Film Production Grads Take on VIFF

By VFS Web Team, on September 27, 2016

Arun Fryer (Producer) and Alex Lasheras (Writer/Director) are gearing up for an exciting ride at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF). Their feature film, Cadence, is part of #mustseeBC – an incredible initiative from TELUS Optik Local that invites audiences to experience and promote BC filmmakers by voting for their favourite projects. And you can’t get any more BC than Cadence. This homegrown idea started with Alex – a Langley native who set and shot the entire film on his parents’ farm, turning the beautiful property into a major character (think The Shining). This choice was creative and practical, saving the production a lot of money in their overall budget. It also brought the whole cast and crew, made up of entirely local talent, closer together.

We don’t know what’s in store for audiences in this psychological thriller, but our interview with Film Production grads Arun and Alex has us very excited to find out. Keep reading for more about Cadence and how they turned an idea into a film screening at VIFF.

Your film Cadence is premiering at VIFF this year – congrats! What is Cadence about? What inspired the idea?

Arun: Thank you! Cadence is a psychological horror about a girl who is unable to distinguish between her dreams and reality, terrorized on her family farm after the arrival of her popstar boyfriend and his drunken mates. I think the audience will be surprised at the twists we have in store.

Alex: I’ve always appreciated watching a psychological thriller with a good twist, and in this case I came up with the twist before any other parts of the story came to mind. I grew up in Langley, BC surrounded by forest so the idea of a home invasion seemed like a scary thought. Cadence deals with ideas of celebrity worship, trauma, and identity. There’s a lot packed into this film.

What did it take to make this film? What was the most challenging part? What was the best thing about it?

Arun: What made Cadence possible was the incredible talent we worked with, both in front of and behind the camera. This was a true passion project for everyone involved, and I think the results show onscreen. What we lacked in funding, we made up for in dedication, a genuine team effort, and a smart script which took into account what was achievable with our limited resources. Part of Alex’s brilliance was writing a story he knew he could film in his home and farm. Indie productions often struggle finding locations, so being given free reign over his entire property was a huge help. His farm and house became characters within the film, inspired in part by the hotel in Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’. The Lasheras family deserves special thanks for letting us shoot there and turning their lives upside down for nearly a month of filming.

The most challenging part was finding budget. Our crew, who was largely voluntary or paid very little, were on set every day because they loved the craft of filmmaking and working together to tell an original story. Even all of our catering was cooked on set which raised some obvious problems when we had to shoot in the kitchen.  

Another major challenge was matching the feature production to the twenty minutes we had already produced a year earlier, which we released in order to help with our crowdfunding campaign. We weren’t sure if the actors would be able to come back, and would they even look the same? The logistics, planning and script-rewriting were a constant source of uncertainty. I’m still surprised we even pulled it off.

The best part of making the film was watching the entire cast and crew come together to make it all happen. Since we shot everything in Alex’s house and farm, the camaraderie on set felt like a true family. I was also the Assistant Director, and this was by far the most collaborative team I’ve ever worked with. And I’m convinced this is because of the relatively large number of females who worked on the production, which created a gentler, lighter energy on set, compared to a lot of male-dominated crews and sets. I think the entire industry would benefit from gender balanced crews.

What does it mean for your film, and for your team, to be part of VIFF?

We couldn’t be happier to have a hometown premiere at VIFF, especially at the iconic Rio Theatre, truly a dream come true. We’ve been attending the festival for years, so it’s surreal to see Cadence listed amongst the other films. VIFF has been incredibly supportive of the film, and to debut in front of family and friends is such a wonderful reward for all of us. Their help and support over the years made this all possible, so it’s extra special to have them as our audience for the very first screening. They've seen bits and pieces during the last three years, I hope they like finished film!

Any films you’re looking forward to seeing at the festival? If yes, what are they?

Arun: I am a huge documentary fan, so Hot Docs winner ‘Koneline’, also from BC, is at the top of my list. ‘Operation Avalanche’ is another one I can’t wait for. I’ve been following this Canadian production for a while. I hope the film matches the hype. ‘We Are the Flesh’, for sure. Any film that is endorsed by Cuarón and Iñárritu has to be seen, no questions asked.

Alex: Closing night at the IMAX with Terrence Malick’s new film, Voyage of Time, Graduation (Cristian Mungiu), and Personal Shopper (Olivier Assayas). Also, I’m really looking forward to seeing all of the films in the BC spotlight section because I’m so familiar with them now!

Arun, what are the top 5 things you need to produce an independent feature film and why?

 A strong network -- No film is ever made alone. Filmmaking is all about collaboration, and you need to have a wide web of people and talent to call upon. Luckily Vancouver has an amazing pool of artists and creators and is one of the best places in the world for filmmakers.

Passion -- You need to love the film and everything about it. This fire will help when facing clogged toilets on set, unexpected weather and endless amounts of paperwork. Despite the glitz and glamour associated with it, filmmaking is rarely glamorous. Most of the time it’s a lot of blood, sweat, and tears, so you better love it.

Communication – Producing an independently financed feature film involves years of overseeing different departments and skillsets, so clear and consistent communication is absolutely critical to making sure everyone is on the same page and serving the director’s vision. There are a number of (free) tools readily available to help, like Google Drive, Doodle, and Trello. Get to know them and take advantage of them early on.

Creativity – Especially in problem solving, both on set and off. Most of the time as independent producers the budget is one-tenth of what we need, but that only means we have to think differently when it comes to the resources at hand, and I’m not just referring to finances. Problems will always exist. It’s finding the solutions that counts. And don’t be afraid to ask questions if you don’t know the answer!

Understanding – Knowing how a film is made, from script to screen. This includes using a C-stand, set-dressing for the frame, writing call sheets, etc. You’re in charge of the entire process, so a good grasp of filmmaking fundamentals is crucial to any successful indie producer since you wear so many hats along the way.

Alex, what are the top 5 things you need to write/direct an independent feature film and why?

INSPIRATION Audiences want to see and feel something authentic on screen, give them a good story and you will be rewarded. Read books, the news, travel, and get inspired. Interview somebody. Get in the habit of writing your ideas down. All you need to start is the seed of an idea, and that can come to you at any time.

THE SCRIPT You’re going to need a script so people understand you’re actually making this movie, and that there’s a good story to tell. The script will decide whether or not people will want to work on your film, act in it, fund it, and it’s the blueprint that details the demands of the production. If you haven’t done so already, read movie scripts of the films you love. It is the easiest and most interesting way to learn script language.  

RESOURCEFULNESS - You have to find innovative ways to fuse your available resources with the story you’re telling. My parents have a farm in Langley, so I wrote a story that took place all in this one location. That greatly reduced location costs as well as the time it would have taken to relocate the crew to a new location.

You have to be resourceful with time. Filmmaking is very much about what you can afford to do in the moment you’re shooting. The more time you have the more chances you have at shooting movie magic.  

YOUR TEAM If you can, work with people you get along with and who are better at their job than you are -- experienced and collaborative.

As for the cast, make sure they’re believable. The biggest mistake is casting because someone looks the part.

If people are volunteering their time on your set, or getting paid one third their regular wage because they felt like helping out a couple days on your set, make sure they’re getting fed well -- nutritious, delicious, and hearty meals.

MONEY Even the lowest of low budget indies will need to have a budget. There will inevitably be expenses no matter how resourceful you are. Shop your script around to people, apply for grants, and fundraise. Set your budget and learn how to make it last by pooling those resources.

What do you hope audiences will take away from Cadence?

Cadence is a story with twists and turns, and we hope our audience enjoys the original narrative we tried to tell. We don’t want to give anything away, but we included details and elements that may be missed during the first viewing. We’re curious to see the reactions at the premiere!

The other major takeaway from Cadence is the acting. Our cast is terrific. All of the actors are based in Vancouver, with a mix of established and up-and-coming talent who gave outstanding performances. Maxine Chadburn is excellent in a challenging lead role. She created a strong believable character who expresses the character’s trauma with raw emotion. It was impressive to watch her work on set.

How did your training at VFS help you to realize this film and other projects?

Arun: Before starting VFS I had never picked up a camera before, so my learning curve was steep. Luckily my instructors were superb and gave me a deep understanding of how films are crafted and built from the ground up, and in my first class I learned the most important lesson, which was collaboration. Filmmaking is arguably the most collaborative of all the arts. With so many different moving parts coming together, everyone strives to serve the same vision in their own unique way. If you don’t know how to work well with others, you won’t make it far in this business.

Alex: The film program at VFS was an intense experience. From morning till night your head was crammed with practical filmmaking knowledge. This included on set experience and script development workshops, which allowed you to get a taste of everything. The most impactful lesson of that school was and still is teamwork. How well you structure your set and how well you work with others will ultimately decide the fate of your film. Teamwork is everything on set.

Define your education at VFS in three words.

Arun: Engaging. Inspiring. Fun.

Alex: Intense. Teamwork. Coffee.

What’s next?

Arun: I have a horror feature script called ‘The Drive In’, which I’ve written with an artist from New York, Jared Vaughn Davis. We are currently exploring development financing. I’m also in pre-production on a feature documentary with local filmmaker Gregory Brown, another VFS alumnus. In addition, I have started a coffee & yoga series at javayoga.ca with local teacher Niki Inglis. Plus, I’m helping my partner Ana Carrizales (also a VFS grad) launch 'The Panties Project' -- an interactive multi-platform installation for women to share real stories from around the world. It’s a busy time, but I wouldn’t have it any other way, and it never seems like work when you’re following bliss.

Alex: I’m developing a found footage horror idea that deals with drugs and mutation. I’d also love to try turning the camera on myself and act in a movie, maybe cast my grandma. She said she would as long as it’s a comedy.

Anything else you’d like to say?

Cadence is part of VIFF’s #MustSeeBC competition where people can vote for the BC film they most want to see at the film festival between now and Sept. 29.  The winner receives a 3rd screening of their film and 100 free tickets to give away. Please vote for us at http://mustseebc.viff.org/project/show/id/90. I’m sure if we win we can share some with VFS students and alumni :)

Thanks! See you at the premiere!

Thanks, Arun and Alex! We can’t wait to see it!