Spear Sisters tap ‘Firefly’ alumna Jewel Staite for nuanced AI role

Spear Sisters tap ‘Firefly’ alumna Jewel Staite for nuanced AI role

Even before Kailey and Sam Spear had finished writing the script for CC – the short film they hoped to make through the Crazy8s filmmaking competition – the sisters were fully aware that they would require a very special actress in the title role.

CC – an AI nanny – would need to “have that caring personality, who you’d trust immediately, but also have strength,” says Sam Spear in a recent conference call with her co-director, co-writer, and twin sister Kailey and YVR Screen Scene. “It’s so specific.”

 On the set of  CC . DWOR Media Studio photo

On the set of CC. DWOR Media Studio photo

They kept circling back to one name: that of Jewel Staite, who played Kaylee – a sweet and brilliant engineer – on Fox’s short-lived-but-iconic sci-fi series, Firefly. “It’s very tricky to find a person who fits the character so specifically, and Jewel popped into our minds while we were finishing up the script, and she just fit so well,” says Kailey.

And when the Spear Sisters won the opportunity to make their short film through Crazy8s (more on that competition and process below), they decided to just go for their first choice. They reached out to Staite via her agent in late January – at which point a lot happened in short order: Staite said yes, and a cast and crew of nearly 100 people convened on February 9 and spent eight days shooting and locking the film. On Saturday, February 24, CC will screen alongside the five other winning Crazy8s films to a sold-out crowd at the Centre for Performing Arts.

If that schedule sounds crazy, that’s because it is crazy; the audacity of the endeavour is the not-so-secret ingredient that injects Crazy8s films with added fearlessness and creativity. “It’s crazy,” laughs Kailey. “I cannot say that enough.”

This isn’t the first time that the Spear Sisters – Vancouver-based twins who write, direct, and act – have won a filmmaking competition. In 2015, Sam and Kailey were the big winners in the international Twilight Saga Prequels competition. Their short work – Twilight Storytellers: The Mary Alice Brandon File – led to yet another honour: the Matrix Production Services Images Award at the 2016 Women in Film and Television Vancouver’s Spotlight gala.

(Our inner voice wants us to use the word “twinning” here, but we’re not sure how we feel about puns, so we’re just going to acknowledge our inner voice and move on).

Crazy8s equipped the Spear Sisters and the five other winning filmmaking teams with the tools they needed to make their short films in eight days, beginning with mentoring sessions with some of the brightest minds in the industry.

For the Spear Sisters, this meant an empowering conversation with Rachel Talalay, the legendary director whose lengthy filmography includes Tank Girl, On the Farm, and episodes of Doctor Who, Sherlock, The Flash, and Riverdale.

“Her biggest advice was, ‘Be bold,’ and that was something that stuck with us,” says Kailey.

 Kailey (front) and Sam Spear on the set of CC. Shannon Emitt photo

Kailey (front) and Sam Spear on the set of CC. Shannon Emitt photo

CC is set in an alternate near-future in which AI nannies are commonplace, and was inspired by “that feeling of pressure that we all have to live up to the new, fast-paced world of technology,” says Sam.

YVR Screen Scene strives to be a spoiler-free zone, so we’ll refrain from disclosing too many of CC’s plots points. What we will say is that it hinges on a heated interaction between Staite’s character and the mother of the child in her care, played by Bellevue and Ghost Wars actress Sharon Taylor (Says Sam of the mother: “With that character, you’re looking for a very specific energy as well. It was tricky to cast, but Sharon is fantastic”). 

CC’s cast and crew saw double twice-over during filming, because the Spear Sisters weren’t the only twins on set: the director of photography team was comprised of twin brothers Graham Talbot and Nelson Talbot (Lawrence & Holloman).

“The way they communicate with each other is similar to the way that we communicate with each other, and then we all communicate with each other like that,” says Kailey of the Talbots.

As for their Crazy8s experience, the sisters describe it as equal parts exhausting and invigorating. “You get so busy and concentrate on getting the shots and stuff, but every once in a while you’d look up and look around and see these fantastic humans surrounding us and working so hard to get this film on the screen,” says Sam. “It’s a very humbling experience.”

Follow @JewelStaite @CCshortfilm @Crazy8sFilm @KaileySpear @SamSSpear

 Jewel Staite as CC. Shannon Emitt photo

Jewel Staite as CC. Shannon Emitt photo

TIME TO GET CRAZY

A fallen badminton champion with a shot at redemption. A pair of VR gamers with clashing ideas about consent. A frustrated mother and an over-zealous AI nanny. A border guard at a moral crossroads. A painter who feels like a fish.

These compelling characters and many more will grace the big screen this weekend at the 2018 Crazy8s Gala.

Crazy8s is a highly competitive filmmaking competition, but the top prize isn’t cash or glory or an all-expenses-paid vacation; while there’s certainly some of the first and a healthy dollop of the second, the Crazy 8s experience isn’t a vacation. Far from it.

The top prize – which more than 228 filmmaking teams craved this year and only six received – is the opportunity to work really, really hard. 

More specifically, the top prize is the opportunity to create a new short work for the screen in eight days – three days for filming, five days for post-production – with $1,000 and a production package provided by sponsors in the local production community that includes everything needed to bring the team's idea to cinematic life.

(Full disclosure: Your humble YVR Screen Scene editor-in-chief sat on the live-pitch jury this year, alongside Kaare Andrews, Christine Haebler, Lawrence Le Lam, Zach Lipovsky, and Amanda Tapping)

Besides the aforementioned CC, five other winning films will premiere at the 2018 Crazy8s gala:

BORDERED
Director & Writer Anaïsa Visser
Producers Darren Devlin & Marco Bossow
A US Border Patrol Officer apprehends two Syrian refugees fleeing the United States into Canada and is forced to choose between his duty and his sense of compassion.

EXTRA-ORDINARY AMY
Director Christopher Graham
Writer Zlatina Pacheva
Producer Kris McRonney
A young girl who is unknowingly death incarnate must accept who she is in order to continue doing what she loves: dancing

GEMINI
Director & Writer Mily Mumford
Producer Phil Planta
In a very near future two VR gamers coincidentally meet in real life and through their interactions expose the dark side of virtual reality and gaming.

SHUTTLECOCK
Director & Writer Melanie Jones
Story by Melanie Jones & Rhona Rees
Producer Kristyn Stilling
Washed-up badminton star Winnie will stop at nothing to reclaim her Olympic dreams by playing a match against her former rival while a video crew documents her desperate attempt to prove glory should have been hers.

SMALL FISH
Director & Writer Maxime Beauchamp
Producer Kent Donguines
In a world where only the biggest fish in the sea survive, Laurie, an amateur painter, struggles with success as she finds herself becoming more and more like the tiny fish she puts to canvas.

The Crazy8s gala takes place at the Centre for Performing Arts on February 24, with an after-party to follow at Science World. Details at www.crazy8s.film.

Reflections on 'Black Panther' from a member of the Black Panther fraternity

Reflections on 'Black Panther' from a member of the Black Panther fraternity

Luvia Petersen's powerful ‘Ghost Wars’ role

Luvia Petersen's powerful ‘Ghost Wars’ role