Un crabe dans la tete

* Director/writer/cinematographer: Andre Turpin * Producers: Luc Dery and Joseph Hillel * Diary by: Mark Dillon

Montreal director/cinematographer Andre Turpin returns to the Toronto International Film Festival with Un crabe dans la tete (Soft Shell Man), this year’s Perspective Canada opener. Turpin is best known for shooting the Denis Villeneuve films Maelstrom, (which won him a Genie and Jutra), Un 32 Aout sur terre, (which won him a Jutra), and ‘The Technetium’ segment in Cosmos. Turpin also directed a second Cosmos episode, ‘Jules et Fanny,’ and Zigrail, which screened at TIFF in 1995.

Turpin says Crabe explores ‘the fear of being judged by others and the desire to please everyone,’ distinctly Canadian traits, he adds. Crabe follows Alex, an underwater photographer on a stopover in Montreal looking to avoid a girlfriend he abandoned six months earlier. He instead finds himself entangled in new relationships, including one with the hearing-impaired girlfriend of his best friend.

Meanwhile, an exhibit of Alex’s photography is planned without his knowledge, and the two stories eventually converge.

Although Crabe opens in a mostly comic vein, Turpin adds ‘there is this mysterious part of the film that is quite dramatic and introspective.’

Turpin and producers Luc Dery and Joseph Hillel demystify the process.

November 1997: Turpin takes a plot outline and ‘production philosophy’ for Un crabe dans la tete to producers Luc Dery and Joseph Hillel at Production Qu4tre par Quatre, a Montreal commercial house where he previously shot a half-dozen spots. Turpin wants ample time to work with actors and looks to edit as he shoots, with the luxury of a few added re-shoot days. Turpin proposes shooting the film himself on location with a tight 15-strong crew.

The Qu4tre par Quatre producers respond favorably. ‘I recognized myself in the Alex character who wants to please everyone,’ Hillel says. The timing also coincides with Dery’s arrival at the commercial house to organize a feature film division.

November 1998 to January 1999: The producers secure $28,000 in development money from SODEC and Telefilm Canada.

May 1999: Super Ecran throws in $8,000 for development. The project moves ahead slowly. ‘Andre was busy as a cinematographer,’ Dery recalls.

November 1999: A second draft of the screenplay secures another $36,000 from SODEC and Telefilm.

January to Spring 2000: Film Tonic pays $205,000 for domestic and international distribution.

TV licences are sold to Super Ecran ($50,000) and Radio-Canada ($75,000). The SRC deal opens the door to TeleQuebec to do likewise ($42,000). The broadcaster commitments will allow the producers to next tap the CTF Licence Fee Program, which employs a point system based in part on total presales versus the budget, which in Crabe’s case is $1.7 million. Meanwhile, $12,000 for a final script rewrite comes in from SODEC and Telefilm, whom the producers then approach for production funds.

Summer 2000: Turpin finishes the script and casting begins. Quebec actor David La Haye (Cosmos) is eventually chosen for the male lead. Casting the role of Sara, the girlfriend of Alex’s best friend, proves more difficult.

‘I wanted to work with a real deaf actress,’ Turpin says. Initially, he had French actress Emmanuelle Laborit in mind for the role, but she eventually goes with a movie in Switzerland.

After a lengthy audition process with 75 actresses from Quebec, Paris and Toronto, Turpin chooses Chantal Giroux.

Telefilm at first declines funding for the film, but advises the producers to return in the fall to tap the about-to-be-announced Canadian Feature Film Fund. Turpin says he and his producers by now were out of funding avenues, ‘other than considering to ask our fathers, or robbing banks.’ But a favorable scheduling opportunity leads the team to go forward without the film’s full budget in hand.

SODEC is in for $552,000 and Qu4tre par Quatre for another $22,595, and the production will get $344,181 in provincial tax credits and $67,885 in federal tax credits. The project is scaled down, the director and producers defer salaries, and the crew, many of whom have worked with Turpin since Zigrail, agree to work for minimum wages until more money comes in. August is spent in preproduction.

September to October 2000: The crew shoots one week in Aylmer, QC and by a lake near Buckingham. Most of the shooting is done in and around Montreal. During a five-day break, Sophie Leblond, who cut Zigrail, edits Crabe at Qu4tre par Quatre.

Meanwhile, Qu4tre par Quatre’s first feature, La Moitie gauche du frigo, wins the Citytv Award for best Canadian first feature at TIFF.

The crew and La Haye shoot in Cozumel, Mexico over seven days, capturing underwater scenes set in the Indian Ocean. They miss a tornado by one day. Another week of editing is followed by one more month of shooting.

November 2000 to January 2001: Much to the filmmakers’ relief, the CF3 provides another $200,000 in funding. Within one week, Dery and Hillel hear they are also getting $300,000 from the CTF’s Licence Fee Program. The producers meet their entire budget and pay themselves and the crew all amounts promised.

April to July 2001: Negative cutting and printing follow two weeks of sound mixing with Louis Gignac. The film is screened for and accepted by the Festival du Nouveau Cinema. The filmmakers believe this will make an ideal hometown debut for Crabe in October, just prior to the November Quebec release.

TIFF representatives come to Montreal to screen the film. The producers are invited to the Toronto festival a couple of weeks before an official July 24 announcement. The Montreal World Film Festival overlooks the film for the Official Competition, so the producers decide to decline screening at the event.

September 2001: Crabe opens the Perspective Canada program at TIFF.