Atlantic Filmmaker Focus: Deanne Foley


Newfoundland director Deanne Foley

The Atlantic Film Festival is a champion of Atlantic Canadian filmmakers. In keeping with this promise, every month we profile some of the most incredibly talented people in the filmmaking industry today. This month, we look at Newfoundland director Deanne Foley.

Deanne's most recent project Relative Happiness, a film adapted from the novel written by Lesley Crewe, screened to two sold out theaters at the 2014 Atlantic Film Festival. 

We recently had the opportunity to connect with Deanne as she prepares for the upcoming, theatrical release of Relative Happiness (March 20th, Cineplex Cinemas Park Lane, Halifax, Nova Scotia).

Deanne Foley

Birthday:  November 5th (child of the ‘70s).

Where are you from? St. John’s – East End, Newfoundland & Labrador

Where do you currently reside? St. John’s (now residing in the West End), Newfoundland & Labrador

What are you currently working on? I’m developing a couple of feature film scripts and TV projects.  
 

FOLEY ON FILMMAKING

What got you first interested in film?  I have been interested in storytelling from a young age. I loved reading, being around people who told stories, especially funny ones. I grew up on dark wit, homemade bread and CBC TV. That pretty much sums up my childhood. I have a strong memory of seeing E.T. at the mall with my mom and being stuck in the bathroom for a really long time (maybe 10 minutes, who knows?) as my mom tried to console me. I was an emotional wreck. That movie really touched me. I developed a strong love for sitting in a dark theater watching movies, getting lost in another world and escaping from my own reality. Some people go to church; I like to go to the movies.

When did you first decide that filmmaking would be a career for you?  When I started university at Memorial University in Newfoundland and enrolled in the English Theatre Stream programme, I thought my career would be in theatre direction. But I ended up being an extra on Mike Jones’ Secret Nation and then I was hooked. The idea that a feature film that had been written, directed and produced by a group of Newfoundlanders in my hometown was really inspiring to me. 

What, in your opinion, makes a good film?  There is an element of subjectivity with any film, but I believe a good film is one that is emotionally engaging and takes the viewer on a journey. This can only be achieved by strong performances and a good story. The visuals are important but come second, in my opinion. Even the most masterful shot cannot mask poor performance. I’m a big fan of Thomas Vinterberg’s films such as Celebration or The Hunt.

Is there anyone you would really like to work with, that you haven’t yet?  The entire cast of The Muppets

What advice would you give to an aspiring filmmaker?  Don’t wait for someone’s permission to make a film. Find your community and go do it.
 

ABOUT RELATIVE HAPPINESS

When did you first encounter Lesley Crewe’s eponymous novel on which Relative Happiness is based? To be honest, I read the script before I read the novel.  And I just really connected to the main character, Lexie Ivy. She felt like someone I knew. Flawed yet lovable.   

What are some of the challenges of turning a novel into a film?  Well, the heavy lifting had already been done once I signed onto the project as Lesley Crewe, the author, had already adapted the novel into script form. The novel takes place over many years and there are more complex storylines. All to say, the film is very different from the book. We wanted this film to be a feel-good romantic comedy about a young woman’s journey towards understanding and accepting the complexity of love. It’s about having the courage to opening yourself up to the possibility of love, and to stop idealizing it. I feel that the film maintains the tone and spirit of the characters.

What was the casting process for Relative Happiness like? At what point of the process did you choose Australian actress Melissa Bergland in the role of Lexie?  When I was approached to direct Relative Happiness, I knew casting the role of Lexie would determine the success of the film. Most successful romantic comedies in Canadian cinemas have recognizable US talent, and so I knew it was crucial to find an actress who could break through. She needed to have both strong comedic and dramatic skills; to be striking and plus-sized.  While there are many talented female actresses in Canada, we didn’t find her. So we hired US Casting Director, Nancy Klopper (Ray, Devil’s Advocate, Risky Business) to help us.  She was amazing to work with. However, she was in LA and I was in Newfoundland. Our budget didn’t allow for me to attend casting sessions in LA so I watched self-tapes. As luck would have it, Melissa Bergland landed in LA from Australia to look for a manager. The same week she signed with Untitled Management, she landed her first audition - for Relative Happiness. And when I saw her audition, I just knew she was the one. I don’t know how else to say this but Melissa has a “star quality”. She’s a gifted actress who’s easily embraceable.

How important was it to include ‘Newfoundlanders’ and ‘Bluenosers’ in your cast & crew, and to film in Atlantic Canada?  It was extremely important to film, Relative Happiness, in Nova Scotia. I wanted to shoot the film in Cape Breton because that’s where the novel is set, but our modest budget wouldn’t allow for that. So we shot for 16 days in beautiful Hubbards and Halifax instead.  I couldn’t imagine making this film anywhere else, really.

I was fortunate to have the best cast & crew.  Working with NS Casting Director, Sheila Lane, we rounded out the cast with amazing Nova Scotian talent: Molly Dunsworth, Jennifer Kydd, Geneviève Steele, Jonathan Torrens, Robb Wells, Brian MacQuarrie, David Christoffel, Michael McPhee, Krista MacDonald, Gharret Paon, and Christina Appleby along with Newfoundland actors: Susan Kent, Joel Thomas Hynes and Mary Lewis. I can’t say enough about this devoted cast. Did I mention we only had 16 days to shoot the movie? The scale of the story and the reality of our budget made it very challenging for everyone involved but the crew shined. The film looks amazing. We crafted a beautiful film together that I’m very proud of.

What is your favourite memory of filming Relative HappinessAs I mentioned, we were shooting in Hubbards which meant that I was away from my family on my birthday (I have two young kids). It was such a challenging day that I almost forgot about it. But at lunch, I was completely surprised when the producers, cast & crew sang me “Happy Birthday” and presented me with a plate of sparkly cupcakes. The crew even projected a happy birthday sign on the trucks. It was really sweet, a moment I won’t forget.  I could list off many filmmaking moments but I don’t want to give anything away ;)

What was your reaction when you found out about being selected to Telefilm’s Perspective Canada program at the Marché du Film (runs parallel to the Cannes Film Festival), last year?  I was over-the-moon happy when I received that email.  I felt validated and I knew our film had a fighting chance to be seen by audiences around the world.  After, Cannes, The Yellow Affair, based in Sweden, came on board as our International Sales Agent, which has been great news for the film.  They’ve since negotiated a distribution deal with Anchor Bay in Australia and are currently in talks with a US distributor to release the film there!
 

THOUGHTS ON THE ATLANTIC FILM FESTIVAL

The world premier for Relative Happiness was at the 2014 Atlantic Film Festival. What does the Atlantic Film Festival mean to you?  I moved to Halifax to get involved in the film industry back in 1998 and, coincidentally, I arrived on the opening weekend of the Atlantic Film Festival.  It was an inspiring introduction to Canadian cinema, high profile filmmakers and the incredible Halifax filmmaking community. This experience led me to make my first short film, Trombone Trouble, which was part of AFCOOP’s Film 5 program. And my first film festival screening was at the Atlantic Film Festival; as an emerging filmmaker, I felt validated by having my film selected. The festival has continued to support me through the years by screening my films and fostering my filmmaking career. In fact, my first feature, Beat Down, was part of the Inspired Scripts program. Needless to say, Relative Happiness had a wonderful reception at last year’s Atlantic Film Festival with two sold-out screenings. It’s one of the most important film festivals in Canada and, as an east coast filmmaker, I believe the Atlantic Film Festival is the perfect platform to launch my films.  
 

Thanks for taking the time to chat with us, Deanne! We can’t wait for the theatrical release of Relative Happiness!

Relative Happiness will hit the big screen for Halifax audiences starting March 20th at Cineplex Cinemas Park Lane and will screen for one week. For ticket information please visit http://www.cineplex.com/Theatre/cineplex-cinemas-park-lane .