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VIFF 2015 Interview: THE DEVOUT director Connor Gaston

by Jason Whyte

"THE DEVOUT is about a man's crisis of faith when he begins to believe that his terminally ill daughter was an Apollo 1 astronaut in a previous life." Director Connor Gaston on THE DEVOUT which is screening at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival.

Is this your first VIFF experience and will you be in Vancouver to attend your screenings?

My short film GODHEAD screened at VIFF last year. I'm very excited to be invited back to Vancouver with my first feature. Unfortunately I won't be able to attend my own screenings because I will be South Korea for the Asian premiere of THE DEVOUT.

Although I know your personal backstory, tell our readers a bit about yourself and your background.

I went to the University of Victoria to study screenwriting and turned to directing when words on a page didn't cut it. BARDO LIGHT, my first short film, premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2012. GODHEAD, my latest short film, premiered at TIFF in September 2014 and won Best Student Film at Whistler Film Festival. I've recently graduated with an MFA in screenwriting from UVic. THE DEVOUT is my first feature.

With all of your background work and shorts before this, how did THE DEVOUT get its start?

What a big question. I guess it all started with the script, which was my Master's thesis project. Maureen Bradley was my advisor, and she helped shape the script into something worthy of going to camera. I somehow convinced local producer Daniel Hogg to come onboard, and we were lucky enough to win the Telefilm Micro-budget Award. All of sudden fear sets in; I have to actually make this thing. Fortunately, Dan and I know a load of talented people who came on board to make this film happen.

I met Ali Liebert during a pitch contest at Whistler Film Festival. She was a judge. I didn't win the pitch, but Ali came up to me after gave a bunch of positive feedback. Last year at VIFF, I ran into her at a party. I told her about my feature script and asked if she'd read it. The next day, I get a phone call. "I'll do it." Once Ali was on board, a lot of the key cast followed, including Gabrielle Rose and the lead of the film, Charlie Carrick. I still can't believe how we landed such a great cast. I wonder what the film would have been if I hadn't met Ali in Whistler.

Once we neared production, we confirmed key crew members: cinematographer Daniel Carruthers, production designer Jesse Cattle, casting director Judy Lee, Composer Gilles Maillet, and producer Amanda Verhagen. I'm missing a ton of amazing, dedicated people. The crew really made the film what it is.

While you are working on a movie, what keeps you going? What drives you? Youthful energy?

I'm a regular old coffee guy. I find there's a lot of natural adrenaline on set, so I don't need much to keep me going.

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and how did you over-come it?

The biggest challenge going in was finding our four-year-old lead. At the time, the part was written for a boy. We held a bunch of auditions, and we found a few potential kids, but something didn't feel quite right. It wasn't until we began filming the intro to the film when we came across little Olivia Martin. She took direction well and was a natural in front of the camera. I immediately rewrote the role for a girl.

If you had to pick a single favourite from THE DEVOUT, out of the entire production, what would it be?

A scene with Ali Liebert and little Olivia comes to mind. It was a "oner", or entire scene in 1 shot, and Olivia had a bunch of lines. Both Ali and Olivia absolutely nail the scene as the camera slowly dollies towards them. I couldn't believe a four-year-old could pull off a scene like that. I could barely talk when I was four.

For the aspiring filmmakers who read our site, I would love to know about the “technical” side of the film and your relation to Daniel Carruthers, who shot the film.

I was really inspired stylistically by Jeff Nichol's Take Shelter. Dan Carruthers and I were both super excited when we landed Cooke lenses for the production, which were the same lenses Nichol used on Take Shelter. We shot on RED, and tried to employ a very minimalistic approach: wide angles, minimal camera movement, natural lighting; something that can be hard to make cinematic. I think the muted style compliments the subject matter well.

Although you won't be in Vancouver for the screening; even though you'll be there in spirit what are you looking forward to the most?

I won't be there, but I'm excited for Olivia to see herself on screen! I'm incredibly excited to go to Busan, South Korea for the Asian premiere. More festivals to be announced soon!

What would you say or do to someone who is talking, texting or being overall disruptive during a screening of your film?

VIFF audiences are too polite for such a thing. If it did happen, I think I would just be disappointed that they were bored enough to start texting.

There are many aspiring filmmakers reading us for our articles and reviews on efilmcritic.com. If you could offer a nugget of advice to them on how to get their start, what would you say to them?

Just start. I'm an advocate of "learning by doing" and don't really feel I'm in the position to offer advise. If I must offer up a nugget, it would be to try something different on your 3rd take. As soon as you have the take you want, had envisioned, try something different. Push your actors. You never know what might work in the edit room.

And finally, what is the best movie you have ever seen at a film festival, and why?

Another tough question. THE MASTER at TIFF and WHIPLASH at VIFF were both great experiences for me.

Be sure to follow the progress of THE DEVOUT on Twitter at @thedevoutmovie and on Facebook!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival taking place in beautiful Vancouver from Septembe 24th to October 9th. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to www.viff.org or use the VIFF app for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=3834
originally posted: 09/22/15 12:29:11
last updated: 09/22/15 12:31:29
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