Interviews

Published on March 23rd, 2012 | by Biz Books

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The Biz Interview: Carl Bassai – Director of “Sisters & Brothers”

Sisters & Brothers marks the third chapter after Mothers & Daughters and Fathers & Sons of director Carl Bessai’s FamilyX trilogy. A production that is primarily improvised, the film features a who’s-who ensemble cast of Canadian talent including Cory Monteith, Ben Ratner, Gabrielle Miller, Jay Brazeau, Amanda Crew, Tom Scholte, Gabrielle Rose, Camille Sullivan, Kacey Rohl, Leena Manro, and Dustin Milligan.

After successful film festival showcases in Vancouver, Toronto, Edmonton, and Sudbury, the film opens in Canadian theatres on March 23rd. We spoke with Carl Bessai to get an inside look at his creative process and learn more about his latest critically-acclaimed contribution to Canadian film.

Can you briefly walk us through your creative process for the production from the early stages (writing, casting, etc.) all the way to the theatrical release?

This is a tough question because the process varies so much from project to project.

In the case of Sisters & Brothers, the pre-production phase really consisted of a lot of discussion/workshops with the actors because we didn’t have a script and we were building the narrative as a collaboration. What we came up with would go into a written outline so that I was able to break down the shooting plan.

As far as casting went on that project, I really approached that film as I would planning a party… I just invited some of my friends and in some cases, when I was stuck, I would get their recommendations on who else to invite! but that is really rare. On a scripted drama like Repeaters, it’s obviously much different. You have a team that you are working with (producers, financiers, distributors) and their is a lot more discussion and prep around casting and hiring and all the issues that go into bringing a creative team together.

Then in production, my process is varied of course depending on the size of the film. With a larger scripted drama, we obviously have a more conventional shooting style, with lighting, blocking, rehearsal and shooting… multiple takes… but with the improvised films, it is a lot more like a documentary with things being invented on the spot and new things being tried – some kept and some thrown away… there are usually a lot more takes in that process as well because we are trying to iron out a scene that is being written as we shoot – it’s a lot less structured. In the end, the process toward promoting each film – festivals, screenings and theatrical release – are more or less the same project to project. You run like crazy and hope that the critics are supportive, and that you can get enough friends and family in the various cities to attend and keep each film in the theatres for as long as possible… which is obviously a challenge when you’re competing with The Hunger Games!

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For audiences who have seen the previous two films in the FamilyX trilogy, which common themes are present in this film and what are some new ones they can expect this time around?

I think the thing that is most common between all three films is the sense of the universality of families and relationships within families. We all see aspects of our own relationships in these films – some characters you will relate to and some not so much in terms of an individual experience but I guarantee anyone watching any of these films, they will recognize one of their own family dynamics in the scenes. In S&B there is a lot of sibling rivalry, tension and animosity… I’m not sure why… siblings just compete like crazy and so this film is a little more caustic than the others – more swearing (you better have a strong tolerance for the f-bomb) and a lot of scrappy behavior… that said, these characters love each other. I relate to this mess a great deal in my personal life!

Are there any books or specific authors that have been influential to you during your journey as a filmmaker?

I have always been a fan of JD Salinger for his family stories… Franny and Zooey is a favourite of mine – these wonderfully dysfunctional people who love each other but can behave so strangely about their emotions. He is a writer who touches on the complexity of siblings, even though he only wrote a handful of books.

You’ve had several films screened at film festivals around the world. What’s the most important piece of advice that you would give to filmmakers who are trying to enter the festival circuit?

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t get invited to Cannes Film Festival or Toronto International Film Festival or one of the big ones… of course these festivals are awesome if you are lucky enough to be invited, but chances are if you do go, you will be one of the smallest fish in the pond and sometimes, it is better to go to a smaller festival anyway where you’re film will be genuinely supported and there will be so much audience enthusiasm for the ‘smaller’ film… I have had great experiences in Toronto, of course, it is in my opinion the most supportive festival in the world – especially for CDN films… but a boutique festival like thessaloniki where you can be in competition or a real audience festival like Seattle… these are fantastic affirming experiences for a filmmaker.

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What is the biggest obstacle facing Canadian filmmakers right now?

It’s probably a big cliche, and I’m sure this is true in any country, but financing films is the hardest it has ever been. Quite frankly, the global market for films is tough and is really pre-occupied with a relative handful of movie stars, so unless you have a major actor in your film, getting the money to make your movie is really challenging. That’s the reason there is so much DIY (do-it-yourself) filmmaking going on… it’s refreshing to see people go out and commit their ideas to film (or chip) and not wait for the unlikely event that tom cruise will be available for your epic.

Are there any upcoming projects that you’re working on that you’d like to mention?

I’m keeping a balance between my bigger projects and my low-fi efforts. I love the idea that even if everything falls apart with a big film, I can still go out there with my SLR and shoot a DIY movie… So in that spirit, I am working with Brent Butt (of Corner Gas fame) on his new movie – a big comedic noir epic called No Clue which is going ahead in the fall, and a DIY horror film with a turkish producer starring Jodelle Ferland that we are shooting in Vancouver in the next month or so (still a moving target!)… and then I have my LA projects.

Sisters & Brothers is now in theatres. For more information, please visit SisBroFilm.com.

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