Monday, January 18, 2010

All 401 and 401 for All

Been there, done that. But this time, I saw a different side of Toronto...

In the on-going process of casting Elizabeth, we long-ago screened many self-tapes, did some call-backs in September and now we're finally following up on the short list of girls we selected for a second round of call-backs from that first round. 

I drove to Toronto to meet with them this weekend and in spending time with each one, got treated to a "girl's-eye-view" of some parts of the Big Smoke I would probably never have visited on my own.  

However, as every trip I've taken to Toronto throughout this filmmaking journey has resulted in some kind of loss - points on my license, my keys (temporarily), my newly acquired iPhone - I was of course braced to part company (involuntarily) with something again this time around. It's become part of the deal.  

But here I am now - back in Montreal and although I have not done a complete inventory - I do believe I came back with everything intact. The tides, dare I say, seemed to have turned.

Even before I got there, in fact, things "felt" different than usual. On my drive down the 401 on Friday, I spotted  wave after wave after wave of geese flying BACK north to Canada after wintering down south. Wait - but it's JANUARY! What's going on? Upside Down world.

Then when I flipped on the TV in my room that night, there was a woman standing on stage at the Broadcast Film Critics Association with an award in her hand - and she wasn't a movie star, or a presenter - she was a director. Kathryn Bigelow is the first woman ever to win for Best Film and Best Director in the history of Hollywood. 

Upside Down.

Okay, so maybe none of those are airtight signs for a complete reversal of fortune - and in fact the geese may quite possibly be harbingers of environmental catastrophe - but one way or another, it still feels to me like there's a slight shift in the wind...

P.S. Have you read Wednesday's post (below)? It was an exceptional mid-week edition.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chicken and Egg. And Beans.

Okay, I've got news. 

Before I spill my beans, let me say I'm well aware that what I'm about to divulge is likely going to rattle the cages of our most vocal and articulate followers to date. I am referring of course to that resounding and passionate population who made it abundantly clear that casting anything other than all-Canadians on a Canadian film would be something close to a travesty. (see all 31 comments in response to September 28, 2009 post: What Do You Think?) 

While we all agree that this country is full of crazy amounts of under-used talent, and that audiences will only cultivate a taste for something they're properly presented and consistently fed. And that Canadian filmmakers should, in theory, be able to cast 100% Canadian actors to help them tell their stories, the reality is that in many cases the financing, as well as the level of exposure, of the film is still very dependent on the casting having "Marquee" value.

While none of what was said here, or in my broader cinema/Canuckophile circles, has fallen on deaf ears - there's just one problem, the lead adult role in our film is for a woman : And to date, no Canadian WOMAN is considered enough of a marquee name for the powers-that-be. And yes, I fully recognize the chicken-and-egg irony in all of this. 

But in this restless place between what should be and what is, I have, above all, to think of my film - what's best for the film, the story and the characters that inhabit it. Like any director, I primarily want to find the right actors to bring each one of my characters to life - to realize their fullest potential. To lift this story off the page and make it alive. And I also want this film - what amounts to a long labour of love for so many of us - to be seen by the greatest amount of people possible when it's finally all said and done.

So, while the all-Canadian door is not closed, I am obliged to fully explore the Marquee portal. Without further ado, then, here's what's been going on behind the scenes on the Casting Couch :

Last November, with the help of Heidi Levitt, we got our script into the hands of Rachel Griffiths (an Australian native with wide-open, frontier topography in her blood, Rachel is best known for her roles in the Oscar-nominated film, "Hilary and Jackie" and HBO's "Six Feet Under"). Word came back quite quickly that she really liked the script, and she suggested we speak. She and I had a stimulating, thoughtful, fun! phone conversation about the script, about me, about Marion, about her and about the next steps toward her accepting the role. I was elated and full of admiration for the actor, and also the woman who had just had her third child and was actually considering doing my film in her upcoming hiatus!

Finally, however, as much as she loved the project and our exchange, Rachel could not come to terms with the logistical realities of our multi-week, "remote shoot", three children under 6 and us needing an answer so far (in Hollywood terms) in advance of the shoot, that she regretfully and graciously had to pass. 

After this news, we took some time to regroup and eventually submitted the project for Maggie Gyllenhaal's consideration right before Christmas. Maggie is admittedly on the very young side of Marion, but she has such an old-soul energy that makes her a very compelling, timeless actor. Our script was first read and greeted with enthusiasm by her manager. It was then sent on to Maggie.  Early yesterday we learned that Maggie passed - explaining that she did not see herself playing the mother of a child hitting puberty.

Fair enough.

Every time it's a little bit of a heartbreak, but ultimately I am really grateful to EVERY actor who has ever read, auditioned, considered, even passed on this project - because in doing so, every single one of them has given me something of themselves. Every one of them has caused me to stretch my mind, open my imagination a little bit more in order to encompass something they offer, something they represent. It is all a gift and an experience - for me, and I trust, for them as well. It's all part of the creative process.

And so, onward...

Monday, January 11, 2010

Time Zoned Out

I've been trying to stall this week's post for as long as possible - hoping against hope I would have something to tell you! Something good!

But, alas, I am being held hostage by a part of the population that apparently works on a different clock than I do. 

As I've so often been on the other end of this request I'm about to make, I'm not entirely sure how I feel about doing it to you, but I need to ask for a slight extension. In the interests of (hopefully) having something concrete to report, I'll get back to you here by Wednesday (EST) at the latest with a more complete post. 

Meantime, for those of you who are lucky enough to get HBO, check out "Bloodletting", a new Canadian-produced mini-series based on Vincent Lam's Governor General Award-Winning fiction AND starring a very gifted Canadian actor and dear friend, Kim Bubbs. It's airing tonight!

If you do see it, have your people contact my people and let me know what you think !

Monday, January 4, 2010

New Year's Revolutions

In the sense of turning...

As of tomorrow, we will have made one complete turn around the calendar with this blog. This, then, is our first year anniversary.

This is also the year The Year gets made. 

So in the spirit of anniversaries and in the tradition of new years, I'd like to take a look back at how far we've come. 

Here then, are my Top Ten Highlights (in chronological order) of the year before The Year becomes a movie :

- Infiltrating the Toronto International Film Festival for the first time - consequently meeting Melanie Hartley, the heart of Telefilm's English program in Quebec and being kissed (on the cheeks) by Viggo Mortensen while he was wearing Alex Kovalev's Canadiens jersey.

- Receiving the key to Dolly's inner sanctum from producer extra-ordinary, Brad Horvath.

- Receiving that heart-stopping and heart-swelling fax from her Dollyness, giving me her boundless blessing in her inimitable voice.

- Seeing the look on Barbara's face when she saw said fax.

- The two of us hopping in the car and barreling to Toronto to meet the people we hoped with all our hearts would want to be our distributors. An exhilirating experience topped only by finding out a few weeks later that they did - Yay, Mongrel! (Locking our keys in the car at some lonely highway McDonald's in a snowstorm on the way home should get an honorable mention here - or rather, a dishonorable one.  Same must be said for the intestinal crisis I succumbed to later that same night because of McSomething I ate.)

- Liz Jarvis and her fellow BUFFALO GALS showing us big love and becoming our prairie production partners!!!  

- Making my first Telefilm and SODEC submissions for production financing of my first feature film. Popping my pitching cherry some weeks later.

- Getting the blurry, beautiful, improbable news that BOTH Telefilm and SODEC said a big, fat, generous YES!!! Followed closely, and no less beauti/bountifully by the Harold Greenberg Fund and the Shaw Rocket Fund.

- Going to Manitoba to meet our own personal Buffalo Gal, Liz Jarvis for the first time, see that part of our country's assets, meet the area's top film personnel and be treated to the sparkling company and generosity of Ms. Carole Vivier, our Manitoba Film and Music benefactor. (Bonding with my two key creatives, Claudine and Normand was a Buffalo-sized bonus).

- This final category is ex aqueo - shared equally amongst the fabulous people who have wholeheartedly embarked on the project - each and every one of them a highlight in their own right: Andrea Kenyon and her casting team, Claudine Sauvé - D.O.P. , Virginie Léger - Production Manager, Normand Sarrazin - Art Director, Peo Rousseau on locations, Francine Langlois - 1st Assistant Director, Mariane Carter - Costume Designer, Heidi Levitt - US casting, Pierre Bertrand - Sound Dude, and YOU... 

To be continued...