Paint Cans

Director/producer/ scriptwriter: Paul Donovan – Coproducers: Eric Jordan, Paul Stephens – Diary by: Nancy Hughes

1989: The story begins as Paul Donovan applies to Telefilm Canada for production money for George’s Island. He is told, unofficially, that the script is ‘good,’ but his request for cash is ‘declined.’ Donovan is left to question the criteria for film funding.

At about this time, Donovan hears the circulated rumor of a filmmaker who decides to take on the agencies in American fashion – should his application be rejected, said filmmaker calmly vows to kill the very government official who vetoes his project. Upon hearing the anecdote, Donovan decides it would make a good twist on the hapless artist plot.

1990 to 1991: Donovan writes Paint Cans, a satirical novel a Telefilm bureaucrat who is caught in a particularly Canadian cycle of fear and loathing: for political and prurient reasons, the official finds himself backing a film project that he despises. When the project won’t die despite the bureaucrat’s attempts at sabotage, the only solution that becomes available to him is to kill the filmmaker.

November 1992: Paint Cans is published by New Star Books of Vancouver.

At this time, Donovan has no plans to make it into a film. In his words: ‘It would be a form of career suicide.’

November 1992: Ivan Fecan, then vice-president of arts and entertainment at the cbc, faxes Donovan praise for the book, suggesting he would support a film version of Paint Cans. That evening, Donovan watches the Genie Awards; the hook is baitedÉ

Shortly after the book’s publication, Thomas Howe, then director of independent productions, acquisitions and coproductions at the cbc, agrees to back the project. His support takes the form of a broadcast licence.

A few months later, Donovan is at a lunch presided over by Pierre DesRoches, then executive director of Telefilm. DesRoches suggests to an audience of 12 that Donovan ‘make (the book) into a film.’

When conjecture imitates art: Donovan’s hopes plummet later in the summer of ’93 when he claims to have heard rumor of DesRoches’ more private aside: ‘The day (Donovan) is hit by a bus will be a good day.’

November 1992 to March 1993: Donovan writes a script for Paint Cans. In the script version, Telefilm is given the more self-explanatory title of Film Financing Agency of Canada.

April 1993: Eric Jordan and Paul Stephens of The Film Works renew their partnership with Donovan, begun on Life With Billy, and come on as coproducers. They apply to the Ontario Film Development Corporation for production funds. The application is rejected.

Donovan continues the project from his and brother Michael’s production company, Salter Street Films in Halifax.

April 1993: Donovan applies to Telefilm’s Halifax branch for a production grant for Paint Cans. Betting in the Halifax film community begins – the odds are on Telefilm granting the money and Donovan stands to gain a bit of cash by being a pessimist.

May 1993: Telefilm rejects the request on the grounds the project is too expensive for its perceived market.

June 1993: Donovan reapplies to Telefilm with a lower budget request.

July 1993: A second letter of rejection arrives from Telefilm.

Now assured that he won’t be working with a big budget, Donovan goes to the Gijon Film Festival in Spain with Buried On Sunday. Donovan is weighing the improbability of making a feature for $700,000 to $800,000 until he sees inspired examples of lower budget ($300,000) films at the festival.

September 1993: Roman Bittman, president of the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation, pays up $1 to Donovan from the lost bet and agrees to give $145,000 for the production of Paint Cans.

Casting in Halifax begins. Chas Lawther and Robyn Stevan are selected to play the leads.

September to October 1993: Discussions begin with Citytv. City is enthusiastic about the project and in November agrees to prebuy it. Says City’s Jay Switzer: ‘We were aware of the risk going in (that the project) may have been self-indulgent,’ however, (we) ‘knew the picture would be a hot one’ and ‘the deal was closed in two minutes.’ City gets it after pay-tv and a two-year run on cbc.

October 1993: The Foundation to Underwrite New Development for Pay Television kicks in $250,000 from its Equity Investment Fund.

The National Film Board Atlantic Region adds $120,000 to the pot.

Principal photography begins in Halifax and runs for 21 days. Working with a small crew to keep costs down, they shoot in 35mm, scooping up leftover film stock from other productions.

Libra Films signs on as distributor.

Using licences granted by First Choice and the cbc as collateral, Donovan approaches Rogers Telefund for interim financing. Robin Mirsky, executive director of Rogers Telefund, and Phil Lind, vice-chairman Rogers Communications, become financiers and location scouts. They close the deal on the first day of principal photography in Toronto and donate Unitel’s office for use as the Telefilm office set. They finance just over $300,000, to arrive at a total production budget of approximately $800,000. Total contribution from Telefilm? $0.00.

November 1993: The crew goes to Cannes. On the last day of shooting, lead actress Stevan, blinded by the azure, falls off a scooter and breaks her collarbone. Shooting is postponed until February 1994.

Spring 1994: Online post begins in Halifax at Salter Street. Stereo sound mixing is also done in-house, at Salter Street Digital.

September 1994: Paint Cans is screened as part of the Toronto International Film Festival’s Perspective Canada program, and is given a launch party in association with City. Donovan continues development of The Dark Zone, a science fiction series for City.