Film exploits

Well, having travelled the world for a while, now I’m back in Canada, in a job where the world is coming to me! I’ve been teaching new Canadian immigrants and refugees since April of 2018, and I can honestly say it’s the best job I’ve ever had.

So I finally have the time and — a little bit of — finances to pursue some film ideas. I’ve just completely my first film class at FAVA , and the resulting SHORT shorts we’ve filmed will be screened at Metro Cinema on February 10, at 3:30 pm. I showed my first cut to my classmates and instructors yesterday, and the response was genuinely great. Everyone laughed, no holding back. It was awesome. 

In the meantime, here’s another short I participated in last year, Deadline, for the 48 Hour Mobile Film Challenge — I wrote the script, and we won!

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Kabuki Theatre and Oiwa #theatre

I am a theatre junkie. Kabuki is at least as old as Shakespeare.  It’s one of THE drama traditions I heard about as soon as I decided theatre was my life. Going to a kabuki play was on my must-do list while I was in Tokyo, but it was also felt, for me, like going to a cathedral and I hadn’t been to confession.

The Kabuki-za Theatre in Ginzu, Tokyo, the largest in Japan.

The Kabuki-za Theatre in Ginzu, Tokyo, the largest in Japan.

Billboard for the show outside the theatre. Of course no photos were allowed during the show.

Billboard for the show outside the theatre. Of course no photos were allowed during the show.

It was utterly amazing. It was actually four short pieces I saw, which — with intervals when you could get full meals and beer to have at your seat! — was three and half hours long. The style of acting and the men playing women (I’ll need to post about that separately—because) took some getting used to, because it’s so utterly different from any show I’ve ever seen before, and that’s part of the reason it was enthralling.

One of MANY screens hiding the stage over the performance.

One of MANY screens hiding the stage over the performance.

Everything I felt seeing my first kabuki was wrapped up in what I’d felt earlier that day while trying to track down Oiwa…the main character in one of Japan’s creepiest ghost stories, most famous kabuki plays (I didn’t see that one, sadly), and many of the country’s successful horror films.

There are a few different versions of Oiwa’s story: here’s one of the shortest, yet best and scariest. Horror and/or Japanese film fans will recognise her likeness from the Ringu series.

I have presumed to put her into one of my stories…the short film I started work on in France over the summer, and the related feature-length screenplay I just drafted. They both concern domestic violence, culture clashes, racism, sexism, revenge, and guilt.

Theatre people are, put mildly, superstitious. We call it “The Scottish Play” or “McBoo”. We leave a “ghost light” on in the middle of the stage when the theatre is otherwise empty and dark. And in Japan, whenever an actor onstage, or an actress on film, takes the role of Oiwa, they go to her shrine in Tokyo and ask Oiwa’s permission to play her.

And that’s what I did too.

The shrine in Yotsuya, Tokyo.

The shrine in Yotsuya, Tokyo.

The trope of the Maiden Ghost, based on Oiwa, has appeared in so many incarnations now that she’s thrown the first pitch in a baseball game. Which sounds silly, but I find it actually shows that Japan takes her as seriously as kabuki; she is embedded in Japanese culture — everyone knows her, and everyone, in a strange way, loves her. She embodies something genuinely wrong — vengeance — but it’s something everyone understands and has, at some point, wanted against someone else. I’m frightened by and enthralled by her.

I hope it’s not cultural appropriation — Gore Verbinski’s remade Ringu, quite well, I thought. Yes, I went to visit Tokyo to see the city, yes I met up with an old friend who’s been in Japan 14 years. However…I also went to Tokyo specifically to visit Oiwa’s shrine and ask “is this okay?” I hope it is.

A closer look at one grave.

A closer look at one grave.

Cemetery behind the shrine.

Cemetery behind the shrine.

A good start in a new direction – #film pre-production

I didn’t expect to be accepted to this residency in Vallauris, AT ALL. It’s primarily for ceramicists, because that’s what the town has been known for, for centuries. But, it sounded interesting, and I’d never been to France, and well…I had ideas for movies, after having written plays since high school, and this seemed like a good way to kick my own butt into doing some work on “PRE-pre-production.” So I applied. And got it.

So I had to come up with a script for my idea, Am I Beautiful, Yes or No?, and having written that, I figured out how to break it down into shots. And, not having DRAWN in YEARS, I now had to create 38 pictures for those shots. Friends who’ve worked in film wisely advised that often, storyboards consist of stick people. This was my first one, and — if like my plays, I was doing it myself — I wanted them to be pretty clear. So, PANIC. I had 28 days to hand draw 38 images.

A fellow writer recently told me that the magic of residencies is that they turn on the taps. My first day of drawing, I did NINE pictures. I was DONE with that initial project in the first 2 weeks! So…I did the script and storyboard for another, which I’ve called Monster Cat! 

I leave for Paris tomorrow. I’m going home the next day, for the first time in a year. Yet I’ll be very sorry to leave here. Exposition photos here.

Photos from FRANCE: Vallauris

For the last 5 WEEKS, I’ve been at an artists’ residency in the town of Vallauris, in the south of France, the French Riviera…aka Paradise. In between French wine, French food, and good-looking guys speaking French to me, I’ve been working on storyboards for TWO short films for when I get back to Canada.

Here’s some of what I’ve seen!

Photos from FRANCE: Cannes

Part of the reason I applied for my current artists’ residency was its location: the French Riviera is among those almost mythical places you read about. Where the gargantuan artists and authors worked, where water, sky, and wine blend together. And, it’s 5 minutes from Cannes.

Cannes is very polished compared to Nice and Antibes, and normally I don’t like that. But it works here – the beaches, trees, ancient buildings and colour of the water aren’t overcome by the opulent hotels, fancy cars and designer shops. Everything goes together. The city isn’t remotely shy about playing up its glamorous image – the Palme D’Or symbol is on the roads, there are banners and murals of movie stars everywhere. They’re saying: “Of course movies happen here, of course the world’s most prestigious film festival is here.  Because it’s beautiful!”

“your famous friend, well I knew him before you, oh yeah!”

With apologies to Franz Ferdinand.

To (tangentially) follow up yesterday’s post: there was a director named Matt Kowalchuk, who was hanging about Walterdale Playhouse around the same time I wrote Crushed. He directed a number of shows, including one of my favourite productions ever, of Morris Panych’s Seven Stories.

Another fellow I knew ages ago, named Daniel Arnold, wrote a show with his wonderful U of A classmate Medina Hahn, called Tuesdays and Sundays, which has now been performed pretty much everywhere.

These two gentlemen have made a film of Morris Panych’s play Lawrence and Holloman, which has been playing festivals all over North America. And now Telefilm Canada is showing it at Cannes.

When I heard this…I was caught between my brain short-circuiting and crying with happiness. These guys are SO GOOD at what they do, and they more than deserve this. Cannes is like the Edinburgh Fringe – it’s one of those events you’ll hear about as soon as you decide to enter the industry, it’s the peak. And these wonderful guys I knew in Edmonton are going. YAY TIMES 1 MILLION!

Why period pieces are so difficult to write WELL…and how one film cracked it.

Aphra Behn (née Johnson) by Robert White, after John Riley line engraving, published 1716 5 1/8 in. x 3 3/8 in. (130 mm x 86 mm) paper size Purchased, 1966

Aphra Behn (née Johnson)
by Robert White, after John Riley
line engraving, published 1716
5 1/8 in. x 3 3/8 in. (130 mm x 86 mm) paper size
Purchased, 1966

I was absurdly pleased when, this week, my director of Take a Bite redux, Amy DeFelice, e-mailed me some salient facts she’d unearthed in her research for her Fringe show this year, about Aphra Behn. Theatre/English Lit geekery! Amy directed the staged reading of my one-woman show that I’ve been intermittently trying to rewrite since…it’s about a woman who may have known Katherine Parr (the evidence is scant, but there). One of the comments from the audience that night, was, point-blank, he hated period pieces. Period. I was amazed by that; HATES anything non-contemporary? Really? WHY?

Everyone who’s read this script of mine has been very impressed with how in-the-time it is. I worked hard to make sure I knew what life for these people was like. There was the suggestion that, maybe, that’s its problem — I’ve done all the research, and now I have to FORGET I know all that, and just concentrate on the story. I think there’s more to it than that, however. Another problem I keep running into is HOW to show how serious heresy was. I tell people about the story, and they’re intrigued, but there’s also the sense of: how quaint. Religion doesn’t matter nearly as much now, at least in this part of the world, as it did in England, circa 1547. This play has an absolutely astounding female lead character, and the issues it shows are still, unfortunately, very present. But without being able to show what the conflict really was for this woman…it will never mean anything to an audience NOW.

Maybe that’s the problem with period pieces. Robert McKee said in Story, pg 83: “What is past must be present”; but the way most period pieces do that is by playing up the sex and violence, which a modern audience easily gets, and de-emphasizing the “period”.

This is one of the many reasons I’m fascinated by A Field in England, a brand new film that’s just been released — on EVERYTHING — in the UK. I’m not a fan of out-and-out horror movies, so I haven’t seen any of Ben Wheatley’s previous films. This one sounds absolutely bonkers. And I can’t find any details about when it might be released here (that’s for another post/rant); I’m going just by what I’ve read. Here’s the thing that’s interesting to me: it takes place during the English Civil War, and yet there seems to be little direct history involved. Four deserters from a battle happening just offscreen find themselves trapped — the whole film apparently takes place in one open field, outdoors — by a genuine alchemist. The kind of man who was hell-bent on turning lead into gold and living forever…things people in that time honestly believed were possible. This self-possessed, manipulative, authoritative man believes it, and because the easily swayed, battle-weary people around him believe it, he’s able to force them, by will, into digging up this field for him looking for treasure. That’s all that “happens”…but judging by the reviews, what really happens is the audience gets uncomfortably close to these characters whose honest-to-God beliefs make them go completely mad. It sounds like the filmmakers have successfully set the time and place, and then just let the ground-state of what these people believe run its course.

Somehow, that’s what I have to do with my script: put the audience in this woman’s time, and place, and then just let the story pull them further in with her.