Toronto Film Challenge: Day for Night

When I met up with team Whale Tales, the entire cast and crew had already been up all night filming and cutting their submission for the Toronto Film Challenge. Ben the Editor showed me the dailies they shot at around 4:00 AM, which was also accompanied by a rough score he had composed while most of us were still sound asleep. Drowsy but excited, everyone huddled around the Mac, munching on BBQ chicken burgers for lunch while gazing affectionately at the fruits of their creation; their joyous energy was palpable.

It was just the beginning of the team's 48-hour marathon filmmaking -- from conceiving the concept straight through to final cut -- and they were hitting every milestone on their tightly compressed schedule with stride; so far so good.

Whale Tales was one of the many teams that competed in this weekend's Summer 48 challenge. Each year, The Toronto Film Challenge puts on three events (Spring 24 and Fall 24 are the other two) where local filmmakers, amateur and professional alike, receive a package of story ingredients (conflict, location, prop, character trait and a line or word), and then it's up to their imaginations to connect and fill in the rest.

Admittedly, my preconceptions of what sort of movie could possibly be made in two days was thrown to the curb when Joe the Producer explained to me that he was making a mixed-genre musical. No doubt it was ambitious, but could he pull it off? The concept itself was loopy enough, with full-on Bollywood-style dance numbers and a bit of Eastern European quirk for flavour -- I was sold! The entertainment value was not in question.

When I asked Joe why he wanted to put himself through such a daunting challenge, "it's like going to the cottage with your friends," he said without a beat to ponder, as if the question had been asked a hundred times. Clearly a bit exhausted, the man was not about to let a little human necessity like sleep get in his way.

As I soon discovered, Joe's friends, mostly a group of young and talented actors, also happen to be great dancers. Sitting in the Elgin Theatre's dance studio, I watched as they, along with Will the Choreographer, rehearsed the big number; polishing and perfecting their rollicking version of Riverdance-like routines. It was the grandiose show-stopper, the culminating scene of the entire movie; it had to be great yet any pressure to be so was never quite noticeable.

Out in the hallway, Ben was quietly assembling the footage. Straight from the world of cutting wedding videos, the bleary-eyed Editor for whatever reason decided to lay down some Kenny G staple tunes as temp track. It was his way of getting through the day I suppose.

As one would expect, fatigue did eventually show itself as the shoot grew longer, but those moments never turned into frustration, no matter how physically and mentally taxing the whole endeavour was. The camaraderie amongst the team was indescribable, warm and supportive, their focus held strong right through into the night; chances of an all-out meltdown (like the one on the set of a David O. Russell movie) -- which I was sort of bracing myself for because, heck, it would've made quite the post -- was fortunately unlikely.

This was Whale Tales' second run in the challenge, they came in third place overall the last time they competed. So this time around, they were determined to do something fantastic. But will their labour of love pay off? Will their yet-to-be-titled film make it to the Top 20 screening next week (July 22nd)? Stay tune.


Tickets for the Top 20 Screening are available for purchase at the Bloor Cinema for $10 on July 22nd beginning at 3:30pm. The screening begins shortly after 4pm. Please arrive early to ensure good seating.

blogTO is also a proud sponsor for this year's Toronto Film Challenge.

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