Monday, September 10, 2012

Bruce Pittman's The Last Movie Is Terrific

Fed up with the crazy system of making movies in this country Toronto director Bruce Pittman decided a different strategy was needed.
"I went out and made it myself," he laughs. "I mean really --myself and a few others."
The  fascinating result, The Last Movie, is a mesmerizing film noir that starts with snippets from a Russian language film.
Pittman also co-stars as the harassed Toronto director hired to do an Emglish language remake as quickly as possible.
And in true film noir tradition his skittish leading lady begins hallucinating and thinking she is really the threatened heroine.
"I wrote it, directed it, I provided the music, edited it, heck some days I'd even do the catering.
"Now it's ready to be shown. I'm onto a new way for Canadian film makers to thrive."
I'm trying to remember the first time I bumped into Toronto filmmaker Bruce Pittman.
It had to be way back in 1974 when he created Saturday Night At The Movies with Elwy Yost.
I was preparing a Yost profile and sat in on a taping session --Pittman was a good natured director who had to handle Elwy's constant fluffs.
I also remember the studio was in the basement of TVO at Eglinton and Yonge and every passing subway train produced a distinctive rattling sound.
Fast forward a bit and I'm on the Scarborough set of the CBC miniseries Chasing Rainbows (1983)  with Pittman directing a trio of talented newcomers --Paul Gross, Michael Riley and Julie Stewart.
"Wait a minute!" boomed the producer."I'm the story here" and he took me in arm into his offices and slammed the door shut.
"It was Canadian TV's first HD prodiuction," remembers Pittman "And I was called in after the first director  (Bill Fruet) quit. I remember a lot of shouting. Technically it was tough --the HD equipment was in a parked truck out front. There had to be a complete image with no fuzziness at all or the system wouldn't work. In film you can fudge it a bit. Here we'd wait and wait for a picture perfect image."
Pittman also remembers even outdoor scenes had to be shot indoors. "We had a beautifully constructed Montreal street in the winter. We shot on one of the hottest days with pedestrians in fur coats. The temperature hit 110, I swear, and people were near fainting.But the image was a perfect one."
Soon Pittman was on his way to becoming one of Toronto's hottest TV directors with choice assignments helming the likes of Twilight Zone, E.N.G., Street Legal, Road To Avonlea, Ray Bradbury Theater. If it was shot in T.O. Pittman likely was one of the directors.
"Neon Rider was a favorite --I directed 17 episodes. Winston Reckert was the star ands creator and after CTV cancelled him he forged a station by station network and continued. Tekwar (1996) was right up there --Bill Shatner created and had a continuing part and he'd come in and do scene after scene just effortlessly. Then there was Paradise Falls (2001) --I did all the scenes set in White Church --when they moved up to Muskoka somebody else stepped in. Then there was the question of credit --I'd have done one scene and the next was somebody else's. They gave me directing credit on 12 I think. But my stuff is in virtually every episode."
Along the way Pittman became the uncrowned King Of  Canadian TV movies. First up was Harrison Bergeron (1995) from the Kurt Vonnegut Jr. story. Then came Undue Influence (1996), To Dance With Olivia (1997),  No Alibi (2000), Shattered City (2003) and a whole flock of others.
And the logical question is what  ever happened to the Canadian TV movie?
"Reality TV took over," explains Pittman. "It's so much cheaper, gets the same audience. Why go with a TV drama that might cost a few million when an hour of reality could come in at $100,000. TV movies have virtually disappeared even though they were always popular."
By 2004 Pittman decided he'd had enough of the merry-go-round of series TV and wanted to strike out on his own. "I had scripted projects I pitched to the networks but the answer was always the same: too costly."
So Pittman went ahead and made a movie on his own.
"Like really on my own," he chuckles.
Most of it he filmed at his home in South Riverdale. "To say I had a skeleton crew is an understatement. We had six crew members but usually worked with only three present.
"I shot it over 16 months. I'd stop, then re-start when I was  ready for more scenes. I wrote it, directed it, I'm one of the actors. To my wonderment all is possible in this new age of digital moviemaking. I fell in love with the technology and tried to learn as much as I could."
So The Last Movie has emerged as a fully engrossing film and not a work in progress. Camera movement, editing, sound --all are all professionally seamless.
And Pittman's story which he said had been brewing in his mind for some time is a completely fascinating mystery tale,  a film noir that is so tightly told there are no dull patches at all.
Richard Wincenty's cinematography is pretty wonderful aided by assistant cameraman David Perkins. Robert Gulassarian handled the sound mixingand Ted Hanlan hanled the stunts.
Acting is top notch. Beth Gonek has the female lead as the troubled Elizabeth Seitz. Pittman says "I directed her in a small part in Prom Night II in 1982 when she was 19 and then she went into modeling. I met her again and she has that something the screen captures. We even shot a scene in the vintage dress shop she owns."
Only a few of the cast are known to me. : August Schellenberg, Dwight McFee. "I paid them nothing. They risked ACTRA's wrath by doing it. But so many actors aren't working in Toronto right now anyway. I'll pay them when receipts start rolling in."
The film already had a spot at the Moscow Film Festival. Next up Pittman plans to rent the Royal Cinema for a week in November and try to get into other movie festivals.
"It's a new way of working for me. I don't want to open in a thousand scereens. One at a time would do just fine. I'll let word of mouth sell it. And, yes, I'm already thinking about doing another."

No comments: