Thursday, April 21, 2011

Second Acts Can Suck

Notoriously the hardest chunk of story for any writer to tame, the daunting spectre of the Second Act often looms like a large and blurry bête noire between the Snappy Opening of the First Act and the Satisfying Ending of the Third. Between those distinct narrative bookends that are usually the first to form themselves in the writer's mind - because these are the things that get them juiced and keep them going when the going gets tough - lies the vast, often arid, seemingly unnavigable land of The Middle.

Its name alone is an onomatopoeic omen of the murky challenges to come: "middle" is so perilously close to its ambiguous cousin, "muddle". And not too genetically far removed from "muffle", "waffle" and thus, "wander"...

And so, it is often the place where a good story can go astray. Or, at the very least, lose steam.

Popular wisdom goes that, in order to avoid these classic Second Act pitfalls, there is just one prescription: Raise the stakes. Throw increasingly bigger obstacles in the protagonist's way.

In other words, put your hero(ine) up a tree. And then proceed to throw rocks at him/her. Start with pebbles, go to gravel, continue to work your way through the various geological mineral formations and finish with a nice, fat bolder.

According to the pundits, that'll keep the narrative moving through the marshy, mushy landscape of The Middle to usher the story artfully and effectively to its ultimately satisfying Third Act.

Here then, is about where the river stones should start coming at us. Having sailed through our opening act of major openings in Montreal, Toronto, and most recently Vancouver, our film's theatrical life is now hitting the middle of its story.

With many scheduled, if limited engagements coming up in various places across Canada, we are entering a hopefully long and steady second act. And happily for the sake of sustaining tension in the story, despite generally fantastic press and good word of mouth, all our efforts to build audiences and box office in our snappy First Act are being challenged by the movie-going audience's increasingly solicited entertainment dollar and sundry other sticks and stones in the Second Act.

Duly following the prescription for a tight, tense narrative though, we have raised the stakes by also trying to navigate our way through the unchartered and sometimes mystifying territory of the international festival circuit. And according to the rules of good storytelling, we are still winding up in more valleys than peaks, but on we trek - jumping from tree to tree and working on our stone-dodging techniques.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Homing In

Vancouver welcomed me with clearing skies and shimmering seas. And cherry blossoms, like pink popcorn lacing the trees.

This town always seduces me and turns me into a bit of a pastoral sap. It lifts my spirit. Fills my lungs with fresh, tangy air and my head with visions of a healthy lifestyle and a hard body. When the sun is shining, the ocean is pungent and the mountains are lording it over all us latté loving Vancouverites, the only thing we want to do is be out in it.

But when it's raining - where better to be than out of it and in a cinema? Keeping dry and dreaming different dreams... Right?

I hope. I hope for rain. All weekend. For we open our film here on Friday and it's not been an easy Spring for the Lower Mainland. Beautiful weekend weather would be a box office death knell.

Since I have absolutely no control over the weather however, I came out here a bit early to press some palms and plaster some posters around my old hometown.

So far, my door to door director schtick has mostly been met with a very laid-back nod, a half-smile and a casual point to where I can put up the poster wherever I go. In contrast to Montreal or even Toronto, where it would cost me a good half an hour every stop because people were so eager to talk about the film, my role in it, what it was about... Maybe because this is a bit more of an industry town, people take films and their makers more in stride. Sort of like patrons in a Los Angeles restaurant finding out their waiter is really an actor....

Anyway, so far, that part has been very sociologically interesting - not unpleasant, but not on fire either. The flip side of this, though. is the reaction we've had from acting schools, filmmaking students, filmmaking collectives and local press... There is a real hunger in those circles for the stories behind making movies. And I've already been met and welcomed into a very vibrant fold of filmmakers - spearheaded by people like Paul Armstrong of the Celluloid Social Club, Javier of Raindance (a filmmakers' networking organization originating in Britian and making its way across Canada to Montreal). At their event on Monday, I met Katrin Bowen, writer/director and one-woman powerhouse behind the lauded film, "Amazon Falls" which débuted at TIFF last year and is opening in Vancouver April 15th - an exciting event to which yours truly got invited!

Also this week Julia's mom, Sue Chappel has been gathering likeminded people together for a sort of film-y "salon" at her place on Thursday night, not to mention organizing and throwing the after-party with husband Wayne in honour of our first night's screening on Friday. Sue's sort of like a den mother/mentor/booster to many burgeoning actors, writers, directors here in town and has also hooked me up with an inspiring young man, Julian LeBlanc (alias "Gossip Boy") who is on the rise as an actor and filmmaker but also as a strong voice for Canadian cinema on his blog of the same alias.

Finally but not leastly, my terrific publicist Bonne Smith has created many media opportunities for me here even though she's based in Toronto. If the stimulating, in-depth interviews I've had to date are anything to go by, well then there is actually more to Vancouver than meets the eye. And already, what an eye-full!