Men With Brooms gives curling a boost

'When the camera moves, it moves with authority and muscularity,' proclaims the ever-charming and perfectly boyish Paul Gross in describing his directing style on his first feature, Men With Brooms....

‘When the camera moves, it moves with authority and muscularity,’ proclaims the ever-charming and perfectly boyish Paul Gross in describing his directing style on his first feature, Men With Brooms.

Gross is the cowriter, director and star of the country’s first curling comedy that grabbed producer Robert Lantos’ attention more than two years ago after the two Canadian icons had talked about coming up with the perfect Canadian feature.

‘I’ve spent most of my career trying to figure out how we can make a Canadian movie which is Canadian front and centre and has a shot of attracting a popular audience,’ says Lantos, mirroring the sentiment behind his last pursuit, Claire’s Hat. ‘If this doesn’t become a real popular movie domestically, then it cannot be done.’

Gross and Lantos started discussions as Due South was coming to an end. A couple of years later, ironically during the Brier (read: the national curling championships), Gross and cowriter John Krizanc brought forth an idea for a curling movie. Neither Gross nor Lantos had ever even entered a curling rink, but tweaked with a major dose of comedy starting with the film’s title, and some extensive research, a script was born.

And what Gross has discovered is, ‘Curling’s a lot harder than directing.’

Gross says his biggest challenge as a first-time director is pacing the cast. ‘Features in Canada tend to be more leisurely. No one’s accustomed to moving fast, but this film needs to want to go on quite a clip.’

It is day 12 of a six-week shoot that wraps May 28 in Sudbury, ON. We’re at the Burlington Curling Club, where the opening ceremony for the film’s rendition of the Brier is being shot.

More than 300 extras have been brought in to play the fans, only most of them aren’t acting at all. Most are volunteers who have either shown up for the love of the game or for the love of Paul Gross.

In spite of his personal fanfare, though, Gross is certainly not the only celebrity on hand. Also starring in Men With Brooms is the ever-comedic Leslie Nielsen (once again playing Gross’ on-screen dad), Molly Parker (Suspicious River), Peter Outerbridge (Chasing Cain), James Allodi (Top of the Food Chain), Kari Matchett (Nero Wolfe), Michelle Nolden (Century Hotel) and Polly Shannon (The Sheldon Kennedy Story). ‘A real dream team,’ says Lantos.

The film tells the story of four old friends who, after their old curling coach passes away, decide to dust off their brooms and hit the road in pursuit of the big curling trophy.

‘The curling’s actually incidental. It’s really about four friends and the women in their lives – unrequited love – although the curling helped captivate me. What a strange and funny world,’ says Lantos.

Men With Brooms marks the first time in about eight years the veteran producer has worked with a first-time director (the last time was with Richard Lewis on Whale Music).

The difference between working with an Atom Egoyan or David Cronenberg and Gross, he says, is that with the latter every detail has to be ironed out.

The more experienced directors come with a style and a developed nucleus of key crew. ‘There’s a lot more shorthand.’

Nonetheless, Gross maintains a playful and professional approach to his jobs. As the film’s director and star he is tirelessly running back and forth from the ice to the playback monitor.

‘Performing and directing is odd because you can’t see yourself,’ says Gross. ‘Before I started this, I had a long conversation with Don McKellar about how he managed to do the same thing in Last Night, and it really comes down to throwing a lot of faith in other people.’

Other people like DOP Thom Best (Ginger Snaps), who says Gross is one of the best directors he’s ever worked with.

‘It’s a wonderful collaboration – that’s what makes the job,’ says Best, who’s never worked on anything else with as much comedy.

Nonetheless, the film plays pretty straight, maintaining a dramatic look. And while it is a comedy, Best says he does not shy away from being dark at times.

And of course working on ice and following the pace of curling poses some technical challenges, which Best’s team has been quick to adapt to. A camera was attached to one of the rocks to get its POV, and a contraption called ‘the Mitchcam,’ (named after the grip who created it) – that is kind of like a sled with a Teflon bottom to which the camera is attached in order to follow the players – was created in lieu of using a dollycam.

The scene in front of us is as campy as it gets. The returning curling champions enter the ice to a screaming crowd. They are wearing shiny silver jumpsuits and the star player is clad in a mink coat, which he takes off with the help of a half-naked cheerleader wearing a gold cowboy hat. The strobe lights are flashing and it’s hard to tell the photographers within the scene from the ones who are there covering the increasingly high-profile production.

International distributor Alliance Atlantis Communications will release Men With Brooms nationally in February 2002. Serendipity Point Films will release the film in the U.S. at a later date.

‘It has to start and prove itself in Canada first. It’s different from an Atom or David film, which does better in countries like Germany and France than Canada,’ says Lantos of the $7.5-million production.

He is, however, confident that with AAC’s backing the film has a chance to break the domestic box office.

‘Alliance Atlantis has the resources to compete in the mainstream, resources that wouldn’t have been available in years past.’

Publicity for the film is already in full throttle. By June, trailers will begin appearing in theatres, nine months before release.

But, in spite of the financial muscle behind the film, line producer Frank Siracusa, Gross’ partner at Whizbang Films, who generally services big American shoots, says working on a Canadian production is a bit of a culture shock. ‘I’m not used to being reminded that we have to get things for free.’ *