For the cast of Vancouver director Michelle Ouellet’s latest dramedy, Afterparty, the largely improvised nature of the film was a creative dream come true.
The cast, which features Canadian starlet Ali Leibert and Ouellet’s own husband and writer, Nicholas Carella, were tasked with fleshing out their characters, a group of high school friends now in their 30s who reunite for a friend’s wedding. The actors filled out a personal questionnaire from Ouellet, and even attended a dinner in Vancouver before the shoot — all while remaining in character. It was a fulfilling experience for both director and cast, lending the film an intensely personal, realist atmosphere that propels the narrative forward.
It was at the dinner that Ouellet got to observe the chemistry between Liebert and Carella’s characters, but also a level of tension she hadn’t picked up on before.
“I thought it was a really interesting dynamic and I knew that at a certain point in the film something needed to happen that would increase the tension and raise the stakes a little bit,” Ouellet said.
The tension was so high between Liebert and Carella that they got into a full-blown fight in the middle of the restaurant — all still in character. After going outside to cool off, Carella was joined by lead actor Graham Coffeng, who plays the groom’s brother Charlie, who is suffering through the breakup of his own marriage.
“Charlie comes out to see how I’m doing, and at that point we engaged in a 25-minute catch-up. It was during that that I realized we’d been acting for 25 minutes in character outside with no one to witness. I was like ‘Holy crap, this is going to be really fun,’” Carella said.
“There’s something about improvising; at first it feels manufactured but when you just give over to it for a long enough period of time something takes over and you almost forget that you’re acting,” he added.
The improvisational process added “such a richness to the actors’ portrayals,” said Ouellet, who sketched a rough 40-scene outline for the film without a single word of dialogue. Even though she called Afterparty the “most creatively fulfilling experience” of her career, she admitted she sometimes longed for the structure of a scripted film.
“I was shooting a web series that overlapped with our shoot, and I have to say I was happy to see a script to plan my shots,” she said. “There’s so many variables; the actors are improvising, I’m improvising, but also the camera team is improvising and the sound guys are improvising.”
That collaborative approach to the creative process is nothing new for the team of Ouellet, Carella and Liebert, who founded their own production company, Sociable Films, in 2011 with the artist-driven goal of pooling their resources to make movies as collectively as possible.
“When we first started talking about making films, we looked around and saw that we have talented actors, we have people who own cameras, we have talented filmmakers, we have locations, we have the creative minds and all the things we need to make films,” said Carella, who along with his writing and acting duties, doubled as occasional chef for the cast and crew on set. “At the end of the day we just want to make movies without restriction. Sure we have financial restrictions, but we definitely don’t want to be told that a movie can’t be made for some reason other than something that’s artistically driven.”
Afterparty has its world premiere at the 13th annual Whistler Film Festival, playing Thursday (Dec. 5) at 6:30 p.m. and Saturday (Dec. 7) at 3:30 p.m. at Millenium Place. Visit www.whistlerfilmfestival.com for more.