Falling Angels

* Director: Scott Smith * Writer: Esta Spalding * Producer: Robin Cass * Cinematographer: Greg Middleton * Diary by: Ian Edwards

* Director: Scott Smith * Writer: Esta Spalding * Producer: Robin Cass * Cinematographer: Greg Middleton * Diary by: Ian Edwards

Roller coasters may be the defining motif in director Scott Smith’s burgeoning career. The Vancouver director, having cut his teeth on the teen-angst feature rollercoaster in 1999, has directed the Perspective Canada feature with perhaps the most twists and turns in its genesis. Falling Angels, debuting at TIFF 2003 and based on the Barbara Gowdy novel, tells the darkly ironic 1960s story of a family of three sisters and their derelict parents.

1991: Producer Robin Cass reads the Barbara Gowdy story Falling Angels, a family drama. ‘Instantly, it screamed movie to me,’ he says. But the rights are tied up already.

1995: Cass meets Gowdy at lunch with Toronto-based Triptych Media partner Louise Garfield, where the topic of Angels’ rights comes up. Cass begins his campaign to acquire them once he learns they are on the block again.

July 1996: Multiyear, multi-window rights to the story are secured by Triptych, value undisclosed. Within the next few months, seed money is secured from Telefilm Canada and the Ontario Film Development Corporation.

September 1996: Cass sees director Lynne Stopkewich’s feature Kissed, based on another Gowdy story, at TIFF. ‘For obvious reasons I thought Lynne would be interested,’ says Cass.

September 1997: Polygram executives from the U.K. and Canada declare their interest once a director is attached.

October 1997: Cass signs Stopkewich as writer/director. Stopkewich starts the first draft with story editor Dennis Foon.

January to April 1998: Stopkewich delivers the first draft, paid for with development money from The Harold Greenburg Fund and Telefilm.

May 1998: At Cannes, Polygram Canada expresses interest in a first-look deal. Polygram offers turnkey financing on production in exchange for Canadian and world rights. Polygram takes on development financing.

September 1998: Stopkewich goes to work on the second draft, with input from the producers and Polygram executive Judy Holm.

February 1999: Polygram Canada is acquired by Universal Pictures and Angels goes into turnaround. Polygram returns the rights to Triptych on the proviso that development funding is returned on the first day of photography.

September 1999: At TIFF, Cass is introduced to Wild Bunch, a Studio Canal-financed boutique distributor in Europe. Wild Bunch’s Alain de la Mata is interested in the draft script. Story editor John Frizzell, brought on in July, works on a rewrite, with input from Stopkewich, the producers and de la Mata.

February 2000: Wild Bunch offers a turnkey financing scenario based on Stopkewich’s firm commitment, approval of the final draft and key cast. The budget is pegged at $7 million.

March 2000: Stopkewich opts to step back from Angels to pursue the drama Suspicious River and the Sarah McLachlan doc Lilith on Top. Cass amicably terminates contract with Stopkewich and financing dissolves.

April 2000: Cass approaches Telefilm and FUND. Cass secures additional development financing from CHUM and Superchannel. ‘We considered [the loss of Stopkewich] a watershed moment in the project,’ says Cass. ‘Do you abandon the project or keep going? There was sufficient interest in the material to keep going.’

May 2000: Stopkewich recommends Vancouver-based Scott Smith as director. ‘I already knew Scott and admired rollercoaster tremendously, but I told him I had always wanted a woman to direct,’ says Cass. ‘He said: ‘I’ll get a sex change. I really want to do this movie.”

September 2000: At TIFF, Cass and Smith meet and decide to start from scratch with a female screenwriter. ‘I loved how Barbara told a dark story with a twisted, funny, ironic tone,’ says Smith. ‘We had to find our equivalent tone in the film.’

October 2000: Cass flies to Vancouver for a meeting with poet and Da Vinci’s Inquest writer Esta Spalding.

October 2001: After a year of scriptwriting by Spalding, Cass makes plans to finance the film, considering first a U.K. coproduction at $4.5 million. He seeks a variety of financial partners: $2 million-plus from Telefilm; $500,000 from the Licence Fee Program; $500,000 from the U.K. sale-and-leaseback program; domestic and international distribution advances; broadcast presales; and tax credits.

February 2002: During a trip to Europe, Smith meets with Wild Bunch representatives, who like the new script and the director’s take. ‘They confirmed their desire to come back in after meeting Scott,’ says Cass.

March 2002: Triptych submits the production budget to the various funding agencies, with Seville Films attached as Canadian distributor. Broadcast presales in Canada come from CHUM, Movie Central, The Movie Network and Super Ecran. Wild Bunch has signed on to sell the movie internationally and to coproduce.

May 2002: Telefilm’s new focus on box office forces Cass and partners to reevaluate the Angels package vis-a-vis casting and P&A. Miranda Richardson (Spider) has the script and her positive response is crucial.

June 2002: Cass abandons the treaty copro when the expense split makes a U.K. copro unworkable. He meets with SaskFilm and is sold on incentives and facilities: Saskatchewan’s tax credits make up some of the US$500,000 that would have come from the U.K.’s sale-and-leaseback program. Cass and Kevin DeWalt of Regina, SK-based Minds Eye Entertainment forge an interprovincial copro. Scott and Cass begin auditioning more than 1,000 women for the key roles of the sisters. Richardson agrees to play the mother.

August 2002: Financing is still not confirmed, but DOP Greg Middleton and designer Rob Gray convene in Moose Jaw, SK and Regina to scout locations with Cass, Smith and Minds Eye.

September 2002: Stopkewich’s Boneyard Films calls to offer Angles its Telefilm performance envelope and completes the financing.

October 2002: Preproduction. Callum Keith Rennie signs on to play the father. The budget is pegged at $4.1 million.

Katherine Isabel, Kristin Adams and Monte Gagne are cast as the sisters. Mark McKinney signs on to play twins Reg and Ron Shelman. Interior sets are prepped at Regina’s Canada Saskatchewan Production Studios and in Moose Jaw.

Nov. 19, 2002: Principal photography begins in Moose Jaw. Vancouver editor Reg Harkema begins cutting the picture.

Dec. 17, 2002: The 23rd and final day of production in Regina wraps in the soundstage at 3:30 a.m.

February 2003: Most of the cast members convene at the edge of Niagara Falls for the final scene of the film.

June 2003: Picture lock. TIFF programmers call to inquire about the film’s availability for the festival. The invitation comes a few weeks later. Sound editing and mixing take place at Toronto’s Tattersall Casablanca.

September 2003: Falling Angels screens in the Perspective Canada program at TIFF.