Imagine, if you will, a film crew at Lawrencetown Beach. It’s mid-November and the shooting day starts around 5am. The film is a drama about surfers. Imagine them spending a great deal of time in the water, both the actors and the crew.
“We had cameras in splash bags,” says producer Drew Hagen. “We sent them out with Christopher Ball” the director of photography, and “a guy holding them down so they wouldn’t float away.”
The film is a short called Eastern Shore, written and directed by Eva Madden, Hagen’s creative and romantic partner. It’s a training project through the Winnipeg-based National Screen Institute, Canada’s oldest film training school, which funds a few emerging filmmakers from across the country every year. Hagen and Madden’s project was one of a chosen five, and the first in years from Atlantic Canada. They’re given funding (including services it winds up being around $30,000) and a year to shoot and edit their film. In February, they’ll take their finished short (it must be under 13 minutes, including credits) back to Manitoba to screen it at the NSI Film Exchange, the all-Canadian film festival, and later in the year, the short will be shown on the CBC.
“They’re national, which is what’s exciting,” says Madden. “It’s great to win something locally, but with the NSI they’re really trying to establish you in the national industry. There are broadcasters, distributors and agents. And alumni from the NSI is a real family.”
Feeling welcomed by the institute and emboldened by the selection, Hagen and Madden spent the summer prepping for their three-day shoot, drawing support from friends and associates in the film community, including project mentor Kelly Bray and Kris Gilbert at William F. White, and assembling a cast and crew, all the while juggling a multitude of other projects. Those included A Bug and a Bag of Weed, Hagen’s feature film with Chris Cuthbertson that screened at the Atlantic Film Festival in September; Madden’s feature film script Sweet Nothing, workshopped at the AFF Inspired Scripts program and subsequently chosen to go into development with Telefilm and the Harold Greenberg Fund; and a documentary on which they’re both working: Move On, about the music and career of Amelia Curran that, after four years of shooting and National Film Board support, is nearing completion.
Unsurprisingly, Madden wasn’t keen on being interviewed at their home, a place Hagen describes as currently “dedicated to filmmaking. There are boxes everywhere. It’s not for living, it’s for making films.”
Now that Eastern Shore, Madden’s calling card short is in the can, what’s it all about?
“It’s about a female surfer whose name is Kat,” says Madden. “She lives in Lawrencetown with her boyfriend, Jake. They’re pretty hardcore soul surfers.”
Madden wrote the script before she realized year-round surfers do exist on the eastern shore, and mentions her good fortune in finding Beth Amiro to play Kat, as Amiro is both an actor and a surfing instructor at One Life Surf, eastern Canada’s first all-women’s surf school.
The surfing couple decide to move to the city but Kat is unhappy. She keeps sneaking away in the early morning, driving out to the beach. “He keeps waking up and finding her gone,” says Madden. “And quickly realizes that maybe the promises they made to start a new life and not be surf bums—and I say that with the greatest affection—maybe that’s not going to work out. She has to make a decision between what she loves with her heart and what she loves with her soul, which is surfing.”
“Believe it or not, the movie is shorter than that explanation,” says Hagen, laughing.
“It’s a very difficult decision,” says Madden, hinting at how it ends. “I wanted to do something that had a young, confident, fun girl who is choosing for herself what is best for her as opposed to choosing for someone else. In film often we see female characters choose what’s best for the relationship.”
Clearly Hagen and Madden are driven and talented, but as with all creative endeavours, a little luck can go a long way. On the weekend they shot down at Lawrencetown beach, imagine this: the Atlantic weather gods were kind.
“It was an amazingly beautiful weekend,” says Madden. “Fifteen degrees on the first day we were out at the beach. We were blessed.”