It certainly takes a dedicated team to put together a feature-length film, as the cast and crew behind the locally-produced project Year After Year can attest.
The Matchbox Theatre Foundation and Ozmosis Entertainment in association with Ignition Theatre premiered the film on Oct. 27 in Red Deer, and it’s currently in the middle of a run at Carnival Cinemas.
Seven actors are featured in the project, which was adapted from the 2010 stage musical of the same name (book by Matt Grue).
Directed by Dustin Clark, who also co-wrote the screenplay and co-produced along with Grue, the story focuses on the years of seven friends in their late 20s as they attempt to ‘navigate the waters of hollow careers, lost ambition, forgotten dreams and the relationships that matter most’.
The movie opens with the group gathering to celebrate Bill’s 28th birthday. Things are pleasant at first, but cracks appear – in a marriage, relationships and personal lives. And so begins an exploration of what it means to find oneself in the years of the late 20s in a world of competition, pressure to succeed and the inevitable drive to compare ourselves with others.
Interviewing the cast together, it’s clear from the get-go how much they click as a group. They say Year After Year has been a joy to be involved in, and their enthusiasm for the project is palpable.
Grue said he and Clark knew from the very start they wanted Joel Crichton, who played Bill in 2010’s staged production, in the picture.
“I thought it was crazy when I heard they were going to do a film because it’s such a huge undertaking,” laughs Crichton. But there wasn’t a creative team he trusted more, he said. “I don’t know if there’s anyone else who I would have put that much faith in other than Dustin and Matt.
“Personally, as an actor, it was really great to revisit the story and the character after a couple of years, having more experience, understanding it more and seeing how the script and the story had developed. I was really rewarded in that way.”
Auditions rolled on rather seamlessly, as each actor was extremely interested in signing on. Sarah Hemphill plays Kate, who has a significant and very up and down relationship with Bill. And rounding out the cast are Chris W. Cook, Matthew Thiel, Elena Porter, Andrew McKenzie and Zina Lee.
As to transforming a stage show into a film, there are of course a number of challenges for anyone who may be more familiar with ‘hitting the boards’.
“Theatre is so over the top, larger than life – generally speaking – you have to make it readable for an audience. Film is so much more subtle,” said Hemphill. “The camera is right there – it’s reading everything you are doing. But then you put the word ‘musical’ into it, and most people think of them as larger than life – so finding that balance for this film and for myself was key, because I’ve been a theatre actor.
“I also think the great part about this script is that it was so very real with everyday life-like situations, and so were the music and lyrics in the songs. We were able to make it believable because it was like ‘real life’.”
Another primary challenge of film is that scenes are usually shot out of sequence, as compared of course to theatre where the play unfolds in ‘natural’ sequence.
“You know the arc of the character, so when it’s out of sequence you are entering specific points of the arc,” explains Cook. “We knew the scenes and the journeys these characters were going on, so it’s about finding those moments in the arc. It was really liberating.”
Porter said the filming process was a bit on the terrifying side, as she comes from an extensive theatre background as well. “For me, a play is so clear because I know where I have to be, what I have to do. And when I’ve done a scene, I know where to go next.
“For film, doing these scenes, I was petrified because I had too much going on in my head.” Simplifying the process came through slowing down, focusing on the moment and paying attention to the people, she noted. “Like an actor should.”
As to the themes of the film, cast members say there is much that is universal and relatable to audiences. “Things change in your life, and it’s about dealing with it, how you are going to accept those changes and move forward,” says Cook. “I think I can identify with every character in this film. Everyone in the film approaches their challenges differently.”
Hemphill agrees. “Much like the others, I identified with my character. I felt a huge connection when I read the script. For me, it’s about allowing people to see the things that mean the most to us, and that we should go after them. Go after your dreams and chase your dreams. But don’t let other things pass you by.”
Ultimately, the cast is certain about Grue’s passion for the project which in turn was a source of inspiration for them, too. “He’s got a really strong and unique voice because of the way he understands and interacts with the world,” says Crichton. “And he’s got a great heart.”
Check out www.yearafteryearmusical.com.