Catherine with the star of ‘The Hammer’, Russell Harvard.
Tell us about you first of all, where do you come from and what’s your background?
I graduated with a degree in Film Studies from Ryerson University, School of Image Arts in Toronto, Canada and then moved to LA in 2007. I met the producers and writers of ‘The Hammer’, Eben Kostbar and Joe McKelheer at a party in Hollywood at the time. To cut a long story short, there was an old co-producer, who was deaf, before me then she had to leave the project. I applied and got the gig.
I’ve been in the industry for 10 years now, I was the director/writer of an award winning short film, “I’m Not From Hear” which was shown here in London, in 2004 at the National Theatre, in the Disability Film festival. That film got into 20 different film festivals worldwide, as far away as Moscow, Russia, and Chicago, USA as well as several cities in Canada. The film saw me nominated as the Best Canadian Student Director at that time in 2003, at the World Film Festival in Montreal, Canada.
I’ve also produced several shorts such as “Glee” By Jules Dameron, “Robbed” by Sammy Siedenburg, written and performed by Kalen Feeney, “Transients” by Rhianon Gutirrez, and more. I was also a part of the National Film Board of Canada, as a Director’s apprenticeship for a short documentary, still a work in progress called “Unheard Voices”. It’s about a deaf woman who survived breast cancer and how one doctor who knows ASL saves her life.
When did you first become aware of Matt Hamill?
I first heard about Matt Hamill via my brother, who is a huge fan of UFC. I was already aware of the sport at the time before I even got involved with the project.
How did you approach his story?
Eben Kostbar and Joe McKelheer, the producers and writers always kept me informed about the script writing process, etc. There were a lot of rewrites, and I mean ALOT. I read it all and there were lots of changes made before the filming began. I was involved with them before Oren Kaplan the director came on board. Once he was on board, then we started to do the casting sessions with deaf actors. I helped out with the auditions as a reader. It’s a fun process and at the same time challenging, too, making the right decisions of who to cast for the film.
What was filming like?
The film was shot in close to a two month period, in Rochester, NY as well as surrounding areas around the city too. Shot on a Red camera, the Director of Photography, David Rom, is from London. We had a crew of approx 60, we also had a deaf MUA/Hairstylist, deaf production assistants, deaf service assistant, to help out with the food prep, to make sure everyone was well fed.
Also, a lot of deaf background extras for the wrestling scenes. It was an intense shoot, due to time is money! There was one day, that we did three company moves, and it was an 18 hour day. Aside from being a co-producer, I wore many hats too, production van driver, of Cast and Crew, as some of them were staying at the same hotel as me. Acting coach, (mostly to Michael Spady, the “Jay” character) and ASL Master to makes sure the scenes are accurately depicted right on the frame, working closely with the director to make sure there were no mistakes… and so on!
Russell, the lead actor, is from a deaf family. A huge contrast to Matt’s own family where they’re all hearing. Often times, I’d say to Russell, ” Matt is just learning sign language”, as part of the feedback, and he has to “tone” down to the level that Matt is just learning at RIT in the film. That was a challenge!
How did you get on with Matt?
Matt Hamill came on the set several times, to check on the wrestling scenes as he’s an expert in that capacity while we’re not. We had trainers to come in to train Russell and Spady, (Wrestling) within a short time frame before the filming began, and even throughout the shoot too. Matt brought in a lot of spirit and enthusiasm on set.. He was also involved with the final say on the script too!
What has the film’s reception been like?
The reception for the film has been overwhelming! We had our first world premiere at the AFI fest, at the Chinese Grauman theater in Nov 2010. That was a memorable experience. The film won 8 awards. Mostly, Audience Choice awards. It was finally released in theaters, one year later, on Oct 27th. It was shown on 100 screens in cities across America at the time and was one of the highest grossing films that night. The extended run was in Rochester, New York City, and Los Angeles for the whole month of November. We’re very proud of the film! Matt spoke several of times at various film festivals Q and A’s sessions, and told how he misses his grandfather. His grandfather shaped who he is today…
Excited about showing it in London?
Yes, I’m very excited to show the film here in London, 8 years after the fact my short film was shown here. This is also my first feature film credit as a co producer.
What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on a documentary called “Broken Phoenix”, a story about a deaf man who came out of prison, clean and sober, only to relapse again.. lost everything, and is now back in prison again. I was also a co exec producer of a short Toronto indie film, “Closed Caption” which was shot over a 2 day period in June, 2012. On the side, is my other “hat”, Festival Director of Toronto International Deaf Film and Arts Festival, May 23rd to 26th, 2013 in downtown Toronto. I’ve been doing this for a few years now and we’re growing!