Homegrown short film comedy Hattie’s Heist makes debut at Cinecenta

25 Jun

maxinemiller-jpgThe contrast was inescapable Sunday afternoon at the University of Victoria, where Hattie’s Heist lit up Cinecenta’s darkened theatre while the sun shone brightly and temperatures rose outside.

“If it was like this when we were filming, it would have been great,” quipped Kristine Ash, whose adorable Yorkshire terrier, Tessie, looked very star-like with tiny sunglasses adorning her face.

The homegrown short’s four-legged star was among dozens of cast, crew and supporters who showed up for a sneak peek of producer Prudence Emery’s labour of love, which was filmed last year in Fernwood and Oak Bay. Hundreds of dog owners and their prized pooches showed up months earlier for a canine casting call.

Making the trip from Portland, Oregon, for the preview was John Kent Harrison, who directed the comedy about a geriatric Robin Hood, her canine sidekick and a gang of cash-strapped seniors who pull off a bank heist to protest banking-industry profits.

The film stars Maxine Miller as the title character; Bard on the Beach founder Christopher Gaze as her suitor, a retired RCMP officer; and Matt Frewer (Max Headroom) as a musical theatre-loving police officer who sings on the job.

Its large cast also features Carolyn Sadowska as Queen Elizabeth; and retired CTV newsman Lloyd Robertson and media mogul Moses Znaimer as themselves.

As the whimsical short with an underlying message about seniors living on the poverty line in Canada alternated from black-and-white to colour, there was laughter, cheers, applause and vivid memories.

“Everybody stuck it out. Everybody persevered,” said Harrison, recalling “monsoon-like” conditions during much of the film’s four-day shoot in September.

When the sun did come out, it posed unexpected lighting challenges for Harrison, who co-wrote the screenplay with Emery, and director of photography Dan Carruthers.

“When I saw our stars moving about in scooters, soaking wet, I knew I had to man up,” recalled the director, who had just wrapped Christmas in Conway with Mary-Louise Parker and Andy Garcia before shooting the comic caper for Emery. The veteran film publicist worked with Harrison on Beautiful Dreamers, his 1990 feature debut starring Rip Torn and Colm Feore.

Harrison, whose upcoming projects include writing and directing the pilot for a new TV series starring Jon Voight, monitored audience feedback on Sunday.

“Because it’s a comedy, I’m listening for the laughs,” he said. “I didn’t have [the audience] right at the beginning, but as soon as you understand the tone I could hear the rhythm and it just flowed.”

Directing a short film such as Hattie’s Heist isn’t necessarily easier than shooting some of his 27 films that have earned Emmy, Golden Globe or Genie nominations.

“I worked harder than ever,” joked Harrison, whose experience directing animals helped.

“There are lots of tricks you can pull off,” he said, elaborating on what it was like working with Tessie, the camera-friendly trooper who plays Hattie’s scooter-riding accomplice.

“As long as you cut it in your head, you can deal with it. But if you want continuous action with an animal, you’re going to have to learn that the hard way.”

Tessie’s owner said she wasn’t sure what to expect, but was pleased with the results.

“They edited it really well,” Ash said.

“The whole movie was really sweet and lots of fun.”

Harrison said his biggest concern during filming was the age of the actors, several of whom were in their mid-80s.

“I was concerned for their well-being and it’s cold and slippery and wet and we had to do retakes,” he recalled.

“The bigger irony is that it was raining and horrible and nasty and we were scared everyone was going to get pneumonia, yet it’s a comedy.”

Emery was seeing Hattie’s Heist for the umpteenth time on Sunday.

“I’ve seen it so many times but I never get tired of it,” said Emery, who also provided sound effects, such as squawking bird and seniors coughing when covered with dust.

“My favourite thing is listening for reaction,” Emery said. “They laughed in different places but the main thing is they laughed.”

Hattie’s Heist, which was co-produced by Patti Poskitt and executive-produced by Pat Ferns, reunited Harrison with two other collaborators from Beautiful Dreamers — editor Ron Wisman and composer Lawrence Shragge.

The film has been submitted to festivals in Toronto, Vancouver, Sonoma, Halifax and Whistler, and to the Raindance Festival in London, England. It will soon be seen on local television.

Emery also sent a copy to Paul Webster (Locke), the producer she worked with on David Cronenberg’s Eastern Promises in London.

mreid@timescolonist.com

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