In a destitute looking corner of Toronto (though it’s actually only about two blocks from my own apartment) a battered grey factory building stands defiant, imposing itself against the chilling winter wind. Inside it, however, a fantastic world is springing to life. A world that was first imagined by Craig Goodwill in his imaginative and charming short, Patch Town. Now, the delightful genre-defying short is making the transition to feature film.
The highly acclaimed short, internationally recognized by the Toronto International Film Festival and Cannes, follows the journey of Jon (Rob Ramsay), an abandoned child, who leaves his factory work in an oppressive state and eluding the nefarious Yuri (Julian Richings) the evil Child-Catcher, to find the mother (Lisa Ray in the short, and Zoie Palmer in the feature film) who abandoned him.
Sue and I are welcomed to the set by the unit publicist, Juli Strader, who leads us through the chilly complex on a whirlwind tour of some of the brilliant sets, including some familiar looking places including jail sets from Norman Jewison’s The Hurricane and the classic Canadian series Street Legal. There are also some familiar faces behind the scenes that we know are hard at work, our friend Jeremy Doiron, who we worked with on the forthcoming Dead Before Dawn 3D, we get a few moments to chat with him before he has to rush off again. Though not in the building, we also know that our good friend, the writer and director of Sex After Kids, Jeremy Lalonde is serving as the film’s editor.
We bump into the film’s producers David Sparkes, a gregarious and chatty bloke with a fun sense of humor and an easy laugh, who welcomes us joyfully to the set.
We slip through a door, finding ourselves in Yuri’s State-like neo-gothic lair, a set filled with stuffed predators and scavengers like owls, foxes, antlers, cages, a rather creepy looking tea set, giant steamer trunks, and just off-center in the room, a 1950s looking medical device, perhaps an iron lung?
Craig Goodwill sits in the center seat of video village reviewing a shot, while the set buzzes with activity around him. Today, they are working on the climax of the film, and despite the pressures of keeping things on schedule, Craig keeps the set light and fun, it’s efficient but filled with lots of laughter.
Yuri, played with villainous aplomb by Julian Richings, struts the set is a long-tailed dark tuxedo, a wide-brimmed hat, and decidedly out of character, Julian has a wide smile on his face, easily dispelling the creepy image he so easily fosters in things like the television series Supernatural and the wonderful little horror film, The Last Will and Testament of Rosalind Leigh. He wanders about, at ease, as the camera is repositioned for a series of close-ups on the folks he’s sharing the set with.
In the room’s center, surrounded by a sea of red, stands Rob Ramsay, Suresh John and Lost Girl’s Zoie Palmer are surrounded by a couple of workers, including Alan C. Peterson, who I recognize from Stargate: Atlantis, and Sue reminds me that he was also in the goofy Niagara Falls romp, Gravy Train (his eyes lit up delightedly when we mention that in our introductions, as we chat briefly about Niagara Falls, and the fun he had on the set). There are also a slew of Santas (Santi?) but don’t ask… wait for the film.
Zoie’s big, expressive eyes fill the screen in front of Craig as she’s untied by Suresh’s character Sly. Coats and blankets are offered to the cast, especially Zoie, clothed in a sleek red dress that offers nothing against the chill of the building.
Using this moment in the hurry up and wait game that is the staple of life on the set, Juli introduces us to Craig who welcomes us to the set, encourages us to look around, have fun, and enjoy the day.
Sue and I grab a couple of crew seats in video village behind Craig, David and Matti Huhta, the script supervisor. The crew, cycle quickly through the dialogue, and the close-ups of each of the cast members, working at a lightning pace, but never moving on until Craig is happy.
Craig steps away, as the camera shifts position and set-ups, to grab a doughnut, but instead returns with an apple, munching on it as he chats with Guy Godfree his cinematographer, and Julian about what he wants in the next shot.
They reset for another shot, Zoie is in the middle-ground of the frame, tied to a chair, while Julian stands in the foreground, exuding a creeping evil as he looks off-camera, right towards Sue and I. It wasn’t off-putting at all…
Again, the takes come fast and furious.
Craig decides they need some reaction shots of the Santas, and as the camera slides over bearded faces, Suresh mugs each time the camera hits him, causing laughter in video village. He’s one of those actors who can crack anyone up, and then can switch it off and be completely professional at the drop of a hat, while the rest of us are still chuckling. His line, delivered countless times that day so far, remains fresh and funny each time he says it. He’s got a great comedic knack.
Craft services come around with some aromatic grilled sandwiches, and while some of the cast and crew munch, Rob comes over to say hi to us, he chats with us, and comes across as a gregarious, friendly guy who loves what he’s doing. We chat briefly about the short’s transition to feature, before he’s required to step back into character.
David tells us about Craig’s pitch to him, the success of the original short, and some of the changes both he and Craig felt were needed to adapt it to a feature-length film. His stories are fun and engaging, laced with lots of laughs. He is rightly proud of the international success the short garnered, and is eager to see that he feature is deserving of the same recognition.
Matt Middleton, the film’s production designer also makes time to come over to chat to us, as we talk about the set we’re standing in, and the creepy animals mounted about the room. With a laugh he tells us about the amazing journey the film has taken, from the backyard discussion of it at a barbecue, to designs and sketches, to the short, to the canvas of a feature. Everyone who is involved with the project exerts not only affection for it, but an immense measure of pride; this is the little short that could.
As video village shifts to stay out of the frame, and eye-lines of the actors, Julian, who is being tended to by hair and make-up, comes over to say hello to us as well. After a round of handshakes, we tell him how much we loved his work on Supernatural and Rosalind Leigh, he’s gracious with his time, and we talk briefly about his work on the film. Much like the short, there are hints of a musical, and he confirms that this time around some of his lines are sung, we laugh and joke, and it’s so much fun to get a look at the man behind the actor.
Zoie keeps to herself, focusing her attention on the task before her, as she, like the rest of the actors around her, brings her game in each and every take, whether they are on camera or not. It has to be emotionally trying, as she’s pleading for the life of her child, played by Kayla Di Venere, who is placed in the iron lung, strapped down by Yuri and his henchmen, Kenny(Ken Hall), in each and every take.
Sue and I, with Juli’s guidance wander off set to tour the rest of the sprawling building, which has been featured in tons of Canadian series, including the always popular Murdoch Mysteries, there’s a factory set and bar set created for Patch Town, dank prison cells, a deserted district attorney’s office, almost any location, or set that you could want to find or create could be discovered in this building, it’s brilliant!
It’s things like that which just re-establish my love for the things that go on behind the camera, how things are designed, how space is used, how things are created, and the sheer creative of those involved in bringing these projects to life.
Not wanting to impose on the shoot, we return to the set, as they change set-ups, and get ready to bid our farewell to the imaginative world of Patch Town, Rob, Suresh, and Craig join Sue and I for pictures, a round of handshakes and thanks are given on both sides.
After seeing the short, and being afforded this brief glance into the feature-length version seen over by so many people who are pouring their love and skill into it, I cannot wait to see the finished product.
Watch out for this one, I think you may be delightfully surprised!