Filmmaking couple ride risky road for a labour of love

Some gamble on ponies. Others on cards. These two Yukoners have a lot riding on the success of a Small Film.

Some gamble on ponies. Others on cards.

These two Yukoners have a lot riding on the success of a Small Film.

As Elsa Entertainment’s seventh project, Small Film is a coming-of-age production for Rachel Grantham and Richard Lawrence.

And they’ve stepped up their game accordingly.

It took one year and 10 drafts to come out with a finished script.

It’s about the relationship between an elderly married couple grappling with mortality — to say any more would be a spoiler.

“I couldn’t have written this script 20 years ago,” said Lawrence, the writer and director. “I had to witness the death of a mother and a sister and become acquainted with what it means to die.”

It took another two years, and $150,000, to take the script to the screen, said Grantham, who produced the film.

Instead of the cheaper video, they opted to use a high-quality 35-millimetre film.

The sound was mixed in a professional studio.

And with Henry Woolf and Jean Boht, the pair scored two top actors to star in the show.

“Jean Boht, this is a woman who just came off the stage in East London with Jeremy Irons,” said Lawrence.

Along with each hike in the film’s production value came increased cost.

“Small Film was a risky project; we knew that all along,” said Lawrence.

“We didn’t know how risky though,” added Grantham.

It has been much dicier financially that they expected.

They’re selling their house because they’ve become so overloaded in debt.

“That’s our level of commitment,” said Grantham.

“It’s like a freight train; it keeps on going,” said Lawrence.

Making a film is an all-or-nothing proposition for the pair.

Small Film cost $150,000 to make  — that’s 10,000 per minute  —  buoyed by Yukon government and Canada Council for the Arts  grants, contributions by private investors, and out-of-pocket expenses.

And that’s money they don’t expect will be returned.

Short films are “commercial orphans,” said Lawrence. Theatres don’t show them and broadcasters rarely license them.

But the higher the quality of the film, the more likely you are to have interest, said Grantham.

“It’s not that there’s no potential, it’s just tougher,” said Grantham.

It’s been a rough road from the script to the screen.

But it’s a labour of love for the pair who see the short as a necessary steppingstone to bigger and better feature films in the future.

That’s how the industry works, said Lawrence.

Filmmaking is more than a hobby for the pair.

“We’re obsessed — we have to be,” said Grantham.

Having passion is a good way to start.

But it’s not enough.

Three years ago the pair began the film with wide eyes and a desire to see the project through.

Today they’re a little more world-weary and a lot more experienced with the business.

They’ve had interlopers try to hijack the piece and make it their own.

And they’ve had to deal with the drawbacks of living in the North.

If making a professional short film is difficult, then making a professional short film from the Yukon is near impossible.

“We’ve been trying to do it at a distance and I think that’s why it’s been so challenging,” said Grantham.

The scenes were shot in Toronto and the post-production work was done in Vancouver.

Then there’s what Grantham calls “the hick factor.”

The pair noticed that some people in big city film circles saw them as “hicks from the Yukon.”

And they didn’t take them seriously as filmmakers.

“But we are hicks, in a way,” said Grantham.

“We assumed we’d get the same sincerity from people down south that we get from people up here.

“It’s been hard,” she said.

Slowly, and by necessity, they’ve developed “steel guts” and a keen sense for the film business.

“There’s a game to the movie business,” said Grantham.

“We thought that a quality script and quality work will get attention, but it’s the combination of your product and your means for making the product.”

Say you wanted a place to live.

You either come in with $200,000 to hire an architect and a contractor with knowledge and experience to build the kind of house you want, said Lawrence.

Or, if you don’t have that money you build it yourself — and it may be a tent.

Others will look at a house and a tent very differently.

As they will view a film and a video very differently.

“The higher production value sends a message that you have the means to do it and you’re serious about it,” said Grantham.

Lawrence and Grantham are hosting a private film screening in Whitehorse this weekend.

They hope to premiere the film internationally at the London Film Festival and nationally at the Toronto film fest.

But it’s all talk until somebody says ‘yes,’ said Grantham.

With thousands of short films in a battle for a few spots at the festivals, competition is fierce.

“It’s like trying to compete in the Olympics,” she added.