By Wednesday May 24th we were almost totally done with work – although work wasn’t 100% done with us yet, so we did our very best to make every meeting as fun and relaxing as possible.
First up, while baby took an epic nap I met on the now-dead-quiet lawn of the Grand with a filmmaker I hit it off with at one of the genre-film mixers at the Plage des Palmes. She had a cool project idea and we talked about whether I might be able to help (and we talked about The Neverending Story for a while, always a good sign). One of those “who knows if anything will come of it but I might really enjoy working with this person” type meetings. We’re going to stay in touch and we’ll see what happens.
From there, I raced back home to bundle the babe into his stroller so that we could hit the beach. One of the people we met with earlier in the week (one of our best meetings, in fact) offered to take us out on a beach day, and we jumped at the chance to relax in style.
Cannes is a coastal town, so it’s all beaches and marinas. Some of the beaches are public, but the ones immediately to the east of the “international pavilions” and Palais zone are private. Some are restaurants, some are run by nearby hotels for their guests, and some are just private beaches that you can pay to access – a recliner in the sand and a big umbrella might set you back €20-30 (probably more during peak summer season) and you can order drinks and snacks right to your lounge chair. Our new friend and potential future colleague sprang for a couple of chairs and kept ordering wine for the duration of our stay on the lovely private beach where she was camped out for the day.
Tip #1: when you’re in the south of France, take a moment to appreciate that.
It’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of work and work-related-socializing when you’re at a market. But you’re also on the French riviera, so take a half-day and dip a toe into the sea! I’m always astonished by the number of people I meet who have been coming to Cannes for years and have never even waded into the water.
Little bean-o dipped his toes in the water and crawled around in the sand for his very first time. He made little sand-mounds with dad and even tried to put a fistful into his mouth (as one does). He ate french fries and had the best day. And we drank cold, refreshing white wine (sometimes even I need a break from rosé), ate shrimp and avocado salads and went for a swim. All in all, a perfect afternoon that we only cut short because Bobo was way overdue for his second nap.
Tip #2: you think you can make a baby conform to your schedule because you’re a cool, bohemian world traveller, but you are wrong.
Give up and give in to the rigid nap schedule. It’s the only way to survive. We strolled past the Grand to a little Italian wine bar tucked into a corner behind the hotel where Colin met with a good friend and fellow programmer / producer / bon vivant, while I went back home to put buddy down to sleep. Colin got some great life and career advice as well as a dizzying breakdown of ‘passive income streams’ – a phrase I’d never once thought about before that day.
Our evening schedule was packed with at-home activities. First, a great meeting over rosé (duh) with a friend who has also recently made a big move in his career – leaving a big job as a major distributor and settling into a great development gig at a different company.
Tip #3: kick your impostor syndrome to the curb.
We talked about the trepidation we all feel jumping into a new career path full of work that we’ve “never done before”. When you’re new to something, it’s natural to feel a bit shy and modest about calling yourself a pro before you’ve really mastered it. But that’s the thing: people in the film business are not shy or modest, as a rule. People who have never produced a thing call themselves producers all the time, and everyone just believes them. Years of experience count for a lot, even if you’re technically doing a different piece of the work than you used to.
Earlier in the week, I hesitated to call myself a writer (even though I’ve contributed writing to several books, journals, online publications, and websites for years) – but the 20-something actress I was talking to had absolutely no trouble describing herself as one, because she’s “working on two scripts”. I’m working on two scripts too, but they’re not done and I haven’t had one produced so I didn’t want to overstate my experience. Turns out, I don’t need more experience, just the confidence to state my goals out loud.
The pal who came over for drinks + deep talks is also a new dad, so he had some garden play time with S to give him a bit of a baby fix. We encouraged him to bring his family next year. It’s so worth it.
The day ended with some takeout pizzas from Papa Ninos and chats with good friends: Peter K, Colin’s successor on the Midnight Madness throne; Chad E, U8P’s acquisitions and project tracking whiz; the world’s best nanny, Tim; Graham Skipper (two-time Midnight Madness alum as an actor in The Mind’s Eye and Almost Human, and recent first-time director) and Paul from FrightFest. A perfect bunch to share drinks and pizza and our final ‘big night’ in Cannes with.
We still had one more day, but we spent it packing, strolling, beach-ing and buying little gifts to take home to our families. We topped it off with one of the best pasta dinners I’ve had in years at a place we always look at and say “bet they have really great pasta”. Turns out, they do.
Cannes 2017 was a huge success, professionally and personally. It provided a much-needed mental break from our workaday world in Toronto, it was massively productive and it was fun as hell. Watching Sweetpea take his first dip in the Mediterranean and eat his first taste of Papa Nino’s melted my heart a dozen times over.
The MVP award of the fest surely goes to Tim, who was the best helper we could have hoped for and remains truly one of our favourite humans. Next up, we’re going to have to figure out how to get baby to Atlanta to visit him!
Tuesday May 23 arrived full of promise on the morning tide, washed up to our garden oasis announcing itself. “Here I am”, Tuesday said, “I am better than yesterday for you have slept for a few hours and are no longer ready to walk into the sea out of despair!”
Ok, let’s not get carried away. Sasha slept a bit better, but he still woke up every two hours. Then again, waking up every two hours and going back to sleep after 10 minutes of quiet nursing is approximately 110% better than waking up once, and not going to sleep again for the rest of the night.
Before I dedicate another post to how tired I am, let me just clarify that I think bébé is actually doing SO GREAT on this trip.
He’s been so cheerful and happy and awesome during the days, and he’s clearly having such a fun time, that I am hardly surprised that his sleep schedule has been turned upside down. He took his first-ever flight, he’s six time zones away from home in a new and unfamiliar place, he’s doing and seeing new things every day – it’s a wild adventure! He’s holding up incredibly well and I’m so proud of his fabulous resilience and openness to new foods and people and activities and sights and sounds. He’s the greatest baby.
We started the day by meeting with a producer and sales agent who reps a really fun genre film catalogue and is producing a film and wants us to potentially be the Canadian partners on it. It’s by a director Colin has long supported and been a fan of (can’t reveal who it is yet but I’ll give you a hint: it’s a Midnight Madness alum). We got the first draft of the script at the meeting – actual printed copies to read on the flight back, if Sasha lets us (ha ha – as if he will let us).
From there, Colin went to meet with a father and son filmmaking team from the UK (the son writes and directs, the father produces). They’ve already made one film, are close to finishing the second, and want Colin’s help to figure out the path they should take going forward. They’re kind of adorable, and the promo they showed Colin for their second feature looked better than we expected, so we’re excited to see what else they have up their sleeves.
Next up, lunch with Joyce Nashawati, the director of Blind Sun, which Colin had in Vanguard at TIFF last year. She’s such a delightful person and it was so nice to meet with her and find out about the projects she’s working on next. Not really a business meeting, just a great catch-up.
After lunch we went for a drink and some people-watching with a good friend. Sometimes you gotta decompress over Suze!
An aside about Suze.
About ten years ago, Colin and I watched a screener of a French dark-comedy called Ugly Melanie. In it, a girl who is ‘too nice’ but is treated badly by others, decides to stop being nice and start being evil. It’s kinda funny, but one of the gags in it involved her taking out all the beer kegs in the bar where she works, and stocking only Suze. The joke (to us non-French viewers who’d never heard of Suze), seemed to be that Suze was an old fashioned drink that nobody likes or wants to order. But what the hell was it?!
So, of course, we became endlessly curious about Suze and got a bottle the second we arrived in Cannes the following spring.
Turns out, Suze is a pleasantly bitter aperitif – think of a bright greenish-yellow version of Campari but with more sweetness.
I wouldn’t drink it by the pint instead of beer, but it’s actually pretty good.
Anyway, back to our day. After drinks we went home to pick up sweet bébé and strap him onto Colin in the carrier, for a possible yacht adventure! We’d been invited for “yacht drinks” (a not totally uncommon Cannes occurrence – we’d actually already turned down two yacht invitations by this point because they didn’t work with the baby schedule).
We were told to look for one of the only two wooden boats on the pier, and when we found it we realized that unlike most of the triple-decker-mini-cruiseships around Cannes, this one was an actual yacht. Like, a wooden boat with many very tall sails and no guardrails to prevent us from toppling over with a babe in arms. There was also no plank or walkway to get us onto the boat – just a two foot expanse of empty space to leap over – not so easy when you’re wearing a 25lb baby on your chest.
So, we decided not to board the yacht, and instead went for drinks at a nearby restaurant with the friend who invited us. Wise decision.
After drinks and snacks, we headed back to the office of a sales agent we’d visited the day before, where they were hosting office drinks. We ate a few party snacks (bobo loved the Spanish tortilla on offer), introduced our adorable muffin to some pals, and then strolled back home to put him down to bed and have a couple of friends over for rosé in the back yard.
We hosted a couple of producer pals who we’d had dinner with a few weeks back in Toronto when he was briefly in town from LA. This time around we got to relax over baguette, fancy meats and cheeses and much rosé, and instead of talking just about work, we got to hear everyone’s absolutely hilarious ‘origin stories’ for getting into the business. One of them was so good that we swore we’d produce a Spalding Gray-esque monologue performance piece out of it.
There are a few minor cons about this year’s Airbnb apartment. The second bedroom is smaller than we thought, it’s on a high traffic street and the noise of delivery trucks, mopeds and assholes in rented sports cars is quite loud late into the night. But the pro of having this garden that we could invite friends to was worth it all!
Tuesday was a good, productive, full and happy day. There have been way more of those than the doomy sleep-deprived kind on this trip, and I am very grateful for that.
Movie count: 0
Meetings count: 6
Good times count: 100
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.
Sometimes the best and worst times are the same times. Is that what Dickens meant? I’ve never read A Tale of Two Cities.
Kidding, guys. Not about the book. It’s true that I haven’t read it, but I do know what he meant and it’s exactly what I’m talkin’ about. No tips on surviving the market today, just some real talk about surviving early parenthood, especially if you’re a working person. Or just a person who likes feeling like a real living human and not a poorly rendered facsimile.
I had a ticket to the 8:30am Monday May 22nd screening of Yorgos Lanthimos’ Killing of a Sacred Deer (my most hotly anticipated title of the fest) and I was feeling pretty confident about my ability to manage it, after Sunday’s success with the Baumbach.
But then Sasha woke up around 3:30am and decided not to go back to sleep until about half an hour before my alarm clock was going to ring.
I did not make it to the film.
Tip #1: do what you have to do to survive, because “this too shall pass”.
I don’t know how long-term, cumulative sleep deprivation affects you but it makes me feel like a corpse that’s been tasered a few times in a lame attempt to reanimate it.
Not getting enough sleep makes me feel a crushing combo of misery, doom and rage. I used to wake up cheerful every morning (I am a naturally peppy person in the mornings, in spite of not being a ‘morning person’). After over a year of never getting more than four uninterrupted hours of sleep, I wake up grumpy every morning, with the same thought in my head: please, for the love of all that is good in the universe, let me get one goddamn full night of sleep before I die.
Hasn’t happened yet, but I’m also still alive, so I guess it’s ok.
Anyway. C’est la vie, and I know it won’t last forever. I mean, he’s gonna move out to go to college, right?!
In spite of our rocky start, and in spite of the fact that Sasha seemed to have caught a one way ticket to Crankytown, it ended up being one of our best days in Cannes, because the few meetings that we did make it to were so promising.
We had a few rapid-fire meetings while Sasha napped in Tim’s care – first with a company that might want us to work for them, then a new sales company run by old friends of Colin’s, where we watched a terrific promo with potential interest for one of our clients, then lunch with our new friend Pablo, the founder of the extremely cool Morbido festival in Mexico.
Tip #2: don’t get defeated by rough days – sometimes just getting out into the sunshine can make a big difference, and actually accomplishing a task or two can feel like moving mountains.
Then I raced back home to put The Beebs down for a second nap before jetting off to meet Colin at our last big meeting of the day, with a producer and a sales company about an intriguing project that they want our help with. I was sleepy and worried that Sasha would take a while to settle down for his nap and considered skipping this one but I’m so glad I didn’t. The ideas thrown around in the room were exciting, and I felt genuinely invigorated by it.
Plus, they served us dessert!
Tip #3: FOMO is a boogeyman, don’t give it power. Skip social events with impunity and never look back!
In the evening we decided to skip the big karaoke party that all our genre film friends would undoubtedly be at until the wee hours (an annual tradition that takes place in a divey bar near the train station that really feels more like home than like the south of France). The torch (of the big job of pulling together the annual karaoke extravaganza) has been passed on to a new intrepid organizer, our pal and former temporary Torontonian Kier-La Janisse (she’s rad, look her up here & seek out / buy her books). I wanted to go, say hi to pals, high five Kier-La for taking on the job of putting on the much beloved party, but … I was tired AF and in no mood. So I didn’t go and I felt great about it.
Instead, we had two lovely Toronto-based producers over (we used to share offices with their company). We had snacks, rosé and brainstormed fun ideas for projects we might embark upon in the future. A perfectly relaxed end to the day.
Dark, sleep-deprived thoughts count: 100,000
“I love my baby so much I might explode” thoughts count: 100,000
Good meetings count: 6
Hey y’all, it’s been a while. Last time I posted on this blog, it was February of 2016 and I was one hundred years pregnant and getting ready to take a year’s maternity leave. Our lil potato was born in April, and I spent the better part of the past year struggling to actually be on maternity leave, even though I still had work to do that couldn’t be passed on to anyone else – finalizing the post-production on Birdland (which is now completed, and we’re looking forward to a release later this year!), and programming The Royal (which I am also done with!), and National Canadian Film Day 150 (which was a raging success, and I’m very glad I got to be part of it).
And now that my maternity leave should be over, I’m … actually finally free to spend time with my kiddo without stressing out about work. Ironic, or something.
Anyway, as you might have noticed if you know me or read this blog, Colin and I are not sit-around-and-do-nothing people, so instead of kicking back, we’re packing for Cannes, where we’ll be going (avec bébé) in less than a week.
Remember my Cannes diaries from days of yore? If you don’t, just go to the Cannes diaries tag and read ’em. Well, this year you’re going to get a very different version of the same: the hot-hot Cannes tips that 99% of the Cannes attendees I know do not need: how to pitch projects, attend meetings, walk the red carpet and drink your weight in rosé all while taking great care of a rambunctious one year old and having a wee family vacation on the side.
But y’know what? I’m very ok with focusing my attentions on the not-so-small niche of moms who work in film!
And now back to prepping for the market that brings us such cinematic gems as …
This fall and winter have been soooooooooo overstuffed with work and travel and life changes that it has felt a bit like the turducken of seasons. Once again, I turn to cooking when I am stressed out. I made this mushroom lasagna from Plenty a few weeks ago when I was overwhelmed by the task of filing for tax credits for Birdland. Spoiler alert: I am still overwhelmed by this task, which is not yet 100% done, in part because I am waiting on info from other people, which at least makes me feel better and less like a procrastinating, incompetent lump.
Mostly, I feel like a delightfully happy dumpling (i.e. good lump, not bad lump), good moods being the best symptom of pregnancy that I’ve experienced so far. I haven’t blogged about being pregnant because we just announced it on the social medias a couple of weeks ago, but here we go: I am nearly six months pregnant, so you can look forward to several exciting posts over the next three months about how sore my hips are and how much my walk has turned into a waddle. Whee!
I have been joking that I thought producing a movie would be the biggest thing I did in 2015! Turns out, I’m producing something waaaaaaaay bigger, to be released into the world in early 2016. In addition to good moods, I’m also experiencing a thrilling plethora of symptoms that I had never heard of before – insane dreams, an occasionally bloody nose, sensitive gums, a numb thigh (pinched-nerve related), constant exhaustion, post nasal drip, heartburn and occasional bursts of weeping. My skin is also super dry, but maybe that’s just “winter”. I have not had morning sickness or cravings, aka the only two symptoms anyone ever talks about.
For the past few months, we’ve been inching closer and closer to finishing Birdland, which is an absolutely thrilling fact, truly. I’m kind of sorry that I’ve been too exhausted and preoccupied by the crazy changes happening in my life (and body) to throw myself fully into the final few months of post-production, but I’m also incredibly glad that it’s no longer my job to steer the ship at this stage of the game. I’m also especially pleased that the completion date for the film (even if we fall a bit behind schedule) will be at least a month before my due date. Good timing! I never ended up writing about the pickup shoot dates that we rocked in August, but they went great, and our editor Caroline did a superhuman job of sculpting all our footage into a real movie. She is a wizard, truly. We locked picture last month and are now embarking on the next grand adventure: sound!
There are more fascinating aspects to the sound post production period than I really understood before. ADR (i.e. dubbing over lines that were mumbled, not recorded perfectly, or flubbed in some other way – in our case, we also added a few offscreen lines that weren’t in the script originally), foley (you know, like what the guy in Berberian Sound Studio does), editing the dialogue, adding the score (ours is being composed by two supremely talented musicians), crafting the sound design (the various non-musical elements that will shape the atmosphere of the film) and mixing it all together so that it sounds perfectly. It’s a lot of work. Many weeks’ worth.
Now that sound work is well under way, I can focus on tying up all the other loose ends – the aforementioned tax credit application, analyzing the cost reports to see if we’re over or under budget, get ready for the big job of submitting to film festivals, putting out press releases, promoting and marketing the film and working with our distributor / sales agent on the whole big plan of putting it out into the world.
In the meantime, I intend to focus on tying up as many other work-related loose ends between now and March as I possibly can. That includes finishing a few projects for REEL CANADA, delegating the bulk of my Royal-related work to other people, and getting as much Shudder work done as possible, so that we don’t risk falling behind during the baby-hiatus that is to come in late spring. It is all very daunting, but I have to say, I am very, very excited to be very busy with something that isn’t work in 2016. I’m a bit burned out on having five jobs. A few months ago I joked about how I could never decide on which job to quit because they all take turns being heartwarming. Thankfully, life has decided for me. I’m not quitting any of them, but I’m taking a good long break from them all. Perfect!
p.s. next time I’d add more parmesan & feta to the cheese in the very-cheesy mixture for this lasagna. It was delicious but kind of lacked salt.
After a month (nearly two?) of editing the film – a busy time for our director and editor, but less so for me, unless you count the crushing load of paperwork that needs to be filed to our funders, to the government for our tax credits, and to various other places – we’re back to shooting!
We managed to shoot about 95% of the script during production, and for a while, it seemed like it might be enough. However, once we assembled the thing into a rough approximation of a movie, we realized a few things:
First and foremost, we realized that while we had all the big, crucial, dialogue-and-plot heavy scenes, we were missing some smaller moments. Transitions from one space to another to establish the geography of a building. Intimate moments between characters that more deeply establish their relationships. Additional surveillance footage to hammer home the point that one of our characters really was obsessed with one of our other characters.
Secondly, we realized that those small moments would really flesh out the world of our film, and be the thing that takes it from “noble indie effort that falls a little short” to “really great movie”.
So, what do you do when that happens?
You look at your budget, you figure out where you can squeeze money out of, and you schedule some additional shooting days, that’s what. Or, you spend money you don’t have and hope it’ll all work out in the end! Luckily, due to some prudent money management during production, we actually had real money to spend, which was an immense relief that would allow us to get a lot done.
There are a couple of different types of “additional shooting” – reshoots and pickups. There are probably even more types, but these are the categories all our work fell into.
Reshoots are, as the name might suggest, do-overs of scenes or moments that you have already filmed, but that for some reason just don’t work. Perhaps the lighting was wrong, or you realize too late that there’s a flub in the continuity, or one of the actors was having an off day and it only shows in the edit even though it seemed fine on the day. Whatever the reason, sometimes you just have to do a scene again in order to get it right. Reshoots comprised only about 20% of what we had to do.
Most of our work was pickups. Pickups are scenes that you “dropped” before, and therefore have to “pick up” now.
In our case, about 50% of the pickups were indeed small scenes that were in the script but were dropped for various reasons. Usually, it was because we were running out of time and it seemed more important to get a big dialogue scene out of the way than to capture a bunch of little moments of people walking in and out of buildings, or whatever.
The other 50% of our pickups were moments that we didn’t necessarily have in the script but realized we were really missing, after the fact. An example: two of the characters in our film are having an affair – and their affair is a catalyst for a lot of what happens in the film. When we put it all together, we realized that we just didn’t have enough scenes of them together – walking down the street, holding hands, looking like two people in love. We needed “more affair”.
So, halfway through an otherwise reasonably relaxing summer, we started planning two additional shooting days, getting the old gang back together, as it were. Luckily, at least half of our original crew were available, but unluckily, the other half were not! Scrambling to find an entire camera department on very short notice is stressful. I’m grateful for the fact that my co-producer did most of the work of hunting down a crew while I dealt with agents, actors and tried to figure out how to manage the fact that only about half of the wardrobe pieces that we used in the shoot were still available to us (the rest were unique, one of a kind pieces borrowed from high-end and mightily generous consignment stores, and had since been returned and sold).
For the most part, having to find new wardrobe items isn’t the biggest problem in the world. That is, unless you’re trying to establish continuity between one scene in another in which the actor is supposed to be wearing the same thing. Then it’s a bit trickier. More on continuity in a future post.
We pulled it all together and shot two additional days earlier this week. How’d it go? Stay tuned and I’ll write it all up in the days to come.
Last week was a special week in Birdland. I got to stop worrying about paperwork, accounting, cost reports, marketing plans and fundraising for a few hours and enjoy the experience of watching the very first assembly of our actual movie.
The assembly is the very first thing the editor cobbles together, before there’s even a rough cut. It’s just the scenes, stitched together, in the approximate order of the screenplay. Watching assemblies is a great way to develop a deep appreciation of the editor’s craft.
An assembly isn’t a movie. It’s like the lump of marble that will one day become a beautiful sculpture, but it’s definitely not the sculpture. If you’ve done your job during production, your assembly will at least feel somewhat like a movie, in the sense that you’ll be able to see the narrative threads in it. Even with a narrative that’s as chronologically jumbled as ours, the asseumbly shouldn’t feel like a bunch of randomly connected moments. And in this case, it didn’t. It felt like a movie. Phew!
There’s a lot of work to be done, and possibly even some reshoots to organize later this summer for which we will have to raise additional money, but … it feels like a movie – and one that will be good when it’s finished. I feel immense relief and joy at this fact.
I’ve been taking a break from Birdland for the past few weeks, but now my to do list is growing again.
I have to make sure we get some footage to our sales agent so that they can start approaching buyers about it. I have to deliver paperwork to our funders confirming that we’ve completed principal photography in order to trigger our next round of payments. I have to make sure we’ve got a hot sizzle reel ready to show at TIFF in a couple of months to even more potential buyers who will be in town for the festival. I have to make sure we’ve got a decent festival cut done in time to submit to the fests that come up early in 2016. I have to start pulling together a marketing strategy and raising funds for a possible cross-platform project that will go along with our traditional marketing plan.
Oh yeah, and I have to get ready to go to Fantasia in less than three weeks to pitch a different project, which means I have to help the writer whip our script into shape, come up with a presentation, assemble the AV materials we’ll be showing, and write the copy for a handout that we will want to give to everyone we meet with.
There goes my dream of a relaxing summer!