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Victoria Film Festival 2014 Interview – CYBER-SENIORS director Saffron Cassaday

CYBER-SENIORS - At Victoria Film Fest
by Jason Whyte

“Cyber-Seniors is a comedic, character-driven documentary that follows a group of senior citizens as they learn to use the Internet through the guidance of teenaged mentors.” Director Saffron Cassaday whose film CYBER-SENIORS screens at the Victoria Film Festival February 11th and 15th.

Is this your first movie in the Victoria Film Festival, and are you coming to Victoria for the screening?

This is my first movie. I have never attended the Victoria Film Festival. I think I will attend but not confirmed yet! (Editor update: Saffron will be attending the Saturday, February 15th screening!)
Tell me a bit about your background and what led you into the motion picture business.

I have always been interested in the arts. I studied dance from an early age, then music, then acting. After high school I moved to New York City to study method acting at Lee Strasberg for a year. I moved back to Toronto to study Psychology at York University while auditioning. I was disappointed by the lack of auditions and interesting projects going on in Toronto. Sick of waiting around, I taught myself to edit so I could be more proactive in creating work for myself. I began editing corporate videos as a side gig and editing short comedy sketches I was acting in. Cyber-Seniors is the first feature length project I’ve edited, and the first thing I’ve directed.

How did this whole movie come together from your perspective?

My two younger sisters started the Cyber-Seniors Program when they were in high school as a community service initiative. I was just getting into video production at the time and I decided to tag along and film some of their lessons to help create promo material for the program. I immediately knew it was a story I wanted to tell. It was a timely topic, it was something that I felt could make a big difference in older adults’ lives, and the generation gap between these two groups was so obviously hilarious! It took a couple of years, and the encouragement of my mother who came on as producer, to get the film off the ground.

What was the biggest challenge in making the film?

Finding a story! For a first film, I thought making a documentary would be easier than making a narrative. No shot lists, no scripts. You just show up, point, and shoot! We had a blast shooting over 120 hours of footage but I quickly became aware of how difficult it is to make a 3-act story arc out of real life events. Throughout the shoot and into the editing process, I went through countless amounts of storyboards, treatments and scripts. There were cue cards strewn across the room, there were hundreds of different edits. After much agonizing, it all came together in a way that I’m really happy about.

What was your single favourite moment or rewarding experience out of the entire production?

The star of our film, Shura, unfortunately passed away a few months ago. The best compliment we got was from her daughter who said “Thank you for giving my mother the chance to shine at a time in her life when it was least expected”.

What keeps you going while making a movie? How much coffee?

Actually, when we began shooting I was so terrified that I didn’t know what I was doing - I was taking Benadryl everyday to keep my nervous hives at bay! Heavily consuming coffee certainly would not have helped. My goal was simply to stay as calm, focused and in the moment as possible. After the first week I was much more relaxed. During the edit I would get so wound up after a 12-hour day of cutting, I couldn’t turn off my mind to go to sleep! A glass of wine or two usually helped with that.

I would love to know about the technical side of the film, your relationship to the director of photography, what the movie was shot on and why it was decided to be filmed this way.

The film was shot on a Canon 5D. I love the look of these DSLR cameras and liked that they are lightweight and non-intrusive to the people we were filming. Before we began shooting, I discussed the types of shots I wanted with my director of photography, Kieran Heilbron. I wanted lots of B-Roll of hands on the keyboard and mouse because I knew they would be useful in the edit. I also wanted to be able to see the seniors’ eyes as they discovered something new on the computer, so we would start each session by moving the senior’s desk away from the wall so the DP could get right behind the computer screen. While shooting, if there was something happening I wanted the DP to capture I would gesture to him quietly as to not disturb what was going on in the scene. But in general, once we were rolling I let him do his thing. My focus was being involved with what was going on with the characters, and letting them forget there was a camera there.

After the film screens in Victoria, what is the future release plan for the movie? Anywhere you WANT the movie to be shown but haven't done so yet?

Victoria is a sneak-preview screening for us.  Our World Premiere will be on May 2nd in New York City followed by a screening in LA on May 9th.  This will kick off a North American “Movievent” Tour of 80 cities which will culminate in a wide theatrical release on September 7th, 2014, which is Grandparents Day.  We have lots of fun contests planned to compliment our “Movievent” Tour, which we hope will attract an inter-generation audience. 

What would you say or do to someone who is talking or texting during a screening of your film in a cinema?

You’re about to miss a really funny part! Your loss.

There are a lot filmmakers, especially up-and-comers, reading our site. I was curious if you had any advice to aspiring filmmakers?

You can’t be afraid to just go for it. You may have a great idea for a film, but get totally stalled waiting to be “ready”. When I was starting out as an editor, I would sometimes stretch the truth and pretend to be more capable than I was. Then when I booked the gig I would have to scramble to figure it out! It’s scary putting yourself out there like that, but I do think that it’s the best way to learn.

And finally, what is the single, greatest movie that you have seen at a film festival?

BLUE VALENTINE is one of my favourite movies of all time. I saw it at Toronto International Film Festival a few years ago at a small, daytime screening. When the lights came up, I realized Ryan Gosling had been sitting directly in front of me the entire time! I had been audibly crying through half the film, I hope it didn’t bother him!

More information on CYBER-SENIORS:

Follow on Twitter at @cyberseniors; Facebook Fan Page at facebook.com/cyberseniors and the CYBER-SENIORS Youtube channel!

This is one of the many films playing at this year’s Victoria Film Festival. For showtimes and further information visit www.victoriafilmfestival.com.

Be sure to follow instant happenings of the festival and updates on my Twitter @jasonwhyte!

Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com

link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=3624
originally posted: 02/10/14 20:08:22
last updated: 02/10/14 20:12:36
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