“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 FILMMAKERS
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.
ABOUT THE FILM, 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.