The Stolen Sisters Digital Initiative (SSDI) an artistic commission by imagineNATIVE and national exhibition of four, one-minute digital works by award-winning Canadian Indigenous filmmakers celebrating and honouring Indigenous women and their contributions as strong, successful and valued members of society. Each artist will post about the project and their works leading up to the imagineNATIVE 2012. More information about SSDI
The idea for SNARE came to me in a flash and I loved it immediately. And when that kind of thunderbolt of inspiration happens I figure my job is to do my best to bring that vision to the screen without messing it up.
Since this film doesn’t improve with explanation—and since, as of this post it’s not edited yet, I’m fairly certain none of you have seen it—I’ll give a peek into some of the behind-the-scenes making-of stuff in this blog.
To begin with, I needed to apply for some extra funds since my film idea had a few tricky elements that I knew were going to cost: a big studio, a big cast, aerial stunts, and a lot of dirt and feathers. We found out we got Canada Council for the Arts funding just in the nick of time leading up to the shoot and so we could actually pay our crew (I’ve noticed people like it when you do that).
Fast-forward to a couple of weeks before production. Auditions. I needed seven female cast for the piece, of all ages. I was nervous that I wouldn’t get people out on a mid-August weekend when Vancouver was finally getting some summer weather. However, posting a photo of myself looking ridiculous in a safety harness seemed to do the trick and my Facebook casting notice traveled far and wide.
Forty-five women came out to audition in Vancouver, from as far away as Mount Currie and the Lummi Reservation in Washington, and including some of the admirable women involved with the Butterflies in Spirit group, who are devoted to raising awareness on this issue. Making the final selection was damned tricky, but the selected cast were amazing—tough, funny, hard-working, compassionate and patient, and … patient.
I was also honoured to have Vernon Williams Jr., a singer from Haida Gwaii, on set. Vernon Williams Jr., who I’ve worked with in the past and admire, opened both shoot days with song and smudge, and told us of the healing work he’d been doing over the last two years with communities along the infamous Highway of Tears in Northern BC, where so many Aboriginal women have gone missing.
Now, mishaps. Let’s see. The day before the shoot, we had the soil delivered to the studio. Dark, rich and fragrant. A truckload full of it. And once inside the studio, it smelled really bad. My producer called it “toxic” though I’m still not sure if we would have actually poisoned people. However, I’m pretty certain there would have been enough nausea and headaches to keep our cast and crew good and grouchy for two days, if not actually ill. It had to go.
So, at 5pm on a Friday afternoon, we were madly googling and dialing to get the smelly dirt moved out and source a truckload of non-smelly dirt to be delivered before 8am the next day. With the help of a very buff bald man covered in tattoos, who showed up with enough digger machines to put a smile on any five-year-old boy’s face, as well as a fantastically helpful man named Mr. Death (pronounced “Dee-ath”) who stayed open late to make sure we got the right replacement soil, we were sorted.
The shoot went great. Producer Ki Wight had managed to wrangle her employer, Capilano University, into giving us access to their amazing new film studio facilities and all their gear. We also got to work with some of the students and grads from their film programs, including the Indigenous Independent Digital Filmmaking Program. Meegwetch CapU!
Preparing for the stunt shots took a chunk of the two-day shoot (big thanks to stunt coordinators Chad Bellamy and Matt Reimer and the 12 crew members that suddenly found themselves designated as spotters). Also, wrangling feathers isn’t easy, but it’s a lot easier when you have SFX guy John MacCuspie around. The wardrobe and makeup/hair department literally defied gravity and cinematographer Andrew Coppin made it all look beautiful.
Now I’m off to the edit and sound design. In addition to the commissioned one-minute silent version, I’ll be making a longer sound version, and I’m hoping I can include the amazing singing voice of one of our youngest cast members, who blew me away with an impromptu song at the audition. I hope you can join me for the premiere of SNARE at imagineNATIVE 2012.