Virgo thinks globally with Poor Boy’s Game

FILM DIARY Special Presentation: Poor Boy’s Game Director: Clement Virgo Writers: Chaz Thorne, Clement Virgo Producers: Damon D’oliveira, Clement Virgo, Chaz Thorne Cast: ...


Special Presentation: Poor Boy’s Game
Director: Clement Virgo
Writers: Chaz Thorne, Clement Virgo
Producers: Damon D’oliveira, Clement Virgo, Chaz Thorne
Cast: Rossif Sutherland, Danny Glover, Tonya Lee Williams, Kc Collins, Flex Alexander, Laura Regan, Greg Bryk, Stephen Mchattie
Distributor: Seville Pictures
International Sales: Seville Pictures

Although Poor Boy’s Game is Clement Virgo’s sixth feature, it marks an important change in his approach to filmmaking. Virgo is thinking ‘global audience’.

Ostensibly, it’s a well-crafted story that traces how a brutal beating impacts both white and black working-class communities in Halifax. But it’s also a genre film about boxing with influences from On the Waterfront to Rebel Without a Cause, as well as the follow-up to the sexy Lie with Me, Virgo’s most commercially successful film yet.

‘As a filmmaker, you have to adjust your thinking,’ says Virgo. ‘How will this work internationally? How will it work in the marketplace? You have to figure out as a producer, filmmaker – and as a writer – if you spend two or three years working on this thing, will it have a life beyond our borders? It’s gratifying to see that the last two films have.’

Coming in at $5.5 million, the project was Virgo’s first film that required significant cast attachment in order to raise the financing.

‘We were going through a learning curve on the market,’ says producer Damon D’Oliveira, who is also a partner with Virgo in Conquering Lion. ‘Lie with Me was selling exceptionally well – about 45 countries – and we were putting our production package together with a real eye on the market, because [Poor Boy's Game] was going to be a big step up as far as budget for us.’

August 1995: A cousin of screenwriter Chaz Thorne is shot eight times and killed in a parking lot in Halifax by his girlfriend’s ex-boyfriend, who is black. ‘It got me thinking about race – and race in Halifax,’ says Thorne. ‘That was the original inspiration for [the story].’

Fall 1999: Thorne writes a play called Poor Boy’s Game while playwright in residence at Toronto’s Cahoots Theatre Projects. Although it never reaches the stage, Thorne begins to think of the possibilities of a screenplay with themes of revenge and forgiveness.

September 2001: Poor Boy’s Game is chosen as one of the six finalists for the Pitch This! competition at TIFF. It doesn’t win, and a week after the competition, Thorne moves back to Halifax after five years in Toronto as a struggling actor.

October 2001: Clement Virgo’s agent, Ralph Zimmerman, who was one of the Pitch This! judges, calls Thorne in Nova Scotia and suggests he talk to Virgo about Poor Boy’s Game.

November 2001: Thorne meets Virgo and Damon D’Oliveira to discuss the story. Virgo likes the concept and they agree to move Poor Boy’s Game into development. Coincidentally, Thorne had auditioned for Virgo on Love Come Down, and walked his dog with D’Oliveira when the two lived in the same Toronto neighborhood.

January 2002: The filmmakers apply for script development funding from The Harold Greenberg Fund and Telefilm Canada’s Atlantic office through Thorne’s Standing Eight production company.

Fall 2002: While back in Toronto, Thorne meets with his story editor and good friend Al Magee. With a draft of the script already written, Magee suggests that in order to tighten up the story, it should be George (Danny Glover) who trains Donnie (Rossif Sutherland) for a boxing match, and it should be his own son who was viciously attacked by Donnie a decade earlier.

‘I immediately went, ‘Holy fuck, that’s brilliant,” recalls Thorne. ‘But I have no idea how I would make that work. That became the largest challenge of the screenplay and the film over the next three years – to actually believe that these two men who are mortal enemies come together. I’m very proud to have achieved that.’

Fall 2005: The script is complete after 17 drafts. Virgo and D’Oliveira go to L.A. to meet Glover, perhaps best known for the Leathal Weapon blockbusters. He loves the screenplay and verbally commits to the project. This is enough to trigger financing from Telefilm, the Nova Scotia Film Development Corporation, Ontario Media Development Corporation and The Movie Network.

Spring 2006: In a somewhat risky casting choice, relative unknown Sutherland – half-brother of Kiefer – is chosen to play boxer Donnie Rose. Virgo had auditioned more than 100 actors for the role, and wanted someone with a ’1950s leading-man quality.’

‘It’s a difficult thing,’ says Virgo of the market pressure to cast a recognizable face. ‘Because the primary focus – at least for me – is on finding a great young actor. I believe that if you find a great young actor that will serve the story.’

Sutherland is also 20 pounds too heavy and has less than four months to get fighting trim. He loses the fat and gains back the weight as muscle.

Summer 2006: Poor Boy’s Game shoots in Halifax. Virgo has only three days to cover the climactic boxing sequence, which he calls the most daunting aspect of making the film.

‘There have been some great boxing sequences on film,’ he says. ‘If you say you’re going to have a boxing set piece in your movie, the bar is pretty high…Part of what I wanted to do was not just make it about action, but about dramatic conflict. To try to tell a story. So you’re constantly trying to figure out what is going on with our main characters at every single point.’

November 2006: Three days after Poor Boy’s Game is in the can, Thorne begins shooting Pushing Up Daisies (which becomes Just Buried) in rural Nova Scotia. It’s his feature film debut as writer/director and will have its world premiere in TIFF’s Canada First! showcase (see story, p. 13).

Feb. 8, 2007: Poor Boy’s Game makes its world premiere at the Berlin Film Festival. It presells to an estimated 40 countries at the European Film Market after its first market appearance.

Virgo and D’Oliveira’s follow-up project is a thriller set in London called The Collectors, scripted by Annmarie Morais (How She Move). It’s looking to shoot next spring.

September 2007: Poor Boy’s Game makes its North American premiere as a Special Presentation at TIFF.