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Bridgewater-born filmmaker helms third movie

by Vernon Oickle

Director Chaz Thorne, who was born in Bridgewater, is shown with young cast member Siam Yu on the set of Whirligig. Michael Tompkins photo
 As production wrapped last week on Whirligig - a fresh, irreverent comedy - the film's director was taking the time to praise the Nova Scotia talent that made it possible.

 Himself a true Bluenoser, having been born in Bridgewater and raised in Halifax, Chaz Thorne has become one of Nova Scotia's premier film directors.

 A writer-producer-director and actor, Mr. Thorne lived in Bridgewater on St. Philips Street until his family moved to Halifax in 1985 when he was 10. His father had been employed at the local Canada Employment offices.

 Mr. Thorne explained that he began his career as an actor, graduating from the National Theatre School in 1996. He has appeared on stages across Canada as well as in numerous film and television projects.

 Since founding Toronto's Jack in the Black Theatre in 1996, Mr. Thorne has continued to build upon his theatre career as a writer and producer. His first film projects as writer and director were two half-hour comedies for CBC television - Table Dancer and One Hit Wonder.

 As an actor, he has appeared in a variety of film and television productions including A Stone's Throw, Trudeau II: Maverick in the Making, The Hunt for the BTK Killer, The Event, Lucky Girl, Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story, Resurrection and Due South.

 But while he has found a place as an actor, it is his work behind the camera as a writer, director and producer that has earned him the most praise and provided some of the most personally rewarding experiences, he said in a recent interview.

 His writing credits include Whirligig, which just wrapped production, Just Buried, Poor Boy's Game, One Hit Wonder and Table Dancer. As a producer his credits include Whirligig, Backshift, Just Buried, Poor Boy's Game and Table Dancer. And his credits as director include Whirligig, Just Buried, One Hit Wonder and Table Dancer.

 Of all these experiences, however, Mr. Thorne said just days before production wrapped on his recent project, he finds the behind-the-camera opportunities among the most rewarding.

 "Ever since I was a young kid I knew I wanted to act," he said, pointing out he got his first professional acting job at age 15 in Halifax.

 "And I just really loved performing. I did musical theatre through my high school and then dinner theatre, then I had an opportunity to study acting at the National Theatre School of Canada in Montreal which at the time was one of the best acting conservatories in the world," he recalled.

 "While I was there I started playwriting and then I moved to Toronto where I started writing and producing theatre," he said. "I was also acting in theatre and started acting in television and film and I just found myself getting more and more into film as a medium. It was a gradual process from there starting with a few short films and aligning myself with producing partners that allowed me to make my first two features."

 Mr. Thorne admitted it has been a long process, but also a rewarding journey.

 "I've been at this for a long time," he said. "I'll be 35 in June which means I've been at it for over 20 years and working at building a career in the entertainment industry for two decades with steps forward and steps back, but I have enjoyed the ride."

 While he said acting is a rewarding experience, he added, "I do love directing. I like being in front of the camera, but there are not a lot of opportunities for actors in this province. When I direct films I find it is the perfect combination of all my talents."

 This has, indeed, been the case with his recent project, Whirligig, which filmed in and around and Halifax for much of the month of March.

 Starring American actor Gregory Smith (Everwood), the film is written by Michael Amo, creator and executive producer of the CTV and Fox International series The Listener. He is also listed as producer along with Chester-based producer David MacLeod (who just wrapped the miniseries Moby Dick with William Hurt and Ethan Hawke).

 As the director, Mr. Thorne described the film as "a very Nova Scotian production" with crew, many in the cast, producers, post production, story and setting all being Nova Scotian.

 "It's about as Nova Scotian as you can get," he said.

 In Whirligig, Mr. Smith stars as Nicholas Sinclair, a twentysomething boomerang kid with a knack for disaster.

 After ruining his parent's retirement once again by finding his way to their new home by the sea, Nicholas falls in love with Nina, the beautiful and mysterious married woman who lives with her family across the bay.

 Determined to learn her secrets and win her heart, Nicholas befriends her 12-year-old adopted son Quang. Soon enough, he'll discover far more than he ever bargained for.

 Mr. Thorne explained that he met the screenwriter about 17 or 18 months ago.

 "He asked if I'd be interested in seeing one of his features and I said sure," Mr. Thorne recalled. "He sent it and I read it that night. I just loved it. I loved the characters. I loved the story. I loved the sense of comedy. And I felt as if I had written it myself, that's how immediately close I felt to it, which is obviously very necessary if you're going to dedicate a major chunk of your life to a project."

 He said he was so immediately taken by the script that he called the writer the next day and said he wanted to make it, which started the process.

 "The following 16 months were a bunch of crazy back and forth in trying to cast it and close the finances and all that crazy stuff, but eventually we got there," he said. "I had known David since 2001. I always really liked him and wanted to work together some day, but we had to find the right project."

 Whirligig was it, Mr. Thorne said.

 "I've really liked having the opportunity to work with David. It has been a great experience."

 While the Nova Scotia film industry has experienced some growth in the past decade, Mr. Thorne admitted it is still a challenge to make movies in this province.

 "It is very difficult to do this type of project in Nova Scotia," he said. "This is my third feature film in the last four years and financing these projects is very, very difficult. Obviously, the economy isn't in great shape right now and things have shifted in terms of funding bodies and is making it increasingly more difficult to get these things done."

 Things have moved backwards in the industry, he said.

 "While at one time the film industry in Nova Scotia was booming, our industry is becoming more Toronto-centric again," he explained. "So it becomes very difficult to raise the appropriate level of financing for a film because the reality is this is a very expensive medium to play in and audiences are increasingly becoming more sophisticated and increasingly expect more in terms of production value and storytelling, but at the same time budgets are shrinking."

 As a result, it is very challenging to do this in Nova Scotia, he said.

 "But this is what I have dedicated my career to which is being a filmmaker here in Nova Scotia and that means you sort of roll with the punches and do what you can regardless of any obstacles."

 This project was tailor-made for him, he said.

 "This has been a fantastic experience for me. The cast are great. They were very interested in the story and willing to come here to do it. They are all working actors and opportunities don't come along every day to play real meaty rolls in a feature film. I really believe we got the right cast for this script and the roles as written."

 Now that filming has wrapped, Mr. Thorne moves into post-production with the goal of having the movie ready for the fall festival circuit. Into the future, Mr. Thorne said he hopes to keep working in the film industry.

 "I'm trying to reach out to colleagues nationally and internationally in trying to create opportunities for myself, but my base will continue to be Halifax," he said. "Hopefully, I will get the chance to direct some commercials and television to sustain me between films and to keep the skills sharp.

 "I love Halifax. I'm 34 and just completed my third film so I feel very, very fortunate, but you do have to create your own opportunities," he said. "I love directing but that's why I started producing - to not only create the work but to also see it through to the final product. The focus seems to be on directing because that tends to be the more glamorous part of it, but the producing side of the business is just as important because that's when you really take control of your own destiny, when you actually learn how to raise financing and deal with distributors and all those things are important skills that way you're not always wait-ing around for someone else to validate your work or create opportunities for you."

 In the film industry, he said, "You're spending millions of dollars with large stakes at play so it's a very large undertaking. It's a challenge, but it's one I love and feel very, very blessed to do this for a living and live in Halifax which is the place I genuinely want to be. In 10 years, I hope that I am still living in Halifax, but working more internationally and hopefully bringing larger projects here creating even larger opportunities for my fellow Nova Scotians."

posted on 04/06/10
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Out & About
Tops'l Tavern & Grill
Music, food & fun for the whole family. March 17, all day long.

Harbour House
Celebrating International Women's Day, March 8.

Gow's Home Hardware
Free seminar, March 21, 6-9pm.

March Break at the Mall
Various events. March 11 - March 16.

March 7 at 7 pm.

Mug & Anchor
March Break & St. Paddy's Day at the Pub.

The Lunenburg Makery
Art & Craft Workshops for kids.


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