Three weeks ago, I wrapped post-production on my first feature film, The Wasting. A half hour later, when it was at last safe to, I got sick. Sprawl-on-the-couch-for-weeks, hack-up-a-lung sick. The doctor called it a bacterial sinus infection. I call it giving everything you have to a film for years, so there’s nothing left to hold you up when it’s over.
Some people like to talk about having skin in the game. I have skin in this game. And bones. And other assorted body parts, or their metaphorical equivalents. That’s how important it was for me to make The Wasting.
Back a few Septembers ago, when I decided to stop waiting for permission to make my film, and just make it, I wasn’t even sure why I’d waited so long, except that it was The Way Things Are Done. Suddenly, that seemed dumb. The Way Things Are Done isn’t a good model for a lot of people – filmmakers or otherwise - and it definitely wasn’t working for me.
People, including the permission-givers, liked my script. But between the hemming and the hawing over this being my first crack at directing a feature (despite all the related stuff I’d done) it looked like it might take 400 years to get the cameras rolling. Who has 400 years? Not me. I’d already put in the time upfront to create a solid script with the principles of low-budget filmmaking in mind. It was time to pull the trigger.
So I did. I’m happy I did, because now I have a finished film, and it’s quite beautiful and we are all very proud of it. But I’ll tell you, I had to put so much skin in this game that I’m holding myself together with binder twine and tight dresses.
I sold half my worldly goods to pay to shoot a trailer that helped to raise private financing. I can’t say enough good things about those investors/exec producers. I ran a crowdfunding campaign, a job that consumed four months of my life. I can’t say enough good things about our supporters, but man, I hope I never have to crowdfund again. What a tough slog! I spent two years giving 18-hour days to this film. If you do the maths, you’ll know that left six hours for sleep. I gave up other work to focus on this, I gave up my house, I slept on couches for months, all to make this work.
This isn’t particularly unusual, by the way. This is how indie films get made. (Useful knowledge to have if you are right now 20 years old and trying to choose between film school and accounting.)
I wasn’t alone. I had two super producing partners, a crew that went to the wall for this film, an editor that dug in and dug in and dug in till we had it right, an online post team that worked overtime to make it look and sound gorgeous. Without them, I’d likely be dead, rather than just skinless.
And you know what? I would do it all again. And when you see The Wasting, you’ll know why. It was worth every scraped-away dermal layer. And I can’t wait to start my next film. It's called Island West, and I think you're going to like it.
Now, somebody hand me the potato peeler.
It’s Gloria Steinem’s birthday. It’s the perfect day to talk about how proud I am to be directing a female-driven film, surrounded by a team that is mostly women. And the women have the good jobs!
Glass ceiling, glass shmeiling, say I. Even better, the story is about a woman. Three women, actually. One is the central character, and the other two are very strong supporting characters who don’t exist merely as someone’s wife or daughter or sister, but who have rich storylines of their own. It’s not about a woman’s relationship with a man. The women find other things to talk about, entirely unrelated to men. It passes the Bechdel Test with flying colours.
Check out our filmmakers, and then keep scrolling to find out WHY THIS IS A BIG DEAL!
It's a huge deal, because women make up around 5% of the feature film directors in the world. The figure fluctuates from country to country and year to year, but it’s always shockingly low. So, too, are the figures for producers, editors, cinematographers and composers. A San Diego State University study of the 250 top-grossing films in Hollywood in 2014 found only 7% were directed by women, a decline since 1998, when that figure was only 9%. Yikes. Of other key off-screen figures, only 17% were female. Again, I say, yikes.
The women on my team are talented, hard-working, and dedicated. We work well together. We solve problems together. We support each other and we have each other’s backs. Most of all, we are committed to making an amazing film that we all believe in, 100%. With the determination, resourcefulness, practicality and ability to multi-task that are such powerful female characteristics, that is exactly what we’re going to do.
PS The men on my team are awesome too. Much of their awesomeness comes from their respect for the women they are working with
I know there are so many mass shootings these days we can barely keep track. I know that every one of them brings its own pain and its own horror and its own controversy. Each one opens a door to discussions of some contentious political issue, usually gun control. And so it should. Every time something so horrible happens, we should all stop and think and question what we can do better, so it might not happen again.
I was particularly affected by the Moncton shootings. Maybe because, even though I left the Maritimes long ago, I still call New Brunswick “my Canada home.” Maybe because I grew up in a military family and my brother was an RCMP member for many years. Maybe because it was Moncton, dammit, and shit like that doesn’t happen there. Or maybe I’m hormonal. Who knows? What I do know is, I am horrified enough to get past the kneejerk reaction and think really hard about what I can do to change a world that has become so twisted that this kind of crap can find its way to Moncton, New Brunswick.
I’ve spent the past 24 hours thinking, examining, considering, questioning. I’ve seen that picture of the shooter (who I refuse to honour by writing his name) in his ridiculous Rambo gear. I’ve asked myself the question: did we – filmmakers – contribute to this with our constant glorification of the kinds of people who don camo and headbands and go out shooting people? Did the general public contribute by constantly plonking down money to see those films? The answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know enough about what motivated that dickhead in Moncton, or any of the zillion others like him. Probably some of them were affected by films. Probably some were just nut-jobs anyway. I don’t know.
Here’s what I do know. When I committed myself to being a filmmaker, I did it for one reason. I wanted to change the way one person sees himself and the world. If I could do that, if I could open up one mind and help one person be better for himself and the world, the ripple effect would take over, and I’d have done my job. And I’m not talking about only making earnest “message” films that nobody under 30 wants to watch. I believe you can tell entertaining, fantastic, appealing stories that find a way – however subtly – to contribute to the moral evolution of mankind.
Somebody made such a film for me once. One highly entertaining film planted a seed in me that ultimately changed the way I looked at a certain kind of person, and the world, and it made me a better human being. Imagine if the loathsome creature who shot up Moncton had seen such a film. Imagine if a seed had been planted in him at some time that was a good seed, that changed something, so that his conscience didn’t zig when it should have zagged, so that he was able to circumvent whatever messed-up part of his brain told him to murder people.
That kind of result is what we should all strive for. Sometimes in the panic to get a film made, we forget why we are doing this in the first place. But we shouldn’t. We should remember the enormous responsibility we have, because so many people watch movies. So many lives can be affected, positively or negatively. So many points of view can be changed. This isn’t just entertainment. This is storytelling, and stories – for thousands of years - have been told for reasons that matter. And those are the stories we remember.
I want my stories to matter. Maybe it won’t always work. Maybe some people are just crazy, irredeemable bastards. Maybe I can’t change the world. But, in the name of those three RCMP members whose lives were senselessly stolen – Cst Dave Ross, Cst. Douglas James Larche and Cst Fabrice Georges Gevaudan - I am sure as hell going to try.
An 18-year-old can only hang out with his mother for so long, even if she is the coolest mom on the planet. So when Sean met an American actress/javelin thrower named Shelley who seemed just as adventurous as he, we decided to part company for the day. As they trotted off together toward the ridiculous yachts, I yelled after him:
“If your phone dies, meet me in the gutter at 2 am!”
I know what you’re thinking: “Wow, she’s a worse mom than Cersei Lannister.”
But the gutter in Cannes isn’t like other gutters. It’s a bar, Le Petit Majestic, that spills so many people into the street that the entire corner becomes one big block party every night of the festival, lasting till the wee hours. It’s usually a better bet for a rendezvous than lurking on the sidewalk outside the Palais, or being chased by security dogs down on the beach. I say “usually” because the night before, while Wellington Films’ Al Clark was telling me how great Nottingham is, somebody drove up in a car and chucked a tear gas grenade into the crowd. We didn’t see it, so we didn’t know what it was that was suddenly causing us to tear up and cough uncontrollably. I tried to ignore it. Al tried to ignore it. We tried to keep calm and carry on drinking. But it was unignorable. You know that awkward moment when you’re having a drink with someone and you have to cough but you don’t want to be rude so you try to hold it back but it won’t stay down so you try to disguise it as something else but pretty soon you are just coughing and hacking and choking and pretending it isn’t happening and that nobody has noticed? Well, imagine several hundred people doing that at once and you’ve got the picture. Good job we had lots of beer.
I knew lightning couldn’t strike twice in the same place, so, with the gutter as our rendezvous point, I went off to find a pal. We talked about how clever we are, ate a mediocre meal at an Irish pub (proving we’re not so clever after all - who eats Irish food in France?) and went off to the ARRI party, where I didn’t see any cameras, but I did see a lot of cider disguised as “fruit beer.” Not recommended. Why can’t the Belgians have a party?
No matter. We were invited to the OMDC dinner a bit later. I know I’m old and stuff, but why did I feel like that Ontario pizza party was more interesting than whatever Tarantino-infused soiree Sean and the actress/javelin thrower were sneaking into? Maybe because the people there make films that are within the grasp of an indie filmmaker of limited financial means. Maybe because Karen Thorne-Stone has a way of making every filmmaker feel significant, thus giving all of us the hope that is often our only currency. Whatever, between bites of perfect French pizza, I chatted with some pretty great people there, like Ingrid Veninger, who does indie like nobody else; First Weekend Club’s Anita Adams; Triptych’s Anna Stratton, who is producing The Macaron Conspiracy, a film I co-wrote with Sherman Snukal; and David Miller (the producer, not the former, non-cracking smoking mayor of Toronto.)
When I met my child in the gutter later (I love that I just said that), he had equally glowing reports of his night. Apparently it did him good to be shed of me. He had a brace of business cards in his wallet and has already been social media’d by half of them. Best of all, he came back with the germ of an idea for a short film that he’s already writing.
As we rode our bikes home along the beach, doubling the actress/javelin thrower on the back, heady with the excitement of Cannes and full of ideas and new hope, we knew that sleeping in a van was a small price to pay for this much awesome.
I relish the heady adventure of sneaking into things. I really do. But I’ve been sleeping in a van. Brushing my teeth in a hedge. Eating dry granola straight from the box for breakfast. I’m tired. I want to join the ranks of the Cannes Respectable. And I will resort to nefarious means to get there. Okay, not as nefarious as, say, a crack-smoking mayor, or the person who thought Honey Boo Boo was a good idea, but definitely stuff Ryan Gosling doesn’t have to do.
We’re going for the One-Day Accreditation Pass. You might say it’s a bargain at 20 euros, but you’d be forgetting that if I’d signed up before the deadline, I’d have had my badge for the week for free. Twenty euros is a lot to someone who lives in their van. Just ask Scooby Doo. But the money isn’t the real hurdle. Proving I am worthy might be. I have to show them a business card, guide them to my IMDB page and a vimeo link to the trailer for The Wasting. Had I known they were so mistrustful I’d have marched in wearing the kind of red carpet dress Nicole Kidman used to wear before her face stopped moving, waving around a hard copy of my CV. Next year I’m bringing a better wardrobe. Low-brow clothes notwithstanding, I got my pass
Proving Sean is worthy is where the nefarious bit comes in. Not because he isn’t worthy, though as his mother I supposed I shouldn’t be the one to make that call. But all his great qualities – including his incredibly intuitive acting talent and his wooden bead string that looks very avant-garde and actor-like – don’t matter two figs to the Guardians of the Day Pass. They want IMDB. Luckily, one of Sean’s many skills is “being on the ball.” So when we walked in, he whispered to me “Tell them I’m Brendan.”
Capital idea! (who says that, anyway?) Brendan is Sean’s older brother, also an actor. When they were kids they used to be mistaken for each other a lot, even by me. Brendan has an IMDB page. It seemed foolish for Sean to miss out on a day of legal access to the tent city when he could be cavorting about sporting a “Brendan Flynn” badge. Alas, the Guardians were also on the ball that day. It turns out that just because you look exactly like someone when you’re 10, doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be auditioning for clone movies together when you’re 20. I saw them suspiciously comparing Sean’s face with Brendan's, disbelief etched all over their own. Just as I was about to kick him in the ankles and tell him to run for it, the Chief Guardian showed up. She must have been having a good day, because she gave Sean the thumbs up. He got his photo snapped and scurried off to do an “errand” for me, so they wouldn’t have time to rethink their decision. I paid some money, and we were respectable. Time to go saunter past the beefy arms-crossed guy at Tent City.
Parties. Not just for the frivolous ne’er-do-wells anymore. Also for respectable, albeit underfunded, filmmakers (often as not, the two go hand-in-hand). But how to get into the parties, when one has lastminute.commed one’s way to Cannes, with nary a badge nor an invite?
Lucky for me I have friends who know people who know people in high places. Or at the very least, friends who are willing to form a phalanx around me, and distract the beefy guards with their badges while I skulk past unnoticed. A couple of these, who shall remain nameless lest they be tarred with the same brush as me, forewarned of my arrival, met Sean and I at the gate to the International Village. That’s what they call the place where all the pavilions are set up. It’s blocked to the public, so you have to show a badge there first, just to get the right to try to bluff your way into a pavilion later. That was Checkpoint 1. We used the old “I’m a producer and Carolyn is my guest and I’m taking her in to meet some Very Important People” ploy. It worked. As well it should. After all, festivals are supposed to be about doing business. I was there to do business, even if it was last minute business. While I understand the concept of trying to keep out the riffraff, I have never understood the point of restricting access quite so vigorously to people who are genuinely there to make films. The concept of fresh blood seems to be lost on some of these guards, unless it’s flowing out of the calf of an unlucky partycrasher who’s run afoul of one of the patrol dogs on the beach.
But I digress. (and I’m too tired to go back and organize my thoughts better) We got past Checkpoint 1. Checkpoint 2 was easy, mostly because it was the end of the party and the gatekeepers didn’t really care anymore. And no wonder. All that was left to drink was cider. Still, there were some cool people left inside, a couple of friends, like the unflappable and always entertaining Alastair Clark of Wellington Films, and a couple of new contacts. We were off to a roaring start. On to the South African bash down on the beach, where we managed to gain entry with some clever sleight-of-hand involving a ticket that somebody had. That one was worth the effort. Good food, if a little more meaty than I’d like, good drinks, good dancing, and an introduction to somebody that I think I’m going to do some work with. Just exactly what’s supposed to happen at these things, right?
Day Two dawned bright and clear in the underground car park, with the blue-tinged haze of the fluorescent lights streaming in our window. Alas, there was no time to bask in its warm glow, as there were morning ablutions to be performed, and nowhere to perform them. We could hardly go ask the parking attendant for running water, after sneaking in under his nose the night before.
No, much like The Littlest Hobo of vintage Canadian television fame, it was time to be movin’ on. We toyed with going to the campsite outside town but when I envisioned myself riding my bike the 20 minutes home at 3 am after a night of networking, I didn’t like what I saw. Anyway, to camp you need a tent and a Coleman stove and stuff like that, and all we had was this van and a heart as big as the whole prairie sky.
We ended up in a great little spot near the beach, across from the water and beside a hedge, which seemed cosy and safe until we stepped out of the van and smelled the urine. Apparently we arrived right after someone’s ablutions. Unpleasant, but the practical gardener in me appreciates that the hedge can be both decorative and functional.
We cleaned up, brushed our teeth and spat on the hedge, hauled out the bikes, which had been cleverly bungeed to the van walls, and rode down the beach. It was very pleasant indeed, and made me feel sad for the poor suckers who don’t think to bring bikes to film festivals. I rode one in the Berlinale snow, and in Toronto, the city where the crack-smoking mayor seems to endorse mowing down cyclists, and Cannes is definitely Top Cycling Festival.
We stopped at the first café we saw, where we drank espresso and charged our phones and posted things on the internet. In that moment, I defy anyone to say we didn’t look exactly like the other 12,000 Cannes delegates. And we had a plan to gain their level of respectability, at least for one day. A clever plan. As we drained our coffee cups, I was already rubbing my hands together gleefully, chortling with the sheer genius of it all…
So we’re here. We arrived in Cannes a half hour ago, not registered, not a single party invite between us, and with 32 euros, a van, a mattress and a well-chewed baguette. Lamborghinis whip past us, ladies in ball gowns move in herds down La Croissette, pretending their high-heeled feet aren’t killing them, overzealous security guards stand with beefy arms folded, looking very cross indeed. We are in the belly of the beast. We are going to make this burg ours.
First order of business. Park the van. Somewhere close to the action, cheap, where we can sleep overnight without beefy, cross security guards (see above) banging on our door in the middle of the night and hauling us off to the hoosegow for ruining the local aesthetic. It should be noooo problem, right?
Hahaha. Of course I knew it would be a problem. What am I, a moron? We found an underground lot near La Croisette. I did some quick math as I approached the ticket vendor with its complicated series of pricing options. It wasn’t cheap, but it wasn’t 2000 euros a night either, or whatever outrageous sum we’d be forking out if not for the mattress in the van. I grabbed the ticket and started to drive in, only to notice in the nick of time that the overhead barricade was alarmingly close to the top of the van. While I inched forward, hoping to sneak under, Sean jumped out and eyeballed my progress.
“Stop!” he yelled, putting an end to the sorry spectacle, while Lamborghinis honked their impatient little Italian horns behind me. No joy. A whole parking lot for the taking, and we were an inch too tall. Dammit.
I backed up, which made all those Lamborghini drivers even more unhappy. I did a U-turn in the middle of the road, while Sean covered his eyes in genuine horror, displaying a disturbing lack of trust in my driving skills. I turned into another lot. This time, before I got jammed under the barrier, my clever child grabbed a tape measure that was lying on our front seat and hopped out. (Let me note now that while it may seem that a tape measure is a random item for a van, I had a feeling we’d need one, and chucked it in there last minute as we left home. So the next time you are waiting for your mother/sister/wife to leave the house, and she’s obsessively running around making sure the stove is off, and the water’s not running and grabbing road snacks and tape measures, and you are whinging about how slow she is, remember this story, and go grab the tape measure yourself.) So, Clever Sean jumped out, measured the van’s height, and compared it to the notice on the barricade. Barricade 1.8 metres, Van 2 metres. Dammit. On we drove, amid more horn honks from Italian sports cars. Don’t they have an espresso to go drink somewhere?
Two car parks later, we finally struck gold. A barricade that said 2.2 metres on it, even closer to the Marche du Film action than any of the others. We snuck under, only to discover that once inside, all the barricades to the actual parking spots were at 1.8 metres. Tricky little buggers. As I was finagling my way around the sharp corner to the exit, some sort of attendant person ran out of his attendant kiosk and stopped me, and very kindly moved some traffic cones so I could park in the one spot on that level. Beside the exit, so no carbon monoxide fumes to be breathed in during the night, well-lit so we’d feel safe, a five minute stroll from La Croisette. It was even better than camping! Though those lights did play havoc with our stealth ability later that night while sneaking back in under the nose of the attendant, who I’m not sure would have welcomed us so readily if he’d known we were going to bunk down there.
Never mind. We were parked, we had nice clothes, sensible shoes and a target – the Scandinavian party. Allons-y!
It’s Cannes time! And I haven’t even made it home from the Berlinale yet. My son Sean and I have been holed up in our house in France since February, writing, playing music and being grateful we are warm.
So last night, Sean says to me “Mom, why aren’t we going to Cannes?” “Well,” says I, with the timeless wisdom of mothers, “because.” There were actually other, more long-winded reasons, but it’s enough to know that I hadn’t made plans to go, yet here we were, just a 3 hour and 21 minute drive away, if one is to believe googlemaps, which one should never really do.
“We should just go,” says Sean.
“Accommodation is insanely expensive,” says I, encouragingly.
“We could sleep in the van,” says he, demonstrating that he is 18 and I am not. The van didn’t even occur to me, and if you saw it, you’d understand. It’s my friend’s band van, a hulking, white paneled, windowless affair with bashed-in sides that stinks of diesel and the sweat of musicians who have traveled 300,000 km in it. So imagine my surprise when I felt my lips move and heard the words “Yeah, okay,” tumble out of my mouth unbidden.
So here we are. On a moment’s notice, we have thrown a mattress into the van, chucked some dry goods into laundry baskets for easy transport, thrown our bikes in (did I mention it’s a BIG van?) and are about to hit the road, headed east, in this giant rolling tin can.
Yes, we are going to Cannes in a can. Because we can. Maybe we’ll do the can-can. We’re very can-do. (sorry, especially about that last one)
We don’t know where we’re going to park this monster. We don’t know how we’re going to access anything at the festival, since I missed the registration date by about two months. We don’t know how long our baguette and bag of raisins will last. But we know we’re going to Cannes.
This, gentle reader, is indie filmmaking at its finest.