Tuesday was the first of two “reminder: you aren’t out of town, you actually live here and have responsibilities” days in a row. In the morning I had a doctor’s appointment (don’t worry, I’m fine, it was just one of those things I booked ages ago and would have a hard time rescheduling, so …), followed by a screening of the latest cut of Birdland for some of our post production partners, so that we could hammer out a bit of a schedule for getting our post done in time to submit to some early 2016 festivals.
It was great to see the cut on the big screen again, because it gave me just enough perspective and distance to have a few new thoughts about how it’s going (somehow seeing it on a computer doesn’t always have that same effect). I had to let those thoughts percolate for a while and hop back downtown to meet up with Tim Reis (our favourite Atlantan, who Colin & I met and first got involved with when he produced The Demon’s Rook a few years back) and another producer friend to talk about where Tim’s directorial debut is at. It’s at “very close to finished”, is where, but we’re looking for a bit of help to tie up the last of the loose ends before this baby is ready to hit the festival and sales circuits.
After a pleasant lunch / meeting / catch-up session with Tim & co (during which we got some great advice on how to proceed with finishing the film), I met up with an NYC-based friend / colleague who works at Kickstarter. We were mostly meeting up to catch up, chat movies and hang out (because he’s a lovely guy, why else?), but Colin was able to make a rare appearance in between intros & Q&As and we managed to also talk a tiny bit of business. Over drinks and onion rings poutine, of course.
By the end of this marathon day of meetings I was honestly ready to collapse into a heap, but instead I hoofed it over to the Imperial Pub at Dundas and Victoria for drinks with the entire crew from the telekinesis-revenge film The Mind’s Eye, before the premiere of their film. Pro-tip for anyone attending Midnight Madness: the Imperial may be an out of the way dive, but upstairs at that bar is where you’ll find all the coolest Midnight Madness filmmakers and guests drinking before the show.
I hadn’t seen a single film yet and I was so stoked to finally see the finished version of The Mind’s Eye that I didn’t even need a coffee to stay alert throughout. So many laughs and cheers! Such good times. And honestly, those guys are the MVPs of the fest, for not only attending their own film but also every other film in the Midnight section (and then some) for the whole fest. I love it when filmmakers support each other. It is the cutest and most heartwarming and makes this whole genre film scene feel like a real, international community (which, at the best of times, it is). ❤
I did something really fun on Monday. I saw three public screenings in a row. The public audience at TIFF is great for a lot of reasons. They tend to be quite respectful of the films (sure, sometimes someone talks or pulls a cell phone out but it’s about 95% less likely to happen than it would on an average Friday night at the Cineplex). They’re genuinely interested in the films, so they’re attentive, and they’re fun to chat with in the lineup before the movie or as you shuffle out afterwards. People gasp, cheer, cry, laugh and express their enjoyment (something I often miss with P&I crowds, especially when it comes to funny movies). Sure, Q&As always have the potential to be cringe-worthy when pompous cinephiles insist on sharing their comments-not-questions or when people ask dumb or inappropriate things, but for the most part public audiences are a lot more fun and invigorating.
Aside / note to Q&A question askers: I know I’ve said this before, but I will say it again. Don’t ask filmmakers what their budget was. It might seem like a pretty innocuous question to you and it’s only natural to be genuinely interested in what level of resources were required to make something you’re really impressed by, but there are lots of reasons why filmmakers will never actually give you a straight answer to this question. If their film is looking for distribution, they don’t want to reveal what it cost to make to potential buyers because it could affect the price that they’re offered. They could be devaluing their film by admitting it was cheaper than it looks, for example. Don’t put people in the awkward position of having to politely sidestep this question. Just don’t ask. You might be able to get filmmakers to reveal this info in private but a public Q&A just isn’t the place.
Anyway. First up was Chevalier, by Attenberg director Athina Rachel Tsangari. It’s a funny and slightly absurd but enormously enjoyable dismantling of the male ego. The story centres around a group of friends on a diving vacation who invent a game intended to determine who among them is “the best” (at everything). Which is the kind of game that will inevitably chip away at their confidence, their friendships, and their sense of self. Great stuff from Greece!
Next up I saw what is probably my favourite crime drama of the year (or longer), The Ardennes. In the setup, a takes the fall for a crime that was committed by him, his girlfriend and his brother. Cut to four years later, he’s getting out of jail and his brother and (sort-of-ex) girlfriend have to contend with his return. A simple and not wildly original setup that unfurls into a really smart, unexpected and very dark story. I can’t recommend this one highly enough. It’s “top ten of 2015” material, easily.
Last but certainly not least, I saw Schneider vs. Bax, the latest by Borgman director Alex van Warmerdam. The story (about two hitmen who have been hired to kill each other) is less strange than Borgman, but is definitely darkly comic and mildly absurd, which I think is the director’s steez.
It was an overwhelmingly successful movie-watching day, made even better by the fact that I could then trudge off to the hotel and be in bed long before the midnight show let out. A sane and healthy TIFF continues, at least in my neck of the woods.
The fourth day of TIFF was a great exercise in going with the flow. I had a plan (see some Canadian art films, go to the premiere of one of Colin’s Vanguard titles). In the end, nothing really turned out the way I planned, but I had a great day.
It started with a delicious team brunch with the folks from Shudder, which, if you know me or Colin personally, you might know is a super cool new horror VOD service we’ve been involved with for a while (here’s an Entertainment Weekly interview with Colin explaining it). We caught up and talked future plans, and then, full of delicious breakfast, I waddled off to my first screening and promptly decided that I was too full and tired to watch anything other than a Hollywood movie.
But first, I stopped into the Industry Centre, where I ran into Joe and Josh (of the illustrious Mind’s Eye crew), who had just picked up tickets to that evening’s screening of Ben Wheatley’s High-Rise, which I thought was completely sold out. Obviously, I ran as fast as my legs could carry me to the industry box office and snagged myself one.
And then, off to the movies.
I chose whatever Hollywood thing was starting next, which turned out to be Truth, the Cate Blanchett & Robert Redford film about the G.W. Bush story that ultimately led to Dan Rather’s departure from the CBS anchor’s seat. For a big-budget, Hollywood, awards-bait-y film, it was really quite good. The performances were excellent, that almost goes without saying. But the real reason I liked the film is that its message was actually something I agree with (and think is kinda subversive for such a mainstream film). The point this film is making is all about the corporatization and Hollywoodization of news, the fact that news has stopped being a public good and has become a profit-generating entertainment, which leads to fewer hard-hitting stories or investigative journalists tracking down leads that are critical of the government (and increasingly: corporate) powers that be.
After the film I made my way to the Midnight Madness cocktail, where I spent two hours catching up with an assortment of friends and scarfing down sliders and tiny grilled cheese sandwiches, before racing off to the Elgin for my one and only “fancy screening” experience of the fest – High-Rise! It was a combined public and press/industry screening, which made for a curious vibe in the theatre – 20% industry types (some of whom left partway through, probably because they care about parties more than about movies), 40% Ben Wheatley mega-fans, and 40% members of the general public who wanted to see something high-profile at TIFF and/or are rabid Tom Hiddleston fans. Sometimes, it can be genuinely delightful to watch films with people who don’t know what they’re in for. High-Rise (which, for the record, I really enjoyed – as Colin puts it, “it’s like a ’70s The Devils, with Luke Evans channeling Oliver Reed”) elicited some truly shocked gasps and squeals from people who probably did not realize what kind of film their favourite Marvel heartthrob was starring in.
The High-Rise screening, because it was in TIFF’s new Platform section, was followed by an extended Q&A with Ben Wheatley and his cast, and didn’t get out until midnight, so I sadly missed the premiere of The Devil’s Candy (by Sean Byrne, the director of previous Midnight Madness Audience Choice award winner and all-around brilliant film, The Loved Ones), which I loved and really wanted to see on the big screen. Con: missing a great film. Pro: getting to bed two hours earlier.
The benefits of getting a good night’s sleep are many, but in my particular TIFF-centric case, the main benefit is having enough energy to actually go to a whole bunch of movies the next day – Saturday, the peak of opening weekend insanity.
Skipping the undoubtedly great screening of Baskin on Saturday was a bummer, but it allowed me to have a four-movie day on Saturday. No complaints!
I started the day with the Canadian-est film I’ll probably see in a good long while, the delightfully charming coming of age story Sleeping Giant, about a trio of boys whose families spend the summer at the same lake near Thunder Bay. The film totally nails the small town Ontario vibe, the Canadian summer cottage vibe, the being-an-awkward-teenager vibe, and manages to be both hilarious and really touching all at once. The film (which played Critics Week in Cannes before TIFF) actually elicited a round of applause from the press & industry audience I was sitting with. That’s how good it is.
Next up I went to one of my most hotly anticipated titles of the year, Yorgos Lanthimos’ The Lobster. I sat with a couple of pals who weren’t familiar with his previous films, so before I say anything about The Lobster let me deliver this PSA for anyone who enjoys strange, smart, surreal movies:
***Run, don’t walk, to your nearest international cinema outlet and get yourself a copy of Dogtooth to watch immediately! In fact, just watch this trailer RIGHT NOW.***
His next film, Alps, is also pretty great.
Anyway, The Lobster delivered the what-the-fuck-ness that I’ve come to expect from Lanthimos, but it was a bit too long, almost like two movies sandwiched into one in a way that only half worked. I loved the first half. With a few tweaks, that could have been the whole film.
My goal after The Lobster was to see a highly recommended Lebanese film, Very Big Shot, but I didn’t make it in time, so I opted for the next available thing because I saw a friend in line and wanted to hang out with him for a bit. Usually, when I gamble on films that I know nothing about at TIFF, I come out a winner. Unfortunately, that clearly doesn’t apply to Hollywood films starring Shia LeBeouf. I doubt that I’ll see a worse film than Man Down this year. it was sincerely one of the cheapest, most emotionally manipulative, needlessly convoluted films full of lame and predictable “twists” that I’ve seen in a very long time. I often see films that I feel “meh” about. I rarely see films that fill me with rage that burns with the fire of a thousand suns (see: Titus, Requiem for a Dream). But honestly, those other films are all masterpieces compared to this piece of garbage.
I managed to pack those three films into my day so efficiently that I actually had time to relax for a while and even eat some dinner with Colin before Hardcore, which was the sort of insane movie that would have kept me awake even if I hadn’t had a great night’s sleep. It’s like a POV version of Crank, but even crazier. That Sharlto Copley is pretty hilarious!
Lessons in “taking it easy at TIFF”:
- Even if you sneak out of a Midnight Madness screening halfway through and make it to bed by 1:30am, you will still be tired in the morning. Skip your morning. It’s fine. What were you gonna do anyway, watch The Martian? That’s probably going to be out in theatres five minutes from now. You’re not some Matt Damon completist who needs to see it before everyone else. Oh wait, you weren’t going to see The Martian, you were going to see the new Kore-eda? Okay, that’s a bit better, but still, he’s kind of an internationally recognized master. This isn’t your only chance to see it. Sleeeeep.
- Don’t skip your 1pm lunch date. That would be rude, and besides, after all that sleep, you’re going to be hungry. Order something hearty and catch up with a friend from across the world.
- It’s late afternoon by now. Why not go see a movie? Kick up your feet in that IMAX theatre and enjoy a “New England folktale”. Then go back to the hotel and take some time to contemplate what the film is saying while you lie in bed. You need a break before dinner.
- Go to dinner. Enjoy the company of some Midnight Madness and Vanguard directors and enjoy a really great meal. Don’t forget to pack an umbrella.
- Go back to the hotel and starfish on the bed for about 12 hours. You’ve earned it!
I genuinely don’t know what I thought about The Witch just yet. As I said on Facebook and Twitter, the film really wasn’t what I was expecting … but if you asked me what I was expecting, I’d have to say that I genuinely don’t know. I had a conversation with a friend who I saw the film with, who pointed out something I hadn’t really noticed or realized – and that is the fact that the film presents, but does not comment on, the based-on-historical-records events it is depicting. It’s an interesting point because it hadn’t really occurred to me to think about the filmmaker’s point of view. I was too busy trying to figure out my own. I’m not sure where I stand on it yet but I might write a future, spoiler-filled post about it.
Another film that premiered on Friday is Marcin Wrona’s Demon, a totally gorgeous film about a possession that takes place in the middle of a big, boozy country wedding. This film was such a breath of fresh air, and the lead actor (Itay Tiran) is just brilliant. I didn’t see it at the premiere (I saw it when Colin threw it on after a day of disappointing screeners, and it knocked us both off our feet), but I wanted to give it a little bloggy promo, because it’s great, and deserves to be seen on the big screen. This is one of those festival titles that you legitimately might not get to see again (at least in a theatre), but it is very worth your while. Trust!
Every year, I make ambitious plans. I’m going to see 46 films! 50 films! All of the films! I’m going to see all of the films and go to all the midnights and attend at least three great parties! I am going to split myself into ten people and attend every screening in every timeslot! I am going to become a black hole and absorb all of TIFF into my dark vortex!
This year, I’m chilling the fuck out.
My energy levels aren’t at maximum this year, plus I’ve got pressing Birdland deadlines and other work to worry about while the festival is going on. I am taking it easy. I made a very ambitious nearly-50-movies schedule for myself, as usual, but in the back of my mind I kept reminding myself that I was only actually going to manage 25% of it, and that’s totally fine.
On Day 1 the ambitious schedule included four films. The reality is that I saw one and a half, and I feel excellent about it. We had a pre-TIFF party the previous night and I needed to catch up on some sleep, so I skipped my morning film. Then I realized that there was an urgent Birdland task that I couldn’t neglect until post-TIFF and which I would be better off getting out of the way immediately, so I spent my afternoon at the office compiling paperwork for our accountant. Being responsible feels great.
In the afternoon I saw Victoria, a German film by Sebastian Schipper which won the Silver Bear in Berlin this year. It is a stunning piece of filmmaking wizardry – a 2+ hour action-packed heist film that was all shot in a single take. If they’re telling the truth about that single take, then it’s a pretty remarkable accomplishment not only on a technical (and coordination / choreography) level, but also in terms of the performances. The actors had to go through a pretty broad spectrum of emotional highs and lows – apparently with absolutely no breaks or time to prepare. Kudos to everyone. It was really compelling and it took me about half an hour to calm down from the adrenaline rush of the final act.
At midnight I went to the screening of Green Room, in part because I wanted to see The Chickening on the big screen and in part because I wanted to see a bit of the audience’s reactions to Green Room, which I saw earlier this spring and absolutely loved. I stayed until the craziness and violence began, then snuck off to bed for some much needed rest. I wish I could have stayed for the Q&A (Patrick Stewart! Eeeeee!) but sometimes you have to prioritize your health and sanity over movies. Crazy, I know.
I think this new “take it easy” approach to TIFF might be the best decision I ever made. Unfortunately, it will make my festival diaries super boring. I apologize in advance.
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.