What inspired you to come up with the idea for the film?
Well as the saying goes, the first feature is the most difficult to make. As well as the second. The second is also the hardest. But you have to get through the first one before you can move to the 3rd, so what is the best way to achieve this? Well as another saying goes, you write what you know, and I know Castlegar. I know – and lived through – the insular community mindset. The lack of privacy in your everyday life and the word of mouth wild fire that is the rumour. You have a crush on someone, the whole school knows. You sleep with someone, the school and siblings know. You break the law, everyone knows. That’s where the idea for the story started – the inescapable prejudice of having the wrong last name in a town of neighbourly faces.
Why did you want to tell this story?
I’ve never been close with my birth father. We don’t really have a relationship at all, so inherently the absentee parent subconsciously affects my writing. I actually didn’t really understand that fact until writing this script, seeing a pattern in the parental figures I write. My step father raised me, from a very young age and I consider him my dad. I am because of him – and you know, my mother – so he has a character in the film (again subconsciously), but the basis for the film is children paying for the sins of the parent as some part of me is still very much affected by a sense of abandonment. I never talk about it honestly, but it’s come out in Hollow. I wanted to take the wrong last name in a tiny town, put it into an extreme situation, and watch it fight to survive.
How do you relate to your characters or subjects?
I actually relate the most to the town itself – as it is a character in it’s own right – both in my own prejudices and praises. Growing up in a small town isn’t all bad, it’s actually quite good and I’ve had a lot of support my whole life but I’m also a white male having been sheltered in the mountains before the internet was a thing. I am not without regrets and insensitive behaviours, so I am invested and interested in why people think the way they do and why it differs from person to person. I have a knack for communicating with people of all backgrounds, and accepting them for who they are. Even Sharks gotta eat, as the saying goes. I just relate and truly love the small town. This movie is for them.
What aspect of the story changed the most during writing and production?
You hear horror stories of indy filmmakers being forced to change their lead character into a completely different sex because of studio meddling, changing the dynamic of the whole film… Well I did that. Because it would change the whole dynamic of the film. Alison was a male character to start, resembling myself a lot more, but a blue collar lesbian in an insular town, fighting for her family – last name included – was way cooler to me. Being from a disreputable family is one thing, but also being gay in a backwoods community added to the challenges facing Alison. Plus these are causes I feel strongly about: female characters in film and the integration of gay rights in media. Not as subplots, just parts of what makes the character human. Like humans are made.
What was the most courageous decision you or your crew made during production?
Honestly, courage in media is for journalist and documentarians, creators of fiction tell stories that inspire courage but very seldom do I believe them to be courageous. There are exceptions no doubt, but ego is more at play than courage, yet I guess neither can live without the other. Movies are so hard to get made to begin with, there are so many people involved at every level, and the paperwork! It’s amazing a film even gets made – paintbrush that costs millions of dollars (yet another saying)… So really, the courageous part is just attempting to make a movie in the first place (or is it insanity). The crew and cast were courageous enough to work with us in the first place, on such a tiny budget and with a first time feature filmmaker such as myself. The town of Castlegar giving us full access to their home, in all ways, that’s courage.
Where there any risks that you faced during production and how did you find a way to embrace them?
Well we risked hundreds of thousands of dollars on something that came from my brain! And we did it 19 days. Which, when you have 150 scenes to cover, you end up moving locations every day, sometimes multiple times per day, so we had to be pretty nimble to get everything in the can the first round. There was no picking up scenes the next day. You get it, or you don’t. We had one day way out in the middle of the woods that was our hardest day, and as we fell behind, the coming end to the day was like a vice slowly crushing us. Skin of our teeth we got the day, but the biggest risk was the intense pressure of the schedule and what the script called for. Our poor crew.
What influenced the visual style of the film?
There are a lot of influences for the visual style, so many films Norm Li, csc and I had coming in with, but nothing was as successful at influencing than the character of Alison herself. We decided early on that the film would take place in her POV. We wanted to be with her, so we as an audience could react as she does, right with her instead of ahead of her. There is a trope with thrillers, where a set-up is revealed only to the audience, which creates a lot of tension, but tends to lose the authenticity of being in a moment. Showing Castlegar and the Kootenays as though you lived there was very important to us. This meant that camera and character would have to perform a sort of dance together, always on a shoulder, always engaged unravelling information as tight to the chest as possible. In turn, it creates a claustrophobic setting, feeling the world around us and reacting to it as we go. Authentic was paramount, and I think this stylistic approach worked well.
What risks did you take to tell your story?
The biggest risk, which could have affected the entire production was bringing a cast and crew deep into the mountains on a shoestring budget, a day’s drive from any production house that could help us if we lost or damaged any equipment, with an airport known as Cancel-gar for it’s inconsistent arrival security with cast flying in from across the continent and photography scheduled right on the edge of a winter snowfall. I’d say shooting in Castlegar was both the biggest risk and the biggest reward, couldn’t have made the film without Castlegars help. Snow began to fall days after we wrapped. We got lucky.
How would you encourage others to tell their story or manage through the process of screenwriting or film producing?
Be honest with yourself, how much do you like the story you’re telling? Is it saying something you believe in or can stand by? You will be living with it for years, it’s been over 3 for me, and if you’re not committed, the vultures will circle and force their way into your story. As difficult and special a script is, people will always have notes. For years you’ll get them. So be honest with yourself and pick how far you want to fight for your creation, and what your limit is until you pull the plug completely. You will be challenged at every turn. Oh and hire people you know and trust as much as possible, more people in your corner the better, but always let the story be yours and only yours.
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