Hayter Street all started after I’d written a few feature scripts but with zero connections in the film industry, having never gone to film school and having never been on a film set, I wasn’t sure how I was going to get into the biz. I thought about submitting my scripts to competitions but figured if I didn’t win any I’d be right back to the drawing board. I’ve been in love with writing for a number of years but was starting to lose sleep because a very annoying itch to produce a film needed to be scratched. I remember reading a quote from Stanley Kubrick when he was deciding to make Killer’s Kiss, something to the effect of “I figured with all the trash coming out of Hollywood, I could do better than that.” and that always stayed with me and really was the genesis of the project so, thank you Stanley. Over a few late nights in February 2011 I wrote the story quickly and began a plan of attack. The idea was to do a short film because I’d never had any production experience and the shooting script was only 17 pages. The film grew from those 17 pages along with my ambitions, the initial idea being a film noir using existing city locations as creatively as possible. I first story boarded a few key scenes over February and March then began to think locations. I’ve lived in Toronto for a few years now and most of the locations were written into the script based on what I’d seen walking around in my daily life. Most were chosen based on proximity to my house, which at the time was on Admiral Road in the Annex, which my old landlord since sold, R.I.P Admiral Road Studios. I always wondered what the new owners thought of the huge fake blood spatter on the wall in their basement. Interiors were whatever was available and the rest I built in my tiny basement apartment.
I spent the beginning of March breaking the script down for props and costumes. At the end of the month I started to think casting. My friends Mike Lundy, who is a plumber by trade and Sebastian DiLorenzo, a college admissions office worker, were written into the script as The Strangers and Double Dutch respectively and there was never a doubt in my mind my kid sister, Brieann, could play Feathers. She worked at a collections call centre and wasn’t done work until 7:00 so they were long days for her when we were shooting. A friend from the restaurant I work at downtown, Kassandra Nielson, agreed to play Kitten. Now to figure out the rest of the characters. I knew I would be making the film on my credit card, spinning pizzas doesn’t pay so good, so I kind of knew while writing that I might end up having to play them because I couldn’t pay actors and didn’t want to get someone for free and have them not show up so I didn’t commit to anything yet. I’d never been behind a camera and certainly never in front of one so I was a little nervous. Eyes was originally written as a woman with the idea of casting my friend Emily Soetens, because she has the most beautiful yellow eyes you’ll ever see. Seriously, they are yellow. I then changed my mind because she works two jobs and thought that might conflict so I cast her in the police lineup instead along with my boy Dave Berry, a construction worker by day. As April approached I decided that I would man up and play the remaining characters, Eddie Murphy style. I had to start putting the costumes and props together so I needed to know sizes for the actors, which I didn’t have, so playing them myself would solve that, an added bonus was I saved money by using some clothes I already owned.
With the weather warming in April I hit the pavement to hunt for wardrobe and props in Chinatown and Kensington Market (they are a wardrobe department’s best friend, vintage shops are great too but also a great way to break the bank so spend wisely) in order to be ready to start shooting in June or early July, but not before two events took place which would greatly influence the production.
The first was how to solve the problem of sound recording for a no budget movie about a singer. I knew sound was going to be a challenge, especially when filming a run and gun style out in the streets and in the subways. I’ve always loved the dream like qualities of silent movies as well as the tightly knit plots of classic noir so I’d been kicking around the idea of mashing up the two styles in my head for quite some time. Noir borrows from silent film style all the time but it was obviously never possible, historically, for silent film to borrow from classic noir so I thought it might be a fun experiment, telling a film noir crime story with title cards and music like a silent film and therefore also eliminating the problem and expense of recording dialogue, plus we’re not actors so this eliminated having to memorize lines. The decision was finalized when I attended the Canadian Film Centre’s Short Film Festival that spring and couldn’t understand why I’d paid twenty dollars and didn’t understand half the movies because I couldn’t hear what anyone was saying. I decided right there in that dark theatre that I was going silent. This was a heavy decision though because it meant using pre recorded music I could not afford the rights to and consequently meant no film festivals for Hayter Street and never taking a dime for a project that by the time anyone reads this will have taken me, from script to screen, over two and a half years to complete. It now became a free movie online for people who love film and this city as much as I do. It is of course NOT my little sister singing the first three songs in the opening of the film, it is of course The Shangri-Las. I chose them because I love them and the songs just worked, the same goes for the following pieces of music in the movie I borrowed, they just worked, sometimes after long and agonizing hours comparing a few tracks on iTunes (all songs were from CDs I already owned or purchased from iTunes), but eventually they just worked. I hope you enjoy them. In hind sight I should have faded songs out in order not to handcuff myself to song running times in the editing room, which contributed to an overlong movie. This of course was a major lesson learned but I never felt right about fading songs out and messing with someone else’s art, they were intended to be heard that way by the musicians so I didn’t mess with it too much. I was essentially learning to cut a movie on the fly and had no experience cutting sound but did experiment a little, like double tracking the Bernard Herrmann piece from the Taxi Driver Soundtrack. The next major influence on the production, although not stylistically, rather spiritually, and I don’t want to sound like a hippy but it seemed as if the universe was providing at just the perfect time. My mother surprised me with tickets to An Evening With Al Pacino that spring, so there I was making my first ever film, completely flying by the seat of my pants and ten feet in front of me, out he walks into the dark to centre stage… The lights go up, boom, there’s Al Pacino standing with his arms out and grinning from ear to ear. He’s wearing all black and dressed like Keith Richards, the place goes nuts. He was wearing silk pajamas under his suit pants but whatever, he’s Al Pacino, he can wear whatever the hell he wants. It was inspiring to hear him talk movies and his love of acting. It did for me what his locker room speeches did for the players in the Al Pacino starring film Any Given Sunday (minus all the penises).
In May I dusted off the miniDV camera Santa got me for Christmas back in 2003, which I’d only used to shoot family gatherings and the like, and began to test how well it could handle much of the shooting which would be at night. Research I’d read in film books said not to shoot at night but the tests looked good so I then shot some more in Trinity Bellwoods Park in Toronto to get comfortable behind the camera. Some of the Trinity tests made it into the picture.
June was go time, I was itching to shoot but Sebastian was refusing to go out in public wearing a trench coat because he “looked like a flasher” so I dressed Mike up in the hat and trench coat and shot him in long shots along Bloor Street for the opening Out In The Streets sequence then shot Sebastian’s close up on his way into his office at Honest Ed’s vault door months later when he was more comfortable in his costume. I grabbed some shots of him walking to Honest Ed’s without the jacket on and got him to FINALLY put the jacket on for his close up. Next we shot his office interiors in my apartment. It was hot as all hell in there with all the lights and poor Sebastian must have had to smoke two packs of butts for the shoot, Thank you Sebbi. Shooting continued through June, a typical shoot going something like this: Rush home from work at 3:00 pm, set up camera and set in my living room or bedroom, make dinner for whichever actors were shooting that night, eat and discuss the scene over a beer or in my sister’s case, explain the character to her as she already knew she didn’t have to remember lines so she never bothered to read the script. I’d then block the scene and tweak the lighting and roll camera, working usually between 8:00-11:00 in the evening. After the actors left I’d hit the streets to shoot exteriors from midnight until 2:00-3:00 in the morning, walk home, sleep a few hours, get up for work and do it all over again. It was the most fun I’ve ever had. Cities are different at night and it was really something to be running around on steamy summer nights with a camera and tripod while folks were off in slumberland, well not everyone, night people were about. It was a hot summer so the freaks came out at night. Shout outs to Angelo Tony Luongo who sang Elvis songs to me in the middle of the night on Bloor Street, Alyssa Justice, who spotted my camera and took pity on the fact I got caught walking in the pouring rain and invited me in for a cup of tea. The bachelorette party who gave us cookies in front of Honest Ed’s, Yee Haw! The really wasted dude who walked with me on Queen Street between John and Ossington “to keep watch so no ass hole stole the camera.” The girl working in Shoppers who didn’t bat an eye when I walked in wearing my Pearly Gate Nate get up, carrying a ghetto blaster, and asked which aisle the press on nails were in. To the guy in the bar who asked me what I was doing when he spotted the camera to which I replied “Making a movie.” “Oh yeah?” he said, “I make movies too.” He then pulled out his phone and said, “She’s gonna be a star,” and showed me a video of him doing dirty, dirty things to some dirty, dirty girl. He then tried to give me crack. Drunk people love a guy with a video camera. And to the piano player at Motel Bar who let me film him, I never caught your name, THANK YOU ALL! Running around the streets at night with nothing but subway fare, a flash light, a miniDV camera, a couple of actors and a backpack full of beers created a thrill I imagined the French New Wavers might have felt running around the streets of Paris in the old days or what the No Wavers were doing in New York in the late 70′s and early 80′s. Everyone sweated it out through long nights in June. Feathers opening scenes were shot in a hot smoky basement so I’d like to thank my sister for being stuck in costume for hours in that damp apartment and never complaining. Everyone worked for booze and food so I’m sure at some point they might have thought “what have I got myself in to?” but again, I couldn’t have done it without you. Along we chugged, working like Puff Daddy.
I originally assumed whomever would play the twin brother Strangers would play them wearing a fake mustache but when Mike agreed to do it, he said he would actually grow a mean mustache and cut his hair to look like an idiot. Only there was a catch. Mike had just become a plumber that spring and had his first company picnic later that summer. He figured the mustache was one thing but having the dumb hair as well at a work function with the big bosses was another thing entirely. We all know the importance of first impressions at picnics for plumbers. The decision was agreed upon he would start growing the mustache right away and let it fill out over the next few months. While he waited for the day of the picnic I shot with the other actors and soon after said picnic (Mike won an iPod) I shaved his head and he got to work with a thick, luscious mustache. You can definitely see the mustache growing over the course of the shoot. He as well was paid with food and booze so I want to express my sincere gratitude for him going to work and his beer league hockey games, day in and day out, and putting up with being made fun of by his fellow plumbers and teammates, incessantly. The mustache was ironically shaved off a few days before Movember, after Mike’s scenes were completed. We shot some reshoot stuff with a fake mustache but I left most of it on the cutting room floor and the very few shots that made it into the picture are quite obviously a fake moustache. And that is the saga that was the mustache. R.I.P mustache, you are greatly missed.
July I fell in love. I’m running around making my first movie and I met my unicorn. It was a good summer.
August. My Visa bill really, really sucked now. On we go. It was now time to get into the meat of the script because I had my villain. Some exteriors were shot in the alleys around Queen West to see how the costume and hair looked. We then shot the club interiors and Mikey did some method acting and drank too much red wine, he’s pretty hammered in those opening club scenes. Next was time for me to step in front of the camera for the first time in the police lineup scene so I shaved my head, slapped on a mustache and yelled action! Many thanks to Emily and Dave for being criminals. The rest of the summer was business as usual and we got some amazing stuff in the can.
September slowed a little to give everyone a break after a long hot summer. I continued to shoot exteriors in Toronto’s different neighbourhoods at night, shooting graffiti, statues, bars, mannequins in storefront windows, clocks at midnight, anything that caught my eye. I’ll admit I got a little trigger happy at this time and began shooting EVERYTHING, I even began filming YouTube videos right off my laptop. Mike and I shot the bulk of his statue stuff at this point as well as what became known as The Gaga Walk with my sister. She got all dolled up in the funky outfit with the heart shaped sunglasses and we shot on a packed subway on our way to Honest Ed’s. When we were shooting on the street some girl spotted us and sang out “Gaga! Ooh la la!” as she passed.
October and my first snag in an otherwise smooth production. After easing off shooting in September, Sebastian thought he was Marlon Brando and disappeared for a few weeks only we still had to get over to the island before it was too cold and all the leaves had fallen, I needed to match the island shoot with the sunny scenes we’d shot all summer. You can spot fallen leaves in the Island sequence as well as when I’m playing the cop in the park. What to do? I’m the second of three boys and one girl in my family and Sebastian is the oldest of three boys in his family. His family moved across the street from us in 1988 so we’ve been tight forever but my Moms always saying “I can never tell the difference between Sebastian, Tony and Bubba.” That’s when a light bulb went off in my head and I rolled the dice and went ahead and shot some of Double Dutch’s scenes with Bubba, a window installer and Sebastian’s youngest brother, to combat the clock and the falling leaves. I figured if my own Mother, who’s known the boys for 15 years, had a hard time telling them apart, then maybe an audience would have a hard time as well. Especially with much of the footage being shot at night and in black and white. The character’s name is Double Dutch so I thought it was funny that Bubba was now the third person to don the leather pork pie and stand in for Dutch. I had always planned on using Bubba for the flashback scene at the end as the young Double Dutch but upped his scenes in order to finish production. Thank you Bubby, I’ll buy you that Audi one day.
I don’t want to spoil the ending so I’ll skip over the details of the end of October’s shooting and jump ahead to November. Principal photography was winding down but I felt I still didn’t have enough footage of Dutch walking around the city looking for Feathers voice and knew because I wasn’t paying Sebastian I couldn’t expect him to walk around the city at night until God knows when, freezing in a v neck t-shirt, loafers with no socks and pant legs rolled up. I figured if three people had already played Dutch, why not make it an even four? I slipped into the v neck and loafers, slicked my hair over, put on the shades and hit the streets with camera and tripod. It was frosty.
December. I shot the scene of Feathers going to see Dutch after her voice is stolen and unfortunately Kassandra couldn’t get off work so I went ahead with my girlfriend at the time as Kitten instead, thank you Andrea, you were a natural. Shooting wrapped in mid December just in time to party it up for Christmas and my 31st birthday. Any reshoots I might need would have to wait for the Spring time.
January was an eventful month for a few reasons. All I had at the time was my Macbook so I cut together a quick preview on iMovie and threw it online. It’s pretty bad because iMovie is pretty limited editing software but it’s all I had and I just wanted to get something out there. Mike’s first daughter was also born in January so I’d like to thank his wife Catherine for letting him run around the streets at night shooting while she was at home pregnant, sweating it out in a hot apartment all summer. Next I bought an iMac and Final Cut Pro X and spent the next few weeks loading all 45 hours of tape onto an external hard drive. I then stalled a bit because the thought of the enormity of the task of editing in front of me gave me a spot of anxiety. Where to start? How was I going to shape 45 hours into a cohesive narrative? And why the hell did I shoot 45 hours of god damn tape? If you’re a student or rookie like I was, possibly reading this, plan your scenes and trust your gut, get the coverage you need, but trust your instincts and don’t over shoot.
January 24, 2013. RACHEL MCADAMS WALKS INTO MY WORK BY HERSELF. I shit my pants. I worked in an open kitchen at the time so I could see the customers as they came in. Not to pass up the opportunity, I went to the basement and wrote a quick note explaining I’m a local filmmaker and it would make my life complete (I didn’t actually write that, I played it cool) if she watched my terrible movie preview. She ordered split pea soup and the octopus for lunch. I delivered the soup myself, explained I didn’t want to disturb her meal and slipped her the note. I then made her octopus with extra TLC, I mean who wants to ruin Rachel McAdams lunch, right? Again I deliver with a smile. She eats the whole thing, I mean cleans the plate, and continues reading for another ten minutes or so, the whole time I’m wondering if she’s watching the preview on her iPad. Trouble strikes. The waitress comes over and asks me if there’s meat in the octopus dish. My heart stops. Theres pancetta in the sauce but it stupidly doesn’t mention it on the menu. And guess what? Ms. McAdams eats fish but not meat and last time I checked, pancetta comes from pigs. Yikes. The waitress said she was cool about it and she ate the whole thing but fuck me. Feeding a vegetarian meat. My girlfriend was a veggie too so I’m well aware of what it means to not eat meat. Say goodbye to her watching my preview, too. We offered to buy her lunch because of the mistake but she insisted on paying. Then about ten minutes later I have my back to the dining room and I hear “Excuse me, are you Andrew?” I turn and there she is. I apologize about the mixup and she says not to worry, it was delicious. She continues, “I’m so sorry but my wi-fi isn’t working so I’ll have to watch the video later, what’s it about?” I explain it’s about a nightclub singer who gets her voice stolen on Speakers Corner to which she replies “Oh cool, how did you do the Speakers Corner stuff? Did you film before they got rid of it?” and I explained I filmed off of YouTube and built a set for the rest in my apartment. “Cool.” she says. I then thanked her and apologized again and she was on her way. I can safely assume she then forwarded it to Owen Wilson, Owen to Luke, Luke to Vince Vaughn, Vinny to Kevin Bacon, Bacon to Danny DeVito, Devito to Ted Danson, Danson to Norm from Cheers, Cheers to Niles Crane, Crane to Jerry Seinfeld, Seinfeld to Newman, Newman sent it to no one.
The next memorable moment came when I read about Escape From Tomorrow at Sundance. I thought wow, heres someone close to my age, thousands of miles away, who made a film similar in style to what I was making. They’re both black and white art house pictures and both break a shit load of copy right laws, his Disney related, mine the music and all the TV stuff I filmed off You Tube. I think we shared the same idea that we were going to make the films we were going to make by any means necessary.
Editing wore on to April when I got notice from my landlord that he was selling the house and we were getting the boot.
April. Don’t ever, ever, ever, ever attempt a move at the same time as editing your first movie. It’s bullshit. Trust me. One positive that month was Mike and I were going to go for gelato in Yorkville and as we walked out of my house and turned onto the sidewalk, we look up and Woody Harrelson was about five feet away walking towards us wearing track pants and a cut off t-shirt. I guess he didn’t want to be bothered so he gave us his best Natural Born Killer stare and we parted off the sidewalk like the red sea. I always regret not saying something but I was scared lol.
May was mostly packing boxes as well as picking up a few shots for Eyes I still needed in the alleyway of the house I lived in before I moved. To further complicate things I read about the Canadian Film Centre’s short script competition and it’s $50 000 prize money. Now I figured after thinking back to sitting in that dark theatre the previous spring watching movies I couldn’t hear, I had a pretty decent shot at the fifty thousand. The problem was that the entry deadline was two weeks away so I wasn’t sure it was even doable. The maximum page count was forty so I came up with a plan, if I could think of a short story idea with a good hook in the next 24 hours, I would go ahead and put editing aside for two weeks and write the script. The logical starting point was a story involving one of the character’s I’d created for Hayter Street, I’d spent the last 15 months realizing the film so I knew that world inside and out, I even played both the characters of Eyes, the sleazy pimp and Pearly Gate Nate, the hustler. I got lucky and a million dollar idea came to me, the pimp won. Because the hook was good, the story wrote itself. I banged it out and clocked it in at 38 pages, hit print and headed up to the Canadian Film Centre on the last day of the contest. I made a pizza at work and threw it into a takeout box at 3 o’clock and hauled ass on the bus up to Bayview Avenue to the CFC before it closed at 5 o’clock. I made it as they were closing up shop but the lady happily took my story with a smile. Success. Not so fast…. On my way home on the bus I received a phone call from an extremely nice lady informing me that because Hayter Street had never played in a festival, I wasn’t an accredited producer and therefore ineligible to enter the contest. Beer please. I shelved The Oldest Trick In The Book and got back to packing boxes. The end of May was a blur while I moved.
June was mostly unpacking boxes. Also at this time my buddy recommended backing up my work in case of a crash and told me he uses Backblaze, an online backup service. He’s a computer guy and what do I know about computers so I signed up. Now I didn’t ask but he never told me either that it would take all summer to back up the files. I didn’t foresee the issue because my computer was brand new and I used it for editing only, everything else I did off my laptop. So make sure and ask how long a backup will take, kids. It said you can work normally while the initial backup is occurring but I found Final Cut was slowing down, big time, and I only had about sixteen minutes of the movie edited at that point. Because of the massive size of the video files, work was grinding to a halt while the computer was backing up in the background. I walked away from editing until the backup was complete in September. Now I could have lost my mind, not being able to edit but instead poured that anger into writing a story for Pearly Gate Nate.
September. Editing was back on.
November. Editing. Some more exterior shooting for the bar sequence in the West end.
March. Editing. Editing took a long time because I was essentially rewriting as I edited. The script itself never expanded from it’s original 17 pages but I ended up with a two hour movie because I shot so much tape and absolutely fell in love with filmmaking when I was editing and kept adding stuff to the picture. Because there was no recorded dialogue, I had the freedom to say whatever I wanted in the title cards. I also had to add lines to a scene here and there strictly as a timing device in order to match the scene to the running time of the particular song.
April. Editing. The light at the end of the tunnel was starting to look brighter though.
May. Editing. Picked up some reshoot stuff with Bubba in Little India I hadn’t got before. As well as the shots of Sebastian in the Revue Theatre. May 25th was officially a wrap for shooting. Also the second Hayter Street baby was born, my sister gave birth to her daughter. Feathers is now a mom.
June. I finish the first cut clocking in at 2 hours, 9 minutes, 14 seconds & 20 frames. I then screened it to a few friends and they all said it was great but too long. I went back and got it under two hours to the current running time of an hour and 55 minutes which is still far too long.
July I finalized poster, CD and DVD design, thank you Mark, and sent them off to the printers. After deciding there were no more trims I could make I then began the rendering with my little brother. Thank you Adam, I really couldn’t have done it without you. Next was a three day upload to YouTube and getting my website up to speed. And here we are. Over two years later.
August 1st, I write this, my first blog post. Next step is promotion, you’ll see posters around town, after that CDs and DVDs, free of course. I never have nor will I ever accept a dime on the film. And to all musicians I borrowed from I can never thank you personally but I would if I could and I hope you can appreciate I mean no harm to you and your recordings and that if it’s any consolation, I just really, really, really needed to create something I could share with folks and I hope people have as much fun watching it as I did making it. Thank You. -Butch
I would also like to thank my parents for helping me out financially when things got super tight, I’m not out of the woods yet. Also many thanks to The Strombo Show, Little Stevie’s Underground Garage, Bob Parlocha and my homegirl Marilyn Lightstone for keeping me company on the radio over many late, lonely nights of editing. Also steady handed Stewart Johnstone for holding the lights when necessary. And also I’d like to thank you for taking the time to watch the movie and read this, thank you to anyone who shares the link, after all I made the film for you guys.
There are too many filmmakers to thank for inspiring me so I’ll keep it short. DEDICATED TO MARTIN SCORSESE, FRANCOIS TRUFFAUT, HENRY CHALFANT, CHARLIE AHEARN AND ESPECIALLY ALLEN BARON. OH AND HOW COULD I FORGET THE FABULOUS MARY WEISS. THANK YOU ALL.