Interview – Michelle Ouellet
– by Alex Hutt
There’s that joke among friends that when you turn 30 your life as you know it is over. You might chuckle or grimace then move on and blow out the candles. Afterparty, directed by Michelle Ouellet, and shot locally in the Lower Mainland BC, is a relaxed look at that 30s life, and where you thought you would be in high school.
After his brother gets married, it’s up to Charlie (Graham Coffeng) to host an afterparty at the newlyweds’ house (sans said newlyweds). It’s the first time Charlie and a bunch of old high school friends have met up in quite some time, and tensions soon begin to bubble up. Ouellet, who also directed the web series The True Heroines, worked with an improvisation-heavy outline that was crafted by her and the actors.
Alexander Hutt: How did the script come about?
Michelle Ouellet: We looked at where we were in our own lives and our own concerns. I myself am in my thirties and and I am fan of films that are naturalistic. I wanted to do something that felt like a slice of life; just one night with these friends. Something that was more character focused, and didn’t have so many plot twists or added elements just for the sake of having them. We wanted to see what the friends would have been like if they actually spent time together. It can be scary to get to a certain point and wonder if you have made the right decision in your life; do I have the same feelings are when I was twenty? We wanted the film to be about the characters and their progressions and how they related to each other.
AH: As part of the process, you went out for dinner with the cast, who were in character?
MO: When I have shot other things we would have rehearsals, and in theatre, where I started, I was a big proponent of table work and mining from the text. When you don’t have a text like we did, we used the dinner as a dry run and rehearsal to see what the film would look like. The dynamics between the cast were great because of the chemistry between them, like Ali Liebert [ as a tomboy turned actress] and Nic Carella [as the awkward guy that always says the wrong thing], who had almost a sibling rivalry going on between them.
AH: Do you think it will translate for people in a different age group?
MO: In the past ten years things have changed. Things that I was worried or afraid about back then are not the same now. What I wanted to do with the film though, was express a point of view, not just my own, but the casts and the characters that we built together. I think there are characters that the audience can relate to regardless of their age, even though we are definitely hitting a certain age bracket.
AH: There are a few moments of comedy sprinkled throughout the mostly dramatic piece, including the odd bits of beat poetry by Christina Sicoli’s character Moon.
MO: I wanted some funny moments, but I would classify the film as a drama myself first. I feel like the pressure to be funny is where the train can possibly leave the station without everyone on board.
The 40-scene outline we had noted that scene with “Moon has an idea.” She came up with the Candyman poem around probably the fourth take. She was actually hilarious around the set too, as she pretended to be our third assistant director. There’s a set of interviews she has where she pretends to be extras from the film.
AH: Sociable Films, the production company behind Afterparty, is a boutique Vancouver-based company you started in 2011 with Carella and Liebert.
MO: The advantages of working as a upstart company is that you can make your own projects. You just have to be willing to go out and get the financing. Everybody pitched in to make the film; Nic was our caterer, Ali was our production designer. Who knows if the film would have been made through more traditional channels. There’s certainly improvised films out there, but it’s not the most common thing.
It’s a double-edged sword though, as everything is on you then and that can be a little daunting. You can’t just focus on one thing, you have to think about everything. Is there enough TP in the washroom? (One of the characters in the film sells toilet paper, oddly enough). You largely never get a chance to rest. There’s more support with larger productions but less freedom.
AH: If the film gets a DVD/Blu-ray release, the questionnaires the cast used to develop the characters are a possible extra feature.
MO: I do have all of that stuff. It could be something to think about in the future. You could see how the characters first evolved and where they ended up. For some of them we did do interviews too.
AH: At this year’s Oscars, Kevin Spacey was asked a series of questions by Buzzfeed usually meant for female actresses. It was amusing but also highlighted the division between male and female interviews at Award shows.
MO: I think it’s because the Oscars is also a coming-out for the designers, so I get the questions about the dresses. They do ask the men too, but there is not as much focus on who made your tux. The red carpet is about the clothes, jewelry and dresses mostly. Do I wish they asked the women more serious questions? Yes. But I am curious about what Jennifer Lawrence is wearing too. The public wants to know about preparing for the roles and I would like to hear that as well. The focus is on the superficial because that is what sells. I think if we actually asked the more serious questions we might surprise ourselves.
Afterparty recently screened at the Vancouver International Women In Film Festival, and makes its Toronto debut at the 2014 Canadian Film Festival March 22.