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Getting a film made is already a monumental task.
You begin by losing sleep over your script, editing relentlessly, and sending your writing off for a pair of fresh eyes to pour over. Once you’ve incorporated the notes and the script feels ready, you apply (beg) for funding and grants. When that terrible task is finished, it’s finally time to organize the shoot. This (organizing a shoot) is a fresh nightmare that involves coordinating the schedules of about forty to sixty people, casting the film, sourcing props, and securing locations. By the time you finally get to camera, you’ve been fuelled by caffeine for weeks and have learned to worship the first Assistant Director like a god.
Now, add in the stress of a global pandemic and the inevitable delays and hurdles this adds to a project, and you’re beginning to get a sense of how filmmakers felt last spring. A slew of short films were pushed forward and rescheduled, making this year very busy for the film industry in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Here’s a round-up of short films going to camera in early and late spring in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Written and directed by Kerrin Rafuse. Produced by Jackie Hynes and Anna Wheeler.
La Véillée, written and directed by Kerrin Rafuse, was initially scheduled for last May. Instead, Rafuse is gearing up to shoot in a few weeks. This short film is based on the dark fairy folklore brought over from Europe by French settlers.
“In the film, we have two parallel stories: we hear the story of a fairy encounter from the past as told by the family matriarch, but seeing her grandson’s encounter with the little folk as the tale unfolds. I’m trying to capture that childlike feel of a spooky bedtime story that’s been passed down in families for years.”
Covid, of course, changed the entire plan.
“We had to rethink our whole approach to shooting this film,” Rafuse told The Independent. “From locations to cast, we ticked every box on the list of things that might contribute to the spread of Covid: small interior spaces, working with very young and much older actors (who can’t wear masks while filming), a party scene… None of these things are advised right now.”
Rafuse has added Covid compliance officers who work on contact tracing, temperature checking, and sanitization. “I’m so grateful that our funders completely understood and were sympathetic; luckily for us, Covid didn’t impact our financial support.”
Rafuse plans to apply for several genre film festivals and hopes to find a home for the film on an online genre platform, but what excites her most is that the film is in French.
“It’s my second language, and I’m rusty, but I’ve had some great help along the way from Franco-Newfoundlanders in translating and casting that will hopefully help it ring true. It would be an honor to be well-received within the community.”
Written and directed by GRIND MIND. Produced by Christian Davis.
GRIND MIND is a collective composed of nerdy, horror-obsessed friends who sharpened their filmmaking skills by spending an entire year making one spooky film per month. This experience taught the team to work on a shoestring budget and planted the seed for Mummering Legends. Director Shane Mills explains: “We made a super low-budget short called ‘The Mummering’ back in late 2017. It was not good. But it got a lot of attention and more traction than it ever should have. We wondered what would happen if we made a good mummering movie? With a budget!”
GRIND MIND applied for the Picture Start program and were green lit to shoot Mummering Legends in March 2020. The project was much larger in scope than anything they had done. “We were just friends making films in our backyards, and suddenly we were making a film with a crew of 40+ industry professionals. We had secured Mary Walsh in the principal role. It was so exciting.”
Of course, like everything scheduled last spring, Mummering Legends was delayed.
“We were nearly finished of preproduction when everything came crashing down. During our hiatus, the industry learned to adapt to filming with Covid, and we’re fortunate to have been able to complete our film in January of this year. Two weeks later, the province was locked down again for the first time since our initial delay—so I really do mean lucky.”
Mummering Legends is a distinctly Newfoundland folk horror story that explores the chaotic history of the mummering tradition—a record that includes a violent death. “Our story is a work of historical fiction based on these largely unknown—and unexplored—events, ripe for the horror genre. Pillowcases and bras aside.”
Mills is excited to see what happens with the film.
“Our previous efforts have all been thrown on the internet for free; this one is making the festival rounds. We do hope to develop it into a feature once it’s had some time to find its legs.”
Written and directed by Mike Hickey. Produced by Christian Davis.
That Halloween, a film written and directed by Mike Hickey, is essentially a love letter to Halloween movies. “That’s the vibe, it’s almost a subgenre, and I’m playing on lots of horror tropes—there’s some haunted house stuff, slasher elements, and I’ve managed to sneak in some monsters.”
Hickey’s been plugging away on this particular script for a long time. “I wrote the first draft in 2014 and snagged some funding at that time, but I put it on the backburner. Last year Christian David came on board as producer, and it got greenlit, so it seems like he was the missing piece in all this.”
Christian Davis has had a significant year. Typically, a new producer would do a Picture Start short, wait a year, then produce their second film. “The delays caused by Covid means that we’ll have gone to camera on two in five months. My first time producing anything at all was with Mummering Legends, so it’s been a massive leap for me, but it’s been an incredible experience.”
Both Davis and Hickey admit that it’ll be a strange year for planning releases and sending the film off to festivals, so instead, Davis is more focused on creating a nostalgic feeling for viewers.
“Remember that feeling of going to the video store as a kid, smelling popcorn, and seeing posters for Nightmare on Elm Street? That’s That Halloween, in a movie. I’m hoping that enough people will be vaccinated and some restrictions will be lifted. I want people to experience it in person; popcorn and candy sticking to their feet.”
Written and directed by Elizabeth Hicks. Produced by Kyla Smith.
Bounce is a coming-of-age short comedy (with a hint of romance) that goes to camera later this spring. Hicks wrote the bulk of the script during the Nickel Screen Writing Challenge at the start of the pandemic and planned her upcoming shoot for months.
“We’ve been working on the film consistently since September when we found out we were accepted into the Picture Start Program.”
Both women are taking on new challenges with this project. Smith has worked as a 2nd assistant camera on various sets in Newfoundland and Ontario, and Hicks has frequently found work as a writer or an actor–but this is Smith’s first project as a producer.
While Bounce hasn’t been rescheduled due to Covid, adjustments to the shoot have been made.
“Our film is set partly in a trampoline park on a busy evening,” Smith told The Independent. “The restrictions around recreational indoor activities and groups are a hurdle for us. Luckily, our location is open for business in Level 2. We’re looking forward to working with them while making sure everyone on the team stays safe.”
Bounce is a story about growth, change, and finding confidence in adolescence. Hicks elaborates:
“We hope it is heartwarming and relatable. When the credits roll, we want people to say, “AWWW!”
Grown in Darkness
Written and directed by Devin Shears. Produced by Anna Wheeler.
Grown in Darkness, a film written and (soon to be directed) by Devin Shears, was supposed to go to camera last spring. Shooting was rescheduled for March 2021, but the second lockdown hijacked that date. Shear’s film will finally go to camera on May 7th to 9th.
“It’s frustrating, but I do think it will make for a better and more beautiful film,” Shears told The Independent. “The lockdowns have given us time to source better locations, really think about different ways to shoot. We’ll be able to incorporate production design better.”
Shears also believes it’s helped build relationships.
“Well Anna and I have had lots of time to stew and think, get to know the crew. I think that’s helped us build a better working relationship.”
Grown in the Darkness is a film about a farmer named Henry who works alone, forcing rhubarb to grow in a darkened shed. A travelling merchant ends up staying on the farm for a few days. Shears explains: “Well, without giving too much away, I’ll just say that it’s about loneliness and longing in the later years of life. I’m hoping folks can see this in a theatre setting—I think we’re making a beautiful film.”
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