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VIFF 2015 Interview: Meet the team behind CHARLOTTE'S SONG!

by Jason Whyte

"What kind of film is CHARLOTTE'S SONG? Think PAN'S LABYRINTH meets CARNIVALE; a "Dirty Thirties" Dust Bowl-era reimagining of THE LITTLE MERMAID starring Iwan Rheon; aka Ramsay Bolton from GAME OF THRONES. And yeah, he's not such a nice guy in our movie either!" Producer Jessica Leigh Clark-Bojin on the film CHARLOTTE'S SONG which has its premiere at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival. We talk with Jessica and director Nicholas Humprhies for this interview.

Is this your first VIFF experience and will you be in Vancouver to attend your screenings?

Nicholas Humprhies, director: This will be my first time screening at VIFF. It's a huge honour as I've been attending for years. I'm incredibly excited and will not only be attending both screenings but will be coming out to support film friends who have been programmed this year as well.

Jessica: This is my first time screening in the festival as well, though I have participated as a panelist and moderator at past VIFF Industry events. The lion's share of our crew will be attending both screenings I believe, myself included.

Aside from your previous VIFF experience, tell us a little bit more about each of you and how you got into the world of movie-making.

Nicholas: I grew up in Chilliwack but moved to Vancouver to go to the University of British Columbia when I was 18. I received my MFA in Film Production there. My thesis was a Steampunk web series entitled RIESE: KINGDOM FALLING. That series was licensed to Syfy and distributed internationally. After that I shot my first feature film, a micro-budget slasher entitled DEATH DO US PART. Anchor Bay picked us up in the United States. We also have distribution here in Canada and in Germany.

Jessica: My introduction to the film world came by way of the comic book and "new media" industries initially back when I was VP Creative and a founding executive of Zeros 2 Heroes Media in Vancouver. I worked with many broadcasters and production companies there, but it was during my time as the head of the Entertainment Business Management program at Vancouver Film School that I really caught the filmmaking bug myself, and left to start my own production company, Done Four Productions, with partner Lindsey Mann. CHARLOTTE'S SONG was our first project together.

For both of you, tell us about the creation of CHARLOTTE'S SONG from each of your perspective..

Jessica: From the start, CHARLOTTE'S SONG was atypical of the traditional auteur-driven model of independent filmmaking. Lindsey Mann and I had a very clear vision for the inaugural film we wanted to make with Done Four, and we knew we would need a very special type of partner to execute that vision; someone who not only had the technical chops to get the job done, but who would understand and embrace the creative elements already in place and work side by side with us every step of the way. Nick was the obvious choice. He is a director with the reputation as an extremely collaborative, kind, and calm entertainment professional which is something of a unicorn in this industry! We had both worked with before on award-winning short films to great effect.

Lindsey and I had developed and sold the story for Charlotte's Song early in the process but were already wearing as many hats as we dared manage, so we brought in screenwriter Bob Woolsey to further refine the story with us and write the script, and we had an excellent working relationship throughout. We also brought in a third producer, Darren Borrowman, to assist with production management logistics and the five of us were the initial gang for the first few months of pre-production.

Nicholas: Together, we were able to pull off a production which we truly believe exemplifies the phrase "more than the sum of its parts". While Lindsey and Jessica focused on ensuring the production value would be there on the screen, with production designing the film, honchoing music supervision and casting, I had free reign to focus on the storyboarding, blocking, and building a rapport with the actors.

I was in love with the story world Jessica and Lindsey created and just wanted to help them bring it to life. More than anything else *I* wanted to see this movie! When we inevitably ran into surprises along the way, we found solutions together. They had my back, and I had theirs. I really wish more films were made this way.

Jessica: As creative individuals it is often difficult to let go and trust your vision and your baby to someone else, but with Nick there was never any doubt that we were all making the same movie from day one. During times where any of us could not be present on set, we had 100% confidence that the train was on the tracks and Nick would deliver. Which he did! And almost more importantly, Nick was a breeze to work with in the normally hyper-stressful world of independent filmmaking.

In the end, this unusual directorial collaboration really worked for us and layering all of the incredible talent in our creative departments: Kim Oxlund, Red Heartbreaker, and Maya Saxell our composers, Victoria Pearson our co-production designer, Jaala Leis Wanless and Sarah Elizabeth our hair and makeup heads, Lola Frost our historical burlesque dance choreographer, our costume designers Brandon Peterson and Ash Turner, Naim Sutherland our DoP and James Chase who was our super talented colourist. We could go on and on!

Nicholas: Go check out the Facebook page for the movie (linked below) and get a look at some of their work, words can't do it justice. We're just so happy with all of the cast and crew who brought their A-game to this film and we'd work with any of them again in a heartbeat.

While you are working on a movie, what is your crutch to keep you going?

Nicholas: It use to be red licorices. As I get older that's being replaced with water, exercise and plenty of sleep when I can get it. I try and avoid the Craft Services table whenever possible. I'm like a goldfish and will keep eating until I explode.

Jessica: Goldfish explode? Gross.

For me it comes down to this; it's your baby. You have sacrificed money, sleep, family, friends, sanity for years. If you don't keep going, who else will? No mind-altering substance will suffice for me if the will isn't there. You have conceived a creative vision and you must see it born. It is remarkable what you can endure under those circumstances. Though I'd be lying if I didn't say I appreciated our caterer-extraordinaire Doug Stephens sneaking me jelly bellies on the extra rough days!

I admire the passion from you two! Would you say you had any major challenges with making CHARLOTTE'S SONG and how did you both work on these challenges?

Nicolas: I'd have to say that the sheer pressure to deliver a quality product almost broke me. There were so many people who had put so much time and energy into the film that my worst fear was that I would make a bad decision and sink the ship. That didn't happen and I was surrounded by support, mainly my producers. They both demanded quality but believed in me the whole way. It kept me going.

Jessica: Biggest challenge? This phrase: "That's not the way it's done."

My producing partner Lindsey and I had to put a moratorium on that phrase as our unconventional approach to the structuring of this production, unorthodox for a traditional film project, ruffled feathers and unjointed noses on more than one occasion, and we heard this phrase on a near daily basis. Aside from safety considerations, we were not especially interested in conventional wisdom as we had a vision and a way we wanted to do things for our first feature. If it failed it was on us, but if we were successful, it meant we would be able to realize production value far beyond the norm for our resources and experience and actually pull off the film we had in our heads. To help combat some of the concern and put minds at rest that there was a master plan at work, we produced assorted guide books that covered all aspects of the production and highlighted the areas that might deviate from their usual experience. Everyone was presented with these books at a kick off meeting at all key moments; first meeting of the keys, first meeting of the production design team, first script reading, and first day of shooting. I think it helped because the shoot ran very smoothly and cast and crew bonded instantly despite the funky hierarchy.

Indeed it sounds like a very unique collaboration and production. So out of all of it, when was the moment where you thought "I had something"?

Nicholas: There's a scene in the showroom where the girls are rehearsing that made me giddy when I saw it on the monitor. The choreography, the set design, the wardrobe and cinematography were all working together to create this stunning frame. It was emotional to see everyone's work come together so seamlessly. There was another moment though, near the end of the movie where I was working with the actors and we all got weepy preparing for a particularly emotional scene. We were all living that moment together. It was beautiful.

Jessica: Seeing the production value there on the monitor was certainly heartening, but top moment for me was when Iwan actually successfully cleared customs! I remember reading the story of LOST IN TRANSLATION and how the producers weren't entirely sure if Bill Murray was going to show up or not as they hadn't heard from him until the morning of the shoot. I can't imagine living through that, but first time dealing with immigration paperwork as an indie was certainly nerve-wracking. Was a huge load off when he appeared and I could finally ditch all the emergency plan B scenarios.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the technical side of the film and the design of its look and cinematography.

Nicholas: Before production, our cinematographer Naim Sutherland and I spent a lot of time discussing the intent behind each scene. So when there were surprises, and there inevitably are on any film, we didn't even need to exchange words to know what to do next. We were completely in sync. It was a really rewarding collaboration. Charlotte's Song was shot on RED Epic because the quality and cost just made the most sense.

Jessica: Can't say enough great things about Naim Sutherland! He attended every production design meeting and was in lock step on the look and feel. This was his baby too, and he stuck with it through every frame of post.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing CHARLOTTE'S SONG at VIFF?

Nicholas: Honestly I'm just really looking forward to seeing our cast and crew all in one place again to collectively enjoy the rewards of our labour. It feels like we've got a family reunion coming up. I'm also really excited to show the movie to my students from Vancouver Film School. They've listened to me talk about it a lot over the last year.

Jessica: Home town crowd, great venue and a great festival. What's not to like? The organizers of VIFF have been so wonderful to us; this whole experience has been lovely and I'm looking forward to sharing the film with the community that has been so supportive of us.

Where is this movie going to show next? Any theatrical release?

Jessica We can't spill just yet, but we'll be able to make some more announcements on that front in October and we'll keep everyone updated on all of our channels!

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being overall disruptive during a screening of CHARLOTTE'S SONG?

Nicholas: I probably wouldn't say anything. But I'd definitely have my date throw popcorn at their head.

Jessica: This is a home-town crowd, and we have the actors playing the "gangster goons" in attendance. Pretty sure one of them would have it in hand before we even noticed.

Both of you have showed a real great passion with your words, and there are many aspiring filmmakers reading our articles. If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?

Nicholas: When I decided I wanted to try to be a director, I would shoot whatever I could get my hands on. CHARLOTTE'S SONG writer Bob Woolsey and I would shoot five sketches in a day, cut them together and post them on YouTube. Some were good and some weren't but I learned something new every time I saw something from beginning to end. I made mistakes and I kept flexing my directing muscles. My advice to new filmmakers is to do the same. Gather some friends, shoot something, get it out there and listen to the feedback. It's the only way we'll grow. Oh, and be nice to everyone.

Jessica: If you are starting from scratch, my primary piece of advice is that you can't do it alone. The notion of the solo auteur-visionary conquering the world is a fallacy; even UPSTREAM COLOR has a credit roll. So start making friends now because your network is everything. For that reason alone I have always been a proponent of reputable film school and instant network foundation. If you already have a cadre of like-minded industry buddies, then my advice is the same as Nicks. Start making stuff! That, and try to make friends with rich people.

And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen at a film festival, and why?

Jessica: THE IMAGINARIUM OF DOCTOR PARNASSUS premiere at TIFF in 2009. I love Terry Gilliam and his films rarely get a fair shake in my humble opinion; because of the very sad passing of Heath Ledger I think a few more people, and different kinds of people, who may not have ordinarily taken a chance on a more fantastical film were moved to seek it out. I'm really happy I had the chance to see it there.

Nicholas: Vancouver used to have an amazing Horror Film Festival called Cinemuerte at the Pacific Cinematheque. Once per festival they would hold an all night horror marathon and feed the audience cereal in the morning. I saw an independent Japanese movie there called GUSHA NO BINDUME (2004). It took place entirely in an elevator and was super tense from beginning to end. The whole experience was one I'll never forget.

Be sure to follow CHARLOTTE'S SONG online by following on Twitter at @Charlottes_Song and on Facebook!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from September 24th to October 9th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the VIFF app for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

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originally posted: 09/21/15 07:08:00
last updated: 09/21/15 07:18:25
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