It sounds like the opening of a joke but that’s how our first production meeting started for the upcoming short film, The Rose – a cautionary tale about the accountability of our actions. The sci-fi drama was written by Dan Yakimchuk, best known for his political-satire blog under the pseudonym Dr. Strangejob. Dan stepped outside his usual writing style when he penned The Rose and stepped into the shoes of a dramatic writer.
The Rose is the heartfelt story of Elder, a distraught and disquieting man who travels back in time to meet his younger self during a pivotal moment in their life. The characters Elder and Junior hit close to home for Dan because he knows their pain from personal experience. Growing up in an alcoholic household prone to violence is an all too familiar story for many Cape Bretoners.
“That type of environment can drive people to extremes,” Dan explained when he shared the story behind The Rose. “They start experimenting with things they shouldn’t be experimenting with. Elder and Junior are one in the same, but the struggles of Junior are similar to what many Cape Bretoners deal with on a daily basis.”
I’ve heard too many tragic tales of this very thing. In fact, I was recently approached by someone to shoot a documentary about those and other issues facing Cape Bretoners. Unlike a documentary, The Rose is a work of fiction, but it draws from the writer’s own experiences. Dan’s original plan was to submit his story to a contest because if he won they would help him turn his story into a short film – but first he had to win.
“I wrote the screenplay with the intention of directing it. I did not have myself in mind for the role of Elder,” Dan explained, “but the character began to speak through me as he was being developed on the page.” Dan’s initial story was structured more as a play than as a screenplay, and he knew it would take a filmmaker’s eye to translate the written word into what can be accurately portrayed on the screen, and so began his journey to submit his story to the contest.
He knew he stood a better chance of winning by enlisting the help of someone knowledgeable in screenwriting and filmmaking to help him fine-tune his screenplay before he submitted it to the contest. I am humbled and honored that he thought I was the person who best filled those shoes.
When I read his screenplay and talked to him about his goals, I felt an overpowering urge to convince him to never put his filmmaking dreams in the hands of a contest. I put off chasing my own filmmaking dreams for years because I convinced myself that no one would be interested in my stories. Why would they? I wrote a couple of books and had a successful audiobook, but as a filmmaker I had zero connections and I lacked hands-on experience. I was good at making excuses for why I couldn’t make movies, but mostly I just lacked confidence. Eventually I stopped making excuses and started making movies.
In my first year as a filmmaker I wrote and directed five short films and seven episodes of a web series, I directed a music video, and I shot some videos for CBU. I have since filmed more short films including one for a group of students at NSCC, more music videos, and I currently have several more films in various stages of production including a feature-length film based on my novel, Dead Hunt. It’s amazing what can happen when you get out of your own way.
When I finally set the filmmaking wheels in motion I discovered that there were a lot of people in Glace Bay and the surrounding areas that were interested in filmmaking, and they were waiting for someone like me to come along and give them what they needed – an opportunity. That’s why many of my films have first-time actors, because I want them to know that you don’t need experience to chase your dreams. If you have passion and persistence, someone will give you the chance that you’re looking for. Such is the case with Dan Yakimchuk.
I first met Dan when he auditioned for a role in one of my films. He later invited me to appear as an extra in a Dr. Strangejob short he was putting together. I thought it would be a fun learning experience to be in front of the camera so I agreed. It was during the shooting of his project when I met the director, Michael MacDonald, who later acted in several of my films, and I met Dan’s sister, Madeline Yakimchuk, an award-winning documentarian.
When it comes to writing and filmmaking I’m probably best known for my realistic dialog and unexpected endings, so aside from the technical aspects of screenplay formatting and story structure, my focus with Dan was to help him smooth off the edges so the story and the dialog flowed naturally. But first I had to convince him to forget about contests where he has no control of the outcome and focus on what he could control to make his film.
I host a weekly podcast that helps beginner filmmakers by offering real-world tips from the trenches of indie filmmaking, and I interview actors, producers and filmmakers for their insight into the world of making movies. I close every show with “Grab your camera, gather up your friends, and go shoot your movie” – so it goes without saying that I’m a proponent of do-it-yourself filmmaking.
Many of the aspiring writers who seek my help usually list lack of equipment as the primary reason why they are not making movies. I remind them that the multi-award winning film, Tangerine, was shot using an iPhone 5S. I believe the most important part of any movie is not the equipment, the talent or even the budget – it’s the story.
Dan had such a story, and he had volunteered his time to help me with a few of my projects so I offered to shoot and edit his film so he didn’t have to worry about that aspect of it, he could concentrate on directing it because that was his original intention. Dan later told me that he felt the only way to ensure the film’s message was properly told was by putting it in the hands of an experienced director. He asked me to be the director his film needed. Once again I was humbled and honored.
When I originally read his screenplay I told him that it was exactly the type of screenplay I tell new screenwriters to try and write to save on production costs and to keep from getting overwhelmed – a simple yet deeply powerful story that only has two or three characters and one or two locations. Dan’s screenplay had all the right ingredients, but the reason I agreed to direct The Rose was the underlying subtext – it held a powerful message that needed to be heard.
Principal photography for The Rose is scheduled to begin in November, 2017, and will be filmed in Glace Bay and in Sydney.