Stars drawn to Canadian indie movie's cliche-free look at small-town teens
Actors Kat Dennings and Reece Thompson are being filmed doing a "walk and talk" down a Fort Langley back street for the indie drama Daydream Nation.
That's basically what it sounds like -- walking and talking in character, as the new teen in a small town and one of the locals, respectively. Except that as they walk, two guys man the camera on a dolly track that follows alongside them for the close-up shot. Two more guys are walking behind them, holding a dark sheet on an aluminum frame angled over them to cut the light of an overcast afternoon. Another walks backwards in front of them holding a "bounce," a smaller white sheet, angled under their faces to deflect some of that light back at them.
As director-writer Michael Goldbach watches the flat-screen monitor in a portable tent nearby, the resulting shot looks luminous, the performances natural and unforced.
"Some of the actors were worried when they saw what we were doing with the lighting," says Goldbach. "Then we'll come in here, show them the monitor and they're thrilled with what they see. The quality, the look of this film is going to impress people, considering how low-budget it is."
That little scene could stand in for the filmmaking process as a whole -- a lot of concentrated activity and wrangling going on just outside the frame to get those delicate onscreen moments.
Goldbach, who co-wrote 2004's Toronto-filmed movie-insider comedy Childstar, watched his Daydream Nation script, inspired by his own teen years in small-town Ontario, draw industry notice and a couple of near-starts on both sides of the border.
One step forward came when American actor Dennings, looking for a dramatic role after the comedy hit Nick and Nora's Infinite Playlist, got together with Goldbach for a three-hour coffee in Los Angeles a little over a year ago.
By then Vancouver-based producer Christine Haebler had joined with Goldbach, taking over from an American company. A shifting jigsaw puzzle of financing and casting elements took them through 2009, with Canadian Scott Speedman originally set to star as a teacher who falls for Dennings' character, and Vancouver's Thompson as the smart-talking stoner on the other point of a romantic triangle.
"Reece Thompson is a great find," says Haebler of the actor who launched his career by starring in the U.S. indie feature Rocket Science. The 21-year-old Thompson had met Goldbach around the time that movie came out in 2007. "He's a bit of an undiscovered Canadian talent in the sense that the Americans know him more than we do."
Andie MacDowell of Four Weddings and a Funeral was in, then out, then in again as Thompson's mother, as the shooting schedule moved from late summer, to November and finally December.
"We had a hole on our financing by midsummer," says Haebler's producing partner Trish Dolman. "Because of the cast we didn't want to just go ahead and go very ultra-low budget."
When the $3.5 million budget finally came together late last year, Speedman had to drop out because a family member got sick. The script went to American Josh Lucas.
"It was Christmas Eve and I'd just got off a plane to visit my family," says Lucas, getting ready this day to film a night of interior scenes. "I had an email from my agent basically saying you have until five o'clock today to let them know."
Lucas had just finished a busy 2009, and wasn't in a hurry to start work right away, but the fact that Dennings was involved made him scan the script.
"I think this girl is the real deal," Lucas says. The actor, who spent his high-school years in the tiny Washington state town of Gig Harbour, was drawn to Goldbach's take on the intrigue and the drama of small-town life.
In early January, cameras started rolling for the 22-day shoot in Fort Langley and Maple Ridge. Dennings and Goldbach had some long phone conversations before she came up.
"When we finally got the green light, we had hours of talking about everything," Dennings says during a break. "Certain actor-y things, just trying to dissect different scenes. It was really important [that] we were all on the same page about what we were looking for, because it's a really short shoot."
The timing was critical for her as well -- just days after wrapping Daydream Nation she heads to New Mexico for a role in the mega-budget superhero feature Thor. "This is just a stroke of luck, there was a lot of stops and starts."
As he choreographs the main unit and a splinter crew filming a few bocks away, the 30-ish bespectacled Goldbach doesn't look much older than the high school characters he's created.
"In high school, especially in Canada, people don't fit in those neat categories that you see on television," he says. "I'm trying to avoid the feeling of jocks, nerds and geeks -- everyone has all of those qualities. Trying to work against the cliches -- when you're making a small, independent movie, having a little bit of originality is the only weapon you have."
Kat on the Set of her latest film 'Daydream Nation' .
*My apologies this is my first post so if I did something wrong let me know so I can fix it.