“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.
ABOUT THE FILMMAKER
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).
ABOUT THE FILM, THE DEATH (AND LIFE) OF CARL NAARDLINGER
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 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.