Any Wednesday, a sensational short film by the legendary filmmaker and Academy Award Winner Allie Light and the incredibly talented director Patrick Stark, tells a story about a old woman with dementia who sparks up an unexpected yet warm friendship with a war veteran with PTSD. This film is now an Awards contender and we had the absolute pleasure of talking to these two filmmakers about the inspiration of the film, the cast that were chosen for the roles of C’Mo and Agnes, what and who their influences are as filmmakers and what message they want people to take away from the film.
To begin with, what made you both want to tell a story like this and where did the inspiration come from?
A: The inspiration for the script came from two directions: In 2012 I became a widow when my husband and film partner of 42 years, Irving Saraf, died. To handle the process of grieving, I wrote four screenplays, Grief and Desire in Old Age. The scripts were short and I hoped to make a portmanteau film. This proved difficult. I didn’t have the money for a feature and had never made a dramatic narrative. I was a documentary filmmaker.
The four stories, though on the same theme, are unique. The subject of Any Wednesday was inspired by a real incident. The mother of my son-in-law had early stage dementia and one night she didn’t come home from meditation class. A stranger had changed her flat tire and then the two had driven together for several hours. The police were called and they and her family searched but didn’t find her. Eventually she returned on her own, but never told about her adventure. The story was a blank canvas for a screenwriter. I created her passenger, C’Mo, as I wrote the story, not really having an idea who he would be.
P: Any Wednesday is Allie’s original screenplay, inspired by a true life event that Allie found fascinating – a story close to her. The real-life Agnes was co-producer David Lundstedt’s mother (and Allie is David’s mother-in-law).
One evening, Agnes failed to return home from her weekly meditation. She had taken a wrong turn and, to make matters worse, ended up with a flat tire. As Agnes recalled the event, she mentioned that a young African American man changed the tire and then asked for a ride. The pair drove around Austin for three hours while her family waited and worried. Allie Light’s daughter and co-producer Julia Hilder relayed the story to her mother who was inspired to write Any Wednesday, her imagined version of what could have transpired between Agnes and her new acquaintance.
When Allie sent me the script, I was immediately engaged – with the protagonists tragically reminiscent of two people very close to me – my grandmother who also struggled with dementia, and my nephew who was schizophrenic, drug addicted and living on the mean streets of Vancouver’s East End.
What made you both decide to collaborate with one another and become co-directors on Any Wednesday?
A: Patrick and I had never met. We had a common Facebook friend, a woman who had been trying to help me find a publisher for my novel, and one day she wrote that she thought Patrick Stark and I should know one another. She introduced us, he read Any Wednesday and said we should make the film. I had some money in Light-Saraf Films. I said, “You can’t make a film on $50,000.” He said, “Yes, we can. I can call in a lot of favors.” Julia Hilder and I went to Vancouver, met Patrick, had a glass of wine at the hotel, which led to a decision that Patrick and I would codirect and Julia would be the producer. The next day he started calling in “a lot of favors” and we began to make our film.
P: In the fall of 2016, I had been struggling through the last stages of my first documentary, a feature that had already taken me 7 years to get through principal photography. A friend, Mary Bisbee-Beek, told me about a new acquaintance of hers, Allie Light, a prolific documentary filmmaker from San Francisco and said she thought we should connect.I didn’t realize how successful Allie was until I searched her name online. When I Googled her, I discovered she’d won an Oscar and an Emmy as a documentary filmmaker. She had achieved more in her documentary filmmaking career than I could ever dream of for myself, so I knew I would draw inspiration and learn so much from a conversation. If the first chat went well, maybe it would lead to a second or even some sort of mentorship.
When we did connect over the phone, talk of documentary filmmaking turned to Allie’s current filmmaking activities. In helping to deal with her grief after her husband (and film collaborator) Irving’s passing in 2012, Allie focused on writing drama and created a number of short scripts and a novel. One of those short scripts was Any Wednesday. Allie mentioned that she really wanted to see Any Wednesday produced and although she had a modest budget, she wasn’t sure how that would be possible.
I suggested she bring Any Wednesday to Vancouver and offered to help produce it. I knew we had the talent in terms of performers and crew, access to gear and currency exchange working in the film’s favor. She said she would think about it and sent me the script in the meantime. While she pondered the idea of filming in Vancouver, I fell in love with the script: I wanted to help get it made. Allie offered to fly up to Vancouver with her daughter, Julia Hilder, who would co-produce, in order to look at preliminary locations and to see whether or not we would like each other enough to embark on this journey together. Once Allie decided she liked the idea of filming in Vancouver, she said she would allow me to produce the film only if I would co-direct it with her as well. Of course, I was honored and thrilled – I accepted immediately.
Tell us about the casting process and how it was like for both of you.
A: Casting was a new process for me. I depended on Patrick to set that up. I was very nervous as I was going to hear my script read aloud for the first time. No matter how the words sound in your head as they are being created, and how they jump off the page as you write, they will never come fully alive until they come out of the mouths of actors.
Patrick chose a hotel meeting room, brought in a couple of videographer friends and soon the corridor outside began filling with young African Canadian and American actors. I think we had fifteen who came to audition. Julia had brought her video camera as she was documenting the making of Any Wednesday, but she had to toss lines to the actors, so we got little of the casting process on video, except, of course, for the auditions themselves.
From the moment the first actor spoke, my anxiety disappeared. I loved the audition process: the formality of each actor giving his name, the name of his agent, the hesitancy, the deep breath leading to the first word spoken, the desire of each actor to become C’Mo, my invented character.
P: Allie suggested that she and Julia come back to Vancouver a second time to be present for the casting. I had spent the early part of my career working for numerous casting directors in film and television and have cast many commercials and my own independent projects, so I felt quite comfortable with setting up the session. I reached out to various agents and asked for possible submissions with the disclaimer that although this was a project where their clients were not going to make a lot of money, this was an opportunity to work with a wonderful script by an Academy Award winning director.
The agents were agreeable and started to submit possible candidates for each of the roles, which I then forwarded to Allie. We secured a meeting room at The Sutton Place Hotel, a film-friendly location that has provided accommodation to Hollywood actors as well as film creatives and executives for decades. The turnout was tremendous – it was Allie’s script that had enticed these performers to come out and they came prepared, which was so encouraging. They turned up ready because they wanted the role, and weren’t simply going through the motions or winging it.
Casting a film, for me, is always exhausting – getting the actors to come to an audition is one thing, but extremely interactive aspect of the process is quite another – we have no “readers” – and the scenes we gave each actor were pretty intense moments in the film. With Allie, Julia and I reading lines opposite the actors, we simultaneously sought the promise of a performance that would capture our interest and attention. Of course we taped each audition, so there was the process of going through the footage. Finally, we were able to remove ourselves from being caught up in the moment and savour each performance.
Mary Black and Shane Dean are both electrifying in their roles. How did you come across them both and why did you decide to cast them for the role.
A: Patrick knew of Mary Black. I believe he contacted her and then contacted her agent and submitted a script. The day of auditions we met her at the hotel for coffee and talked about the film and the role of Agnes. I don’t recall if she had read the script. We knew we wanted Mary for the part of Agnes and didn’t consider anyone else.
We took the audition videos for C’Mo to Julia’s house in Austin, TX and spent a week going over them. We cut down to five men and we both decided on Shane Dean. Patrick had chosen another actor, but came around to our choice. One thing that Shane did in audition was that he played to me. The other actors played to the video camera, but when Shane did the shooting scene in the car, he aimed his ‘gun’ at me and the look he gave me went right to my bones. When filming, I told him how I felt when he ‘shot’ at me in audition and had him do that to the camera. That shot is in the film and when I see it, I still get a sinking feeling.
P: I had known about Mary Black for many years, but hadn’t met her. A Canadian actress, she had a wonderful number of Hollywood films to her credit, the formidable reputation, and was the perfect age to play Agnes. Having her in the film was a top priority and she did not disappoint in the audition.
Once the audition was done, discussions began between Allie, Julia and me as to who we saw for each role – for the most part we agreed, but it wasn’t exactly cut and dried when it came to casting C’Mo. Twelve actors came out to audition for the role. For me, there was something about the first actor who auditioned that struck me – he seemed to be the least obvious choice. His performance was extremely subtle, and I felt he didn’t have the look of someone who had been hardened by war and years of living on the streets. But on the other hand, I thought that the inconsistency of a meek and gentle character who ended up on the streets might have a more powerful effect.
Allie and Julia, however, were convinced that Shane Dean was truly right for the role and upon going over the audition footage, it became clear that her instincts were indeed correct. I managed to get out of my own way, finally, and agreed. Above and beyond natural talent, he definitely put the work in to research the stories of others who have suffered from PTSD and even to create a lengthy, detailed backstory for the character. Although he was busy with other projects, we met frequently to discuss C’Mo and what he wanted to achieve with his portrayal of this tragic character. When the time came to shoot the film, and upon arriving to set, he was ready – he was C’Mo.
Tell us about the location of the film.
A: In the script, the story takes place in Austin, TX. In order to work with Patrick, we shot in Vancouver BC. Also shooting in Vancouver made it financially possible as the union has a tier for low-budget films and we fit. Our first shoot was in early March and it was cold at night. We needed rain and, with our rain towers, we had fake rain and real rain that fell out of the sky. The weather gave us pretty much what we needed until the last night of shooting when it started to snow. It doesn’t snow in Austin and we had to wrap. The lightning and car lights that came and went to make it look like Agnes was really driving were provided by the crew. The thunder was dropped in during post production. The rain drenching C’Mo at the end came from a portable rain-maker pushed by the crew and anytime you see rain through the windshield of Agnes’ car, it was Hurricane Harvey shot in Austin, TX, by Julia and our other producer, David Lundstedt.
We came back six months later to shoot the ending that had been foiled by the snow. And we did pick-ups. Each time I see C’Mo change the tire, I remember that he pulls the flat-tire off in one Vancouver neighborhood in August and puts it in the trunk and slams the trunk in another neighborhood the previous March and the two shots totally match. You would never know. I love editing!
P: The story takes place in Austin, but was shot in Vancouver. Over the last thirty plus years, Vancouver has been the backdrop to hundreds of (mostly) Hollywood-produced films and television series and has played almost every city in the world. In that time, Vancouver has created a significant filmmaking infrastructure and developed a small army of talented performers and film technicians along the way.
With the scenes taking place at night, in the pouring rain, and inside a moving vehicle, replacing Austin with Vancouver was not going to be an issue. Furthermore, the US funds allocated towards the production stretched the budget by an additional 30% with the exchange into Canadian dollars.
What and who are your influencers as filmmakers?
A: I learned everything I know about filmmaking from my partner and husband, Irving Saraf. He was a UCLA film graduate who worked in Public Television for many years. He knew how to do everything, which enabled us to make documentary films for 40 years with very little money and sometimes no crew but the two of us. When we had extra money, we could hire a cinematographer and a sound recordist—otherwise we did those jobs and directed and interviewed. We always edited our own films. What a difference it was for me to go from this to the making of Any Wednesday with a crew of 30 people, each with her or his own special skills.
Over the years my film influencers have been the directors Pawel Pawlikowski, Carlos Saura, Deepa Meta, Haifaa al-Mansour, Peter Bogdanovich. I very much wanted Any Wednesday filmed in the manner of Pawlikowski’s Ida. I took the DVD to Vancouver and gave it to our cinematographer, Mark Cohen, telling him my wishes. He viewed the film and gave me a visually similar style and pace. I am so happy Any Wednesday looks the way I imagined it.
P: My early influences include Francis Ford Coppola with The Godfather, Steven Spielberg with Jaws and all of the films of Anthony Minghella. The biggest single influence, however has been Vittorio De Sica with his film, Ladri di biciclette (Bicycle Thieves). I love how the film, created post-World War II, depicts life amongst the poor and working class. Filmed on location and utilizing non-actors, the performances are so incredibly authentic and timeless, it feels almost like a documentary.
What message or messages do you want people to take away from this film?
A: The purpose of our film is to speak for those grieving the person they once were, for men and women in decline and becoming invisible to the young and healthy. Any Wednesday speaks for men who stand in the rain like C’Mo holding a sign that says help me, or for older people like Agnes losing the consciousness of the moment and the memory of the past. I hope those who see our movie are as touched by it as we were during the filming.
P: It would be very gratifying to have the audience walk away from the film thinking about the sheer numbers of people that struggle with mental illness on a daily basis. Whether it be PTSD, dementia, anxiety or depression, mental illness has always been something to hide, to be embarrassed about – not just for the individual but their families as well, worried about societal responses to it. I hope the film helps to shine a light on the stigma of mental illness, to say that sufferers are not alone and encourage empathy towards those who suffer.
Do you have more joint collaborations in the works?
A: Joint collaborations in the works? Only god knows and he doesn’t exist.
P: Allie and I do not, but I would never rule out the possibility if an opportunity ever presents itself – it’s amazing, the stars that need to align in order for two directors to ever come together to collaborate on a project, where all of the elements appear to be perfect and pieces fall into place. You realize what a miracle it can be to have all of the right people come together to create a film.
What do you both have coming up next, individually?
A: Coming up next. Before my partner, Irving Saraf, died, we were making a film about the truths of our lives and the lives of people who had appeared in our films. Truth is complex and difficult to clarify. I’ve taken some scenes I shot of him and by using archival footage and reenactments, I’m making a short documentary entitled The Ship That Turned Back. It’s the story of his passage from Poland to Palestine in 1939 when he was seven years old. It is a holocaust story from a small boy’s POV. In a sense it is, like Any Wednesday and Pawlikowski’s Ida, a kind of road movie: By train from Lodz to Warsaw, to Austria, to Italy and by boat to Alexandria, Egypt and an aborted attempt to get to Palestine. It’s about a boat that turned back, its travelers captives of Mussolini’s pirates, then saved by the heroic British navy. This is the story of a small boy on a ship anchored in Malta Bay, planes over his head, bombs falling around him, torpedoes slicing the water like giant sharks, targeting submarines and destroyers, the air rampant with explosions and sirens, and the war appearing to the boy as a giant movie in the sky.
P: I am in post-production on a feature length documentary entitled One Life No Regrets, a personal memoir of pushing past an intense fear of singing in public through ‘extreme exposure’ – from a first vocal lesson and singing with street musicians to one-on-one with rock stars and my efforts to sing in a stadium with Irish super-group, U2. I call it my “coming of middle-age” story – a journey that has taken over ten years to produce. One Life No Regrets documents my attempt to live a life free of anxiety and fear, and ultimately, to set an example for my children.
How can people find out about you and your work?
A: I have a website that needs redoing and my films have distributors. My main distributor is Women Make Movies in New York. The only films I manage are the five half-hour films of Visions of Paradise, about naïve artists, and of these, I have only DVDs. Otherwise, there is plenty of information about my work on IMDB and other internet places. I have essays in several books and interviews in other publications.
P: I have been the very fortunate recipient of media coverage regarding my film projects – especially the documentary. Although the documentary isn’t finished, the nature of the film and aspects of the story have both garnered some attention around the world. Until I find the time to create a website specific to my filmmaking pursuits, IMDb and the various articles online about my projects are the best way to find out more about me and my work.