Plenty of productions have been shot in Vancouver in recent years, but that hasn’t necessarily translated to more local actors in starring roles.
With that in mind, when Vancouver director/writer/producer David Ray set out to make his film Grand Unified Theory he decided to keep the talent close to home.
“To make a movie, 99 per cent of the time your cast will lead to financing,” Ray said. “For most (productions) you have to put a b-list actor from L.A. in your casting plan to secure the investment. You end up with this middle-ground actor, but it ensures foreign sales. But for this one, our financing came from Telefilm.”
With support from the Canadian cultural agency, Ray had the freedom to “just find the best cast. That was so liberating,” he said. “What I did was take my time. I got two great casting agents involved and went and saw plays every week. I saw local, indie films… I wanted to work with locals. I know there’s so much talent here and they don’t get these chances.”
In the end, the film marked the first lead role for each of the film’s major actors. On top of that, it was shot entirely in North Vancouver in 12 days using a local crew as well.
“I shot it in the neighbourhood I grew up in at my mom and dad’s house,” Ray added. “I wanted to keep it as truthful and real as I could.”
While the film might have a strong Vancouver connection, its theme is universal. Its Canadian premiere is set to take place at the Whistler Film Festival on Sunday, Dec. 4, but the film made its world premiere at the Beijing International Film Festival last April. “When we were in China — it surprised me, but it shouldn’t have — the questions people were drawn to were about family, how similar our lives are here as they are there. And that’s the core idea of the movie, the sense of ‘the other’ that we’re different and separate is just not true,” he said.
Part drama, part comedy, the film focuses on family — in particular astrophysicist Albert James’ family during the weekend he has a meltdown that leads to a series of events that reflect his theories on the behaviour of the universe. To tackle the more technical language, Ray enlisted the help of Dr. Jaymie Matthews — an actual astrophysicist — to help write a lecture featured in the film.
“The art I admire the most tries to figure out what’s going on and make sense of the human condition,” Ray said. “A lot of people make sense of the world through religion, or with different tools, but I always felt science doesn’t get a lot of respect when it comes to (examining) human behaviour. When you talk about biology or physics or chemistry, it’s in these cloistered lab environments and text books we read.”
But before memories of tenth grade biology start flooding back, the film is also filled with plenty of humour — from parents tripping on drugs to all-too-obvious extra-marital flirting. “Our movie is a drama, but it’s also a comedy,” Ray said. “It was really wonderful seeing people responding to it and laughing.”
While the response in China and at the Chicago Comedy Film Festival was strong, Ray said he’s looking forward to unveiling the film to a hometown crowd in Whistler. “It’s a great festival,” he said. “I’ve been to so many around the world and it’s one of my favourites because of its intimate environment and the location itself.”
Catch Grand Unified Theory at the festival on Dec. 2 at 3:30 p.m. at the Maury Young Arts Centre and on Dec. 4 at Village 8 at 7:45 p.m.
For more information on the festival and to purchase tickets visit whistlerfilmfestival.com.