OLDIES STEAL LIMELIGHT: Times Colonist September 12, 2013

13 Sep

maxinemiller-jpgThe title of John Kent Harrison’s 1990 drama Beautiful Dreamers could also describe his creative collaborators and elderly characters in Hattie’s Heist, a homegrown romp about the adventures of a silver-haired Robin Hood and her canine sidekick.

The veteran filmmaker says it will be like a family reunion when he starts shooting here Sept. 28, fresh from editing Christmas in Conway, a Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation for ABC, he just wrapped in North Carolina with Mary-Louise Parker and Andy Garcia.

Hattie’s Heist writer-producer Prudence Emery, the Hollywood publicist now based in Oak Bay, worked with Harrison on his film starring Rip Torn as Walt Whitman, the American poet who influenced the Canadian superintendent (Colm Feore) of a mental institution in London, Ont., Harrison’s birthplace. He will also reunite with three other Beautiful Dreamers collaborators— Lawrence Shragge, who composed his feature debut score; editor Ron Wisman; and set decorator Richard Paris.

“I love Pru and she’s done so much for so many people, so I just volunteered,” said Harrison, who added that he can’t wait to direct Emery’s comic caper starring Maxine Miller (Party of Five) — or “Canada’s answer to Betty White,” as Emery calls her.

Miller plays a financially struggling senior who robs banks to protest their obscene profits, giving her proceeds to the poor.

After a colourful casting call for dogs in Oak Bay last fall, Tessie, an adorable Yorkshire terrier and registered therapy pet owned by Kristine Ash, beat 65 other canine contenders to land the role as Hattie’s mischievous scooter-riding sidekick.

Emery, whose low-budget short is being financed largely through online fundraising, was elated to learn this week that actor Christopher Gaze, founder of Vancouver’s Bard on the Beach, has agreed to play Hattie’s suitor, a retired RCMP officer.

“That becomes challenging for Hattie, of course, because she’s robbing a bank,” deadpanned Emery.

Gaze joins Matt Frewer (Max Headroom), who plays a flummoxed policeman, and Carolyn Sadowska as Queen Elizabeth, with cameos by retired CTV news anchor Lloyd Robertson and ZoomerMedia’s Moses Znaimer that were shot in Toronto in June.

“Lloyd did a fake newscast about banks making 75 per cent profits and Moses talks to zoomers about getting on with your life no matter what age you are, that you’ll regret things you haven’t done,” recalled Emery, who is well-connected after working as a unit publicist for decades on dozens of films such as Good Will Hunting, A History of Violence and Crash.

Harrison, an animal lover who seems inseparable from Blue, his beloved Great Dane, is no stranger to working with four-legged talent. He directed bear cubs, for instance — and introduced film star Michael Fassbender as a Canadian soldier who adopts an orphaned cub, the inspiration for Winnie the Pooh — in A Bear Named Winnie.

“An animal who wears sunglasses and a leather hat is somewhat different,” laughs Harrison. “And I haven’t worked with motorized scooters before.”

Hattie’s Heist will be the second film the Portland, Ore.-based filmmaker has made here. A seasoned Hallmark director, he came in 2006 to direct Crossroads: A Story of Forgiveness, the true-life drama starring Dean Cain as a man who decides to forgive a teenage street racer rather than avenge the death of his wife and daughter.

Directing a short film over four days in Oak Bay and Fernwood, where She Said gallery will become a bank, seems worlds away from such projects, or directing TV miniseries such as Harrison’s Pope John Paul II with Jon Voight, or Helen of Troy.

“It’s exactly the same but probably harder because I don’t have people to do my bidding,” he says. “We’re all in this together, doing everything. I love the experience of making movies when everyone’s a family. We’re all in the same tribe.”

He said he was attracted to the short film’s slapstick comedy potential while also conveying an uplifting message. “It’s about the zoomers [defined by Znaimer as “baby boomers with zip”] and all of us who are manning the ramparts, next in line for the experience.”

Take one of Emery’s favourite scenes involving “Hattie’s gang” of seniors found at a casting call at the Belfry, for instance.

“They stop traffic by walking really slowly with their walkers so nobody can get by when she’s robbing the bank,” she said. When the coast is clear, the seniors grab their walkers and split.

While getting Hattie’s Heist to camera has been time-consuming — it was originally slated to start shooting in May — Emery says it’s been a serendipitous experience.

After learning about the sudden death of Ken Lawson, the Spooksville producer who had originally signed on as production manager, a respected young B.C. producer stepped up to the plate.

A mutual friend, production designer Linda del Rosario, told Patti Poskitt about Lawson’s death and Emery’s dilemma. Poskitt, who had recently lost her own mother, offered her services for free.

“I’m really touched by the generosity of everybody,” Emery said. “I couldn’t do this without Patti.”

Michael Reid, Times Colonist, September 12, 2013

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