financing a film is really hard. It always has been. But now, in the midst of the "global economic crisis", it's just a new kind of hard. The really freaking hard kind of hard.

And in an attempt to make a "sure thing" out of an unquantifiable risk, the people who have the power to finance films have become increasingly insistent on cast. Because, whether you're trying to get your film made in the purely capitalist climate of the States, or in the subsidized landscape here in Canada - the guarantee of foreign sales has become an essential key to completing the financial structure. And without a "bankable name" (or preferably four), there's no way to anticipate any foreign sales, thus no way to complete your financing. Now that reality creates a very touchy Catch-22, especially for the first-time director. In Canada.

That's partly because a "bankable" name is industry-speak for "American movie star". And even grimmer yet - a "Male American movie star". Because apparently, the prevailing wisdom still is: Women don't open films. (unless their names are all Angelina Jolie)

As my two principal protagonists are women AND Canadian, what's a first-time-director-girl to do? If my script weren't a period piece (mid-70's), then it would be relatively easy to get the budget down to a number where an investment from Telelfilm, SODEC, a modest guarantee from our Canadian distributor and tax credits could cover the financing. Foreign sales, if they ever happened, would be a welcome bonus - but not a deal-breaker. 

Alas, that is not the script we have. The story is inextricably tied to the time and place in which it's set. Which, without going into detail, means it costs much more to produce than a comparable story were it set in contemporary time and place.

So here I am, just coming out of seclusion - my script that much stronger - but the means to make it looking flimsier than ever.

The one uplifting thing that Ms. Vachon did manage to impress upon the hope-hungry filmmakers gathered around her combat boots was: with nothing short of heroic persistence and luck, a great script will always, somehow, eventually prevail. 

And a little Angelina wouldn't hurt either.