Atlantic Filmmaker Focus - Michael Melski

The Atlantic Film Festival is a champion of Atlantic Canadian filmmakers. In keeping with this promise, every month we will be profiling some of the most incredibly talented people in the filmmaking industry, today. This month, we look at writer/director, Michael Melski. Michael’s latest film, CHARLIE ZONE, a twisting dramatic thriller, exposes the underbelly of Halifax.

CHARLIE ZONE HELD OVER at Empire Theatres (Park Lane, Halifax) until March 14.

Michael Melski - Writer/Director

DOB - May 19
Originally from - Sydney, NS
Currently resides - Halifax, NS
Next project(s) 18 - a play at Neptune, Disturbance – a new feature film and The Child Remains – a new motion horror feature

AFF: What was the inspiration for Charlie Zone?
MM: I would say that the team was inspired to tell a beautiful story about redemption.  Two people trapped in cycles of poverty, addiction and racism, coming together and escaping that.

AFF: Was Halifax the only consideration for filming location or did you consider    shooting the movie somewhere else?
MM: No. In the very early draft of the script by Joe G. LeClair, it was a cross Canada road journey.  One of the big changes was to put the focus in one place.  Looking for a place to shoot, meant looking for a place with an element of violence, murder, guns, drugs and strange sex… Why look elsewhere?  Halifax owns all these problems.  Once we made the decision to film in Halifax, we wanted everything to have a Halifax connection.  The Youtube fights, drugs, gun… wars.  These are all Halifax and we focus in on that.

AFF: How many of the Charlie Zone film crew are from Atlantic Canada? How important was it for you to hire local crew? 
MM: Almost all.  I would say over 90%.  Brent & Tracy are from Toronto.  They were absolutely invaluable and essential to getting this film done.  It’s definitely important to hire locally.  The crew here is good enough for Hollywood. They are certainly good enough for a resident filmmaker.

AFF: You are a filmmaker as well as a playwright. Are there challenges that are unique to filmmaking? Did the making of Charlie Zone present any particular challenges? 
MM: I’d say I am fortunate to have a career in both.  It wasn’t easy.  It’s a balancing act.  Once you set a standard, you have to keep meeting that standard.  And I like to keep raising my own bar.  Challenges were money and time.  There was a lot to do, focusing on the odyssey of this troubled city and trying to do it for $1.2 million.  Many times we (the crew) believed “this will be tough but we’ll make it work.” A small budget like this doesn’t allow the luxury of indecisiveness or backtracking.  You have to know what you want and hit the ground running.  There was nothing asked of the crew that they said, “No,” to.  Incredible stunt team.  When you have the right team they can sail you anywhere… and I had the right team.

AFF: You chose John W.D. Mullane of ‘In Flight Safety’ to compose the score for Charlie Zone.  What made you decide to choose him given that he had never composed a score for a feature film before?
MM: Well a few things.  It is especially critical to have the right sound for horror and for thriller movies.  Mood and pace are vital.  There is so much musical talent here and that fortunately, is starting to spill over into the film world.  I met with a lot of talented people.  When I played certain tracks of John’s against our editing process, I could see it come to life.  John being skilled at multiple instruments, I knew he could bring the humanity and intensity that were needed.  My instincts were good.  John brought it big time and I am thrilled with his contribution.

AFF: What were some film influences on Charlie Zone?
MM: There are quite a few. Un zoo la nuitBlood Simple, from the Coen brothers… NARC.  Also, The Gauntlet and The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.

AFF: How did your experience as a playwright inform your filmmaking/screenwriting process?
MM: Emphasis on story.  In a play, you’ve got to.  You must be a well-oiled machine.  You need to get the audience’s attention and keep it.  In film you need to be even more precise.  In a play, you cut the line but in film, everything costs.  In film, you need to be merciless on the film and yourself ‘cause it costs money and you don’t have the luxury to waste it.
AFF: What were some key themes or messages that you wanted to convey to the audience? 
MM: Personal redemption.  How difficult it can be.  Avery, fallen fighter discovers something about himself in this girl.  At first the girl sees Avery as an enemy- no escape.  Later he gives her strength and they help each other.  Everyone in this film is culturally dislocated in some way.  Redemption takes courage.  It takes courage to find redemption and to escape from the dark world.  These ideas encapsulate Charlie Zone.

AFF: What were your favorite scenes in the film? Was there a special moment during the making of the film that you will always remember?
MM: There were just so many scenes that were tough to pull off even though we had a great, optimistic crew.  The opening fight sequence, we got all in one evening along with two other key scenes and pulling that off was a great moment.  The day we filmed the ending was great.  It was a 10-page day.  On that day, looking at the crew and saying “I can’t believe we actually pulled this off!” That was a great feeling.

Hank White co-produced CHARLIE ZONE. He is the first, First Nations filmmaker in the Atlantic region to have a feature film produced. Congratulations, Hank!