"I've done a lot of bracing over the years---I don't think it's any huge secret that any low-budget Canadian film has about 10 near-death experiences on its way to fruition," says Josh MacDonald. "But here we were, first day of photography."
The Dartmouth writer first put the idea for Halo to paper a decade ago as a production for Canning's venerable Two Planks and a Passion theatre company. Set in the fictional rural Nova Scotia town of Nately, it followed the fervour raised in the aftermath of a Jesus sighting on the side of a Tim Hortons. Not a sign from above, the figure was in fact the handiwork of bored, clever teen Casey McMullen---whose family life had been damaged by the death of her older sister---though that was a secret to the devoted hordes who descended on Nately to witness tangible proof of their beliefs.
MacDonald has been working on a screen version of the story for years. Production began on Halo, the motion picture, March 25 and wrapped in Shubenacadie last week. It stars PEI native Martha MacIssac (Superbad) as Casey, a challenging role that required the actor for almost every scene.
"The roots for this piece for me are deep and I've lived with these characters a long, long time. I've seen incarnations of these characters through its life as a theatrical play," says MacDonald from home a few days before departing with his wife for a Mexico vacation. "But there's something about the movie that's for keeps. There will never be another movie. As a play I've had beautiful, strong actors like Sue Leblanc-Crawford, Jackie Torrens, Krista Laveck and Kristin Langille play Casey over the years. But now having Martha MacIssac play the film version, it's exciting for me to see the über-Casey, the definitive Casey. She never blows a take---she is on top of everything, every day. She carries the whole film on her wee little shoulders."
Halo---which will be released, hopefully this fall, under a title to be determined---had a tight 21-day shooting schedule in Spryfield and Shubenacadie, requiring MacDonald to be on set, ready to change scenes or move them inside on the stormy early days.
"When you're making an independent film and you're a little bit at the mercy of the elements and a little bit at the mercy of a shooting schedule and you need to shift on a dime and shift a scene to an interior from an exterior, we don't have the luxury of saying, 'Let's go home until the sun comes out,'" says Halo director George Mihalka (My Bloody Valentine), from his Halifax hotel room. "To have somebody there who knows every hyphen in the script to say, 'Why don't we do this,' it still keeps the intention of the scene. It's been a fabulous collaboration with Josh, and I've always loved working with writers. I used to teach literature in high school---I know how difficult it is to write and I admire writers."
Now that Halo has wrapped, MacDonald's life moves on as it always has, working on various scripts in various stages of development. A Linklater-like genre-jumper, he's got a horror picture that could begin shooting before the end of the year, a kid's film and a few other ideas that are not yet in readable draft form. He's both awed and excited by his first film experience, seeing words he wrote come to life in front of him.
"For me it's been like walking around in The Truman Show, some 3-D rendering version of my imagination," he says. "It's the biggest playground a writer can have."