Love and Human Remains

Spring 1991: In Montreal, director Denys Arcand and Max Films producer Roger Frappier see a stage production of Edmonton playwright Brad Fraser's Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love....

Spring 1991: In Montreal, director Denys Arcand and Max Films producer Roger Frappier see a stage production of Edmonton playwright Brad Fraser’s Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love.

As he watches the Andre Brassard French-language adaptation of Unidentified Human Remains…, Arcand is struck by the play’s cinematic structure and immediately agrees with Frappier that they should adapt it to the big screen.

‘It was not at all written like a traditional play. The action was happening in 20 places at the same time,’ says Arcand. ‘The characters and situations were so modern, so now, that I instantly wanted to do it.’

Later, Frappier and Max Films Distribution president Pierre Latour attend the off-Broadway opening of the play in New York City. It is named one of Time magazine’s 10 best plays of the year.

Frappier subsequently opens negotiations with Fraser’s agent, Shain Jaffe of Great North Artists Management in Toronto. There are other film offers on the table.

A dark, some say very dark, comedy symbolic of the ’90s, Love and Human Remains (the eventual title of the film) is billed as ‘a disturbing exploration of the desperate search for relationships in an age of uncertainty’. The story keys on two friends, David, a witty, cynical actor turned waiter, and Candy, a romantic book reviewer. Together the two search for the meaning of love, with both hilarious and heartbreaking results, until they make the horrific discovery that someone they both know is a serial killer.

December 1991: Max Films and Great Artists reach a ‘definitive agreement’ that includes Fraser’s participation as screenwriter. Arcand travels to Calgary to meet the writer.

Love and Human Remains is budgeted at $6 million. It is the third feature film collaboration for Frappier (Un zoo la nuit, La vie fantome) and Arcand (Le declin de l’empire americain, Jesus de Montreal). The two earlier worked together on Le Confort et l’indifference and Gina. It is also Arcand’s first English-language feature.

The film is slated to go into production in the summer of 1992.

February 1992: Fraser and Arcand have two more meetings before Fraser comes up with a third script that’s ‘close to what Arcand wanted’.

‘In essence,’ Fraser explains, ‘the movie isn’t different from the play at all in terms of what it means. But in terms of story structure, character development and visual imagery, it’s completely different.’

May-July 1992: Frappier attends the Cannes Film Festival with an advanced version of the screenplay in hand. His options include financing the production entirely in Canada by coproducing with Peter Sussman of Toronto-based Atlantis Films and Doug MacLeod of Bradshaw MacLeod and Associates in Calgary, or through presales.

Faced with a tight production schedule, Frappier decides to pass on the generally lower offers available through presales. ‘We’ll be in a much better position with a finished film,’ he reasons.

The film is to be an interprovincial coproduction between Quebec, Ontario and Alberta. The director and producer are from Quebec. The screenwriter is from Alberta and the film is set in Edmonton. Five of the principal actors, the cinematographer, the music composer and the coproducer are all from Toronto.

Investors will eventually include Max Films and its affiliated domestic and international distribution arms, Atlantis Films, Telefilm Canada, sogic, the Ontario Film Development Corporation, The Movie Network/First Choice, the Foundation to Underwrite New Drama for Pay TV and Super Ecran. Max Films International is to handle international sales.

Preproduction begins.

Over two months, Arcand travels across Canada and the U.S. in search of the key players for his film. He sees more than 500 actors, primarily between the ages of 17 and 30. The lead roles go to American Thomas Gibson (Far and Away), who plays David, and Ruth Marshall (Myth of the Male Orgasm) as Candy.

Meanwhile in Edmonton, locations have been scouted and secondary roles assigned to local actors.

Frappier vividly recalls sitting around one night with Arcand and members of the crew – line producer Richard Lalonde, dop Paul Sarossy and first ad David Webb – feeling good about what was about to happen, and thinking Quebec had something important to prove and learn from the experience: that from a production perspective, the Quebec industry also had a duty to lead in its own way, and to seek out new frontiers. ‘There was a kind of happiness in the air,’ he says.

August 1992: Newspaper headlines tell the story – ‘Alberta denies grant’, ‘Fraser fuming over funding’. By mid-summer, Frappier had realized ‘the combined rules of the three film agencies (in Ontario, Alberta and Quebec) make (the production) impossible. Any combination of two, but only two…

‘For a half million dollar investment we had calculated direct benefits of $1.2 million for the City of Edmonton,’ he says.

The setback is short-lived and, in fact, brings the production team closer together.

Frappier and Sussman refinance the film. The shoot moves from Edmonton to Montreal.

September-November 1992: Love and Human Remains is shot over 48 days starting Sept. 20 and wrapping in late November. Arcand shoots on 40 locations, two a day for 20 days, mainly at night, and wraps with studio sequences.

Burly couriers hesitate before transporting film cans labeled ‘Human Remains’ from Montreal to Toronto where the film is post-produced.

Frappier describes the shoot experience as ‘excellent’, attributing a good part of the success to the ‘highly talented cast’ and crew.

Key craft credits go to production designer Francois Seguin, editor Alain Baril, sound recordists Dominique Chartrand and Marcel Pothier, costume designer Denis Sperdouklis and rerecording mixer Don White. Executive producers are Frappier and Latour.

John McCarthy is hired to write the film score which he describes as ‘wild…(with) a lot of attitude’.

February 1993: Editing on the avid is completed.

May 1993: A test print is ready, and with it comes the gutsy decision to test screen the film in New York and Los Angeles. As a producer responsible for a $6 million movie, Frappier says he has ‘to consider the American market. It’s right at our door…it’s the main market.’

May-August 1993: The first test is held in l.a. A second test screening takes place in New York followed by a two-hour follow-up discussion.

August 1993: The Toronto Festival of Festivals announces a gala Canadian premiere screening for Arcand’s first English-language feature. The Quebec press launches a brief but vocal campaign criticizing the producer’s decision to stage the Canadian premiere in Toronto and not at the Montreal World Film Festival, Aug. 26-Sept. 6.

Commenting on the choice of festivals, Frappier says: ‘Each time we have a tough decision to make, we ask ourselves, `What’s best for the film?’ ‘

Later in the month, the producers receive confirmation that the film will have its North American premiere at the Telluride Film Festival in Colorado on Sunday, Sept. 5. Melody Koronbrot in Los Angeles is hired as the film’s U.S. publicist.

The producers are determined to succeed commercially with the new Arcand film and are intensely aware that a deal for the u.s. release is crucial. Frappier leaves Montreal for Los Angeles Aug. 31 and will travel to Toronto and Telluride before returning home Sept. 15.

September 1993: Love and Human Remains has its Canadian premiere Sept. 11 at a gala screening at the Toronto Festival of Festivals.