By Tom Ue.
Seek is the directorial debut of Eric Henry. The film, made and set in Toronto, follows the story of a young writer (Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski) who profiles a club promoter (Ryan Fisher). The film was an Official Selection of the Toronto LGBT Film Festival 2014.
Congratulations on your directorial debut! While this is your first film, you have worked on a number of television films and series: what inspired this one?
The people and places in my neighborhood. The first few years of my life after coming out were very confusing. Not in terms of dealing with my sexuality, but trying to figure out what I wanted in life. Sometimes opportunities went by without notice, because I was too blinded with what I thought I wanted. There are so many different types of people that are a part of the community that we come across, but do not know much about.
What is different about making a featured film and filming for television?
Well when you are talking about productions with a budget, the big difference between filming the two is timing. When shooting a film, you generally have more time to prep. When shooting a TV series, you are constantly stuck in a preparation loop. You are constantly looking for locations, casting actors, creating a shooting schedule every seven days.
What are some of the challenges of making and promoting independent cinema?
The main challenge is raising enough money to make your film. Digital technology advances have made the process less expensive, but people still need to be paid to survive. I think it is best to find investors who are more interested in the art that is being created then the exact return on investment they are looking for.
There are more people than ever creating films out there, which is great. However, it does make it more difficult for the filmmaker to get their films seen with all the competition. A well-researched and thought-out plan is needed to promote the film. You have to find the films audience and target them.
So much of Seek is about looking and watching. Did this resonate with your own personal experiences?
I have always had an interest in people, how they live their lives and finding out what motivates them. It is hard to understand people who do not act the same as they would. If you are able to look deeper into the reasons, you may learn more about the people around you and yourself.
Watching people is also great for finding inspiration. You have to always be on the lookout for new ideas.
As a writer yourself, do you relate especially to Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski’s character Evan Brisby?
I relate to him because like him, I want more. Through Evan I show what I have gone through, the people I have met, and the mistakes I have made. Growing up I also wanted to be a reporter, so I am sort of living vicariously through him.
So much about Evan’s character is reflected in his choice of clothing, especially his choice of footwear. What are some of your decisions there?
I took out Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski, Ryan Fisher, and Jonathan Nathaniel shopping for their characters wardrobe. I tried to get the actors involved as much as I possible in creating the on-screen characters. They each present themselves very differently. In the case of Evan, we thought he would have the more casual/conservative wardrobe. Nothing of his wardrobe is flashy or makes him stand out. In the scene where Evan changes an old pair of shoes to a new pair of the same type, he is saying he really does not want to change. He has goals and aspirations, but he will need to be able to evolve and grow.
This is as much yours as it is Adrian Shepherd-Gawinski’s debut. Tell us about the casting.
I became friends with Adrian before he left for the National Theatre School in Montreal. We kept in touch, and I wrote this script with him in mind to play Evan. While writing and developing the project, I would travel to Montreal to visit Adrian.
Ryan Fisher is someone who I saw out one night. Later I saw him as a Fab Boy in the defunct Fab Magazine in Toronto. In the article, that accompanied his photo, he is described as a local actor. I liked his look, and wrote the part of Hunter with Ryan in mind even though we never met. While going through the casting submissions for the Aidan character, I came across Ryan’s head shot. I emailed telling him to read the script paying attention to the Hunter character. Luckily, he agreed to do the part.
I had met Jonathan Nathaniel briefly one night, and when I sat down to think who could play Aidan, he popped into my mind. I emailed him, we met for coffee, and he agreed to do the part. I was very lucky that I got my first choice in these main roles.
Toronto plays another character in the film. Tell us about filming and setting Seek in the city.
Filming in the city was pretty easy. Permits are easy to get, equipment is easy to get your hands on, and the city has many professionals to work as crew. Shooting in the village was great. We were lucky enough to get support from many local businesses. If it were not for them, making this movie would have been impossible. Of course we ran in to our share of location problems, but at the end of the day, the experience shooting in the city was great.
Toronto has played such a great part of my life that I knew I had to set the film here. There is so much going on. I grew up in Northern Ontario, and I always dreamed about living in the city.
What do you think makes this city uniquely filmic?
Toronto is a city full of neighborhoods. The people of those neighborhoods have so many different stories to tell because most people came from somewhere else and have different struggles and conflicts. From the local castle to the beach, there are so many locations that can serve a story. Toronto is continually growing and changing. Even if people are unwelcoming to this expansion, the growth provides even more conflicts that stories are born from.
What are some of the challenges of making a film in Toronto?
Toronto is just busy and filled with people, which makes shooting sometimes difficult, especially if you are low on funds. If shooting outdoors, you are always at the mercy of the pedestrian, bike rider, or obnoxious drunk.
If you need to shoot in a place of business, it will be very expensive to have them close down. Or you might have to work the schedule so that you shoot early mornings or nights to not obstruct business. We had to record lines between a bingo caller on a microphone on the floor below us during one scene. In the city, you never know what you’ll face.
The number of films made and set in Toronto remains comparatively few, so I was especially pleased to see the Church Wellesley Village, an LGBT-oriented area in Toronto for many years, celebrated. Did the geography of the city, and the Church Wellesley Village in particular, shape your writing and/or change your decisions about the film?
I loved filming in the village. The people were very supportive. I wrote the whole movie with ideas of shooting certain scenes at certain locations. I live in the village, and I wanted to show a part of that living experience in the film. I am amazed to think about all the laughs and tears I have shared in an area of just a couple blocks. I also wanted to show that there are so many different people and groups live on one street and how connected we are.
Two of the most striking shots in the film are the ones by Waterfront and the balcony sequence where we get a sense of urbanity of downtown Toronto. Tell us about the locations.
The waterfront scene happens at the end of the film, where Evan and Hunter talk about their stories being published for the world to see. They are not just part of the village, but part of the greater city and world. Opportunity is out there and if they look hard enough, have the talent and work ethic, they can succeed. I wanted the location of that scene to express that thought.
When Hunter is talking about himself on the balcony, I wanted him to look like a fierce animal perched up high. He is at the top of his game and at the centre of it all. This is actually my apartment balcony. We lucked out on the weather and location. I think the location plays apart in showing who these characters are.
What are your favourite spots in the city?
I love the tourist spots. I love Dundas Square. I have lived in Toronto for over a decade now, and to be honest, I have gotten used to so many things that the excitement I once had for just being in the city has waned. But when I’m in a busy spot filled with tourists, I see and sense their excitement making me realize what a great place I live in.
What is next for you?
Since shooting the film, I have had many ideas that I have tried to develop. This summer I will be working on writing a new script – as usual, inspired by my life, and the life of those around me here in Toronto.
Tom Ue was educated at Linacre College, University of Oxford, and at University College London, where he has worked from 2011 to 2016. His PhD examined Shakespeare’s influence on the writing of George Gissing. Ue was a Visiting Scholar at Yale University and at the University of Toronto at Scarborough and the 2011 Cameron Hollyer Memorial Lecturer, and he has held an Everett Helm Visiting Fellowship. He has published widely on Gissing, Conan Doyle, E. W. Hornung, and their contemporaries. Ue is the Frederick Banting Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of English at the University of Toronto at Scarborough.