The Grind: Starkers Digs Deep for CineCoup

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For over two months, I’ve been buried alive.

As it turns out, being buried alive is actually pretty exciting. All-consuming for sure. Back in February, when director Paul Thompson pitched me the idea for a porn-star-mom stalked by a psychotic fan, and said, “let’s make a trailer for it and try to win a million bucks”, I thought, why not? Let’s go for it! I’ve done dumber things for much less motivation.

And so we plunged into the CineCoup Film Accelerator, competing with 91 teams across Canada to earn a million dollars in funding for our feature film ideas. Making the trailer itself was an exhausting rolling disaster, with locations pulling out upon learning the subject matter, a constantly changing crew, and only Paul and producer Rick Jang’s drive to finish holding our fragile enterprise together. With only two days to go before the competition entry deadline, they finished shooting our trailer for a thriller that doesn’t exist. Paul then madly edited it together, the first of what would turn out to be many marathon sessions with Final Cut Pro and a case of Coca-Cola.

Since then we’ve made countless videos, one a week, for two months. We’ve pitched our team. We’ve talked about the importance of soundtrack, post-sound and colour correction, relatively cheap tricks that give your film so much character. We’ve made posters for people to vote on (and a ridiculous ad-man noir vid as a very silly companion piece). We’ve made a silent(ish) sequence, with no dialogue, delving into our characters in a short but moving vignette. And it doesn’t stop there.

The past few weeks have been even more intense, as CineCoup has picked up a grueling pace toward the first phase finish line. This weekend voting is on for the Top 15, and twenty-five more teams, many of them deserving and worthwhile projects, will be shown the door. Starkers is very much in the running, but it’s going to be tight, and we won’t know until Monday night at 9pm if we advance further in the contest. We’re also holding an Ask Me Anything on Reddit.com, on Saturday, April 25th at 3pm. Sign up for the event here to catch the link when it’s posted, or follow us on Twitter. Never done that before, so it should be a blast.

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The first of the challenges that kicked off this crushing three-week sprint was to make a video exploring the origins of our story and influences. Paul wasn’t sure what he wanted to put across for this one, until he hit on the idea of using a talk-show with toys to touch on some sequences from his favourite films. And so Yoda Chats was born (an homage to Toronto interviewer KatieChats), with Paul voicing Yoda and himself appearing as Qui-Gon Jinn, with special guest appearances by Michael Myers from Halloween and the shark from Jaws. Paul asked me to do the voice for the shark, which I literally phoned in, recording a few lines in the spirit of Jabber Jaw, some ridiculous ancient cartoon. The video was sublimely silly, and very well done, earning us one of our best placements in the contest. Watch it here.

I was madly drafting the Starkers script at this point, for truth be told we’d been fleshing out this idea on the fly throughout. We had a rough outline for the trailer, and a general sense of what things we wanted to happen in our movie. Through shooting the Speechless video, we zeroed in on the importance of the mother-daughter relationship for the emotional core of the film, while still keeping it very much a contemporary horror-thriller. I blasted off the first draft over the course of about ten days. Having Rick and Paul chain me to the computer helped.

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The next week we were required to make a video pitching Starkers to the press. Once again, Paul dug in for the lion’s share of editing, while I tweaked the draft. I’d written something very dark in the first draft, wherein our lead character Kate would have to use her sexuality as her only weapon against her captor. It worked, in bleak fashion, but the feedback I got from the team was that it was too Michael Haneke (Funny Games) or Gaspar Noé (Irreversible) in tone. Much debate ensued as to what would make the story psychologically interesting, while not being quite so harrowing. Paul finished off the Hype It video, which struck a marvelous balance between bits of our story and interview footage, giving viewers a real sense of both the film and the team and story behind it. It was our highest placing video to date, ranking second out of the forty remaining teams. Watch it here.

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The last week was the most intense of all. We had two videos to pull together, one a re-cut trailer, incorporating everything we’d done and learned over the past two months of CineCoup competition, the other a sizzle reel picking highlights from all our previous mission videos as well as quotes and comments from fans on the CineCoup site. On top of which, we’d hit on a bold new direction for Starkers, one which of course necessitated a total rewrite with three days before the script was due. While Paul worked on cutting and fine-tuning a new, more concise version of the Starkers trailer, I worked up an entirely new outline, and then stayed up writing for thirty-six hours, hammering out a brand new draft. Folks, do not do this at home. This is strictly for insane aspiring semi-professionals. Then, after Paul had finished the redux trailer, he took a pass at cleaning up my script, while I worked on editing our sizzle reel with hours to spare before that midnight deadline. We got all the pieces into CineCoup in time, but we were trading the Final Cut project for the sizzle reel back and forth online, and somewhere along the way, from exhaustion or ineptitude, it blew up, with minutes to spare. Both of us were madly reconnecting media files in the project, having a render race to see if someone could possibly get it out before time expired. A hurried email to the CineCoup powers-that-be bought us a short reprieve, while Paul’s up-to-date MacBook Pro kicked my 2007 iMac to the curb. What. A. Weekend. The revised trailer looks really great, and it captures nicely what we want Starkers to convey. Watch it here, and tell us what you think!

So now we find ourselves in this CineCoup Top 15 crunch weekend. It’s up to the fans whether we go forward or not. As the CineCoup teams have all had to complete weekly missions, so too have the fans been given missions, to watch five trailers, or comment on five mission videos, etc. Each task earns more votes, which fans can then distribute between teams as they please, spreading them around, or awarding one massive vote-block to their favourite team. It’s involving, but a lot of fun, and you get to watch a heck of lot of Canadian up-and-coming talent in the process. If you want to get in on the action, head to CineCoup.com and sign up! (I’ve even made a short voting video, to help explain the CineCoup process.) If you like Starkers, think about throwing some votes our way. Or if you like another team, give them a hand. After this, the Top 15 teams will be mentored and judged internally by CineCoup, developing the scripts further and coming up with marketing and distribution plans. The Top 10 teams will be shopped to distributors and production companies at Cannes in May, and in June, the Top 5 will go to the Banff World Media Festival. There the winning team will be selected, and awarded $1 million toward their production and given a Cineplex distribution deal. Heady stuff. And, as a last incentive for you, dear reader, one fan among those who’ve given the most votes and participation will be chosen to go with the teams and sit on the judging panel in Banff, all expenses paid. Not too shabby. If you want to get in on it, just be sure to vote before midnight on Sunday. Whether Starkers goes forward or not, I’m going to keep reporting on the CineCoup competition. But it’ll be a lot more interesting if we’re there!

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