Prodigals might have been filmed in the dead of winter in Sault Ste. Marie, but it’s got Vancouver written all over it: in its cast (Sara Canning, Brian Markinson, Jameson Parker, David Kaye); in its director (sometimes-Vancouverite Michelle Ouellet); and in the production team (Parker and Kaye, again).
Even the hardest working location in the Lower Mainland – Riverview Hospital – makes a cameo appearance in one of the few scenes that wasn’t shot in The Soo.
Thus, this month’s screenings of Prodigals at Vancity Theatre represent a homecoming of sorts for the critically acclaimed drama (which explains our punny, parable-inspired headline, but doesn’t forgive it).
The local screenings are especially poignant for Kaye, the busy actor (Siren) and producer who pulled double-duty on Prodigals – and not just because of the ridiculously cold filming conditions (which hit -29°C one night, causing the camera to freeze – and when they couldn’t thaw it out, they had to call it a day).
“One of the things that [fellow producer Jameson Parker] and I set out to do was tell a good story that matters, and what that means to me is telling a story that’s going to affect at least one person in a profound way,” says Kaye in a recent phone interview.
Through their company Whiskaye Films, they'd produced Vine’s first animated series (White Ninja, which is based on the cult favourite web comic and is now preparing for its third season, its second on Toonstar), numerous music videos and shorts, and co-produced one of YVR Screen Scene’s favourite web series of all time: the ‘Ghostbusters-meets-Scooby-Doo’ series Paranormal Solutions Inc.
For Whiskaye Films’ first foray into feature film territory, the pair set their sights on Prodigals, a play by Sean Minogue that premiered in Vancouver in 2011.
“We want to tell good stories, and the play was the embryo,” says Kaye.
Prodigals (the film) stars The Tudors’ David Alpay as Wesley, a dreamer who left his hometown of Sault Ste. Marie for Toronto five years previous but returns to The Soo to support his old friends when one of them – Benny, played by Kaye – is charged with murder.
The film also stars Sara Canning as Wesley’s ex-girlfriend, and Nicholas Carella and Parker as Wesley’s best mates (fun fact: Parker was the only cast member to play the same character in both the stage play and the film).
Prodigals premiered last December at the Whistler Film Festival and marked the third feature film to be directed by Michelle Ouellet (Afterparty).
Kaye was drawn to the character of Benny because “I know people like him,” he says. “One of the things that drew a lot of the actors to the story was that they grew up in smaller towns and they know these characters. I sat for hours with this one dude and he spoke about getting stuck in his small town and looking for his escape and trying to find an escape and all the things that ended up happening before he could get out.”
Not that there’s anything at all wrong with the people who aren’t looking to escape small town life, adds Kaye. He experienced the spirit of The Soo during one particularly gruelling night shoot: -25°C, in the parking lot outside of the abandoned Northern Breweries building.
“Cars kept slowing down to see what we were doing, and some would honk to say hi,” recalls Kaye. “After three hours, this van pulls up and two people get out and they said, ‘Hey, we saw you two hours ago on our way across town and we’re on our way back so we got you guys some Timmies’ – and they gave us 40 Timbits and coffee. They said, ‘You guys gotta stay warm out here.’ It was really lovely.”
Kaye’s origin story is markedly different than that of his Prodigals character. His first foray into showbiz occurred when he was still a preschooler; he was toddling around with his mother when an agent stopped them, said he should be in movies, and asked for a meeting. The meeting led to his first audition, which he booked: Samuel Decker in Legends of the Fall.
It was as a child actor that Kaye developed a keen interest in all of the other aspects of production. He recalls being on set and “seeing all the actors and the director and everyone who interacts with me directly, but then there were 40 other people that I didn’t know what they were doing, and so I was the annoying kid who’d go, ‘What’s that? Who are you? What are you doing?’ What I realized when I was a little kid is that it’s such a big machine. There are so many moving parts, and I was fascinated by all of these people who needed to work together to get it done.”
At that point, though, Kaye didn’t actually want to pursue acting or producing. “The only people I would have really considered switching roles with were the catering people, because I wanted to be a chef,” he reveals. “That changed in my late teens when I actually started working in kitchens and I was miserable.”
Kaye has found moving between acting and producing – or, as was the case on Prodigals, juggling both roles – far from miserable.
“When you’re an actor, your job is to be there and tell the story and be in the moment and do all the fantastic functions of bringing the word off the page,” says Kaye. “And when you’re a producer, your job is to make sure that everybody does their job to bring the word off the page.”
Prodigals screens July 21 and 24 at Vancity Theatre. Tickets here.
Prodigals is one of four Canadian films screening at Vancity Theatre this weekend; the quartet also includes Kayak to Klemtu (Zoe Leigh Hopkins’ feature film directorial debut about a teen who leads a 500-km kayak journey to the remote island of Klemtu to protest oil tanker traffic), The Accountant of Auschwitz (about the moral, legal, and political issues surrounding the trial of a 94-year-old former SS guard), and The Rankin File: Legacy of a Radical (about the legendary 1986 Vancouver mayoral race, which pitted veteran socialist firebrand Harry Rankin against a young upstart named Gordon Campbell). Details at VIFF.org.