Your upcoming movie Silent Retreat - in a few words, what is
creature feature. In this quiet horror film, Janey is sent to a
silent retreat in the middle of the woods for rehabilitation, only to
discover that the men who run it are after more than her voice, and
arenít afraid to show her what lurks beyond the trees...
How did the project come into being? And what
can you tell us about your writer (and frequent partner-in-crime) Corey
Brown, and what was your collaboration like?
Corey Brown and I met at
York University where we both studied Film Production together. Since we graduated, we have worked on every project together, him
as the writer and myself as the director / producer. Side by side, we have built our careers and created a partnership
that works really well. Itís
nice to be able to work with the same writer. We have a groove and we know each otherís style.
We both have the same sensibility when coming up with a story with
themes that matter to both of us.
As far as I
know, Silent Retreat
is partly shot as a silent film. Would
you like to elaborate?
I like to describe Silent Retreat
as a quiet film. When
Iíve told people itís a mostly silent film, they think miming with
subtitled cards. Itís not
that at all. It is set at a
silent meditation retreat, so there is very little dialogue. The characters observe, react and explore without speaking.
So, itís not a silent film, itís just a quiet film.
How would you describe your
overall directorial approach to your subject at hand?
I was involved in this project from the very beginning. I attended a silent meditation retreat myself in December 2011.
It was there for 10 days that spanned over Christmas, and I came home
on New Yearís Day. There, we
stayed silent for 10 days, no eye contact, no gestures, no reading,
writing, music, internet, phone. Just
meditation, eating and sleeping. Of course Corey, my writing partner, says to me ďThink of a thriller while
youíre there.Ē So at
times, instead of meditating, I was thinking of movie ideas and
interesting moments. When I
came home, I told Corey about my experience, and we started brainstorming.
In February, we were starting to go stir crazy and we decided,
weíre going to shoot this movie. We
can do it all in one location and on a low budget. So I started looking for locations and Corey started writing.
As for directing, I started preparing more than two months before
production. I drew our
floorplans and planned every shot angle and movement to cover the scenes.
And only after that, did I storyboard and choose the shot sizes.
I went through the script and broke it down into beats so I would
be prepared to talk to the actors about each scene.
What I found working without a lot of dialogue,
that I didnít find much room to talk about motivation and subtext behind
lines and words. A lot of the
time, it was reminding the actors where they just came from and what they
are trying to accomplish in the scene. Many scenes were very short with only one specific action.
I also used the shot sizes and camera movement to tell the story.
you talk about Silent Retreat's approach to horror for a bit
(as in atmosphere vs excessive violence, restraint vs all-out gore and the
definitely delivers the elements of a horror film in terms of gore, eerie
atmosphere, a creature lurking in the woods, danger and suspense. While there is violence, I wouldnít suggest that it is excessive.
I feel that every horror element, whether it be the special effects
creature, the gore or the violence, is crucial to the story. The story is where it all starts.
We wanted to make sure that our movie said something and had a
strong theme. Silent Retreat
is about women standing up, having their voices heard for what they
believe in and not being silenced. In
the charcterís fight to stop being repressed and held down, they fight
back against the creature and the evil doctor. This is where the violence and gore comes in.
I would define excessive or all-out gore and violence as gore for
the sake of gore or violence for the sake of violence. But because every moment is justified by the story, I think we
deliver just the right amount for a horror audience to enjoy.
What can you tell us about your movie's key cast,
and what made these people perfect for their roles?
Chelsea Jenish plays our lead character Janey. Sheís a young actress, somewhat new to the scene, but we saw the
talent in her first audition. She
really moved me with the monologue and I forgot that there were parts of
the monologue that I wanted re-written. She really gave it her all and gave a great performance of a Janey
who begins as a subdued, obedient girl to a woman who will not give up,
and stand up and fight for her life.
Robert Nolan [Robert Nolan
interview - click here] was such a great find to play our doctor.
He is a veteran in the industry and we were very lucky to have him
as part of our cast. As the
villain of the movie, we needed a strong actor like Robert to play the
character with the subtle but varying methods of control over these women.
And, without giving away the climax, it was so much fun watching Robert really
get into the physicality and stunts required for the role.
Sofia Banzhaf brought such an energy not only to
her performance to but to the set. Corey
and I had a general idea of who the character was, but as soon as we saw
Sofiaís audition, there was no question in our mind that no one could
play Alexis like her.
can you tell us about the actual shoot and the on-set atmosphere?
We shot on location at Kettleby Valley Camp, where we were
graciously hosted for our 13 day shoot.
The cast and crew stayed overnight at the camp while we shot long
hours, worked very hard and had a lot of fun!
It was November when we shot, so it was quite cold and the
beginning of our shoot actually crossed over with the big hurricane that
hit North America. Between
sun, rain, snow and hail and a budget that was too small to allow for
jackets as a part of the actorís wardrobe, our hardcore cast and crew
made this movie look amazing.
Even though it was a tough shoot in terms of shooting a lot of
pages per day, plus special effects, choreography, sometimes large
locations for lighting and set dec, our crew smiled through all of it. This really was the most fantastic crew I have ever worked with.
We didnít sleep much, and pretty much everyone got sick at one
point, including myself (directed with bronchitis and fever for the second
week), we all had a blast making this film come to life. It was so great working with a crew that had a great attitude.
Everyone was more concerned with getting all the shots and telling
a great story than getting rest.
We put together a cast and crew that had a
passion for filmmaking. Everyone
was there because they love the art and wanted to make a good movie. I believe that kind of energy shows up on screen.
idea when and where the film will be released onto the general public yet?
My aim is to finish the film
by July 2013. We will acquire
a domestic distributor and a international sales agent, as well as send it
to film festivals. Iím
hoping that it will start screening in festivals starting September 2013.
like Silent Retreat, your first feature film Clean Break
was a horror movie. So what can you tell us about Clean Break, and
is horror a genre at all dear to you, and why (not)?
Clean Break, my first
feature film, is a thriller. It
was also written by Corey Brown. He
is actually the genre fan. For
me, a good film is about a good story and Corey always manages to write a
compelling story within a genre. To
be honest, I never watched horror films because they scare me! But they are so much fun to make, Iím really starting to find a
possible niche for myself. But while these genre pieces are super fun to make, I also donít want to be
pigeon-holed. I have other
stories and scripts that are already written that are comedies, crime
thrillers and a multi-character drama. My goal is to make a melodramatic musical love story.
But for now, while working my way up the budget ladder, horrors are
a great way to start a filmmaking career on a lower budget, and did I
mention they are really fun to make?
go all the way back to the beginnings of your career: What got you into
making movies in the first place, and what can you tell us about your
education on the subject?
My parents took me to
Universal Studios when I was 10 and I saw how movies were made.
I was more interested in the exhibits that taught green screen and
sound foley than the rides! From
that moment, I knew I wanted a career in the media arts.
I took a video class for 2 years in high school and eventually
earned my Bachelor of Fine Arts in Film and Video Production from York
University. I also did a one
year exchange program to England for Media Production at the University of
Northumbria. When I graduated,
I went to LA for a year and worked on some film sets there.
But I ended up coming back to Toronto to make my own films.
Since then, I have directed/produced at least one film a year.
I have shot many short films that were funded by Bravo!FACT, the
National Film Board of Canada, Corus Entertainment and the CFTPA.
I shot my first feature Clean Break
last year and just finished
production on my second feature Silent Retreat.
Before Silent Retreat
and Clean Break, you have made quite a few shorts, TV
programs and the like. Would you like to talk about any of those for a
bit? And what prompted you to take the leap and go into making feature
My goal has always been to make feature films. The shorts were a good way to practice story-telling and the craft
of directing. As a director,
Iím lucky if I get to direct on set for a few days, once a year!
My last two short films Marv Freetellís Wedding Day and
Searching For Wonder were funded by Bravo!FACT and aired here in Canada.
I have worked for Kids CBC and Fraud Squad as a
director in TV. But my main
passion is feature films and now that Iíve started making those, I think
I will stay there.
What can you tell us about your production
company A Film Monkey Production?
A Film Monkey Production
is my own production company that has been around for about 7 years. I have made all my films through this company and I am beginning to
create a brand. Film Monkey
films are high quality films that tell compelling stories that touch, move
and inspire audiences. While
we donít stick to one genre, we make sure that every film has an
important element that our audience can connect to. And as a brand within the industry, I want
to be a
company that has a good reputation that brings together great casts and
crews and always runs a fun production to work on.
projects you'd like to share?
Corey and I are developing several other feature projects:
Driving Mr. Edwards, a neo-noir thriller.
Buying Time, a multi-character drama.
Ministry of Parenting Ė a satirical comedy.
Lost Souls Ė a neo-noir thriller.
How would you describe
yourself as a director?
I would describe myself to be an organized director. I like to prepare with a lot of paperwork, so when I get on set, I
have a plan. The plan can
always change (and always does), but at least I have somewhere to start. I like to go through every single shot with my DOP beforehand so we
are on the same page. I like
to have rehearsals with my actors to get to know each otherís style and
start a method of communication.
This all proved to be very important when I was
so sick and passing out in the middle of our 15 hour overnight shoots! When my mind was too tired to think, I could still direct with all
the notes I had made beforehand.
Filmmakers who inspire you?
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
I love Baz Luhrmann, he is one of my favourite directors. I love the big melodramatic films he makes.
Thatís one thing I love about my dip into thriller and horror
territory, is that I get to be melodramatic and operatic. Itís lots of fun!
And also, those independent filmmakers who just
go out there and do it. With a
camera, a couple of bucks and their momís homecooking.
Requiem For A Dream, Moulin
Rouge, Battle Royale,
In America, Memento, Up In The Air.
... and of course, films you really
Films that are exploitative.
Films that are excessive just for the sake of it, whether it be
gore, violence, sex or all three together.
Your/your movie's website, Facebook, whatever
Anything else you are dying to mention and I have
merely forgotten to ask?
Thank you for
thank you for the interview!