Archive for June, 2017

Meet the Makers: The Death (and Life) of Carl Naardlinger

Katherine Schlemmer

Katherine Schlemmer, writer/director, “The Death (and Life) of Carl Naardlinger”

“Meet the Makers” is a series of in-depth interviews to introduce the filmmakers and the films of the Willson Oakville Film Festival. Answers are edited for clarity and space.


KATHERINE (KATE) SCHLEMMER, Writer/Director: Katherine Schlemmer is a writer and director, known for The Death (and Life) of Carl Naardlinger (2016) and Sheltered Life (2008).

Is life a series of random events or is it determined by fate – and can the two intersect? When a mild-mannered IT specialist discovers that a man with the same name as his, is missing and is presumed dead, he goes looking for him only to find the missing man’s identical twin brother.

THE DEATH (AND LIFE) OF CARL NAARDLINGER screens at the Willson Oakville Film Festival, Saturday, June 24th, 9:00PM

THE INTERVIEWER: Cathleen MacDonald
I recently spoke with Kate before her film, The Death (and Life) of Carl Naardlinger will have its Eastern Canadian premiere at the Willson Oakville Film Festival.

CATHLEEN: This film is a comedy, with elements of a mystery based on apparent coincidences, but something bigger could be at work. Help us understand what to expect from this film.

KATE: It’s a comedy that, I would say, is absurdist and a little metaphysical. It asks some of those unanswerable questions we all have – ‘Are we alone in the universe?’ ‘Is there a benevolent force that watches over us that steers us in the right direction?’ I don’t use the word God in the film because I think that word means different things to different people, so I stayed away from that. But there is something of the eternal in the theme – something that’s more than what we can see and touch.

CATHLEEN: The acting is superb. How did you cast this film and work with the actors, and what did the actors bring to their roles?

KATE: I was lucky. I met both leads – Matt (MATT BARAM, who plays Carl Naardlinger) and Grace (GRACE LYNN KUNG, who plays Pam Naardlinger) at 2 different parties and spoke with each of them and within 10 minutes, I knew they were perfect for the roles. They both had a lot of experience; particularly in television. They read the script and found it to be so different from other material they’d read. When they came to set, they came with their characters practically intact. I didn’t have to do much to steer them in the right direction. There’s always a danger with comedy that you can get performances that are ‘too big’ – that can seem too cartoony. But Matt and Grace had an emotionally grounded approach. And because I was casting a married couple, I wanted 2 performers who were opposites in terms of emotional impulses. Matt is very expressive and Grace is more contained and thoughtful. I thought that balance between them would be the perfect contrast for the comedy. I was very lucky. I held auditions to cast the other roles but Matt and Grace – I just knew.

CATHLEEN: You mentioned the story’s uniqueness. What did you draw upon, as a writer, to create this story?

KATE: I’m the kind of person that – something happens to me in my life and it becomes a seed for a story. In this case, my father had passed away and I experienced an incredible number of coincidences. It was baffling but also intriguing, and I wanted to write a character who was going through what I was experiencing – but I wanted to make it a comedy. So, from my own father’s passing, I could write this film.

CATHLEEN: We so often hear how difficult it is to make a film and seldom hear about the positive. What were some of the things, in addition to your good fortune with casting, that came together to make this film possible?

KATE: We were very lucky that Telefilm came on board for funding and I think it was because of the script – again, because it was so unique for a comedy. We were committed to trying to do the film without Telefilm’s support, if necessary, by scraping together what we could. People are making films for next to no money now. It’s incredible. Since cameras have come down in price so much, filmmaking is a more democratic process. When we pitched the film to Telefilm, we already had our 3 lead actors: Matt, Grace, and Mark, (MARK FORWARD, who plays Carl Naardlinger2 and Don Beamerschmiddle). I think that having the actors in place was a huge help, in terms of being able to read and appreciate the script, because those actors are recognizable. You can picture those specific actors in those roles. So, in terms of making films, an important thing to get right is – after getting the script right, is to cast it, so that people understand who these characters are that they’re financing.

CATHLEEN: Let’s talk about what the audience can expect. What can they take away from Carl Naardlinger?

KATE: From what I’ve heard from other audiences who’ve watched the film, they say that the movie is strangely touching. They have an emotional reaction, in addition to enjoying the humor and the visual artistry, they feel emotionally connected to it in some way. They can’t say exactly why. Some people have been moved to tears but they can’t say why. The performances are so heartfelt that I think people come away feeling that they’ve had an enlightened and wonderful time, and that’s a rare thing in films.

CATHLEEN: Can you share any stories about making this film?

KATE: The post production process was such a wonderful thing because that’s where a film really comes alive. For me, it’s a magical part of making films. You see it before your footage has been edited and colour corrected and the sound work has been done, then it goes through those processes and it comes out the other side completely transformed. Carl (CARL LAUDAN, Producer/Editor of The Death (and Life) of Carl Naardlinger and I are partners in the film and in life, so we could work though the editing process at home. Seeing it all come together was a very personal experience.

CATHLEEN: Is there anything more you’d like the audience to know?

KATE: This film is a kind of fairy tale for adults. It’s absurdist comedy but it’s also grounded in real emotions. As well as being about this character, Carl, who experiences strange coincidences, it’s the story of a marriage and how this fantastical event polarizes Pam and Carl. So, although strange things happen, it never feels fake because these characters are struggling with real emotions as they try to deal with events and one other’s different approaches to dealing with those events. So, I think the audience can come out and enjoy a fairy tale for adults.

Interview by Cathleen MacDonald
Cathleen MacDonald is a writer and filmmaker.

Links for this article:

Meet the Makers: Gear

Gear Film

Ant Horasanli, director/co-writer/producer, “Gear”

“Meet the Makers” is a series of in-depth interviews to introduce the filmmakers and the films of the Willson Oakville Film Festival. Answers are edited for clarity and space.


ANT HORASANLI, Director/Co-Writer/Producer: Ant Horasanli is a Toronto-based producer, writer, and director known for Gear (2017), Petrol (2016) and Lost Journey (2010). 

REZA SHOLEH, Co-Writer/Producer: Reza is a writer, producer, and actor and is known for the series Petrol and Gear.

Reza Sholeh

Reza Sholeh, co-writer/producer, “Gear”

When Nate’s car gets stolen, along with a shipment of heroin valued at over $1.5 million, he must convince his boss Roman that there was no foul play. To test Nate’s loyalty, Roman asks Nate to do another job – pick up a girl from Montreal and bring her back to Toronto for execution. Having no choice in the matter, Nate arrives in Montreal only to learn that the girl is Zoe – his late wife’s little sister.

Gear screens at the Willson Oakville Film Festival, Sunday, June 25th, 6:30PM

THE INTERVIEWER: Cathleen MacDonald
I spoke with Ant and Reza following the appearance of their film, Gear, at the Canne Film Festival’s Marche du Film.

CATHLEEN: I understand that the story, Gear, has a history. Tell me about that.

REZA: The original script was written by a British writer, Ray Celestin, and we optioned the script and adapted it to a Toronto–Montreal story. It’s a crime drama that originally took place between London and – I think, Manchester.

CATHLEEN: What changes were necessary to transfer the story from the U.K setting to Canada?

ANT: Changing places was easy. What really differed were the motivations of the characters – and the ending completely changed. The role of Roman, who was originally named Cecile, changed drastically; his character, his motives, and his relationship to Nate. The original story was much more – what we would call, cliché – and we wanted depth and layers to the characters and we wanted to bring out the themes of loyalty and betrayal. The original script was more of a road movie with a Mexican standoff ending. We got rid of all of that.

CATHLEEN: Tell me how you used the crime drama or crime thriller genre and what distinguishes Gear within that genre.

ANT: Within the crime genre there’s a spectrum. Some films are more action driven and others are a slower burn – a complex character study. That’s the direction we went. Some of the films we referenced were Australian films like “Animal Kingdom”. What really separated Gear from other crime dramas was the element of reality. We wanted the characters to be living, breathing human beings We didn’t want the mob boss to be a cigar-smoking, whiskey drinking cartoon character. Instead, he’s this guy who hangs out with his friends; someone you can believe as a regular guy. And pulling out those themes of loyalty and betrayal makes the film less about the plot and more about the themes and the characters.

REZA: To add to that – and it goes back to the script – the authenticity is there in scenes like, at the beginning, where you see these Russian guys hanging out in an old apartment and the mob boss is cooking in the kitchen. That’s closer to reality than any mob boss you see in most films. If you saw Roman in the street, you wouldn’t think he’d be running such an operation. We wanted to bring that to the screen.

CATHLEEN: On the topic of authentic characters, let’s talk about your cast. What were you looking for, how did you find your cast, and what did the actors bring to their characters?

ANT: The character of Nate is played by Toronto actor, Tyler Blake Smith. He’s originally from London and is a bit new to the local scene but he’s been in shows like The Expanse and Dark Matter. We met Tyler on our webseries, Petrol. Tyler is the lead. So, once we knew we were doing this story about Londoners in Toronto, I thought of him right away. Tyler, as Nate, has this sensitivity about him that you can connect to. He has something that made me feel that the audience could buy his motives and buy his situation.

REZA: You can see his soul through his eyes. You can see his innocence. There are many actors who play the bad guy and they try to go all the way and portray a full-out criminal with no other life. Tyler portrayed the bad guy as someone very human.

ANT: Yeah. And the fact that he’s an original Londoner with a natural accent made it all perfect.

CATHLEEN: Tell me about Nicola Posener and her role as Zoe. She’s a complex character who turns out to be much more than meets the eye.

ANT: Nicola is an interesting one. The character of Zoe was the most difficult to cast. We auditioned 150 women in Toronto – and I remember that number, 150 – and we just could not find our Zoe. Nobody had that mix of crazy and unstable and fun and witty and quirky. Then we found Nicola in the U.K. and when we saw her video audition, we knew right away, “Yeah, she’s the girl.” We flew her in for 2 weeks to shoot Gear. She’d never played a dark character like this. So, that’s what drew her to the project. She’d always played these ‘Anne of Green Gables’ characters. It was a real change for her to play this heroine junky sociopath. When we were filming, she could flip from being this fun girl to having deeper motivations. She’s a natural.

REZA: That’s true. Her understanding of the character made Zoe come to life. We originally thought that casting Zoe would be the easiest because there are so many actresses in that age range.

CATHLEEN: You mentioned how Roman, the crime boss character, sets this film apart. Tell me about Gregory Hlady and what he brought to the role of Roman.

ANT: Gregory was fantastic. He’s known as an eastern European actor and he’s been in “Sum of All Fears”, “X-Men: Days of Future Past”, and a lot of TV shows.

REZA: And he’s a great theatre actor.

ANT: Yeah. When it came to filming his scenes, you could just tell – he made everyone work to their A-level game. It was fantastic to work with him. He made that character, Roman, more interesting – more alive.

CATHLEEN: This next question is for Ant. You wore many hats on this film. You were the co-writer, director, and producer. What informs your work?

ANT: It’s what I’m used to. On my 1st film, “Lost Journey” I did the same thing: producing, writing, and directing. It feels natural because you’re writing material that you’re going to direct and produce. It’s more cohesive. It’s not like the writer wrote one thing, the director shot something else, and the producer is trying to make sense of it all.

CATHLEEN: Your turn, Reza. How does your background and experience inform your work on Gear?

REZA: I come from an acting background. Then I started writing and producing with Ant on this and other projects. From a production standpoint, feasibility and practically is the priority. In terms of the artistic, my acting background has always helped me – whether it’s writing or problem solving on set, or helping an actor bring a character to life.

CATHLEEN: When people see Gear what can they take away from it?

ANT:I think the audience can bring their own interpretation to Gear because it’s about human nature and what motivates people. The crime boss, for example – at the end, was he really the bad guy or was he the only guy who was honest. He’s a criminal, yes, but he’s the only one who didn’t betray anybody. Everybody betrayed him. Nate seems to be the good guy but really, he wasn’t being truthful. And Zoe, who you think is truthful – well, I won’t give it away.

REZA: The film gives the audience something to ponder at the end.

ANT Yeah. Without giving too much away – that last shot of Roman watching Zoe, makes you wonder what he’s thinking. The audience can interpret it for themselves.

REZA: And that’s the beauty of it. It’s for you to decide what’s right and what’s wrong and who won at the end.

Interview by Cathleen MacDonald
Cathleen MacDonald is a writer and filmmaker.

Links for this article:

Meet the Makers: The Meaning of Life

the meaning of life film

Cat Hostick (right) director/writer/producer, “The Meaning of Life”

“Meet the Makers” is a series of in-depth interviews to meet the filmmakers and the films of the Willson Oakville Film Festival. Answers are edited for clarity and space.


CAT HOSTICK, Director/Writer/Producer: Cat is a director-producer-writer, is co-owner of North Film Co., and is an actor (“Orphan Black”, “Suits”, “Heroes Reborn”, “Reign”, and “American Gothic”).

RUSS De JONG, Executive Producer/Director of Photography/Editor: Russ is a director of photography, steadicam operator, and is co-owner of North Film Co.

Russ De Jong, executive producer/director of photography, “The Meaning of Life”


A talented but starving young musician, FINN FABER (Tyler Shaw), has 6 months to make his music career take off or he will be forced to go to law school at the will of his father. When he gets a job as a therapeutic clown entertaining sick kids at a hospital, he is assigned to a 9-year old leukaemia patient, SOPHIA HILL (Sadie Munroe), whose own struggles help Finn learn that dreams never die.

The Meaning of Life screens at the Willson Oakville Film Festival, Saturday, June 24th, 8:00PM

THE INTERVIEWER: Cathleen MacDonald

I caught up with Cat and Russ just before they were to leave for Los Angeles to attend the world premiere of their film, The Meaning of Life.

CATHLEEN: Let’s start by talking about the inspiration for your film, The Meaning of Life. What drew you to this story?

CAT: A lot of things but one thing is the idea of art and music as therapy. I grew up as an artist and I was a working artist for years – as a painter, before I started making movies. I always felt it was so therapeutic. Before, when I was struggling with an autoimmune disease, I found that working with art and film helped pull me out of it compared to other medications. I realised it was really mental stuff that was causing the autoimmune disease or was bringing on the symptoms. I think that art and music are so therapeutic and I’d like to see more funding for it in the healthcare system.

RUSS: We wanted to create a positive story and The Meaning of Life has the emotional aspects.

CATHLEEN: Let’s get to one of my favourite questions. Who did you make this film for?

CAT: Honestly, I didn’t make it for anyone specific. It’s a story that came to me. I believe that you should never make art for someone. I find that your audience will find you. This movie is relatable for a lot of people. There are a lot of people who’ve struggled with cancer; there are a lot of people who have kids, who love the arts and music and have changed their lives with it.

RUSS: And it’s for anybody who’s looking for inspiration or help in finding some alternatives to health or other problems or emotional challenges in their lives.

CAT: And it’s about ‘the meaning of life’. A lot of people wonder what that is. This is a story that interprets that. The character finds their own meaning of life through the story.

CATHLEEN: Let’s talk about those emotions. What are the themes and emotions in this film?

RUSS: It has a lot of moments of inspiration and moments about challenges that people can experience in their lives – to use art as a catalyst to work with, to deal with, to learn and to build from, your problems in life.

CAT:It’s a movie that emotionally stays with you. I think that for many people it’s hard not to shed a tear.

RUSS: It’s funny too, though. We watched it ourselves and there are moments that still crack me up; and that was a surprise because we didn’t set out to make a comedy. It really is truly a drama with some sad and emotional moments but there are definitely some comedic moments.

CAT: Yeah. I find that the best movies are the ones where I’m still feeling it and thinking about it days later. I’ll remember how a movie made me feel sometimes long after I’ve forgotten what it was about. So, in my work, I want to make sure I hit home like that in terms of emotions. That’s what I’m trying to do as a director and as a writer – trying to pull the emotions out and let the audience empathise with these characters.

CATHLEEN: Let’s talk about the young protagonist, Finn, (played by Juno nominated recording artist Tyler Shaw). Help us understand why he’s stuck in his life. What’s holding him back and why does he need Sophia?

CAT: Finn has parents who love him; they want the best for him and I think it’s how it is for a lot of people in the arts. It’s a tough shot to make it. He wants to be a musician and his father wants something else for him – law school – and that creates conflicts. But Finn learns to see the bigger picture in music than just the possibility of fame. It’s like why I make movies. I don’t want to make movies just to make movies. I can use movies to teach new things. I want to help people and this is a medium where you can to do that. Finn is similar. He’s stuck in life because he doesn’t know enough. When he encounters Sophia, he learns what life is really about and even what being a musician is about. You don’t need a million people to make your music matter. A song can change one person’s day. Finn learns that, through his music, he can help Sophia.

CATHLEEN: Tyler Shaw, as Finn, appears in his first role as an actor. He did an amazing job. Tell me about working with Tyler as a first-time actor.

RUSS: Yeah. This was his acting debut.

CAT: He’d done music videos and appeared on shows but yeah, this was his first gig as an actor. You know what? Tyler is a natural. When we auditioned him, it was over Skype because he was so busy touring and we had to go to camera in a few days. I was asking a musician to play a musician because I wanted it to be real – not an actor playing a musician. He was perfect for the role. And the music, obviously, was amazing. We’d be blocking (planning) a scene and there would be a song in that scene. So, while we were blocking, he’d go away, write a song and then came back with it, and the song would fit perfectly in the scene like he’d worked on it forever but in actual fact, he’d made it, just like that.

RUSS: Yeah, he really had raw talent from the get-go. And from a production standpoint, we had only 10 days to shoot this film. With such a short timeline, it’s one thing to work with actors who are seasoned and can nail a scene, so that production can move efficiently, but inexperienced actors don’t always get it right away. So, you have to work with them to pull out what you need and it’s a major concern, and risk, when we were on such a tight timeline. I’d worked with Tyler on music videos and I saw something there that suggested a natural talent but he was still inexperienced, so we couldn’t be certain about getting our movie shot in only 10 days. But Tyler nailed it.

CATHLEEN: This film features another talented young actor, Sadie Munroe, playing the challenging role of a child who’s battling cancer. Tell me about how you worked with her.

CAT: We looked at many kids for this role and I wasn’t really drawn to anyone and I thought, “I’m not going to find Sophia”. Then I watched Sadie’s audition tape and she was crying – there was one emotional part where she’s crying and I started crying and I thought, ‘Ok, if you can get me in an audition tape like that,’ then she was the one, for sure. She had a personal experience that she could draw upon; someone she knew who had been going through cancer treatment. So, I think she could empathise with that, even at her age. And she’s a professional actor. She has a reoccurring role on “Working Moms” (CBC).

RUSS: Sadie wasn’t necessarily what we were looking for originally, in terms of a ‘look’. We had already cast the parents, so we were looking for a child to match them. But Sadie is a redhead and just has different looks, overall. Because she was such a strong performer for the role of Sophia, we had to backtrack and recast the parents so they would look like they’re related.

CATHLEEN: Cat and Russ, you both bring so much to the film. Cat, what informs your work as a writer-director? What do you draw upon?

CAT: My goal as a writer is to put something on the screen that teaches my audience something, or that’s maybe controversial, or we haven’t had enough of a dialogue about. This movie is about how to heal your own emotions, first – confronting your mental and emotional health – not just the physical. I also come from an acting background so a lot of my work is dramatic – emotional. I’m always thinking, ‘How does the movie make the audience feel?’

CATHLEEN: Russ, you were the Director of Photography. How did you use the camera to tell this story?

RUSS: We did many things that you wouldn’t normally see in a movie shot with our budget and short schedule. We wanted the movie to have some ‘wow factor’; to have – just from a camera standpoint, a bigger look with long, steady moving shots. The movie starts off with that vast, continuous shot starting 30 feet in the air, then comes down and follows Finn into the house and through the rooms – all in one shot. This relates to the movie because it was important to have moments, without cutting up the shots, so we could get into the scene emotionally – to just let the actors draw us in. So, we have longer moments in the hospital where we let the actors build up their conversations continuously, without cutting back and forth. It feels more real, like you – the audience, are part of the story. From a lighting standpoint, the lighting follows the mood – lighter or darker. Again, keeping it natural but also giving it a more polished look with camera moves that many films on our budget, aren’t as capable of creating as we are.

CATHLEEN: You mentioned how the audience is a part of this film. What do you want the audience to take away from The Meaning of Life?

CAT: I want to provoke a conversation. I think a lot of us don’t know what the meaning of life is; that it’s often an unanswered question. So, I want everyone to watch the film, take away Finn’s meaning in the story but also think about, and assign, their own meanings to their own lives. Along with that – the music and art therapy – confronting the emotional along with the physical. I want a conversation to start around that.

RUSS: I want people to take away the importance of the emotional and mental elements when it comes to healing. I hope people can be inspired to make a difference in their own lives.

CATHLEEN: When the audience sees the film, they’ll see in the end credits a big shout-out to the town of Oakville. Tell me how Oakville had such a key role in getting this film made.

CAT: Well, we love Oakville.

RUSS: Yeah, we live here.

CAT: We wanted to shoot here a-hundred thousand percent. We know Jeff Knoll, who is a councillor for Oakville and the owner of, and Jeff was a huge contributing factor to The Meaning of Life. He helped us get everything in place. Many people here in Oakville were so welcoming and helpful when we needed locations and anything.

RUSS: As a producer, Oakville was the first choice. From a logistical point of view, we live here, our office is here, all our resources are here. It made sense. Oakville has amazing parks; amazing locations, amazing resources. When we first started looking, we found some things but the ball really didn’t start rolling on this movie until we met with Jeff Knoll and he helped us find some key locations. There are a lot of people who helped bring this movie together but we couldn’t have done this without support from the Town of Oakville and especially the help from Jeff. We had as many as 4 location moves in one day. You can’t even park in Toronto in that time. But here in Oakville, people stepped up and helped us at every turn.

CATHLEEN: Finally, can you share something that you think people should know about The Meaning of Life that we haven’t already covered.

CAT: Yes, this might be something that people in Oakville will be interested in and that’s the fact the we shot in the old Oakville Trafalgar Memorial Hospital; the one that just shut down. When we were shooting there, so many people said to us, “Oh, I used to take my son there when he was sick,” and other stories like that. It touched so many people. It was abandoned at the time and we were walking through it and saw a tree sticker on the wall. The painting of ‘the tree of life’ is one of the symbols for our movie, so it was synchronistic.

RUSS: For me, there are a number of things that I want people to know. This is Cat’s first feature film and I think she did a great job. And the fact is – it’s hard to create art but it’s especially hard to create it under the restraints we had – the time and the budget. When people watch this movie, they won’t realize how much went into it or how quickly it was pulled together.

Interview by Cathleen MacDonald

Cathleen MacDonald is a writer and filmmaker.

Links for this article: