33rd Toronto International Film Festival Coverage: Day Three

Saturday. Day three of the Toronto International Film Festival. Another busy day with a mix of premieres and press conferences on our plate.

First up is The Secret Life of Bees press conference. Based on the novel by Sue Monk Kidd, the film is written and directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood, who previously brought us Love & Basketball.

When asked “Why this story?”, Gina responded that first and foremost it started with Kidd’s book, and the strength and love of the Boatwright sisters. She felt the story touched her because a lot of movies about the Sixties were just about the civil rights struggle and not the people living in the struggle.

Nate Parker, who appeared in last year’s The Great Debaters, agreed that it was the characters within the story that attracted him. He felt that the film portrayed women contrary to what the perception of the time was. He also carried praise for the director from an A-list source. He received the call about Bees while working on The Great Debaters with Denzel Washington. He said he told him about the project and was asked who was directing it. When he said it was Gina, Denzel told him, “Do it.”

Alicia Keys said that she felt her character came to her at the right time. She said her character put on a strong face while trying to reconcile with the emotional person inside. Feeling that she often struggled with that in her career, Keys said she fully understood her character.

Sophie Okonedo, who was last at the festival with Hotel Rwanda, didn’t have the problem of hiding her characters emotions behind a mask. Her character was very vulnerable and vibrating with energy. She said that she really had no idea what to do until her first day on the set when Gina said “Action.” She decided to just be as free as possible. Since she herself is quite a sensitive person, Okonedo found playing such an open character to be quite a cathartic experience.

Jennifer Hudson, who won her Academy Award for Dreamgirls, found herself playing her second character living in an era before she was born. She said that Gina had the cast doing a lot of research about the time and she delved into the books and talked with women in her family who had lived through the struggles of the Sixties. She added that she had gotten so far into her research that she was initially feeling a little bit scared when they headed to the South to begin filming. Her only idea of the South at that time was from what she had read and she felt a little uneasy sleeping.

Queen Latifah was attracted to the piece because of the love and nurturing between all the characters. Musing on actresses who get pregnant during filming, Queen thought Bees would be a perfect film to get “knocked up” during. She said that actors have to go to a lot of different, sometimes dark, places for their characters. But her character in this film only had to go to places of love.

Dakota Fanning, who has grown up before us on screen, agreed that the film had a strong family feel to it. She’s been attached to the film for four years, waiting to meet the women who would form the loving cocoon around her. The whole cast was able to meet and get to know each other before filming, which was important as Dakota’s character is the common link in the story, appearing in scenes with all of the women.

We also heard from Tristan Wilds, one of the stars of the new 90210. He felt that the Boatwright sisters were able to isolate themselves somewhat from the turmoil around them while his character’s transformation was touched directly by the trouble of the times.

From the turmoil of the Sixties we then took a spin in the dentist’s chair as we covered the press conference for Ghost Town, which stars Ricky Gervais, Greg Kinnear and Téa Leoni. Gervais plays a dentist with no people skills who dies briefly in the hospital and can suddenly see all of New York’s ghosts. One of those ghosts, played by Greg Kinnear, has unfinished business with his widow (Leoni) that he wants Gervais to help him with. I caught the film on the fest’s opening days and it’s a charming comedy that plays well to Ricky Gervais’ strengths.

Writer/Director David Koepp, who has written action/adventure films like Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, War of the Worlds and Panic Room, was asked why he went for comedy this time around. He said he was feeling crabby one day and took a walk, not wanting to be with people. He saw a dentist’s sign and thought that would be the perfect job for a crabby person because they could just shove things in people’s mouths to get them to shut up. He felt the idea lent itself ideally to comedy, so he called upon fellow writer John Kamps who he feels has a great comic ear.

Ricky Gervais kept the assembled press in stitches with his dry wit. Asked if he had ever thought he’d be cast as the romantic lead, Gervais quipped, “What are you saying? I have the bone structure, it’s just well hidden.” He’d read a lot of scripts over the last few years, but this seemed to be the perfect vehicle for his first foray into film. He felt it was “very me” and thought “I can do this”, especially as he couldn’t remember any roles where Brad Pitt and George Clooney had gagged on a dog’s bad breath while trying to woo a woman. He like that the romance was awkward as he didn’t feel the audience would believe him as the sexy leading man.

Gervais, an atheist, was asked if he believed in ghosts or an afterlife. By the very definition of being an atheist he said the answer was “no” but he was able to suspend his disbelief. Director Koepp added that he doesn’t believe in ghosts either, but he does believe in writing ghost stories, since you get to write scenes that you can’t in other genres. He mentioned that Greg Kinnear had told him that he always wanted to make a movie with Téa Leoni, but this wasn’t it, since, as a ghost, his character shared scenes but never spoke to her character.

Kinnear added that he thought the film had a nice message behind it and if you stripped away the comedy, there was some nice stuff underlying it. Asked what that message was, David Koepp piped up, “Don’t be such a dick all the time.”

Ricky Gervais pondered about a theory a friend had that you appeared in the afterlife in the position you died in, so dying during a rectal exam would be an awful way to go. Again, he and Kinnear started riffing on doctors, rectal exams, and fingers, so it only seemed appropriate for one reporter to ask about ad-libbing during the filming.

Gervais said the film had brilliant writing and about 85% of what was on the screen was what was on the page. He said there’s always a little bit of tweaking as you take something from the page and put it on its feet. Still the cast did have fun. After one two-hour stint of ad-libbing, he said Koepp finally approached them and said, “Should we try one as it is in the script?”

David Koepp added that it did help that you had such strong comic actors like Gervais and Kristen Wiig. He said that it was like shooting, acting and writing all at once and sometimes the perfect scene would develop over 17 takes.

Gervais said that on his first day he was quite intimidated to be working with Kinnear, who already has a long line of films behind him. He said that he showed up that first day and was amazed that they all knew their lines and marks. He said he’s always been terrible at “hitting his marks” the indicators on the ground placed there so the actors know here to stand for focus. He then mentioned that during a guest appearance on Alias, they placed sandbags on the floor so that he’d know where to walk without looking down.

Greg Kinnear praised Ricky still, saying that he had seen his TV work and felt that someone need to build a movie machine for him to drive. He was actually surprised that Ricky had not been more involved in the creative process since the role fit him so perfectly.

After the Ghost Town press conference, it was time to head over to Roy Thompson Hall for the matinée premiere of Toa Fraser’s Dean Spanley, an Edwardian adventure. Three of the film’s stars, Jeremy Northam, Sam Neill and Bryan Brown, were in attendance. The atmosphere was quiet and relaxed and while waiting for the others to join him for some group shots, Jeremy chatted with the photographers about the festival experience on both sides of the camera.

After Dean Spanley, it was back to the Sutton Place hotel for the press conference for It Might Get Loud. Directed by An Inconvenient Truth’s Davis Guggenheim, the documentary tracks the electric guitar through three of its greatest players, Jimmy Page, The Edge and Jack White.

Davis Guggenheim said he became involved when producer Thomas Tull (300, The Dark Knight) called him in for a meeting and said he wanted to make a film about the electric guitar as others haven’t captured it. Tull joined in saying that he had been playing since he was 14 or 15-years-old. He wanted to explore what it was about the guitar that captured people’s imagination. What makes you pick it up? Why is Guitar Hero a huge hit?

Lesley Chilcott, also a producer on the film, said that after Davis mentioned the project to her, the biggest challenge was trying to get the musicians they wanted. They decided to approach three guitarists from three generations and different styles.

Jimmy Page was approached about the film and thought it would be a fascinating project, that he found even more fascinating when he learned that U2’s The Edge and The White Stripes’ Jack White would be involved too. He said he’s a musician, a player, and it would be much easier for him to play his influences and theories than to talk about them.

The Edge had the same sort of thoughts as Jimmy. He met with Davis and liked him a lot, thinking, “We can do this.” He was a little uncertain at first how the documentary would work. The end result could be interesting or incredibly boring.

Jack White felt it was a very easy decision to make when you know who’s involved. He also liked that it wasn’t just about the guitar but about how their backgrounds and influences affected their playing.

Guggenheim said he got around some of the initial worries by just doing audio interviews. He found during the making of An Inconvenient Truth that the lights and cameras and crew would sometimes make Al Gore more formal. When it was just the two of them and a tape recorder, Gore would loosen up. He found the same thing with the musicians. When he first met with Jimmy Page they conducted a three hour audio interview and got tons of information, so he tried the same thing with the other two. He then edited those interviews together and that gave him a framework to use for the material that he need to film.

The Edge found it to be a very revealing process and felt vulnerable. It ended up not just being the technical aspects of their playing but also the personal journeys that got them there. Jack White agreed. He said the guitar was like Hitchcock’s MacGuffin. It might have seemed like the reason for the documentary but the end result looked at the various backgrounds that got these three musicians there.

After some time with the three rock legends, it was time to hike over to Ryerson for the premiere of Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, which stars Michael Cera, Kat Dennings and an ensemble of other young actors at various stages of the up’n‘coming and “It” status.

We then followed the buzz to Roy Thompson Hall where the gala treatment was being given to Jonathan Demme’s Rachel Getting Married. That buzz was Oscar buzz for the performance of the film’s lead, Anne Hathaway.

We then met up with Canadian treasure Deepa Mehta at her Elgin premiere of Heaven on Earth and stayed there for the premiere of the John Malkovich vehicle, Disgrace.

The carpet for Fernando Meirelles’ Blindness was bustling with the likes of Danny Glover, Geoffrey Rush, Julianne Moore, Sandra Oh, Mark Ruffalo and Gael García Bernal.

Finally, we ended the night over at the Middle of Nowhere premiere. It was a family affair as Susan Sarandon, Eva Amurri and Tim Robbins all made an appearance.

Phew…a busy day and almost 300 day three photos.

TIFF Day Three Photo Galleries