Writer-director Michael Melski's Growing Op may be a first feature but it's the product of a veteran filmmaker with plenty of time behind the camera.
Melski started writing plays as an English major in the late '80s at the University of King's College, while taking theatre courses at Dalhousie. That led to a production at the Fringe Festival and an application to the Canadian Film Centre.
"I figured it was a long shot. I bought Horton Foote's book Three Screenplays, which is To Kill A Mockingbird, Tender Merciesand A Trip To Bountiful, and used that as a template, which is all wrong. But I adapted the play into a screenplay, and got in."
Since then he's had a number of his plays published and has seen them run in theatres across the country. He's written scripts for features directed by other filmmakers, including Mile Zero for Andrew Currie and Touch & Go for Scott Simpson, which led to directing short films of his own and a gig on the first season of Robson Arms for CTV.
"Gradually you accrue the wisdom and the track record so that people take you seriously when you ask them for $1.8 million. It's a real war of attrition. There's a lot of people who want the same thing and you have to bring your A-game."
Melski's game has produced what is a coming-of-age yarn as much as a pot comedy, about a home-schooled teenager, Quinn (Steven Yaffee), whose parents (Wallace Langham and Rosanna Arquette, who is expected to be here for the festival premiere) are high-quantity---and quality---weed dealers. All Quinn wants to do is be a normal teenager and go to high school, a yearning exacerbated by Crystal (Rachel Blanchard), the attractive girl-next-door. Filling out the Canadian cast are the sterling Alberta Watson, Hugh Thompson and Daniel MacIvor.
The picture used a mostly Nova Scotian crew, was executive produced by Thom Fitzgerald, but shot in northern New Brunswick. The shoot went well, except for a heart-in-the-throat moment when reels from two days' shooting with the star cast were accidentally X-rayed at the airport, creating a strobe in the print initially thought irreparable.
"We thought the footage was lost," says Melski. "But I sent it out to a few people in the industry on the off-chance there might be something possible digitally to fix it." The one who came back with a miraculous fix was local visual-effects wizard Will Garrett. "I know Industrial Light & Magic are trying to fix Tom Cruise's new film that got zapped in a similar way in the Munich airport. I was stunned we've got our own little Industrial Light & Magic here in Halifax."
The Atlantic Canadian content in the film extends to the soundtrack, supervised by producer Rick Warden, who assembled a who's who of Maritime talent, including Jill Barber, Jenn Grant, Matt Mays, Two Hours Traffic, Nathan Wiley, Amelia Curran, Joel Plaskett Emergency and In-Flight Safety. "I have to take my hat off to Rick," Melski says. "We even got Teenage Head." Andrew Scott, Sloan's drummer, did the music score, while he and the band also contribute a song.
The yield for Growing Op looks promising. After more festival screenings, it's scheduled for release by Mongrel Media here in Canada later this year and the producers are negotiating with a prominent LA sales company that wants to represent and promote Growing Op worldwide.
"We really tried to make something artful and entertaining. I hear it compared to Garden State, rather than Pineapple Express," says Melski. "The movie is being responded to in such a positive way already. It's opening some really nice doors. I'm just going to look forward to seeing what's behind them."