Patricia Rozema goes back to producing roots with Mouthpiece

Through her Crucial Things banner, the filmmaker teamed up with First Generation Films to produce her latest feature project.

For the first time in more than two decades, writer/director Patricia Rozema is taking a hands-on producing role on one of her feature films.

Her latest feature, Mouthpiece, which wrapped late last week, is produced by Toronto’s First Generation Films and Rozema’s new production banner Crucial Things.

“I used to produce my own work” said Rozema of her short film Passion: A Letter in 16mm (1985) and her debut feature I’ve Heard the Mermaids Singing (1987). After the success of those projects, however, she moved to focus more closely on her writing and directing. “[But] I kind of missed it. Although others have always done the detailed work, I love the elegance of a good financial arrangement. So here I am again – back where I started,” said the Toronto filmmaker, who also has co-producer credits on White Room (1990) and When Night is Falling (1995), both of which she wrote and directed.

The film is based on a stage play of the same name, written by Amy Nostbakken and Norah Sadava, who also make their film acting debuts as the project’s leads. The story follows Cassandra, who is portrayed by the two women, as she expresses “the opposing voices that exist inside the modern woman’s head, during a 48-hour period as she tries to organize the affairs for her mother’s funeral,” including writing her eulogy.

Sometimes the idea for one’s next project is found in unexpected places, and so it proved for Rozema. While her daughter was working as an intern at Toronto’s Nightwood Theatre, Rozema went to see one of the performances of Mouthpiece. She admits that she purchased a season pass to the theatre as a dutiful mother, rather than someone desperate to see the stage plays, but when she saw Mouthpiece it resonated with her in a profound way. “I was blown away by the mixture of fierceness and humour, absurdity and thoughtfulness. It had this dichotomy of things that I’ve always been really attracted to as a filmmaker,” she said.

Rozema later arranged to meet with Nostbakken and Sadava to discuss her idea for adapting their IP into a feature film. The trio brainstormed day and night, said Rozema, building out the one-hour play into a slightly longer script suitable for a film adaptation. With a spec script in hand, Rozema next reached out to First Generation Films’s Christina Piovesan and Jennifer Shin, who came on board to produce the project.

Piovesan said part of what attracted her to the project was the fact the property had a proven audience, based on the success of the stage play. As well as receiving critical praise in both Canada and the U.K., the play won multiple Dora Awards in 2015 and the prize for Best New Canadian Play at the 2017 Toronto Theatre Critics Awards. In addition, U.S. actors Jodie Foster and Alexandra Hedison had seen the stage play in Toronto and liked it so much they brought it to to L.A., where it had a sold out run at the Odyssey Theatre in summer 2017.

Produced on a budget of under $5 million, Rozema said she worked to secure all the film’s financing prior to taking the project to market. “I don’t want to commit to a distributor quite yet, because I feel that without stars you get 10 cents as an advance or guarantee – sales-company advances are so based on stardom value. I’d rather take the risk of making it and letting people see how truly funny and how compelling these women are on film. This way, we can bring it to market and see what the market thinks it’s worth,” she said.

Private investment also made up almost a quarter of the total budget, with Rozema securing private equity from four separate sources, as well as more traditional funding via Telefilm and CBC’s Breaking Barriers Film Fund. “Reviving [private investment] as a legitimate piece of the film-financing puzzle has long been a goal of mine,” she said. “I pray I can get my money back because I want this model to work, as I feel like it will open things up significantly for indie film in this country.”

“The U.S. has a longer and stronger tradition of private investment in movies, and I don’t see why that isn’t possible here. There’s no reason why government funding and private equity can’t go hand in hand,” she said.

Producers on the project are Rozema, Piovesan and Shin, while exec producers are Alex Brisbourne, Angela Brisbourne, Martha McCain, Kathleen Ramsay, Martha Ramsay and Maria Martin Stanley. Nostbakken and Sadava, who penned the screenplay with Rozema, star alongside stage actor Maev Beaty. Rozema’s other feature credits include Into the Forest (2015) and the Jane Austen adaptation Mansfield Park (1999).

Pictured L to R: Norah Sadava, Patricia Rozema, Amy Nostbakken