1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of Relative Happiness, from concept to financing.
Here’s the Cole’s Notes version: Alan Collins, Nova Scotia producer, optioned Lesley Crewe’s hit debut novel, Relative Happiness, six or seven years ago. And, like all indie films, it was a tumultuous journey getting the film made with various people attached to the project over a 5-year period. I was approached back in the fall of 2011 by Collins along with Lynne Wilson & Jill Knox-Gosse to direct the film. At that point, I hadn’t read the novel, to be honest, and so I read a draft and just really connected with the main character, Lexie Ivy. She felt like someone I knew. Flawed yet lovable. So I came on board as director/writer and spent another year or so developing the script with Iain MacLeod, doing preliminary casting & location scouting and pulling together a package that our funders couldn’t say no to. We got the green-light from Telefilm Canada in July 2013, wrote a new draft, began a crazy search for the lead role of Lexie with US Casting Director Nancy Klopper, who’s amazing by the way, which lead us to casting Melissa Bergland in late August, then pre-production began late September and we began shooting the end of October for a mere 16 days. It was an intense experience but I had a committed, talented cast lead by Bergland, Aaron Poole and Johnathan Sousa and just the best crew. I’m proud of what we all accomplished.
2Q: Relative Happiness has done quite well at other film festivals. Will you be less nervous now at Cinequest? Does this process ever get any easier?
No, it never gets easier. I think every audience has its own personality. You never know how they will respond. If I did, I would be a millionaire. No, a billionaire. Let’s just say, I would have a lot of money. Damn, I wish I had that skill.
3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making Relative Happiness?
Going with the best experience here (my mom would be proud):
We were shooting in Hubbards, Nova Scotia and I was away from my family on my birthday (I have two small kids). It was such a challenging day that I almost forgot about it. But at lunch, I was completely surprised when the entire cast & crew sang me happy birthday and presented me a plate of sparkly cupcakes. The crew even had a happy birthday sign projected on the trucks. It was really sweet. A moment I won’t forget.
4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?
It’s an embraceable, funny movie with a breakout performance by Melissa Bergland. You may not know her now, but you will before too long. She’s a star. Full stop.
5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won the Oscar for Relative Happiness. Give us your acceptance speech.
Wow! I was just happy to be invited to the party. But thank you so much to the Academy for this honor. I’m over the moon happy to share this award with my stellar cast & crew & team of producers who cared about this film as much I did.
It takes at least one person to believe in you in order to succeed in this business but I’ve been lucky to have so many believers around me. You know who you are. That includes you, Max. Thank you.
Lastly, I’m really hoping this means Ellen & I will do a selfie together backstage. Hope it’s cool to say that?