It’s June 2018 and there are only 36 hours until Babe Nation’s $1.9-million feature The Rest of Us is set to start production. And everything is falling apart.
The film’s primary location is suddenly unavailable and the paperwork for the big-name co-stars, Heather Graham and Jodi Balfour, is not done. To make things worse, Babe Nation principals Katie Nolan and Lindsay Tapscott are on opposite ends of the country, Nolan on business at the Banff World Media Festival and Tapscott on site in North Bay, ON.
It would be a stressful situation for any producer, but this was the first major production for Babe Nation, which was borne in December 2015 with a mandate to put women front and centre in key creative and on-camera positions. The Rest of Us represents that mandate brought to life. So they didn’t give up, push the shoot back or compromise. They fixed the location and got Balfour and Graham on a plane to Canada that week.
Sitting down with Nolan and Tapscott in July, the women exude a mix of excitement, fatigue and mild disbelief that it went off without a hitch. In a few short years, they’ve gone from having two ultra-low-budget webseries to their credit – 2014′s Hot Mom (still on Funny or Die) and 2018′s Ghost BFF (airing on Elizabeth Banks’ WhoHaha platform) – to a $1.9-million feature with boldface stars. While it’s been daunting, both feel it was a natural progression for their young company.
Longtime friends, Nolan comes from a background of writing, acting and producing (she is an associate producer on Northwood Entertainment’s The Grizzlies, set to debut at TIFF) while Tapscott is a writer, journalist and producer. Both say the webseries gave them the confidence to tackle a feature of The Rest of Us‘ scope.
“We had done enough stuff by the skin of our teeth at that point that we [knew] we were ready for a real budget, real creatives and big responsibility,” says Nolan.
Based on the script of first-time screenwriter and 2016 Academy Nicholl Fellowship quarterfinalist Alanna Francis, the film follows a divorced woman (Graham) who invites her ex-husband’s second wife and daughter to move in with herself and her teenage daughter following his unexpected death. It is directed by producer-turned-director Aisling Chin-Yee (who also founded Canada’s #AfterMeToo movement) and also stars Sophie Nélisse and Abigail Pniowsky.
“We looked at Alanna’s feature and everything about it felt perfect: the tone that we wanted, the cast is an ensemble, the director is female and it was like, if we make one thing that gets out into the world that speaks about our company, this feature will represent all of it,” says Nolan.
Veteran Canadian producer Damon D’Oliveira boarded the project as an executive producer after working with Nolan during her internship at Conquering Lion. He says both the material and Babe Nation’s demonstrated abilities gave him confidence in the project.
“You never know when you back a first-time feature film – you’re rolling the dice, always,” he says. “But I never felt that this was their first feature. They tackled it in a way that was super professional and it felt like they had many more experiences behind them. ‘A dogged pursuit of creative excellence’ is an expression that comes to mind.”
D’Oliveira’s take on Babe Nation encapsulates the mix of ambition, intelligence and luck that now characterizes their approach. The name Babe Nation, for example, started out as a casual quip which the women realized was a clever brand. Their timing was accidental and impeccable: the prodco launched just ahead of the burgeoning gender-parity movement and women-specific funding opportunities started opening up alongside the growth of digital platforms. And Babe Nation has found itself in an ideal position to take advantage of all of it.
A rough cut of The Rest of Us is slated for this fall, Ghost BFF is in development on season two with WhoHaha and they’ve optioned a book and Francis’ next script. They want to do more features, with bigger budgets. They want to get into European coproductions. They want to be in TV.
And they plan to keep “babes” front and centre for all of it.
This story originally appeared in the Fall 2018 issue of Playback.