Zero Patience

1987: The myth of Patient Zero emerges in the press, which – despite evidence to the contrary – seems eager to believe that a promiscuous flight attendant brought the aids virus to North America, and then willfully infected others.

Director John Greyson becomes interested in the ‘powerful appeal’ of the myth ‘to a society that’s very interested in scapegoating’, and the idea for a film is born.

January 1991: Based on the first draft of what is now a musical, Greyson is awarded a script development grant by the Canadian Film Centre, where he has recently graduated from the directors’ program.

Summer 1991: Greyson asks Louise Garfield – then a Film Centre resident – to produce Zero Patience. He has worked with her previously, as a performer in his video Moscow Does Not Believe in Queers, and as an associate producer on The Making of Monsters, his 1990 film on gay-bashers.

Garfield reads the script, and proposes the idea of co-producing the film with Anna Stratton, another Film Centre resident.

Working as a team, Garfield and Stratton use Zero Patience as a case study in a producers’ workshop conducted by Alexandra Raffe, producer of White Room and I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing. Using the screenplay as a model for several Film Centre producers, the team is able to work out the details of production and form the relationship that will lead to the participation of Raffe as executive producer.

January 1992: Greyson, Garfield and Stratton are given a film production grant by the Ontario Arts Council. They approach Cineplex Odeon Films to distribute Zero Patience in Canada, and receive an immediate offer.

March 1992: The team receives an additional grant from the Canada Council and approval for further development funding from Telefilm Canada and the Ontario Film Development Corporation.

The money is used for, among other things, the composition of the film’s nine songs, including Control (on the anger felt toward the medical community) and Pop A Boner (on the etiquette of bathhouse cruising). The lyrics are co-written by Greyson and Glenn Schellenberg, who composes all of the music.

June 1992: Greyson completes the final draft of the screenplay, which has become a love story between the ghost of Patient Zero and Victorian explorer/sexologist Sir Richard Francis Burton. Burton, incidentally, is 170 years old.

‘The epidemic has been so depressing for so many of us for so long,’ says Greyson, ‘that it was time to do something that was very strong and affirming, and fun and pleasurable and sexy.’

The screenplay includes the part of hiv, written for long-term aids survivor Michael Callen. ‘Michael is an outspoken activist who has contributed strongly to a critique of hiv as the sole cause of aids,’ says Greyson. ‘He’s also a well-known singer with an incredible falsetto.’

August 1992: British broadcasting rights are sold to Channel 4 in the U.K.

September 1992: Having applied for production funding in July, the team receives $1.2 million from Telefilm Canada and the OFDC.

October 1992: Preproduction begins with the casting of principal roles and the hiring of key crew.

Quebecois dancer, actor and performance artist Normand Fateux is cast as Zero. Burton presents a greater challenge, and according to Stratton, there is some difficulty finding ‘an actor in the 35- to 45-year-old range who can sing, act, dance and carry off a British accent – and who would also be comfortable with all aspects of the role’. Canadian actor John Robinson is cast, having worked primarily on the stage in New York and Great Britain.

November 1992: Shooting begins in Toronto, and is wrapped in five weeks.

June 1993: The film is completed in time for a series of sneak previews in the u.s., beginning with the Seattle International Film Festival, and followed by gay and lesbian festivals in New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

September 1993: Zero Patience has its Canadian premiere, at the Toronto Festival of Festivals. Appearances follow at both the Vancouver and Atlantic film festivals, culminating in a platform release from Toronto at the end of this year.

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