Lets face it, making genre films in Canada is a tough racket when your last name isn’t Cronenberg (David or Brandon), but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a whole host of up and coming filmmakers out there just itching to get their more-than-worthy films in front of your greedy eyeballs.
One such film that’s definitely worth watching out for is Cold Blooded , a brutally bloody and occasionally darkly comic morality tale that’s been making a name for itself on the Festival circuit, winning Best Canadian Feature at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival and garnering praise from critics whenever it screens.
The film centres around a police officer named Frances Jane who takes the overnight shift guarding injured prisoner Cordero in a deserted wing of a hospital. Things don’t go quite as smoothly as Frances planned when his violent partners in crime show up looking for the hidden spoils of their heist.
Toronto Film Scene talked to four key players who had a hand in making Cold Blooded — writer/director Jason Lapeyre, producer Leah Jaunzems, lead actress Zoie Palmer and actor Sergio Di Zio — about just what goes into making an independent genre film in Canada.
Jason Lapeyre: I was approached by a producer in Toronto named Tim Merkel, who said he needed a script set entirely in an abandoned hospital. He took me and a group of other writers out to the hospital for a tour and we took this very long, creepy walk around the place and tried to get inspired. I went away and wrote up a couple of ideas, one for a zombie movie and another for a crime movie, and sent them to Tim. He got back to me and asked me which one I’d rather do, and as much as I love horror, crime is my first love. I had been introduced to Tim through Leah Jaunzems and the three of us developed it.
Leah Jaunzems: I had met both Jason & Tim through my work at Darius Films. A while after they came together for the project, I was asked to come on board to story edit the script. The idea was that once the script was done, it would be shot down-and-dirty on a micro budget. I suggested taking it to Telefilm Canada and then came on board as a producer to help make that happen.
JL: It took between a year and two years to write the script. The story took a lot of twists and turns along the way, which is pretty standard to the script development process, I think.
LJ: There were a lot of references to bowel movements in the script and I begged Jason to trim them down before production. It became a bit of a tug of war between us. When we got to shooting one scene that had been a battleground on this, (lead actor) Ryan Robbins went to town, improvising countless shit jokes and brought the whole crew to tears. I think Jason almost exploded from joy.
Cold Blooded Casting
LJ: Jason had originally written the part of George Keyes for a friend of his. At the audition, yet another friend of his came out to read. Then the wonderful Sergio Di Zio read for the part and stole it! From not one but two friends of the writer/director! So much for Sergio’s nice guy image – he’s a thief!
Sergio Di Zio: When Cold Blooded put out breakdowns I was on hiatus from Flashpoint . We were between our 3rd and 4th seasons of the show. As much as I loved playing the role of the bomb-expert and “tech geek with combat skills” I was looking to play somebody completely different during my break. And Keyes fit that bill in just about every way.
JL: (The casting process) shifted as we met people. I loved the process, but certainly it was easier for some characters than others. We knew we wanted someone who could be both charming and sketchy for Cordero, and when I saw Ryan Robbins’ portrayal of Charles Manson in Leslie, My Name Is Evil , I knew he was a lock.
Zoie Palmer was cast as Cold Blooded‘s lead character Frances Jane and production on the film quickly moved forward.
Zoie Palmer: We had little to no time to prep for this film. I prepared by reading the script and going to the mall and pretending it was a hospital and that I was being chased by all the teenagers who were there skipping school. I kept randomly turning around screaming, “Get away from me, I’m Frances Jane, get away from me” (not an exact line from the script). It was really helpful actually, except I’m not allowed back at that mall anymore.
Blood, Set and Tears
JL: It was a 15-day shoot, and we eventually shot it in the Humber River Regional Hospital. It’s a standing hospital set used by almost every film and TV show that shoots in Toronto. The challenge was in the concept of the script – making the hospital feel believably real yet abandoned.
SD: Shooting the movie at what was once Northwestern Hospital was a special treat because that’s the hospital where I was born. The full-circleness of life…
ZP: We would arrive in the morning when it was dark and then leave at night when it was dark. When we finally wrapped and I went outside for the first time in three weeks and this great big glowing orange orb in the sky hit my skin for the first time I screamed “Oh My God, we’re all gonna burn to death! Oh My God, it’s happening, it’s finally happening….” Then Leah slapped me in the face and so I slapped her back which helped me to calm down.
LJ: While I love script development best, the most fun was for sure the shoot. Getting to meet, work with and learn from so many talented people is a real gift. I don’t think I fully grasped the amount of time and energy it took to produce a film, even with the back up of my co-producer Tim Merkel, until I was in deep.
JL: ( Regarding being both the writer and director on the film ) I don’t feel like there was ever a day where I said “Okay, time to stop being the writer and start being the director”, but they are completely different jobs requiring completely different skill sets. And many times as the director I would have to override what the writer had written because it wasn’t working when you saw it in three dimensions.
LJ: The last scene of the film is the very last scene we shot. What you see on screen is so stark, haunting and isolating and yet just outside of the frame, the entire crew was huddled around corners and against the walls. It’s my favorite moment in the film and I get hit with a wave of emotion every time I see it.
Bringing Cold Blooded To Life
ZP: I kept thinking, am I interesting enough to play this part? She’s a character that isn’t that colourful y’know? She’s not out there in any way, she’s a simple person in a lot of ways. My insecurity as an actor would creep up on me some days and I’d think, nobody’s going to want to watch me running around a hospital for two hours. Thankfully Jason wrote a great script and cast a whole pile of fantastic actors who brought so many layers and dimensions to the movie. In that way, I was never alone and I was grateful for it.
SD: Cold Blooded was shot a very tight budget. So tight that the glasses I got were actually prescription reading glasses. My sight in real life is fine but I wore those glasses the whole time. First because they made me queasy and I thought the more uncomfortable I felt the more true it would be to convey Keyes’ very bad day, second because it made it harder for me to see which I think also served Keyes as he had no idea where he was or what he was doing there.
ZP: [I loved that Frances] never gives up, not in any way. It’s incredible really because if almost any one of those things that happened to her in this movie actually happened to me, I’m fairly sure I would have high-tailed it on outta there, “Oh what’s that? There’s a bunch of thugs running around the hospital and a saw-swinging murderer? Righty-O that’s it for my shift. Nighty night everyone!” But she never once gives you the impression she’s not going to fight to the bitter end. You know how when you watch a scary movie you shout at the character things they should do to get out of their predicament? Well I kept doing that to myself on set and ruining takes. “Try that door! Punch him in the face!”
Blood On The Big Screen
JL: I’ve only really been able to attend Fantasia Festival in Montreal and the support was overwhelmingly positive. Fantasia in particular is a place where people go because they want to love movies, and you can really feel that. It was a great experience.
LJ: For me, seeing the film on the big screen for the first time at the Mississauga Film Fest with cast, crew, friends and family was pretty amazing. Getting the audience award for Best Canadian Feature at Fantasia was definitely the best moment for the film. Showing the film to paying strangers is also terrifying.
JL: [There’s been] nothing too surprising about the reactions – people are generally appalled in just the right places.
LJ: I have a gold medal on my desk from the Bare Bones Film Festival. The inscription says “Best Actress in a Feature Movie 2012” yet no name is listed. The initial press release said it was awarded to Leah Jaunzems for Cold Blooded . That’s all Zoie Palmer’s team of lawyers will allow me to say about that.
ZP: The truth of the matter is that Leah has always been very envious of me and my talents. She sneaked into the nominating committee room while they were voting and paid them to print her name instead of mine and then was all, “Oh weird. What? They put my name down? Ha ha ha, they thought I was you? Ha ha ha, that’s so crazy. HEY ZOIE! Did you see what they did with the nominations for best actress? Yeah, they put my name down instead of yours, what the heck right?” That last part was shouted at me from outside my house at three in the morning, one night.
What’s The One Thing You’d Like People To Know About Cold Blooded ?
LJ: That it was the result of this amazing director driven Low budget Independent Feature Film Program at Telefilm Canada. We received so much support from Telefilm, both financial and creative. Carrie Paupst Shaughnessy and Dan Lyon helped shape the script, the cast, and were always available for us.
SD: Zoie Palmer is such a fantastic, professional, generous actress. All of the above goes for her as a human being too.
ZP: I would like people to know that no animals were harmed in this movie. What’s that? There were no animals in this movie? Okay. I would like people to know that no animals were used in this movie.
JP: I’d just like people to be entertained by a good story. That’s all.
Cold Blooded will continue to make the Festval rounds in 2013. Check the film’s Facebook page for updated screening information.
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