Building on the buzz started earlier this year at Cannes, “Sleeping Giant” won the best Canadian feature debut at the Toronto International Film Festival in September. The film expanded on the award-winning short of the same name.
“Sleeping Giant” is a coming-of-age film about a teenage boy and his two friends on vacation in Northern Ontario. The film has an incredibly strong voice and the performances from inexperienced young actors rings with raw authenticity. Facing the challenges of pitching a film that sounds like it’s been done to death, Andrew Cividino and his crew produced a successful short proof of concept that proved successful.
Speaking with Indiewire, shortly after “Sleeping Giant” screened at the Festival du Nouveau Cinema in Montreal, Andrew Cividino discussed the particular challenges he faced in making his first feature film.
Increasingly filmmakers are going the route of making the short as a proof of concept. What are the advantages of going this direction?
I actually always knew that “Sleeping Giant” was going to be a feature film and there was a feature length script of it which was ready to go in the summer of 2013, but I wasn’t able to get the financing together in time for shoot. We were halfway through casting and decided it would make a lot of sense to make a short as a proof of concept. What started as a disappointment, not getting that film off the ground that first summer, ended up being a blessing in disguise. With the short film I felt freedom to really push the boundaries of how I wanted the film to look and feel.
I think it’s really hard, especially for a first feature film, to convince people that what you’re trying to do is valid and worthy of funding. For us, the idea of trying to get the financier to sign to a coming-of-age film about three boys in Northern Ontario, that’s about as far as you can get into it before people’s eyes start to glaze over. So to be able and actually shoot something that expresses the setting and the tone that you’re trying to achieve can go a long way, especially if you don’t have a huge body of work to draw on. To show specifically, for this project, this is how it’s going to look and feel and I think it can help connect the dots for people.
You actually adapted the feature script into a short. How did that work?
Going from to the feature to the short and then back to the short, as was our trajectory. One of the challenges was when coming back to the feature after making the short that we weren’t trying to imitate ourselves too much. There was this sense that we captured lightning in a bottle with the short film and I was wary of trying too hard to recreate elements that really worked well in the short film and really allow the feature to be its own thing. The familiarity that I had with my cast in the process of working with them, that’s one of the things that the short film really benefitted the feature. I think there is also something to be said about the structure of the story and the depth of the characters, I was able to know who I was writing for, for two of those three main characters – I knew those actors personally – I was able to write with their voices in mind and that was a really powerful tool.
This is your first feature length film. Were there unforeseen challenges?
We faced a lot of challenges in the setting we were trying to shoot in. Lake Superior is the largest lake in the world and it’s a lot more like an ocean on some days so trying to get out and shoot these scenes on remote islands proved tremendously difficult with our limited resources and we were often turned away by wind and wave. That constant change in the schedule proved to be a challenge. Our film is shot in a very specific time in these boys lives and we had to get everything done. There was no opportunity for pickups because summer was over by the time we were done shooting and by next summer they would look significantly older. There was this pressure to get everything that we needed absolutely on the day, within the shoot days we had allotted.
In terms of the transition from shorts to feature, aside from that marathon sense of it, there wasn’t anything that jumped out at me process-wise as a challenge. If anything I felt a liberation going from shorts to features because you have so much more room to play, so much more room to develop your characters and you also have time with your cast and crew and a language to understand each other and the story you’re trying to tell. With a short film, you’re on the set for a day or two and what you shoot is what you get. It takes longer than that for a crew to really gel properly so I found going to the feature, in some ways, to be easier.