Writer's Blockg

Happy F’K’ng Sunshine Recollection

If I remember correctly

Even thought this film recently premiered in Hollywood at the Dances With Films Festival (June 9, 2022) – the recollection goes back three years and some. In January of 2019 I attended Prime Time https://cmpa.ca/prime-time/, a yearly  Canadian film and television conference hosted by the CMPA. I was there on behalf of Canadore college, looking to drum up business for the newly minted Canadore Post production facility https://www.canadorecollege.ca/post-production-at-canadore.

I met a man named Keller

While there, I ran into a gentleman named Ryan Keller, who at the time was a lawyer for a high end entertainment law firm in Toronto. Ryan told me that he had received funding from the NOHFC for a film that he wanted to shoot in the North. At that time he was in danger of having to return the funding because he had applied three years previous and hadn’t yet gone into production. Casting was also an issue because of the young crew of actors that was needed. I suggested that Canadore and I might be able to help out. A few months later Ryan, visited North Bay, toured the Canadore facility, and afterward we met for a coffee. At that meeting he told me more about the project – it was about a bunch of young kids from a dying Northern mill town who come together to form a band. The big issue was trying to find a cast that could pull it off.

I had a solution for the cast

At the time, I’d just finished teaching an “acting for the camera” course with a dozen young actors in the Canadore Theatre Arts program. I told Ryan, that this bunch of kids were special and that I thought he could find what he needed. Surprisingly,  he took me up on the offer. Three weeks later we held auditions. A week later the movie was cast. Remarkably, every single lead role was cast from this small but very talented pool of Canadore graduates. All but three of the older supporting role were also cast with North Bay and area actors.

You need more than a cast to make a movie

The heavy lifting wasn’t over, there was still the matter of the crew and the director. Ryan brought along his long time collaborator, Director Of Photography Clement Lush and Production Designer Stephanie Avery.  Other than those folks, Ryan was open to bringing on a local crew. At the time I had Canadore graduate Maxime Lauzon working for me as an assistant. Maxime had snagged one of the roles in the film given her acting chops and her ability to play the drums, but she was also doubling as the Production Manager for the picture.

How do you put a crew together on a limited budget?

Maxime did what any person in her position would do – she reached out to her former classmates and within a few days had assembled a small crew of grips, gaffers and camera assists. I can’t underscore enough how audacious and daring this was on behalf of Ryan the producer and Clement the DOP. They were working with relatively untested crew members. Their openness was likely due to the fact that both had graduated from a small film program in Thunder Bay at Confederation college some twenty years ago. They understood that area code is not a determinant of talent.

It does take a director

When it came to the direction of the picture, I suggested a young director whom I knew from Ottawa – named Corey Stanton. He’d just had a success with his first feature and seemed like a good bet to lead a young cast doing a music film. Ryan and Corey were well down the road to signing an agreement  when, as so often happens in this business, they couldn’t agree on the vision for the film. From there I suggested another excellent filmmaker from Ottawa – Max McGuire. Max was very interested but had prior commitment’s and had to decline.

Desperate times require desperate measures

Time was moving along and then I suggested to Ryan that I could direct the film. I knew the cast well, have a reasonable love and understanding of music and had directed 5 features previously. Also, low budget filmmaking is, for right or wrong, my space. I enjoy making films and TV shows that have budgetary challenges – finding ways to come up with creative solutions and working with emerging talent. The short story is that a handful of professionals worked with a handful of talented people who are now on their way to being professionals in their own right.  Everybody pitched in, the actors helping the crew when possible, producers carrying sandbags, whatever had to be done. I don’t believe in being precious as a director – I drove the grip and lighting truck to and from set, stored the camera and lenses in my house – again whatever it took. Overall we had a really good chemistry and dare I say we had a lot of fun.

It doesn’t have to hurt to be good

The lack of “experience” on this production was very much a blessing. Everyone was there to make a movie. There wasn’t a pecking order with the cast the way there is on so many productions, no crew fighting, no negative energy. Contrary to the industry mantra – it doesn’t have to hurt to be good. Not all art requires suffering.

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