Issue: March 2015 - Cinematic Television

Organic adaptation: interview with Christian Sparkes, director of Cast No Shadow

Adaptation from the page to the screen is always a tricky task. What works on the page doesn’t always translate to the screen. There is a fine balance that must be struck between remaining faithful to the original intent and accommodating the requirements of the moving image. Does the original lend itself to adaption? Then there is the intent behind the adaptation, does the filmmaker have something to add to the original work? All of these things are factors in Christian Sparkes’s debut feature Cast No Shadow, an adaptation of Joel Thomas Hynes’s “Say Nothing Saw Wood”. Sparkes was looking for material for his first feature film and had always been a fan of Hynes work. Something in “Say Nothing Saw Wood” caught his attention. “When I read it, a lot of the things I really liked in it were the flashbacks of childhood. There are so many rich details and I have always been a big fan of coming of age films in general, especially the ones that are very social realistic, very dark, but at the same time as beautiful as they are dark.” For Sparkes, the process of adapting the novella to the screen was a very organic process. The prominent themes from “Say Nothing Saw Wood” “along with a couple of other threads from different books just jumped off the page. I could see that...

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Playing the long game: Lee Daniels’ Empire and synonyms for American culture

“So you can witness as Empire becomes synonymous with American culture and Lucius Lyon becomes a god.” These words, spoken by Lucius Lyon (Terrance Howard) to a group of reporters part way through Empire‘s first season finale, can be read as a manifesto from creator Lee Daniels. While Daniels isn’t trying to bestow godhood on anyone in particular, he is out to change perceptions of race and sexuality in American culture, to challenge the the straight-white male default, to create a world where it is possible for a black owned and run hip hop empire to be considered the height of American popular culture. Lee Daniels has always been a filmmaker whose work focuses on the lives and perspectives of those whom Hollywood ignores, with his work largely focusing on the marginalized black voice. Unfortunately, the commercial film world has never been a particularly receptive place to diverse voices and Daniels work, while critically acclaimed, has remained on the outskirts, much like the film’s characters. This is where the medium of television manages to surpass film. That’s why Daniels’ latest project, Empire, airing on FOX, is such an effective vehicle for the foregrounding of race and homosexual representation within a popular sphere. Unlike film, television plays the long game which means it can afford to reduce marketing costs and rely on word of mouth to build an audience. Over...

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A lesson in self-indulgence: Joel Ashton McCarthy on Shooting the Musical

Shooting the Musical is part mockumentary, part homage to west coast indie movie making; but ultimately it’s a musical about a high school shooting. (Yes, you read that right.) It all began as a passion project for writer/director Joel Ashton McCarthy. The Capilano University alumnus’ first feature was the irreverent documentary Taking My Parents to Burning Man, McCarthy confessed that “as soon as I finished up that film I was terrified I would be pegged a documentary filmmaker and not a narrative filmmaker so I decided to jump right into production of my first narrative feature.” The film was made on a shoestring budget of just $5000, an eleven day shoot spread out over a number of weekends when the 150 volunteers who helped out on this film were available to shoot, and to accommodate McCarthy’s travels as he was promoting Taking My Parents to Burning Man on the festival circuit. Looking back now, McCarthy describes that period of his life as overwhelming and an exhausting time. “It was irresponsible and crazy but somehow when you have little means and you have enough drive, you can still get what you want” McCarthy says, pointing out the silver lining. “It made for a really fun creative process. It was almost like summer camp. No one was very serious, we weren’t putting pressure on each other.” I want to be a...

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Around the track: an interview with Tony Girardin, director of Marinoni

Director Tony Girardin could have made a very simple documentary with Marinoni. The film follows Giuseppe Marinoni, a 75 year old bike craftsmen who is attempting to break the hour record for cycling in his age group. The record is simply a person on their bike, racing around a track in an attempt to travel the greatest distance within sixty minutes. It’s punishing for an athlete, no matter their age, so one can only imagine what it would be like to attempt it at 75-years-old. The inspirational story could have just been built around Marinoni trying to break the record and would have been more than enough for a film, but Girardin doesn’t stop there. Once viewers meet Marinoni, it’s easy to see why Girardin could never stop there. Marinoni is the definition of hard working and dedicated. He also happens to be a bit of a lovable grump, making for a funny and touching film about his life, with the record only a small part of the real story. Marinoni has the kind of immigrant story that we may not actually get very often any longer. Born in Italy, Marinoni came to Canada as a champion cyclist for racing, but never went back home again. With the clothes on his back, his bike by his side, and five dollars in his pocket, he built a new life in...

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A night in with Mars Horodyski, director of Ben’s at Home

It is becoming easier and easier to cut yourself off from the world outside. With the technology out there and the amount of businesses that offer almost everything delivered to your door, we don’t need to be out and about anymore, we can get all we need from the keys and screen on our computers and devices. But what is this doing to our society? And how is this affecting those who work, shop and socialize online? Toronto Film Scene managed to talk to Mars Horodyski, the director of Ben’s at Home, about this issue. The film centres around one man’s decision to become a hermit and never leave his home. Ben is able to date, eat well, and earn money from the comfort of his own home and it seems to not faze him that he rarely comes in contact with the world outside his door. The film looks at the problems surrounding this isolation and experiments with the idea of living through the Internet. As Mars explains, once they had thought of a plot and concept that meant they could keep to their budgetary demands the film moved on to other issues, “Once we started writing Ben’s at Home we also realized that there was a lot of potential for social commentary about the digitally connected age we live in.” This takes the form of Ben having dates through...

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A hat tip to David Lynch, the grandfather of the cinematic television drama

The once large gap between film and television had long been a source of frustration and confusion for film and TV lovers alike. The strata between actors and directors who worked in television and those who worked in film was wide. There was little, if any, crossover and if a television actor made their way onto the big screen, it was considered a boon for their career. There have been a few directors who have managed to bridge the gap and make a defining influence on both mediums, but when the pilot for Twin Peaks aired on April 8, 1990, it changed television forever. By the time the show premiered the television set was in its 56th year of life, and the programming was a place for attractive actors to portray conventional characters in conventional storylines – a box to switch on when an escape was needed and a lot of creative thinking wasn’t required. Obviously, there is a place for lighter fare on television, but in a sea of night time soap operas and sitcoms, TV was ripe for something new, something only David Lynch could offer. Cinephiles knew Lynch from his seminal (and equally ground breaking) films Eraserhead, The Elephant Man and Blue Velvet, and his fans discovered that his movies had the transcendence and surrealism to create a dreamlike world outside the bleak reality of the...

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Not everybody pays: interview with Harold Crooks, director of The Price We Pay

The latest documentary from director Harold Crooks, The Price We Pay, falls into a theme that many of his films cover which he refers to as “social justice”. The film looks at the history and present-day practices of big business tax avoidance. By using offshore tax havens, companies are able to keep trillions of dollars in tax revenue away from the countries they operate in. It’s a shocking revelation, and one that is sure to raise the anger of the middle and lower classes who struggle to get by. Not every moviegoer is going to be familiar with finance, taxation laws, and politics, so it was important to gain the best understanding of the topics covered by The Price We Pay right from the start. The most obvious revelation is that many huge corporations are using these tax havens as their headquarters, effectively claiming their income in a jurisdiction outside of the country that they operate in, allowing them to face different tax legislation. Crooks was quick to point out that it may even be worse than it sounds. “Their headquarters are not in [the tax havens], their subsidiaries and affiliates and shell companies are in the tax havens. These places are actually legal and accounting fictions. There’s actually nothing really there. As someone in the film says, the Caymans could disappear beneath the ocean and it would still be...

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