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Meet Kate Melville: First-Time Director Makes Debut at TIFF With 'Picture Day'

Sep 7, 2012 at 3:31 PM Chime in now

Toronto filmmaker Kate Melville has been shaping this story for most of her life. As a teenager, she wrote a charming version of this story as a play. Over the years, and between numerous credits writing for theatre and television, Picture Day evolved into the stellar film currently making its debut at Toronto's prestigious international film festival.

Although she has been swept into the beautifully hectic business of promoting her first feature film, Kate took some time to answer a few questions for iVillage Canada.

Your directorial debut premieres this Friday at TIFF. How are you feeling?
It's exhilarating and at times a bit overwhelming. We shot PICTURE DAY last October, a low-budget shoot on location across downtown Toronto. On set, we ate a lot of meals in church basements, and at TIFF, a lot of the parties involve chandeliers.

What have been some surprises about having your film accepted into the fest?
I've been going to TIFF as a movie-lover since high school, but it's a very different experience as a director - you really get a sense of how huge the festival is, and how many people come from all over the world. It may be in my home town, but it's definitely an international festival.

You developed this script from a play you wrote when you were 16 - what are some key ways this story has evolved over the years?
I think as I get older, I'm able to see past Claire's bravado in ways I couldn't when I was younger. She can be quite thoughtless and obnoxious, and I think that's part of growing up, not seeing how your actions affect other people. I also have more compassion for the parents. When you're a teenager, you're separating from your parents, pulling away to become your own person. It's only when you get older that you realize how much they influence who you are, and how you navigate through the world. So I tried to write both Henry and Claire's mothers in a way that the audience could see their influence, even if their children don't.

Do you think every writer has a story they need to get out of their system?
Hopefully more than one! I've taken 20 years to write this one, so I'm hoping to step it up a bit for the next. I do think there are themes that recur with every writer, and they pop up in every script, but it's often unconscious.

High school is interesting to me because everyone goes through it. It's a time of change and high stakes and first experiences, but then it all seems a bit funny and ridiculous in hindsight. Everyone has their embarrassing photo from picture day, and what makes it embarrassing is how awesome you thought your outfit was. I love hearing people's 'losing their virginity' stories, or 'terrible first boyfriend' stories, because the ability to look back and laugh is what makes it bearable and connects us all.

You’ve written for theatre and television - what has storytelling for movies taught you?
It's my first time directing, and it's been amazing to see a script all the way through production, and post-production. I loved using my creative instincts all the way through the process, and tried to be guided by the story above everything else.

A script is a blueprint for a film, it's such a visual medium that the words are always competing with sets, locations, sound, music. etc. I really enjoyed collaborating with so many remarkable artists on PICTURE DAY, especially after the solitary task of writing!  That said, I'm looking forward to some quiet writing time once the festival is over.

We loved Picture Day, and we’re so impressed with the performances of your cast. How did you find such great actors?
I cast Tatiana Maslany (Claire), Spencer Van Wyck (Henry) and Steven McCarthy (Jim) in 2010, and we went out with a tiny crew and shot sample scenes from the film to get financing.  So it was an actor-driven project from the start. Mark DeBonis is a stand-up comic, I'd seen his comedy and thought he was hilarious, and I knew his humour would be a great counterpoint to the other cast members.

Susan Coyne is a renowned theatre actress, and a creator of Slings and Arrows. I've been watching her on stage in Toronto for years, and so I put in a special request and she kindly accepted.  I knew she could make Ruth's worry and overprotectiveness funny, and she chose John Jarvis to play her husband Edward - they've acted at [Toronto theatre company] Soulpepper together and together they were just perfect as Henry's parents.  

At this point, we'd like to ask a question on behalf of aspiring filmmakers. What are three things you wish you’d known before you embarked on this feature?
1. Go to bed early.  Filmmaking is a long haul: you can start again tomorrow.
2. Actors are important - so cast well, and ask them for their input.
3. Take all the time you need in post-production.   

Who will you be wearing for the premiere?
As a writer, my wardrobe is 60% pajamas. So I reached out to my lovely friends, and did a kind of crowd-sourced dress hunt.  I hosted a "Kate's Clothing Crisis" party at my place last week - my friends came over with their nicest frocks and we drank several bottles of wine and laughed a lot as I tried them all on. In the end, I had 20 new dresses -- I just have to give them all back in a couple weeks. If people ask me who I'm wearing, I'm going to credit the designer, and the friend who loaned it to me!

About Picture Day:
Forced to repeat her senior year of high school, Claire’s (Maslany) reputation is sliding from bad-ass to bad joke. Armed with an acid tongue and shielded by ever-present headphones, Claire locks onto the only student clueless to her sordid rep: Henry (Van Wyck), a nerdy freshman she used to babysit. At night, Claire escapes to raucous concerts where she catches the eye of 33-year–old Jim (McCarthy, frontman of The ElastoCitizens), a would–be rock star who feeds on young fans’ adoration. Jim leads her into an intoxicating world of hard-partying musicians, while at school, Claire takes Henry under her wing. She reinvents her dorky friend as the mysterious rebel, throwing Henry’s life into hilarious turmoil. As Claire dances across the surface of these relationships, she eventually learns hard lessons about the difference between sex, intimacy, and friendship.

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