The current crop of celluloid storytellers in the Atlantic Filmmakers' Co-Operative's Film 5 mentorship program already know you don't get anywhere without a solid story.
The year-long gig starts with eight teams for phase one—development—but only four of them move to the production stage. This year, all four groups are applying to the Atlantic Film Festival, entry deadline for which is June 29.
"There's a lot of story editing that goes on," says Greg Jackson, the writer-director of You Can't Do That on Film Anymore, a metaphysical story about a filmmaker whose actors step outside their prescribed roles and scenes to challenge the maker.
A "big fan" of movies such as Adaptation, the Charlie Kaufman-penned 2003 release, Jackson is driven to expand the role and value of story.
"People have a tendency to think that when a story is written, it's done," Jackson says, adding that de-emphasis on story prevails in Halifax's industry. "We're good at supporting crew, and we're only now acknowledging we have good writers and directors. It's starting to come around."
Noel Baker, who wrote Hard Core Logo, gave a special workshop on writing and editing. "He doesn't pull punches," Jackson says.
Jackson also credits Jessica Brown, his producer, and production manager Cory Gibson for keeping the 35mm shoot (all films are in that format) on track. So much so that You Can't Do That is already well through post-production. The shoot "went great," according to Jackson, and details, such as taking out the slightly louder-than- expected train noise, are all that remain. (Jackson and crew shot the film down in a port building at the south end of the waterfront.)
Editing is about to begin on Falling Inside, writer-director Rosemary Hanson's short, so Hanson takes the call in a spare moment. The film explores one girl's desire and efforts to keep up with—and to beat—the boys at their own game. "I took it back to a young age to see where it all begins," she explains, "how some girls interacted with the boys."
A fiction and poetry writer, scriptwriting marks a "180-degree turn" for Hanson. She figures she went through at least 10 edits. "It's radically different now," she says with a small laugh. As a writer, Hanson adds, "You have to let go of things. Let the story take its own form."
Falling Inside's producer, Heather Wilkinson, praises Hanson for working "really hard on making the changes to the script as they were needed. I know that isn't always for a writer. It can be challenging making changes and still meeting deadlines."
Producers learned "what to look for in a story, how to make it work," Wilkinson says, with guidance from the likes of Michael Melski, who has two of his own projects currently in pre-production, Shandi Mitchell (the Gemini-winning writer-director of Baba's House) and Rick Warden (executive producer on last year's short Focus Group Therapy).
John Davies and Jason Eisener, the duo whose trailer Hobo with a Shotgun won the honour of opening the Robert Rodriguez/Quentin Tarantino double-bill Grindhouse in Canadian theatres, offer Moving Day, the story of a kid who has to bid farewell to the monster under his bed because his parents are moving.
"I was at the festival last year and watching this one movie and there was a shot from underneath the bed," recalls Davies of the 2006 Atlantic fest. He thought it looked so cool, the writer-director crafted a story pivoting on that perspective.
A lover of the imaginative creatures of The Muppets TV series and the David Bowie-starring Labyrinth—both of which benefitted from the hand of Jim Henson—Davies and Eisener found their own puppet master in Joey MacNeil. "We're still waiting for our footage to come back," Davies says.
The short film form excites Davies as it demands simplicity and clarity, two goals Ron McDougall, writer/director of A Change in Tempo, kept in mind for his story about a student rekindling the dreams of a despairing piano teacher.
"Spending so much time inside a story, it's a challenge to step outside and look at it objectively," he says. Thankfully, he adds, the instructors "helped focus the story and clarify the ideas I was exploring."
No Barton Finks, these guys.