Bye Bye Blackbird set visit

A locally shot independent feature delves into social media, bullying and teen violence.

It's been another grueling day of shooting for the cast and crew of Bye Bye Blackbird. The stars, teenagers Connor Jessup and Alexia Fast, are sitting around a table on set with producers David Miller and Chad Maker in an impromptu post-production meeting. Jessup is in his goth wardrobe. 

Fast says to Jessup, "You look cute," to which Miller responds, "He looks weird."

But Maker sees The Method in Fast's madness. "That's how she's supposed to feel!" he says.  

Bye Bye Blackbird is a modern take on loss of innocence and redemption, a coming-of-age story with a cyber twist. Sixteen-year-old Sean Randell (Jessup), moves to a small town to live with his father (Michael Buie). He falls in love with the popular Deanna Roy (Fast). Because of an empty threat of violence made towards Roy's boyfriend, the police raid Randell's home and find a supposed "hit list" on his hard drive. Randell is thrown into youth prison, where he must endure the torment of other inmates. When Randell returns home, he must adjust to a new way of life, try to avoid going back to jail and win Deanna back.

Originally set in Bridgewater, the film is being shot in Windsor. Given the small $1.2 million budget, there is a tight 21-day shooting schedule that runs until early June.

Jason Buxton, a Chester native, wrote the screenplay and is directing the film. His creative partner is lead producer Marc Almon---this will be Almon's first feature---approached Maker and Miller in 2010 after attending a Producer's Lab session at the Canadian Film Centre in Toronto two years ago. Maker and Miller are two of the founding partners of Agency 71, a Toronto-based marketing company focused on independent film and television.

"So much of the film is about Sean and his relationship with his father and Deanna," says Maker. "The way that the actors are interacting on set is really promising."

The producers have an ambitious plan for promoting the film. In June, Agency 71 along with the North by Northeast Music Festival, will launch a contest for bands to submit their music for the film. The winner will be announced at the Toronto International Film Festival.

"American films have so much marketing power that soaks up the media space," says Maker. "We wanted to take a grassroots approach on promoting the film and engage the public. It adds to the authenticity of the film."

To showcase the dangers of posting personal information online, cast members are recording short videos about their struggles to control their public persona online without crossing over into other people's privacy. The film's website will also serve as a public forum to discuss these issues.

"We want to bring awareness about personal responsibility online," says Maker. "We want to bring attention to programs that are working on cyber-bullying and gun violence."

Timing is perfect for the producers. Their lead actor, Conner Jessup, is the latest rising star in Canada. The young actor will be starring alongside Noah Wyle in Steven Spielberg's science fiction series Falling Skies, premiering in June on TNT. "We've been blown away by Conner," says Maker. "He's a 16-year-old kid that has to turn off and on lots of emotions. It's been a real treat."

The producers are hoping to have the film's first screening at the 2012 Cannes Film Festival and roll out the film to the general public in fall 2012. "This is a story about being true to yourself," Maker says. "We want to do something special."

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