Saturday, March 19, 2011

Dispatches from a Door-to-Door Director

By far the best part of promoting the film has been the face-to-face part...

After shaking hands and kissing babies all the way around the Cineplex that's showing our film here in Montreal (held over now for a fourth week!), I loaded my poster-ettes, my CD's and my thermos into my car and hit my 401.

I arrived at Toronto's Cumberland theatre in time to see people getting seated - and man, were there ever a lot of seats. In fact, the seats outnumbered the people about 6 to 1. But what they lacked in numbers, the people made up for in enthusiasm and warmth. Only two people left when the credits ended, everyone else stayed behind for the Q & A session after. It was lively, engaged and engaging. And then even after that, people came to talk to me one on one - and buy a CD of the soundtrack.

Nonetheless, the low attendance on our "opening night" in the T-dot had taken its toll... Holed up in my hotel room the next day with a bad cold, ear infection and tender morale, the last thing I felt like doing was venturing out into the naked city to show my blotchy face - let alone engage with anyone. But I needed an espresso something bad, so finally my taste for caffeine triumphed over my pride and off I set - grabbing my bag of posterettes on my way out the door...

And in less than an hour, I'd not only put up four posters in busy shops, but met a fellow filmmaker who's got a company called Sharona Films, met a fellow prairie girl hailing from Winnipeg who invited me to another Winnipeg'ers art opening that afternoon and Joanne Kim, who owns City Bakery next to the hotel, and has the warmest, most open smile of any human I know.

And she has a running group! After I signed a poster-ette to hang on Joanne's "wall of fame" just above the coffee condiments, she told me she was going running the next morning with her group, going for brunch, then taking them to see my movie.

We then spent some time swapping titles of our other favourite "sleeper" films we'd discovered by happenstance (hers is "Unthinkable", mine "Junebug"). I polished off the best avocado, hummus, brie sandwich on multi-grain in town and headed out to find the gallery where Winnipeg artist, Janet Werner was opening her show.

When I walked into that gallery, the woman I'd met in the bakery was there with her daughter, holding the poster-ette I'd given her and talking about our meeting to a circle of - as it turns out - other prairie girls! We're everywhere!

After chatting to them for a bit, about the movie and other stuff, I had to get back to the hotel to meet Brad Horvath (my first door to Dolly) for a "congratulatory" drink before presenting the film at the Cumberland again. At the bar, I took out a poster-ette to sign for his office and the bartender came over exclaiming, "The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom! That's the movie my girls want to see! We saw the trailer last night and they said, 'Daddy, can we go to see that?'"

I mentioned that if he didn't want to disappoint those moppets with impeccable taste he would have to hurry, because it was likely the film would not be playing long. He brushed my worry aside and asked if I would sign a posterette for his girls. He ran out to the lobby and came back with a Sharpie. Then offered us another drink - on the house. No self-respecting door-to-door director should ever turn down a free drink but alas, I had to get to the theatre.

Buoyed by all this good will and synchronicity, I jumped in a taxi and sped to the Cumberland...

Where the seat-to-people ratio was even higher than the night before. The valiant, seriously outnumbered people who had come out, stuck together though and every single one of them stayed afterward to participate in another lively, even longer Q & A. And I sold twice as many CD's as the night before!

Despite the dismal box office, I still drove out of Toronto the Trying the next day, the trunk of my car - and my heart - lighter than when I drove in. All because of the people.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Missing Metaphors

Try as I might (and I really have tried), I just cannot come up with a better way to describe the whole process of writing, directing and promoting a feature film than the old tried and true saw: It's a lot like having a baby.

As dramatic as it may sound, child birth seems to be the most appropriate metaphor to explain what a life-changing, all-absorbing experience it really is.

Even though I am not a mother myself in the biological sense, I do have enough friends and family who are mothers to know that once you have a child you are constantly inhabited on some level by the responsibility, love, concern and yes, guilt you feel toward that child. That helpless being you brought into the world haunts your consciousness 24-7. Its welfare is the last thing you think of before you fall asleep at night and the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning.

Such is the experience of making and then nurturing an independent film. In fact, so many parallels can be drawn between parenting and low-budget filmmaking that no other metaphor comes close to being a viable contender. So I've surrendered myself to just going with it...

However that logic does break down when you consider that even after gestating the film for an unbelievable six years, it still ends up in an incubator as soon as it enters the world.... its life literally hanging in the balance from the second it's born.

And you wonder, how can something seemingly so "ripe in the womb" still be so incredibly fragile once it finally emerges?

Then again, they say it takes a village to raise a child.... And everyone knows how hard it is in this day and age to rally a whole village to take care of any one thing, let alone someone else's baby.

Okay, there's that damn metaphor again.

Don't get me wrong, plenty of people - family, friends and strangers alike have already gone out of their way, dropping by to see the "baby" during visiting hours. Almost all have had warm, positive and emotional reactions to it. They've written newspaper articles about it. Featured it on t.v., radio and the web. They've wanted to know more about it, about how it was made, about what hopes we have for its future, about how it makes them feel. They wish it well. They tell their friends about it.

It's been a joyous, but equally tenuous, time. The reality is that incubators are at a premium in this country and our visiting hours have already been cut back. Only a week into its life and I know my "baby's" days are numbered.

So like any mother would, I lay awake at night - still counting my many blessings - but wondering if there's something - anything - more that I should have done, or that I still can do, to keep my baby alive... No metaphor intended!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Yet Another Eve

Poised for another "big step" on this last leg of the filmmaker's journey, I feel like I really should have written about the previous "big step" while the afterglow was still hovering at nuclear levels. Because, frankly by now I'm a little strung out about what's around the corner...

So before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let's just dwell a little on the past, shall we? It's nice and warm and cozy there...

Our "world premiere" was last Saturday night when the film made its début by closing our beloved Rendez-vous du cinéma québécois festival. The "big" theatre at the local Cineplex was full of well-wishers and warm smiles worn by friends, family and fellow filmmakers. The best way to bring our baby into the world really.

After the big love fest that was our "premiere" faded into memory and hangovers, some advance press - positive at best, benign at worst - came out and naive, novice filmmaker that I am, I thought that was it - the ultimate test... And it was feeling like we passed.

Not so fast.

If you're lucky and the press has been paying attention (which we are and it has), then the day or two before the film takes up official residence in its respective theatres, early reviews start coming out. Yup, just like in the movies.

And the calls and the emails and the posts start flying... we got 3 stars here, 3.5 stars there, oh don't read that one, you'll see stars - and not the good kind... Yup, just like in the cartoons.

But even though my head is swirling with stars and a few scars, I'm more buoyed by the many, "real-people reviews" we received after our premiere and "word-of-mouth" advance screenings last week... If all the unsolicited, often emotional outpourings of comments are anything to go by, the film actually touches a lot of people. It makes a lot of very different kinds of people feel a lot of things - good things.

And I've been lucky enough to be there to hear both men and women, young and old talk about it. That's like a spa for my tired, but now satisfied soul. And it's already more than worth what it took to get this little story told.