Friday, October 9, 2009

The Sky is Falling

When we were in pre-production, I kept making this list of all the things that I could think of that could go wrong. It got to be a pretty long list, really. Given the number of outside scenes, inclement weather could have seriously compromised our ability to finish shooting. Our lack of permits to film outside could have gotten us shut down or even arrested. One of our locations could have backed out at the last minute.

But the remarkable thing was, while there were some definite hitches in the master plan, we were almost eerily fortunate. We were able to overcome our problems without missing a beat, which is something that most big-budget features can't claim. By the time we were close to finishing, I was starting to feel like we were home free.

Then the roof fell in. Seriously. Fell in. Crash.

The most shocking thing about this is that, with half our set destroyed and several shots remaining, everyone took five, shook it off and then came back to finish the day. And, yes, after the dust settled and the broken glass was swept away, we were able to shoot everything that we had planned.

It's a testimony to the kind of people who were involved in this project that the entire cast and crew stayed and pushed forward. What could have stopped the film dead in its tracks (and could have caused serious injury to the people on set) turned out to be nothing but a video anecdote on YouTube. That which does not kill the indie film apparently makes it stronger.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Being Julia

There are things that you know are going to be important to a film from the outset. If you know what you're doing, if your familiar with the script, you know that that a character's reaction is really important at a certain point, or that the way a scene unfolds depends greatly on the geography of a location being just right. And once you feel like you have those crucial things under control, that's when you can start adding the sort of additional details that add flesh to what you're developing.

One of the little details about playing the character of Julia that was really important to me was that whatever she wore, it should look just a little offbeat, a little different than what you might see on the forms of mannequins in department stores (even high end ones). The character is not supposed to be wealthy or showy, but needs to look a little different from the normal "Friday night out" gang.

Personally, I'm a big fan of a number of Canadian designers, so I'm very happy to have the opportunity to flaunt some of their wares on screen throughout the film. In fact, everything I wear playing the character of Julia is Canadian-designed and unavailable at mass retail. I'm not what you'd call jingoistic, but I'm pretty proud of that.

The outfit that I'm wearing through most of the film is from a company called Kollontai. (They haven't entered the web age yet, but their stuff is phenomenal and can be purchased here and at some other select boutiques). I'm also found traipsing around the scenery wearing items from Tension Clothing, Studio Gang, Slak and Pam Chorley. Every shoe on my feet (including those nice open toe ones that are great for elongating the legs and not so great for running around alleys) comes from John Fluevog and all the handbags (including not only mine but one that has a very special "cameo" in the film) are from Morris B. There are other indie designer appearances in the film as well from the likes of Biomechanical Candy and Romy Noel. (Even the make-up I'm wearing is from a Canadian company.)

I'm saying this not because of some sponsorship deal- all the items were either purchased or borrowed and returned. Certainly, I like to give some props to designers who I like, especially when they're home grown. But the reason why this detail was important is because I think that it dovetails so well with both the character and with the spirit of the film. After all, what's more encouraging to someone working independently than the sight of someone who's become successful (if often under-appreciated) doing the same thing. In fact, the one thing that links those designers is that they have made a career offering something that's just that little bit different, that little bit more distinctive, than what you can pick up just anywhere. The devil, as they say, is in the details.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

A Thousand Words (or more) About a Picture

Here's an interview with Director Dominic Marceau, Actor Paul Ash and Writer/ Actor Kate MacDonald conducted by the radio show 'Beautiful Music for Ugly Children' on Montreal's CJLO.

But What Does it LOOK like?

Oh sure, you can TELL people you're shooting with a still camera, but that doesn't mean it LOOKS good. So we'd like you to judge for yourselves...

Monday, August 24, 2009

“This ain’t no party, this ain’t no disco, this ain’t no fooling around!”

So we've passed the halfway point and we're all still alive and kicking. What a trip! Here are a few lessons we've learned on the set of "Conversion" thus far:


  • When you have only one chance to get a good take, you WILL get a good take.
  • Throwing toilet paper at a statue in the middle of a park draws a crowd.
  • Kids will offer to graffiti anything.
  • Directing in a suit and tie really sucks. Running down a wet hill in 4" heels also sucks.


  • Wearing big boots is a good idea when shooting in an alley full of rusty nails, broken glass and used syringes. Wearing open-toed shoes is not.
  • Always feed your extras well. Of course, you may want to make sure that they stick around for the "extra" part and don't just grab food and leave.
  • Getting people to dance to no music is a dodgy, albeit interesting, affair
  • If you think of something cool/ interesting/ funny to do in front of the camera, think of how it will feel doing it about twenty times before committing.


  • On an independent film shoot, end times are highly flexible.
  • Bringing lighting equipment up three floors of spiral metal fire escape is even less fun than it sounds.
  • Lights attract bugs. Big lights attract bigger bugs. And in bigger swarms.
  • An adult human can sweat their own body weight under the proper circumstances.


  • Some people have an amazing sense of dedication. Others do not. It's important to concentrate on the former.
  • You never notice how much traffic there is on a street until you try to film something there.
  • Some actors give you not only a performance, but a wealth of DVD extras.
  • Days that end with drinking beer and jumping in a pool are superior to those that end at dawn in an alley.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Sometimes, the second take's "the keeper"...

So, we're one week away from the start of principal photography (Cue dramatic music).

All kidding aside, everything seems to be running smoothly. We've been doing camera tests with the Nikon D5000 for over one month now and the stuff we shot looks absolutely fantastic. We've gathered an amazing crew and a cast to dream of. A meeting of professional artisans and eager newbies, like yours truly.

A lot of you are aware that this is a second chance thing for me. My second directorial debut, so to speak. You see, I wrote and directed a feature film in 2005 entitled Hallowed Halls. I got a distribution deal based on my script alone and was flying high. I was quickly put in touch with a producer and we got the ball rolling. Except that this particular ball was quickly deflating.

It all started when half of my cast decided not to show up three days before we were supposed to start rolling. Luckily, we were shooting at Bishop's University, in Lennoxville, Quebec, which has a pretty respectable theatre department. I filled out my cast, again with some eager newbies and was, for the most part, really satisfied with their talent. If only my troubles had ended there! I had to fight for every shot because my producer was off preparing a second feature to be shot on the school grounds once this production wrapped. I had no one to turn to, no one to fight for me. A producer should have your back. This one had my ass. Anyway, he wound up losing the financing for post-production, the film was never edited, and no one got paid. Two years of my life down the drain and all I have to show for it is a trailer.

The whole experience turned me off filmmaking completely. I was done. I had my shot and blew it. I never thought I would ever go back. That's until I read Kate MacDonald's brilliant script...

We don't often get another shot in life, I'm ready to really make this one count.


P.S.: I was interviewed by Montreal's La Presse newspaper last week about Conversion and how we got to do this. It's the first of at least two interviews we're going to do with them, for a story running sometime next month. Will keep you posted...

Sunday, June 28, 2009

coming not soon enough

Ah, it's never an easy ride when you want to make use of new technology. And so, despite our best-laid plans, Conversion has hit its first hitch.

I worked for years in product development, which has given me an in-depth understanding of all the things that can go wrong in the process of introducing something to market. When you know what can go wrong, large stores with many products in them start to seem kind of miraculous.

So I have a bit of sympathy for the fact that Panasonic has delayed the launch of their new Lumix hybrid camera, which we had planned to use to shoot Conversion (see video blog below). These things happen. I also understand that, because things happen and are difficult to resolve, that they've had to delay the launch multiple times.

It's hard not to be frustrated, however, at the fact that the latest delay in launch makes the camera available roughly three weeks after Conversion is due to start filming, and even then, there's no guarantee that Panasonic will be able to meet their launch date.

So we've made the decision to set our sights on acquiring a new camera, the Nikon D-5000. Like the Lumix camera we'd originally settled on, this is actually a high-end still camera, with remarkable high definition video capabilities. The drawback in this case is that, unlike the Lumix, the Nikon does not have good sound recording, meaning that, after filming, the video part of the movie will need to be synched up with a completely separate audio track. While not unheard of, this is something that adds a considerable layer of complication to the post-production process.

The major advantage of the D-5000 over the Lumix is that it's actually available for purchase.

Here's a short marketing video showing what the camera can do in the hands of some young amateur photographers:

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Meet the Converters

Here's a short video where the producers and stars of Conversion talk about the project, as well as some scenes from our first group read-through.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

locations, location, locations

It's of limited use having a script you want to film if you don't have a place to film it. Sometimes, the glamourous life of a film-maker means that you get to spend your days doing this...

Monday, June 1, 2009

you have to start somewhere

In this case, we start with a tiny scene, some basic dialogue between the two central characters. The scene will actually take place with these two walking down the street, but this is the very first attempt at reading any part f the script out loud. It was recorded using a no-frills digital camera, the kind that's normally used to take still shots, but which can capture short bursts of grainy-quality video as well. The purpose of doing this was to see how the reading translated to film (you could argue that the sound going in is so muffled that it is a failure in that respect) and to record for posterity one of the earliest moments in Conversion history.

Yes, the lighting is almost non-existent and you need to turn up the volume really loud to hear anything (especially my lines, since one of the things I have to work on is projecting). So what's interesting about this? If nothing else, I think that the body language (limited because of the fact that we're both seated on a sofa, rather than walking outside) really captures the spirit of friendship that rests at the heart of the story.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

the early buzz

Well, in this case it's very early, but we've had our first media mention, in Montreal's Voir. Check out what they had to say.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

so what is this anyway?

Welcome to Conversion. This blog is here to track the development of a feature film in progress, from its origins (well, almost, the fact that there is something to write about in this space means that the project is at least in development).

To bring you up to speed on where we are in this saga, Conversion is a script I wrote- my first attempt at a script, after a long time writing short stories. I wrote it mainly as an exercise in a new form, wanting to share it with my movie-buff partner, who's also an experienced director.

Knowing nothing about the film industry, I didn't think I was doing anything except having a bit of fun, trying out a new writing style and telling a story that really didn't lend itself particularly well to a pure fiction format. That's where having an experienced partner comes in. In early January, having read the script and given me some advice on changes, he also pointed out that the script was concise enough and realistic enough that it could easily be filmed, even without going through the normally long and arduous official process associated with submitting a script to production companies and hoping for the best.

Moreover, having a director who knows the people involved and who knows the roots of the story- because every story does have roots, beyond what ever gets explained- brought the remarkable opportunity to be able to make our version of the film- the way that I saw it in my head when I wrote it, combined with the voices of the people who are closest to me.

For instance, rather than waiting for someone to cast an actor in the lead role, we have the liberty of asking the person for whom the role was written, an excellent stand-up comedian and actor, to join in.

It also means that, having little to no money to spend on the project, we're relying on the enthusiasm of those involved to move things along. What's been remarkable to this point, and the reason why the project exists in a form that can be written about, is that there has been no shortage of enthusiasm to go around.

So now you know as much as I know.

Conversion is scheduled to start shooting in August in Montreal. Casting and location scouting are ongoing and rehearsals are taking place. We have a group of dedicated people who are attempting to do something that normally takes a group three times their size and thousands of times our budget. It is a challenge.

So why is this here?

This is here because, having never worked on a film before and knowing less about the film industry than just about anyone involved with the project, I'd like to have some kind of living record of what happens over the course of our experiment. Let's see if this film has a happy ending.

And so it begins...