Windsor Film Society Presents: The Birder and Q&A Discussion

The pre-show reel featured photos from production and the Red-Carpet Premiere. It was an interesting behind the scenes look at a local film production, full of images of camera and boom operators, grips, grip stands, grip stands holding flags, and all the other crew members it takes to make a movie right here in Windsor. It was nice to see the movie highlighted in this way, as if making it was special, meaningful. It set the tone for a night of celebrating U of W Alumni filmmakers. 

One of the clips from the Red-Carpet Premiere Q&A showed Mayor Drew Dilkens saying how proud he was to see Windsor on the big-screen. I concur, Mayor, and from the popular turn-out to the screening, quite a few others do as well. 

Following the main presentation, was the highlight of the evening, a Q&A discussion with filmmakers Theodore Bezaire and Mike Stasko of The Birder, and Gemma Eva of “Rough Love”, which began with Mike Stasko asking crew members of both films that were in attendance to stand and take an applause. 

Gemma Eva, writer/director of “Rough Love”, the short film which preceded The Birder said the idea came to her from, “basically my past acting experience, I started off in theatre, and when I started off acting I did screenplays like Night of the Living Dead and High Physique and later on I started doing more parody musicals and getting into stuff like a musical called Evil Dead Musical. A parody of the Evil Dead film and so from there I wanted to do something in lieu of more parody.”

Gemma was asked about the thrilling soundtrack. “We basically picked five 80’s pop songs to mimic in the film, our composer Will Rogers did an amazing job, he said, whatever song you have, we want your parents to think, ‘oh yeah, I know that song’ – he goes, it’s not that song.”

When asked about the actors, Gemma replied, “They’re all friends of mine from theatre I’ve done around the community. I had an idea of who I wanted to cast while I was writing it and hoped to God that they said yes”. Gemma continued to say, “My favorite relationship in the film was the two brothers – [the actors] had actually been best friends since before high school … so their chemistry was on-point.”

Gemma was asked about the shooting schedule next: “It took four days and they were very long days. Most movies are 10-hour days … 14 hours a day are quite long. I remember picking up Starbucks on the way to set, and them closing and then coming home and it was already open for the next day.”

Of the sets, costumes, and props, Gemma stated, “renting from the theatre companies that I’m involved with, production designers buying stuff, and then a lot of the paintings in the background was us painting them, a lot of them were home-made.” 

The audience also noticed the sharp colors that highlighted the movie. “We wanted to make a difference from the party room – nice, fun, bright colors, and we wanted to make the death room to be spooky as possible and cliché as possible.” 

And, finally, what are you doing next? “Right now, I’m working on my thesis, because I am doing my Masters at University, and I’m working on a musical movie.”

The focus shifts to The Birder. Theodore Bezaire spoke about coming up with the idea for the movie: “I was having an idea about relationships with teachers after high school. I had had this interesting conversation with a teacher. I was in University at the time, I went back to my high school and had this real conversation with a teacher, and [realized] ‘he’s a real person, he has emotions’, so that sparked an idea … Mike and I were kicking around different ideas, we have a mutual friend who is a big ornithologist – that’s kind of an interesting sub-culture, that at the time we hadn’t really seen.”

Mike Stasko adds, “I think the idea of him being an ornithologist came late in the script … There’s a lot of parallels between drift migration and finding the path again. We knew we wanted Ron to go through this arc. At first, it was a teacher that decides to live in the school for the summer.”

Theodore adds: “And then we developed it.”

“The script was in development for technically seven years. Originally, it was more of a buddy comedy between the two main guys. When Telefilm came in, they wanted us to play up the daughter relationship and the parallels that came out of that gave it a nice third dimension.” Mike remembers.

Theodore reflects: “Looking back, growing as a writer during that time was huge. Through that process of dealing with story editors, with producers at Telefilm Canada made us better writers.”

When asked about actor selection, Theodore remembers, “during that development process we started doing packaging – getting the main actors together and creating lists. Tom [Cavanagh] was always on that list. He was one of the first people that we went after, because we wanted to lock in our Ron, and then hopefully, the other people would fall into place.”

Mike adds: “Fred Willard was a dream pick of ours, one of my favorite comedies is Waiting for Guffman. He was one that was a big feather in our cap.” 

Theodore notes: “He came on early in the process. That was a big day. Being a huge Christopher Guest fan, as a filmmaker, Waiting for Guffman, was a transformative movie for me. Graham Greene fell into place, he was only on-set for a couple of days. Mark Rendall, is the other key component of the relationship. I had seen him in a movie called Victoria Day, and it’s more of a drama, and kind of sullen, but his performance, I like that guy a lot. When we were trying to cast for everyone, a lot of people were pushing stand-up comedians, but my thought process was let’s find an actor, and they can be funny.”

What about the locations? Will people from Windsor recognize shooting locations?

“I remember going on scouting trips and shooting videos dating back to 2007. We checked out the old St. Joe’s. One of the key components was the outdoor stuff. We found a home at Ojibway for most of the outdoor stuff, on the trails and things.” Theodore said. 

Mike adds some technical filmmaking insight: “If you know Windsor-Essex, the park for example was exterior at the park, Ojibway was the inside of it, Malden Park was the side of it, and from Villa Nova roof was the roof of the old St. Anne’s. Optimist was the façade of the front. It was five different locations to piece it together. If you’re an outsider, it looks like a continuous thing, but people in Windsor were probably a bit confused.”

Theodore adds: “But the key component was the school though. We were lucky enough to get access to the old St. Anne’s in Tecumseh. We basically got the run of the place, so it was our production office, it was our production design workshop, we had the gym for building sets and things like that. We had also shot in the school a lot. It became a central hub for the film, it was our headquarters. You move around a lot to different locations; it was nice to have that one hub.”

Asked next about the production schedule, Theodore remembers: “It was 19 days. 99.9% of the movie was shot in Windsor-Essex. The park film [from opening scene] was shot up in Toronto, and a couple of inserts. At the end, when Floyd’s running and he cranks his knee, that’s all with the actors here in Windsor, but just that one shot of his ankle bending was up in some park up in Toronto, and it was our producer’s brothers, that was his foot.”

Mike: “I play a lot of Ron Spencer’s hand-modelling. When you see close-ups of Ron’s hands or feet or he’s driving – that’s me.”

Theodore: “The foot going into the pedal of the fountain:” Mike: “that’s my foot.”

The Q & A ended on a humorous note with somebody asking about Mike Stasko’s beard in the film. Mike replies, “I wrote the character Mike Harper. I gave him the name Mike so that it would force Ted’s hand to cast me. He didn’t want me in it, because I starred in his last one, so he said, “fine, you have to grow a huge beard and look unrecognizable and that’s what I did to get the part. He made me audition for it as well.” 

The screening was made all the more special for having the opportunity to gain this insight into the production of these two movies. Windsor, we are so lucky to be living here right now in the midst of a burgeoning film industry. The Rise and Fall of the Grumpy Burger, screening at the School of Creative Arts downtown on Friday Feb 28th is your next opportunity to be part of the growing discussion about movies in Windsor. Come out to the event and engage with the filmmakers themselves and see for yourself what is so cinematic about Windsor.