A writer observes the making of her friend's movie: watching Moze Mossanen's Canadian dance film, Roxana, come to life.

Location: Ontario, Canada

A Canadian writer, story editor and teacher of film and theology. Looking to integrate spirituality and the arts in a celebration and love of visual and written language.

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Roxana has a date with the Geminis!

Although many months have gone by since my last post, I am happy to be updating this blog with the following great news: Roxana has been nominated for 6 Gemini Awards~! The Geminis are awarded for outstanding work in Canadian television and will be presented on October 17th. The general public can attend: for tickets see the Academy of Canadian Cinema and Teleivision website.

Moze couldn't be more thrilled. Here is what he says:

"Congratulations to everyone as this is a great honour. Entirely overlooked, however, is the work of the brilliant cast and music composers for reasons that will probably only be known to aliens in a far away galaxy. But each nomination is a reflection of the combined efforts the entire team and the great work that was produced. These nominations are in addition to three other awards recently won by Roxana: The first by ace cinematographer, Michael Spicer, given by the Canadian Society of Cinematographers; and the second and third for Best Performance Program and Best Score (Alexina Louie and Alex Pauk) handed out at the recent Golden Sheaf Awards at the Yorkton Film Festival.

Big kudos to Roberto Campanella for his great and rich choreography! Thank you and hugs to the CBC, Bravo! (Bravo!FACT) ARTV, Telefilm, CTF, Judy Gladstone, Jacinthe Brisebois, Elisabeth Paradis, Greta Hodgkinson, Sheila McCarthy, Alexina Louie, Alex Pauk, Jeff Bessner, Craig Merritt, Randi Kirshenbaum, Susan Kelly, Lisa Clarkson, Sheen MacDonald, Alan Geldart, Dianne Weinrib, Shane Kinnear, Ron Scott and the entire cast and crew.

And a very special thanks to the great and wonderful Robert Sherrin for his support for not only this project but his remarkable work throughout the years on “Opening Night”. You’ve left a great legacy for everyone, Bob!

The Gemini Award nominations for Roxana are:

Best Performing Arts Program or Series or Arts Documentary Program or Series
p. Moze Mossanen, Stephen Traynor
(Mossanen Productions)

Best Writing in a Dramatic Program or Mini-Series
Moze Mossanen

Best Photography in a Comedy, Variety or Performing Arts Program or Series
Michael Spicer

Best Production Design or Art Direction in a Dramatic Program or Series
Rhonda Moscoe, Martha Sparrow

Best Costume Design
Debra Hanson

Best Achievement in Make-Up
Mary Monforte

Congratulations to everyone. Check back here in October, to see what happened!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

exciting times ahead!

Great news folks! Roxana has three wonderful dates with the public in the next months. First of these is the actual premiere of the film, which will occur at the Moving Pictures Festival in Toronto on November 2nd. The screening and a reception will be held at the gorgeously restored Gladstone Hotel. Since the hotel is also an exhibition space for artists, and since a scene in Roxana includes a ballroom scene in an art space, it is the ideal location. Be sure to come out on November 2nd at 8pm at the Gladstone Hotel's Ballroom, 1214 Queen Street West. Tickets are $10 at the door, available 30 minutes prior to showtime.

Next up in the new year is Roxana's international debut at the prestigious FIPA festival in Biarritz, France. Le Festival International de Programmes Audiovisuels is held annually to celebrate international television and Roxana has the added honour of being invited into competition at the festival. Moze has attended in competition in the past, most notably in 2005 with his film, From Time to Time. It is a wonderful honour to be invited back. Anyone going to be in France in January? (Don't we all wish!)

Finally, we are now able to announce with great excitement that the film will be broadcast Thursday, February 8th at 9 pm on the CBC. The Bravo!FACT and ARTV broadcast dates will be known shortly and as soon as there is news of them I will be sure to post them here. Roxana the movie is starting to have Roxana the lady's life! Wined and dined in the best of circles - and enjoying every minute. Join in where you can!

Monday, August 21, 2006

cast and crew screening!

Almost two years since its first inception, and after much creative energy and tireless work, Roxana has finally been born. The movie had its cast and crew screening in Toronto at the Regent Theatre on Tuesday, August 15th. Friends, families and just plain fans gathered to see how all the months of labour finally bore out. I was thrilled to introduce Moze and Stephen who celebrated and introduced the talent assembled. Moze's sister, Mirella, an accomplished photographer, was at the event, camera in hand. Mirella's work has been exhibited in Toronto and will soon be on view again in Los Angeles and Europe. We Many thanks to Mimi for allowing me to post her images.

When the lights went down, I found myself unexpectedly nervous. It suddenly struck me that we were about to see the movie projected. As in the big screen! Though I had seen several cutting room versions, this aspect of viewing was going to be a first for us all, including Moze. It's a strange anomaly of contemporary film and television production that many large scale projects like this one, operating on a modest budget endorsed by broadcasters and destined for the small screen, nonetheless start by shooting on film, in the same way that filmmakers who are making theatrically distributed films do. The footage is then transferred to video for editing on a video system, where it is then previewed for testing on televisions in edit room suites. And of course, when it is broadcast, it will be seen only on televisions.So what a surprise, therefore, to find ourselves watching the movie in a theatrical venue, on a large screen. Changes had occurred since the last version I saw. The small adjustments a seasoned viewer makes, watching different versions in front of a tv, seemed like larger leaps on such a large screen. I found myself wondering what it must be like for those who actually created the work! I was amazed by how cleanly the emotional lines translated to the big vision from the small screen - a tribute to the masterful editing by Jeff Bessner.

New to me in this version were the sound elements: the scoring and the sound design all matched to picture. Although I had observed a recording session, I was nonetheless astonished by the accomplishments of Alex Pauk and Alexina Louie, as composers, in working with dance in a post-production situation. Normally, film projects using dance work with the music recorded during performance and production - in this case, it was all composed afterward. The gorgeous textures and melodies flowed seamlessly with the dance. The sound design by Alan Geldart was also impressive, with heels clicking down hallways and noisy neighbours all filling out the authenticity of environment.

Watching Roxana unspool on the big screen was a wonderful fulfilment of having watched it grow. I am now incredibly biased, but it seems to me the movie works beautifully to weave the story as visually as possible, relying on dance and music elements to enhance the rich and vivid emotional life that is never far from the surface of these characters. The gorgeous, lush, visual textures created by Moze and Michael Spicer, working of course with incredibly talented people like Rhonda Moscoe and Debra Hanson and their teams, allows for there to be a sense of era very rare to this kind of feature filmmaking for broadcast. In other words, most people shooting for broadcast, think in small screen terms. In this film, it feels as if each frame is saturated with texture and meaning, which then, when it comes down to the small screen, is all the more radiant. In other words, it works! Emotion, story, and visual language are beautifully brought together.

In the end, the sure test of a movie is its audience - and this one seemed excited and pleased. At the patio of the nearby restaurant where people gathered afterward to celebrate, enthusiastic applause broke out as Moze entered. He in turn applauded all those gathered, who indeed represented the vast array of talents who brought Roxana to birth. Mazeltov! to everyone!

The path now is the one to broadcast, expected in January 2007 as part of the last season of CBC's Opening Night variety series. Selected highlights will also appear later on Bravo. The film may make a stop or two along the way at film festivals. Whatever happens, you can read about it here, if not before the fact, then certainly afterward. In the meantime, congratulations to all on a wonderful project - on to the next one!

Monday, June 12, 2006

the final sprint

Roxana is in its final sprint. After months spent assembling and refining the cuts of the film, laying in the music and recutting, adding voiceover and mixing sound, the final moments are at hand. The journey has been mostly technical since January, about numbers and coding and timing. But the soul of the story and its artistic expression are borne out in each choice and the final shape has been given enormous new expression by the work of the editor, composers, musicians and sound designers.

I was privileged to see a rough assembly back in March and even then I was excited. At that point, the old music guidetracks and pieces used for the purpose of shooting were still in. These tracks had not yet been replaced by the gorgeous textured composition and arrangements of Alexina Pauk and Alex Louie. During this time, Moze and Jeff were talking about adding voiceover. I even came down one day to record a guide voiceover track to help them figure things out. (Moze ended up recording his own voice instead - there goes my alternate career!)

Producer Stephen Traynor was in the room at that first screening too. In the discussion that followed, we all traded thoughts on how it was shaping up. I was astonished even then by the intensity and yet sustainable consistency of the emotional line of the film. Neither gothic, nor melodramatic, it nonetheless achieved a near constant dramatic intensity, both in and out of the dance sequences. Moze was clearly mining new territory for himself.

A month later, a larger gathering huddled in a different Third Floor Editing suite and editor Jeff Bessner ran the tape again. Assistant Director Maria Popoff was among those in the room this time, as well as friends of Moze who had no relation to the project. The response was unanimously excited, while still offering important observations and questions for Moze and Jeff to consider. The biggest difference in this version was the more conscious skewing of the film's perspective in the direction of Roxana's friend, Amy. Even though the film is still centered around Roxana’s exploits, it was decided that it would be largely Amy's story, or a story told from her perspective. As a result, the difference in the clarity of the editing was remarkable. (Moze's guidetrack voice would later be replaced by actress Sheila McCarthy's.) The net result was another layer of meaning: a seamlessness of audio texture that somehow strengthened the feeling of unity to the movie. The look of the film is also sensational, with a lushness of deep primal colours in various scenes. An outside producer in the room remarked aloud how rich the film looked, and how much had been made of the given resources.

Throughout February and March, Jeff and Moze continued to refine the picture cut and gather feedback. During that time the music was recorded for the dance sequences and Jeff went back and recut the numbers to the new music. The next step was an ADR session to re-record all the dialogue in the film, followed by the "Loop Group" day, in which general background and people noises were added. Finally the dramatic music was recorded - a session I attended (see pictures below). On Thursday June 15th, all the remaining sound recording will occur, including the sounds created by the feet of the dancers and actors in both the dancing and acting scenes. At that point, all the sound elements: dialogue, music and sound effects will be mixed together and get married to the online version of the film.

Until now the movie has existed in low resolution video for cutting purposes. But when it is finished, Jeff will return to the master picture tapes and lay in every single shot again in high resolution. Once it has been onlined this way, every shot will also have to be corrected for colour, contrast and other picture enhancements.

And it must all occur by June 30th!, when the film will be delivered to CBC. After so much intense work, it will be time for a break or to take a look at other projects. Or perhaps Moze will just skip town and head to Muskoka cottage country! Either way, Roxana will be waiting in the wings, standing by for her next cue. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

making beautiful music

Well, it has been a long time hasn't it!? The two months since the last post have been very full, not only in my life, but in the life of Roxana, as every frame of her shot footage is logged, muddled over, counted, reviewed and noted. In February, the music was recorded and in March the first rough assemblies were hung together. There is still much work ahead but also much to celebrate.

One of the most unusual elements of this production is the fact that guidetrack music was used during shooting for the ballet sequences, and the real music laid down later. The music tracks for Roxana, composed by Alexina Louie and Alex Pauk, were recorded on February 13th at CBC. In a small space with just seven instrumentalists conducted by one of the composers, the musical vision came to life. On the eve of Moze jetting off to London to visit family, he took a moment to share with me some updated thoughts on the process. The pix you see were taken during the recording sessons.

What were the unique features about this particular recording session, in comparison to your previous movies?

Moze: I must say that the music in Roxana presented more challenges than in any of my past films. But I was helped in great part by the composers understanding, generosity and musicality. You see, the music in the film – and I’m referring to all the dance music, in particular – was composed after the fact, meaning it was created once all filming was completed and we had embarked upon editing. For various reasons, but having mainly to do with the composers’ hectic performing and composing schedules, we had to use “temp” tracks in both rehearsals and shooting as the final dance could not be made in ready in time. Roberto (the choreographer) and I ended up using various pieces of music from a variety of sources such as Prokofiev, Bernard Hermann (particularly his scores for Hitchcock), as well as music by Brian Keane, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the Cherry Poppin Daddies – quite an eclectic pool, for sure!

It was therefore quite the daunting task for Alex [Pauk] and Alexina [Louie, composers] to sit down with the edited dance sequences, created and shot to a different music altogether, and write new compositions that would be in keeping with not only the spirit and feel of the original pieces but maintain the tempo, timing and all flourishes and physical synchronizations between the choreography and the music. Actually, now that I think about it, the whole thing feels like an impossibility (and maybe even a bit wild), but we had no choice but to follow this route and I’m happy to say our sweat and toil has paid off. The music that Alex and Alexina have written is certainly different from what we originally started with (which was the point, anyway) but I think they’ve captured a sense of continuity and dramatic development that could not have been possible with the pastiche of the original music. We also now have the opportunity to incorporating many of the themes, ideas, textures and colours contained in the dance music into the underscoring of the dramatic scenes. Undoubtedly, it will allow us to create a sense of unity that will be unique alone to Roxana and the world she inhabits in the film.

What intrigued you about working with Alexina and Alex?

Moze: I have been lucky to work with very gifted composers. What drew me to the Alexes is that they have their own orchestra and have composed for both large symphonic bodies and smaller ensembles. They’ve also created many scores for films such as The Five Senses and Last Night and understand the dramatic connective needs between action and music. In a film with a heightened sense of reality and drama like Roxana, I needed composers who had experience with both of these elements and were not afraid of sounding baroque or unashamedly extravagant. You see, nothing in Roxana is real: everything from the décor, costuming, hair, make-up, costuming and right down to the staging and acting has been heightened in such a way to create a world that’s entirely on its own. And the music has to fit into that scheme somehow which I’m happy to say that the Alexes have absorbed into their overall score.

What was exciting about watching the recording happen?

Moze: The recording of the dance music was utterly thrilling as it was the first time I had sat before an orchestra recording for a film. From the moment I arrived and found the musicians tuning up, to watching the Alexes make last minute adjustments, to seeing the film unspool and having Alex conduct the music through its labyrinthine twists and turns, it was all completely exhilarating. It was also fascinating to watch the musicians “double-up” on certain parts so that certain sections would have a fuller sounding horn or string section or watch a musician make multiple passes on a number, each time adding a new instrument and layer of sound. There were also a couple of instances where we wanted a different feel to the music, in which case Alex would have the musicians mark the adjustments on their sheet music and we’d record it again. All in all, the musicians (mostly from the Esprit Orchestra which the Alexes conduct) were frighteningly good for they had not seen the music before coming in that morning. I was quite impressed to see them look over the sheet music and then play it so well the first time that it looked like they had been rehearsing for days!

Was this the first time you had heard the music?

Moze: I had heard the music once before the actual recording but only a very sketchy, computer-generated piano version. At first, I was quite confused (and maybe even a bit alarmed!) as I could not hear all the nuances that would go into making the pieces full and dramatic. But the Alexes walked me through each music piece, pointing out that one particular, metallic-sounding “ding-ding” was in fact the entire string section playing their assess off or another forlorn “bong-bong” was in fact the horns coming at you full force. Computers are great but they can never replace the real thing!

How will the music affect the editing of the film in terms of its pacing/rhythm/performance...?

Moze: One of the big challenges facing us in editing, now that the dance music has been composed and recorded, is to create a deeper sense of synchronization between the music and the performances. You see, what you’ll be hearing was not what the dancers heard when they were rehearsing and shooting. In the first assembly of the film, this was apparent somewhat in a couple of instances, but Jeff (the editor) has done an amazing job of bridging those moments and creating a fuller sense of harmony. We’ll also have an opportunity to have another go at some of those dance sections in the final scoring but so far everything is coming through quite nicely. It’s been a very different way of working but it has only been made possible by the awesome talents of everyone involved in this post-production phase, particularly Alex Pauk, Alexina Louie and Jeff Bessner.

Next up: the rough cut!

Monday, January 30, 2006

mary & madeleine

Of course, those who spent time on the set of Roxana will know Mary and Madeleine as the film's inspired make-up and hair design team. One of the great things about a blog is always having the opportunity to go back and take a closer look at some of the work that has been running in the background of a project like this one and no less valuable to its end result. In considering the visual aspects of Roxana, I have taken time out in the past to chat with Rhonda Moscoe and Debra Hanson about set and costumes. Now as we wait for the opportunity to report on how post-production is moving, there is time to explore the work of others. Where better to start than hair and make-up? Madeleine Russell and Mary Monforte designed the look of the transportive and emotional faces we will see in tight close-ups of the film. Besides the actors themselves, the work of these artists will be what creates an indelible impression.

I caught up with the divine Miss(es) "M" and here are their thoughts:

How would you describe the hair and make-up look of Roxana, in terms of defining style?

Mary: This is a stylized look reminiscent of the 50s and 60s.
Madeleine: (that's her, just visible attending to Greta on set at left) Hair styles in the 50's were defined by a distinctive look such as hair close to the head, curls, softness around the face and waves. Hair in the 60s was bigger: flips,Vidal Sasoon geometric cuts, beehives, more hairspray and teasing .

How does the work of each of you affect the choices the other makes?

Mary: they must coincide with each other and compliment the entire look, including the clothing as well. For instance, the outfit should somehow blend with make up colours and avoid an obvious clash. Also, in period looks, certain colours are more distinct to that era. These are things that are common knowledge to the costume/make-up departments during research and prep for the piece.
Madeleine: On each hair and make-up change, Mary and I worked closely and consulted each other on what we had planned for each scene, making sure both were suitable for the story and complmentary to the actor.

What are/were the challenges of creating a look for a project such as this one?

Madeleine: The challenge before the shoot was the reseach: spending many hours over books and also collecting data from the internet, then deciding all the period hairstyles for the principle actors and dancers which took days to acomplish. What wigs and hairpieces to use, colours and length of hair as final choices.
Mary: keeping the looks in sync with the period was a definite challenge, yet keeping them stylized as per Moze's request.

What cues did you receive from Moze and/or how do you generally interact with the director of a project?

Madeleine: First let me tell you Moze is a dream director and fun to work with! After our collected reseearch, Mary and I met with Moze to discuss the look he wanted for the show which was highly stylized and edgey. He described each character to us and in general his vision for Roxana, and during production we consulted many times and found we were on the same page.
Mary: Part of the job is being able to accomodate the director's vision as well as keeping the talent happy. Moze wanted Roxana's look to always be a little overdone as per her character.

How much are you impacted (generally, in any situation) by the work being done by the costume designer?

Madeleine: For me the costume designer is very important. I have to see the costume before I can get a clear vision of a hairstyle. The collars and necklines are very important, as I must incorporate a workable style. There has to be a good balance in hair and costume.
Mary: The costume designer has the power to change any looks which do not meet with their designs in general: in dance pieces, the costumes may impact the make-up because fabric may be rubbing against the face and become soiled, smudging the make-up also. These things are always a concern for both departments and I am constantly aware and ready to make any adjustments/repairs.

Roxana covers a number of different eras, closely connected. How did you manage to make each feel so distinct?

Mary: Roxana's looks are always glamorous, so the hair really helped to define different eras as well as the clothing. Madeleine: I chose very distinct hair designs for the three periods we were in: 1957, 1962 and 1967.

Which character in the movie was the easiest to find a look for? Which was the hardest?

Madeleine: The male actors were the easiest to design for. Greta (Roxana) was the most challenging because she was in every scene and every era. I used hairpieces and wigs for her various dances and scenes. In some of the love scenes we used her own hair for softer sexier looks.
Mary: the easiest was Roxana's young daughter (Susan) who required minimal make-up. In general, I didn't find any other of the character's looks really hard.

What are the unique challenges of doing your work in combination with dance?

Mary: Ensuring that the make-up stays on while the dancer is on camera performing and sweating.
Madeleine: Making sure that wigs and hairpieces are secure on the heads for the dances.

What will you remember most in relationship to your work on Roxana..?

Madeleine: That it was such a beautiful production to watch during filming. The cast was amazing to work with. Working with Moze and helping to bring his vision to life.
Mary: I love dance. I studied modern dance in my younger years, so it's always been a passion of mine. It's always a great experience to meet these artists and collaborate with them, the outcome being a great performance.

Monday, January 16, 2006

roxana party & music notes

January plods on and this strange mild winter seems determined to stay despite all odds. Walking up Parliament on Saturday to meet Moze for dinner prior to the Roxana wrap party, I marvelled at the temperature - cold, but the cold of late autumn or early Spring. The occasional Christmas light was a quick reminder of the season that has only just passed and through a window I saw a Christmas tree, still bejewelled and twinkling despite the date.

Strolling past the Winchester Hotel, I glanced up at the second floor, home of the Laurentian Room where the wrap party would occur in just a few hours. (These are all pix from the party.) Known for its art deco markings and possibly the longest bar in the city, it also features a weekend burlesque show. A bouncer was already standing outside the side door, shivering and bouncing to stay warm.

Over dinner, Moze brought me up to speed on the early post-production of Roxana. He and editor Jeff Bessner (that's him on the right in the picture above)and Roberto met with composers Alexina Louie and Alex Pauk this week to talk about what comes next.

We screened each dance sequence and discussed the important beats and choreographic flourishes that Alex and Alexina will need to keep in mind when composing the new music, including tempo, mood, colour and texture: For the Chez Paree sequence, for instance, we discussed a more Latin feel along the lines of Luis Prima who was very propular in clubs at the time; a less foreboding and more bittersweet approach to Amy’s Solo and Mattress Quintet; and a smaller orchestral sound for the first Roxana/Susan duet.

He went on to explain that both Amy’s Solo and the Mattress Quintet are being held back until they are edited as they will be radically changed when the intercutting material is woven in. For Amy’s Solo, it is her point of view of Roxana and the Landlord making love which, in fact, informs her gestures, he explained, while in the Mattress Quintet it is Amy’s point of view again as she watches and takes photographs of Roxana’s lovemaking with Eliot and a coterie of other lovers. As the editing of these sequences might radically change both the content and length of the dances, we decided that it would be best to treat them as part of the dramatic scoring which will be done when the film is locked.

Specific musical themes for characters were discussed, particularly for Roxana and Susan. In Susan’s case, we will be taking our cue from the jewellery music box from which Roxana pulls out Susan’s photo as a young girl and remembers to herself the child she had given up. This theme would also be worked into each of the scenes (dance and drama) with Roxana and Susan. In the waltz section, I suggested that the two waltz duets (the first with Ted and the second with Rex) following the big waltz in the ballroom each need to be treated with a deepening sense of anxiety, as if things were spiraling out of control. As Roxana gets a taste of the good life and sacrifices nearly everything for material possessions, I wanted the music to reflect this feeling of moral compromise.

Although this order of creative development is highly unusual in a dance film project (most of the time, the music comes first and is the inspiration for the dance), the experimentation of this process allows for some very exciting discoveries. Moze remarked on the general level of excitement and everyone's universal feeling about how strong the footage seems to be.

The lattes imbibed, the mufflers were wound round our necks again for the short walk back up to Winchester and the party. And what a party! One end of the bar had been saved for the group who quickly filled the space and disappeared into the darkness of the space only to be lit by the occasional flicker of glass catching light. At 11:00 p.m. a spotlight fixed on a hoop hung from the ceiling and a burlesque dancer climbed into, soon beginning a balletic striptease. More dancers followed: a woman lap danced a customer, a man gyrated on the floor. The act finished with a singer, singing a torchy song that ended with her dress dropping to the floor. In a strange way it was fitting - we were hurled into where the character Roxana begins her story - the Chez Paree number belonged to this very world in a different era. These folks had no idea they were surrounded by some of the best dancers and performers in the country - who all seemed quite rapt. Rapt. Wrapped. Roxana lives and moves on, reinventing and connecting all her past and future lives.