Turning Paige - About the Production
From the birth of a story idea to the locking of the print a lot can transpire, changing and shaping the direction of a feature film. Such was certainly the case with “Turning Paige,” Calgary director Robert Cuffley and producer Carolyn McMaster‘s first dramatic feature.
“You never know how or when an idea will strike you,” says Cuffley. “One day I was listening to the radio when I heard a news story about a homeless man being roughed up by three or four teens on a busy street in Calgary. Dozens of passing motorists watched - some saying they had thought about helping, but no one did. It was this vision of complacency that gave me the germ of an idea that was to become our film.”
After coming up with a rough outline of the story, then entitled “At Shepherd Park,” Cuffley over coffee one day mentioned to Jason Long his idea for a feature about a brother and sister who did not see eye to eye. Long, an accomplished playwright who was interested in the screenwriting process, offered his help to Cuffley in shaping the story. After a few meetings they decided to work together and write the script.
“Because neither of us had collaborated on a screenplay before, we went through a learning process where we found what worked best creatively,” says Cuffley. “At first one of us would sit at the keyboard with the other standing behind, looking at the screen over each other’s others shoulder. Soon we found a better way was to each write certain scenes of the screenplay and then exchange our writing drafts and go over each other‘s work, exchanging ideas and making changes.”
Long says that not having worked with another writer on a project like this before ' meant they had to find their own way. “It took about ten weeks for us to come up with a sixty page first draft,” says Long, adding “Now, instead of huddling together over a keyboard we work the story out over coffee sessions, where we plot and plan the revisions.”
Cuffley said that the plotting of the story took a good portion of the time spent on the script, and there were a tremendous number of ideas brought into the mix by both he and Long, which really contributed to the final screenplay. As well there were some disagreements. Long explains, “As artists do Robert and I had differing ideas on certain elements during our sessions. What made everything work for the best in the end was the fact that we respected each other’s opinion and talent, both knowing that all of the friction between us was in the best ' interests of making a better screenplay.”
The then Edmonton based National Screen Institute was conducting a yearlong program for filmmakers entitled “Features First,” and Cuffley and Long decided to take their script and see if they could receive the assistance the classes would provide. Their project was one of five to be accepted from over eighty submissions. In order to be submitted, however, a proposed project to the NSI required a producer. -
Enter Carolyn McMaster, who had been looking to produce a feature film. She had met Cuffley years before when she worked with him, editing some of his shorts. “It turned out very well for all of us,” she recalls. “Robert and Jason had this project that they wanted to mentor through the NSI workshop, and I was interested in producing feature films. The timing turned out to be perfect.”
“Turning Paige” is a drama dealing with a family secret A lot is said, but a great deal is avoided and implied, and so in-order to remain compelling, the key casting was important for the success of the film. Vancouver's Katharine Isabelle was cast in the crucial role of Paige, the only character to interact with all of the other leads and _ principal characters. Director Cuffley first met her at a director workshop in 1997 and her distinctive voice made an immediate impression on him. When it was time to cast “Turning Paige,” he remembered her ability and her physical size and felt that she would make an ideal choice for the title character. He had seen her in “Disturbing Behavior‘ and had watched a rough-cut of John Fawcett’s “Ginger Snaps,‘ both of which provided ample proof of her abilities and talent After making a quick phone call to Fawcett, at which time the “Ginger Snaps” director praised Katharine for her , professionalism and dedication to the role, Cuffley knew he had found his Paige.
Veteran actor Nicholas Campbell was cast in the role of Paige's father, Ross Fleming. Producer McMaster recalls, "l knew Nick Campbell would be perfect for the role - he is an intelligent and talented no-nonsense guy who had acted with Katharine before (in two episodes of “DaVinci’s Inquest”). Besides, the bonus of him being attached to our film would give a first time producer and director a credibility that would be otherwise hard to achieve.‘ She sent the script to Campbell's agent who called back; Campbell liked the script, but he wanted to speak to Robert Cuffley before committing.
“I remember preparing for that phone call,” Cuffley says, “I knew that he didn't know anything about me, and he wanted to make sure that we could work together well. I have seen a lot of Nick's film and television work, and so I made four pages of notes on him and on our script and went over them just to make sure I didn’t draw a blank in the middle of our conversation and ruin our chances.”
Cuffley adds, “I was nervous going into the call, but within one minute of talking to him he had me completely at ease. He is a true professional and it was such a boost getting him on board.”
The third member of the Fleming family remaining to be cast was Paige's brother Trevor. Toronto actor Philip DeWilde was the last lead cast Cuffley recalls, “I looked at a lot actors, but there was something about the intensity that Philip was able to bring to his auditions. Trevor is, after all, a man with a mission, and he is involved in a lot of dramatic scenes. Having done many voiceovers and commercials in his career, Philip's voice worked very well in the part. He made a very believable estranged older brother to Katharine’s Paige.”
In the role of Ms. Newlands, the teacher Paige looks up to for guidance and support, veteran and Gemini award winning actress Torri Higginson was cast Director Cuffley was very impressed with the time she devoted to the role. “Torri really embraced Ms. Newland's character and took the role extremely seriously. For four and a half weeks prior to production she would phone me every other night to discuss a different aspect of Ms. Newlands character. I really appreciated the energy and time she devoted to the role, and I think you'll agree it shows on the screen.”
The filmmakers received a break when Katharine Isabelle suggested Brendan Fletcher for the role of Paige's boyfriend, Jeff. Like Katharine, Brendan lived in Vancouver and the two had known each other for some time. Katharine had recently spent some time hanging out on the set of Scott Smith's “Rollercoaster," which starred Brendan as a very intense, troubled teen.
Producer McMaster sent the script to him on a Caribbean island where he was working. He loved the script and the role of Jeff, and jumped at the chance to work both with Katharine and again with Nicholas Campbell, whom he had acted with in an episode of “DaVinci’s Inquest” -
The last key role to fill was Paige's best friend, Danielle. Director Cuffley auditioned numerous local actors for the role and decided upon Halifax actress Nikki Barnett. He was familiar with her work and felt the maritime actress and the light-hearted, easy going style she could bring to Danielle's character would make a nice contrast to the intensity needed by Katharine lsabelle's Paige.
“Overall both Robert and I were thrilled with the cast of actors we were able to assemble,” says McMaster. “Quite often when you're doing a film for under a million dollars it is difficult to get recognizable actors. But we put together a great cast, which was a testimony to Robert and Jason's script, because so many of the actors said what really impressed them was the writing.”
It was obvious the cast enjoyed making the film. McMaster remembers Nicholas Campbell assembling everyone together on his last day on the set “He thanked Robert and the crew for him having such an enjoyable time. As a token of appreciation he gave Robert 1000 feet of raw stock. Because of our budget constraints his present was truly appreciated.”
Brendan Fletcher thought so much of Campbell's gesture that he also made a present of film stock to Robert and the production.
“It was really wonderful,” says Cuffley, adding “Morale on the set was always great, with everyone contributing as much as they could. But the presents by Nicholas and Brendan really put an exclamation point on the whole shoot. And we used every foot of the stock they gave us.”
“Turning Paige” was filmed entirely in Moncton, New Brunswick. Originally the filmmakers had wanted to film the feature in their home province of Alberta, but a funding opportunity surfaced in the province of New Brunswick. While in development, producer McMaster mentioned her difficulty in raising finances for her feature to Michelle Marcil. The two had met in 1995 while on separate projects at the International Women's Conference in Beijing and had wanted to work with each other since. Marcil, who lives and works in New Brunswick, convinced McMaster to film in that province, thus triggering a generous source of funding from New Brunswick Film, unavailable to Alberta filmmakers.
“The people at NB Film were so helpful and excited to have us film in their province,” says McMaster, adding, "Their enthusiasm and assistance was really appreciated by all of us.”
Besides New Brunswick Film, the project has received support from Telefilm Canada, the CFCN Production Fund, the Shaw Television Broadcast Fund, TMN: The Movie Network, Superchannel, the Alberta Foundation of the Arts and the National Screen Institute of Canada.
The filmmakers found the local crew to be talented and experienced. There are many people now living in the Maritimes who used ' to work in the film industry in Toronto, who chose to move to the Maritimes to live. “I'm used to looking for enthusiasm,” Cuffley says. “And I found it with the people who worked on our film in Moncton.»They bent over backwards to ensure we got each shot exactly as we wanted it I can't say enough good things about their dedication to the film.”
Principal photography began on March 4, and continued shooting for twenty days. The cast and crew worked twelve-hour days, Sunday through Thursday.
Filming in Moncton provided another element that was not anticipated by Cuffley and Long when they were envisioning their story and wrote the script From December through February an unusually excessive amount of snow consistently fell on the Maritime Provinces, and there were massive amounts of snow everywhere in Moncton when “Turning Paige was being filmed."
Cuffley says they were able to use the snow to their advantage. “Rather than ignore all "the snow we decided to use it, incorporating it almost as a character in many of our shots. Looking back, I'd have to say we were lucky that there was so much snow on the ground. It added to the atmosphere of our film.”
Also adding atmosphere was the original music for “Turning Paige” by Calgary composer Mike Shields. Cuffley remembers how critical he felt the score had to be. “Music to me is as, important as cinematography. Bad music can min an otherwise good movie. When the film was first being edited I was very particular with the temp track we placed on the film. I asked Mike to follow the tone and emotion expressed in the music we placed on the cut of the film I gave him. When I heard the music he composed for our movie I was blown away. I had loved the score he did for “Ginger Snaps,” and I had high demands and expectations, but Mike brought musical elements to “Turning Paige” that completely exceeded them.‘
McMaster says that making “Turning Paige” was a rewarding one for her. “I've always tipped my hat to anyone who has been able to get a feature film made in this country. The fact that it was so enjoyable for all of us was a huge bonus. I hope a lot of people get to see our film, and I hope they enjoy it.”
Cuffley describes “Turning Paige” as “A thinking person's teen flick." It addresses and confronts denial within a family structure, and the inability of a father, a daughter and a son to honestly communicate with each other. This is something that is more often than not used as a launching pad for humour in many films.
‘l’d rather pose questions than provide answers,” says Cuffley. “I know the way “Turning Paige” ends will not be to ' everyone’s liking - some people need everything neatly tied up in a package, including telling them how they should feel. There is a fine line between manipulation and contrivance, and I have taken steps to avoid being ‘preachy'. I would rather people walk out of the theatre with their own idea of what the future will bring for each of the characters in the film, rather than be told exactly how their lives will unfold. I know this might drive some people nuts, but I believe it remains more true to life.”
McMaster and Cuffley’s next feature, “Yearbook,” is now in
development. Like “Turning Paige,” Cuffley and Jason Long are writing
the screenplay. It will go before the camera for director Cuffley in 2002.