So I did something kind of… unusual for a Canadian literary press novel. Once I signed the contract for No Escape From Greatness, I decided to produce and co-direct some “video excerpts” of the book. I also ended up doing the post-production, but that wasn’t entirely by choice
It made sense, at least to me. Without spoiling the fun, I can tell you that there are bits of screenplay that help to tell the story. What better way to help people get to know what’s in the book that actually putting some scenes on their feet?
I have a little bit of directing training, most recently a workshop with John Paizs, but no real experience. I also knew I wanted to make something of quality. Quality costs me. I decided to invest my entire initial advance into the production budget. Even that wasn’t quite enough.
My first stop was to visit with my friend, director Roger Boyer, who agreed to help me out in exchange for me writing him a feature script. I’m working on it, Roger! Thanks for running the floor and using your connections to put together an amazing, talented and hard-working crew.
Next up, I got permission from ACTRA (hat-tip to Rob Macklin) that allowed me to bring in union actors for an independent production at an affordable price. NB: it wasn’t free!
I’m going to give a giant shout-out to the cast and crew at the end of this post.
After some prep meetings and a lot of locations work, we ended up having a 13-hour shooting day, much of it taking place at Cherry Creek Café in Portage Place on a Sunday. We shot three scenes, each of which will be about three minutes in length when all is said and done. From those scenes, I was able to put together a teaser trailer, and HERE IT IS!
It would be great if you could watch, share and like this thing. A lot of people worked hard on it, and it’s only 97 seconds of your time.
Post-production ended up being a lengthy labour of love for me. I’m addicted to learning things and there can be no doubt I went down an Adobe rabbit hole in post. Mixing and re-engineering sound, watching first cuts that Roger had put together and then trying to build off it – all of it was great. If I had endless scads of budget, maybe I would have paid someone to do it, and then I would never have had all of that fun!
Roger led a crew of almost-volunteers who definitely threw their backs into it and put up with some difficult conditions (like a fountain that went off every 10 minutes and destroyed sound recordings like a 10-second-long bomb going off). Despite all that, the product speaks for itself. Great job, guys! Luther Alexander was our Director of Photography and Eric Neufeld did sound. We also had three hard-working production assistants, Nicole, Adeline and Kirk. Thank you!
And now, the cast. I was really honoured to have Ross McMillan agree to be Gabriel. Ross is who I always envisioned as Gabriel, back when I was dreaming up Greatness as a TV series, and his performance is the backbone of this great little video. Ross is one of those few people who can read an obituary and make it sound hilarious. Fantastic to work with, too!
Aaron Merke and Lauren Cochrane (aka Bucko) brought amazing insights into their roles, as Gabe’s nephew Zac and Luanne’s lawyer. As I was re-writing the novel, I couldn’t help but bring Aaron and Lauren’s performances into the characters they were playing. Thanks for that!
Shannon Jacques played Luanne, Gabriel’s complicated, heartbroken and powerful ex-wife, and Shannon played Luanne with great aplomb. Whenever I work with Shannon, be it on the set of Less Than Kind, or when I was an extra on The Pinkertons, or on the day we shot No Escape From Greatness, she has always been a comforting, steadying influence. It’s always great to work with people who add these things to a production. So an extra special thank-you for that!
Aaron Hughes doesn’t get enough screen time in the trailer as the bartender, but we’ll see him in the upcoming short film. Aaron was helpful and professional, waiting for hours to get to his scene, and then delivered a dry joke as well as the dry gin when it was go-time. I was happy to give him a role that didn’t involve a holster or sheriff’s badge (or demon makeup!).
Kevin, Jay-Y, and Clayton did yeoman’s work as our background in the café.