Filmmaker Kris Booth has been waiting for me at the Firkin pub on John Street in Toronto for. Delayed trains, never ending work, and a downpour outside have me looking like a hot mess. It’s the kind of feeling the current Halifax resident can relate to almost perfectly. Much like myself, he’s been running around not only all morning doing press throughout the city, but his appearances are all tied to his entry into a competition that could very well end up funding his next film. We’re both approaching our lunch meeting as more of a welcome break than a formal suited up powwow.
Booth, who previously made the romantic comedy At Home by Myself… with You in 2009 and several short films, is looking to fund his latest project, an ambitious sci-fi psychological thriller called Red Horizon through a Canada wide competition known as CineCoup. He’s close to the finish line and victory isn’t entirely out of the realm of possibility. Voting among the final ten entries has begun; whittled down from the hundreds of entries from across the country when the competition started in February. Booth remains the only remaining participant in Eastern Canada. Between Halifax and Scarborough, no competition remains.
The mandate of CineCoup is to offer fan based, non-monetary support to filmmakers looking for a different form of Kickstarter. Fans will vote among the final entries to send their favourites to a pitch meeting in Banff where a final victor will be crowned. The perks of winning are twofold. The winner gets one million dollars to make their film. More importantly the winner is guaranteed a theatrical run in Cineplex theatres, which is the much higher profile and potentially far more lucrative prize.
We talked with Booth over drinks about his film, why the support of famous cinematographer Dean Cundey (Apollo 13, Jurassic Park) could be his ace in the hole, and his relating to the CineCoup experience and why it’s an important venture in Canadian cinema.
To check out the entire CineCoup mandate, to vote on Kris’ film, monitor his progress thus far, or to check out the other nominees and projects in competition, check out cinecoup.com.
Dork Shelf: I’ll get into what’s going on with you and the nature of the competition in a minute, but let’s talk about the film first since it all starts there. How exactly did this come about as a story and an idea?
Kris Booth: It’s a big answer, but the genesis of the story is really loosely based off of Mars 500. A couple of years ago Russia did this experiment called Mars 500 – you can Google it – and they put six people in a capsule in the middle of a warehouse in Russia somewhere and the idea was that it was simulating a flight to Mars, a two week mission ON Mars, and then a flight back to Earth. They were in this capsule for 520 days. At the end of that, they opened up the capsule – and I’m sure it smelled pretty ripe – and these guys came out. It was considered a psychological success. It obviously wasn’t intended to tell the effects of anti-gravity on the human body. It was all a psychological success, so as a filmmaker – as anyone would do – I asked the question of what would happen if something were to go wrong.
You would be put into this Apollo 13 kind of thing. You’re on the precipice of one of the greatest adventures mankind could ever face, which is the actual footing onto a new planet; the advancement of mankind and all that jazz. Then all of a sudden the brakes have to be put on because something catastrophic happens and these astronauts are put into a situation where for one reason or another they pit themselves against each other and it becomes a game of cat and mouse.
That was the genesis of this thing. That and my love of cinema and my want to bring back that sort of old school Hitchcockian style of movie where you don’t have a sci-fi movie with big explosions, laser guns, or jump scares. I wanted on storytelling and create a slow burn and get people to really love and understand the characters before you switch it up and add a visible tension. These characters slowly degrade over the course of the movie. That’s what we’re trying to do with Red Horizon. It’s a sci-fi movie in the truest sense. You put these characters amid technology and see how they interact and degrade, and it’s ultimately a movie about the loss of humanity and asking if we were put into these kind of situations if there would be hope. Would we work together as a team or would it be survival of the fittest and turn into Lord of the Flies?
That kind of stuff is really interesting to me. I’m huge on character and story, and, quite frankly, Canadian cinema just doesn’t have the kind of budget to make these kind of big laser gun movies. We gotta think around it and wondering how we’re going to do this. With my last movie, At Home…, and a lot of the short films I have made, you really have to put films within the context of a certain budget. Particularly here in Canada.
DS: Which is kind of detriment to you since you’re trying to make a science fiction film which often have to be made as grand as possible.
KB: For sure. And that’s what I mean when I say I’m trying to bring it back to what the concept of true science fiction is: to create a metaphor rather than a spectacle. So, really, if you think about it, this is just six people flying in a garbage can out in space. The astronauts can’t leave the capsule because if they do, it’s space, they’ll die. They can’t go home, they can’t go to Earth, they can’t even go to Mars because of their situation. They’re literally stuck in space, so if they can’t leave, why should the audience? They key is to create a film around a situation that you want to present to the audience.
Then it becomes doable. There’s obviously a lot to it. I’m really just trying to go with a realistic feeling for it. In that case you start dealing with anti-gravity situations and things like that. To paraphrase Thank You for Smoking, you make a thingamajig and not worry about it. We have a thingamajig ourselves, but that doesn’t stop that we still have scenes with anti-gravity and space, and we really want to pay homage to that, but we have to be realistic about how that can be done. A million dollars is not a lot to make a movie.
DS: How did you come to CineCoup and what’s it all about?
KB: CineCoup is this really cool and game changing thing, in my opinion. It’s an online competition nation wide that invites Canadian filmmakers to apply with a trailer and a team. They whittle down the teams over what’s felt like the course of a million years. (laughs) It started in February, so it’s not that long, but it’s a lot of work. But the prize is one million dollars in production financing, which is excellent.
To be completely honest, though, as someone who has made a film before, the real prize is guaranteed theatrical distribution. The winner of this gets their film to be shown in Cineplex theatres across Canada. That REALLY is the game changer. Even the cream of the crop Canadian filmmakers aren’t guaranteed theatrical distribution.
CineCoup is set up to utilize social media to create a fan base before the movie is actually made. In essence, if you’re familiar with crowd funding, kinda similar in that regard. Fans can get involved in the process of making these films and almost guarantee a kind of potential box office.
In this first year of them doing this there were 91 teams at the start. Over the following months the filmmakers do these visual missions and post them. Fans go on the site and participate and earn votes. It went from 90 to 60 to 40 and eventually 15 and now we’re at the top ten. The top five vote started May 30th and ends on June 2nd. The top 5 get flown to the Banff World Media Festival and they pitch to a panel and while there the decision is made who wins. Then the winner gets accelerated into pre-production and production for a screening in January of 2014. It’s a very accelerate process, but that’s part of the adventure and the game of making movies.
I don’t think CineCoup is exactly looking for the next big Academy Award winning Canadian production, and that’s great since they are doing this mainly for fans. When this whole thing started I think they did this cross country thing where they went to every major city in every province to talk to filmmakers. Here in Toronto they had over 200 people show up, but in Halifax where I’m from 6 people showed up. I was one of the six people, and I was able to sit right next to the CineCoup people and ask them about things like target audiences and genre.
I had a World War I film that I could have pitched and a few romantic comedies, but when it comes to the target audience and the timeline and what I think CineCoup and fans were looking for made me think that this project that I’m pushing for now was the right one and the right time to do it. Sci-fi comes with people who love those kinds of movies already and this might be the best way to get this one made and off the ground finally.
You don’t want to piss off sci-fi fans and you want to give them something of real quality and pay homage to those who came before. When I see a sci-fi movie, even huge, big budget ones, if they don’t seem to care that I’m a fan I get vocal about it. You have to be sure – even though you’ll never please everyone in the world – that you are giving them something of substance.
DS: And if you can prove with a theatrically released, low-budget genre film that you know what you’re doing, it could open up a lot more doors down the road.
KB: Yeah, and that’s one thing CineCoup has been really vocal about with us. This is something that will help you move onto the next thing. J. Joly, who’s the head of CineCoup, referred it to me that it’s sort of like a Roger Corman model, and it would be game changing to sort of bring that back in this new way. They are trying to create a place where they can make this content that will involve the fans and the public in the creation of them and get people pumped up to see these movies and get things vibrant again.
DS: There’s always a hesitation, too, with any sort of Kickstarter project where people might want to contribute, but they’re hesitant to lay down their own money. It sometimes might price people out of the market.
KB: Oh, for sure. And I mean, CineCoup doesn’t shy away. They are TOUGH, man. I was talking to my wife and Executive Producer, Andrea, and we were commenting about how it really asks people to really work at this. You go on one of these other places and even when I started out, you look at these projects and you just say “I want to support that. Here’s five bucks.” Then that’s it and you just wish the team the best. CineCoup doesn’t do that. You have to invest the time – both as a filmmaker and even as a fan – to prove what you want. You go out there and create profiles, lobby for votes or vote yourself, talk to the filmmakers, and just generally be a part of the process.
That is absolutely amazing because, and I want to be clear about this, because there are so many people who look at Canadian cinema and just think that it’s all beavers, drug addiction, canoes, and depression. They think of “Canadian” as a genre itself and that’s so incredibly wrong. Jason Reitman, James Cameron, and Lorne Michaels all produced stuff here, so what about them? What you’re doing is comparing these people who have infinite amounts of money to make content, but in this country you don’t have that. By engaging the public and have them become a part of the discussion about Canadian cinema, it creates a bigger dialogue about bringing cinema back to its roots and to its core.
There will always be filmmakers in this country. No matter how great or how awful the product ends up being, there will always be filmmakers. It doesn’t matter the technology. There will always be content. To be a part of that inspiration to other filmmakers through something like this is just another game changing aspect of Cinecoup. For any cinephile to be able to communicate and influence that process is a real thrill.
With Red Horizon we really took this process seriously and at face value. We went in with our hearts on our sleeve. We never looked at this like it was a business opportunity. This was us saying where we could go with it. We didn’t bring in a product that we had already developed. We were starting fresh. The process was informing us the whole way through the creation of the screenplay. People who saw the concept trailer and saw our weekly missions could give us advice. For us that’s invaluable research. All of those comments helped make the script be a lot better.
As a result we’ve attracted a lot more great people behind the scenes to come and be a part of the movie. It really is up to the audience. Do you want to sit back and grump about the Canadian film industry or do you want to help us make it a better place where we can be known for our great stories?
DS: Despite everything you just said it’s rare for a filmmaker of any kind to value that much outside input.
KB: I genuinely do. I mean, I’ve made a movie already that I raised the money on my own for. It was a passion project that did really well from an indie project point of view, but now as an independent filmmaker that wants to always get better at what I do, you have to surround yourself with people better than you and who will elevate your game. If that means being invested into something like this, then I want that experience.
Red Horizon isn’t the beginning or the end of my career. I’ve made a movie and I will make other movies, and I want this experience. You have to be open to things.
When George Lucas made, you know, “those other movies,” I felt really bad because Star Wars didn’t belong to him. It belonged to me. It belonged to you. It belonged to everyone in this bar. You have to understand that when you’re making a movie, you are trying to make something that belongs to other people and collectively you all have to own it. That’s the art of making films. It’s not just one person’s vision 99.9% of the time. It’s a bunch of people coming together on a vision. That’s just so exciting.
Here in Toronto, and Vancouver, and Halifax, and all over these cities CineCoup came to, there are waves of passion that are just so big that no one had really tapped into before this. I’m just happy to be a part of it. I’m passionate about it because I think we have something here and CineCoup has opened the door for people who have said unkind things about the Canadian film industry to finally be involved. If this works, these filmmakers who will be making films no matter what will be able to finally be influenced by the people who actually want to see films. Something wonderful is going to happen no matter who wins.
DS: It also has to be a huge boost of confidence to see all these people who you haven’t met putting their voting weight behind you especially when they haven’t seen the product.
KB: Yeah, or at least you would hope so. You kind of need to have a bit of the confidence going in to sort of create the wave for other people to latch onto. The way that I got Dean Cundey on board was through a small contact of the family, but the package I sent him was all of the CineCoup stuff; all the missions and all of the visual content along with the script. He was able to watch it all on a flight from Australia to L.A., and because of the passion that he saw not only from me, but from the team and everyone else and the script, he came on board. That’s just one example of somebody who’s just willing to go and make this small one million dollar movie just because of the passion people have about it. The guy is a legend and a huge inspiration to any film fan. The teams that he has been a part of have created visual images and content that are reasons why I’m sitting here today. It would be an honour to work with him.