The town of Verona will become a film set this June featuring local establishments, homes, and people thanks to Verona native, Sebastian Back.
Back came across Telefilm Canada’s Talent Fund-supported Talent to Watch Program, which finances emerging content creators who are recent alumni of a partner educational institution. As graduates of Ryerson University, Back and his co-producer, Maeve Kern, were eligible for the program. “We co-produced the short film that I wrote and directed for my final thesis project. And right after school we just kind of got really excited to do another project,” Back said
“I wrote a script for it while I was on a trip in Europe,” he continued. “And then we had two months to figure out the whole application process and the creativity for it. So I wrote the first draft of the script, then we did a pitch video, put together a creative deck for it. And then sent that all in [to the Talent To Watch program]. A few months later, got the response back that they wanted to fund us, and then started the next stage of the process which has been going on until now.”
Back said they were originally set to film last summer but that had to be cancelled due to the pandemic. “Over the last year and a half or so I’ve just been doing rewrites on the script,” he said.
In the meantime, Back has been doing clothing design for commercial sets and has also taken “odd jobs on film sets to get experience, watch other directors work, shadow some of my mentors and, and just learn from them.”
“I think COVID had a huge effect on this project that can’t be understated. I think, honestly, it was a really positive thing for us,” he explained. “We were really excited and fired up to shoot, but comparing where we are now as far as the creative and as far as the crew and the preparation, we weren’t ready to go. But we have reached a much better place now.”
“I honestly feel really lucky,” he said. “I think the time in between has been such a benefit on a personal level and on our creative level.”
Kern, who grew up in Brampton, says she is looking forward to shooting in the small town this summer. “I had never been to Verona, I’d really rarely been to Kingston,” she said. “But since this started, I’ve been a couple of times and really acquainted myself with the area and a lot of the locals. It’s a beautiful town and I’m thoroughly excited to shoot there.”
Back said the film, Verona, is a coming-of-age story of a young woman, Camilla, and he knew exactly which actor he wanted to play the lead. “The way that I approach writing and directing is to write pretty intuitively. So just to kind of put it on the page, see what ends up there, and then dig into it a little bit deeper as a director and find the logic behind it. I think for the role, I was really interested in working with an actor who had a lot of training, had some experience and was at a point similar to me where there’s talent and potential, but that they hadn’t hit their break yet,” he shared with Kingstonist.
“Kat Khan, who’s playing our lead, had just graduated from York University’s theatre program. And she’s done an insane amount of training, both at York here and then doing some stuff in New York, doing dance and singing and theatre,” said Back.
“We had met a couple of times, and I just kind of got the sense that she had a similar drive and passion for film and getting good at her craft,” he continued. “And I knew that no matter how much I’m learning about directing, and how much I’m learning about the process, she’ll go down that road with me, and we’ll be able to push each other in our respective roles, to be better and better at what we do.”
The collaborative process is very important, Back said. “I have my insight into the character and their mindset but at the same time, once the script is with the actor, it’s not just me working on it anymore,” he explained. “I’m writing my story, putting it on the page, and then offering it to an actor that I want to work with. And then she’s taking it and developing it into her own kind of thing as well. Which I think is kind of fun.”
Back said that the storyline of the film is not specific to any particular location, but that his memories of growing up in the beautiful and varied countryside just seemed to fit his vision.
The community is already involved and excited to participate said Back, a fact that he and Kern are very happy and excited about. “We did a large call out about a couple of months ago to see if anyone in Verona or the surrounding areas was interested in being a background actor and we had an overwhelming response,” he said.
Kern further explained, “A large group will be in a church congregation scene that we’re filming at Trinity United Church in Verona. And our locations are local, we’ve had a bunch of people offering their homes, offering their vehicles, offering their services, we’re getting catering done by the Lions Club, and a lot of our vendors and people we’re working with are very local.”
“That was a priority: to involve the community and root the story in the actual community and get as much involvement there that we could,” she said.
Back is very thankful to all of the locals, home and business owners and the Kingston Film Office for their help, “The involvement of the community has been such a big part of us getting to a spot where we’re fully ready to go, ready to shoot and feel so welcome there. I think all of our locations have been so gracious and all the community members have gone above and beyond what could even be expected of people being involved in a film project. So that’s been pretty crazy, pretty overwhelming. People are so generous. It’s pretty cool.”