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Paul Gross on IRC

Many thanks to all who assisted in our IRC Q & A with Paul on 13th September 2003, either by helping out behind the scenes or by forming a great audience with terrific questions. Here's the transcript for those who couldn't make it!

Moderator: Ladies and gentleman, Paul Gross is here and should be joining the channel in just a few seconds!

* PaulGross has joined #paulgross

PaulGross: hello, everyone.

Moderator: Welcome to IRC Paul. Thank you for giving up your Saturday morning to be here!

PaulGross: Happy to be here.

Moderator: Did you manage to get to the Toronto Film Festival this week?

PaulGross: Some of it. I had a bunch of meetings about future projects and managed to see a couple of films. The Saddest Music in the World by Guy Maddin and In the Cut by Jane Campion. Both of them were terrific.

Moderator: We'll be sure to look out for those then. OK, we have lots of questions for you from people from all around the world, so let's get on to our first one.

PaulGross: Fire away.

Lillian: In the 1993 book, Canadian Dreams, Michael Posner writes about 10 independent films and what the producers, writers etc, had to go through to get these films made and distributed. The complaints and warnings in these stories and in the foreword could also have been written today. Do you think that the recent crisis in funding has sounded a wake-up call for the need for more aggressive marketing and distribution of Canadian productions or do you think that risking the funding needed in a risky business, with no promise of a return, is too hard to overcome?

PaulGross: Sadly, I think most independent film worldwide is in a state of almost permanent crisis. It's a precarious environment and financing is always a juggling act. The Canadian problem has unique challenges and some of these are being addressed. Essentially the problem boils down to audience reach, or more simply getting a ton of people to watch your film. It's taken time but there seems to be a general agreement out there that we need to go after audiences. Sounds odd, doesn't it, that this wasn't part of the equation but it wasn't and the change is huge. We'll see if it bears fruit in the next couple of years.

Victoria: Are you seriously considering coming to the United States if there is not enough support for the performing arts in Canada?

PaulGross: Yeah. If I can't work here, tell the stories I'd like to tell, I'll have to go somewhere where that can happen and the logical place would be LA. Bad as the situation is it hasn't reached that point yet and I have some optimism that we'll turn a corner in the next two years or so.

Hannah/Noel: Recently you have been very outspoken about the state of broadcasting etc in Canada. Is this due to purely professional issues or are you generally interested in the political side of life? Any desire to change careers?

PaulGross: No, I have no desire to change careers and the truth is I'm completely unqualified for any other line of work. That said, my concern about the state of things with Canadian T.V. is really part of a disturbing trend in Canadian arts in general. T.V. is sort of the thin edge of the wedge. If we can't mount a successful argument for a healthy T.V. environment it will be increasingly difficult for all other artistic areas. I can foresee lack of governmental will to support film then eventually theatre, publishing, art galleries, ballet and so on. It has to be fixed and maintained for all the other forms. And that is really an issue of national sovereignty.

Jan: Can you confirm whether you're going to play Macbeth at Stratford next year? And if so, Ardent would like to know if there might be any plans to tape it.

PaulGross: Jan -- No, I'm not doing Macbeth and I'm not sure how that got into the papers. I'm talking with a couple people about a production of Richard III in a year or two.

Moderator: so there's bad news and hopefully good news!

Felicity: How much freedom did you have to play Hamlet as you wanted to, or did Hamlet end up playing you to a large extent? Did you find the 9 months or so rather too long to be away from home and family?

PaulGross: Playing Hamlet is hard to describe. He uses all of you and at the same time you lose yourself. It's brutal and brilliant and exhausting and the most exhilarating thing an actor can do but yeah, after 9 months I was done and ready to go home.

Mary: Are you ever tempted to write for the stage again?

PaulGross: I have been and over the years have had an idea or two that I thought would be stage worthy but it always seems that I'm caught up in other projects and never have the time. Perhaps some time will show up and I'll get around to it. I'd like to.

Felicity: How is your Dad getting on with publishing your plays?

PaulGross: Oh, Lord. He's at me constantly about editing them and getting them into shape and the last we spoke on the subject he's got one or two more or less ready to go. I think I'll have enough time this fall to pull the rest together. In the meantime he's getting my mother's book (about a sex scandal involving the Premier of Alberta in the 30's) ready for publication.

Mary: Can you tell us what Chris Cutter was about to tell Amy Foley before he was so rudely interrupted by that street sign?

PaulGross: We always wanted to leave that to the audiences' imagination, so I guess it depends on how dirty your imagination is.

Sandi: I enjoy listening to the music in Men With Brooms, some songs more than others. Why wasn't all of the music included on the soundtrack? Two upbeat instrumentals that play during the tournament aren't listed in the end credits (one being sort of a Celtic reel, the other a bit more of tag with what sounds like a banjo). Can you give the titles and artists for these two?

PaulGross: Ah, the music world. The deal for the soundtrack was done with Universal and they are an odd bunch of people. To begin with, not everything can be included in the soundtrack (for reasons that elude me). Also, they were the ones that picked out what would go on the CD. By the time we got around to that I was sick of arguing with them. As for the tracks at the end I think they were pieces that Jack Lenz and I wrote so they weren't listed because they were part of the 'score'.

Sandi: Were you solely responsible for the editing of Men With Brooms? What criteria were used in determining which scenes to cut and which to leave in? Was there a set goal or limit to the running time of MWB, or did it just turn out to be 104 minutes when all was said and done?

PaulGross: The editor was Susan Maggi and she and I spent many a long month cutting the film. The final shape of it is sort of an amalgam of influences, some of them from R. Lantos, a little from the distributors and quite a lot from the audience. We did a number of test screenings and depending on how they seemed to react we'd adjust the picture cut. Most notably the opening of the film never worked, at least not as it was first conceived, so we would re-edit and try again, finally settling on what is there now (the first 10 - 13 minutes). It's a complicated process and I don't know why my first plan failed. In the end though, I'm happy with what we ended up with. As to length, there's no contractual obligation but if a comedy runs on too long it tends to lose the audience. There is a sort of unwritten rule or axiom in comedic movies that faster is better and it seemed to be the case with MWB. The shorter we got it, the better it played.

Sandi: Is the finished product different from the original concept of Men With Brooms? If so, how?

PaulGross: Yeah, it is different. We had a lot of dialogue and longish scenes introducing all the characters. When we put that in front of the audiences they seemed bored and confused. So the finished version includes the dead guy's voice over which was never in the script and the order of scenes is completely an invention in editing.

Cynthia: Are you going to make a sequel to Men With Brooms?

PaulGross: We have discussed it, in fact John Krizanc and I wrote a sequel and although it was awfully funny it seemed to lose the spirit of the original. Lantos and I continue to talk about a sequel but as yet no plans are on the board to do it.

Carole: Have you continued to curl since finishing Men With Brooms?

PaulGross: Sadly, no. I might give it a go this winter though. Lately I've been playing a lot of hockey which is slightly faster paced.

Carole: Was Slings and Arrows as much fun to shoot as it sounds?

PaulGross: On balance, yes. The scripts were impeccable and the cast was fantastic so over all it was a great experience. The only drawback was cash. The show was severely underfinanced which meant that we were moving at a ridiculously fast pace. That said though, I had a great time on it and look forward to seeing it. So far everyone involved seems very excited by the finished product.

Carole: Do you know whether it will be broadcast overseas as well as in Canada?

PaulGross: I'm not sure. I know they are starting to make sales into other countries -- I think they're close to a deal with PBS in the States. I also heard that they're talking with someone in the UK. BBC maybe. But, yeah, I think it'll find its way over there.

Moderator: Let's move on to music, which a lot of people have been asking about.

Sandi: Are there any plans for another CD, either solo or with David?

PaulGross: Well....David is very selfish. David went and got himself a starring role in Mamma Mia on Broadway. Broadway is in New York which is far away from here. So ... if David would stop being a Broadway star and come back we'll start recording again.

Jill: May I ask if you like classical music, and if so, who is your favourite composer? Thank you for doing this for us, we greatly appreciate it.

PaulGross: Thanks for asking me. Yes, I love classical. I suppose one of my favourites (apart from the big B's) is Fauré. At the moment I've been listening to John Tavener as I think I might use some of his compositions in Passchendaele. Also Arvo Pärt.

Jill: Are any of your lyrics based on your own personal experiences?

PaulGross: In a way I suppose all lyrics are based on personal experiences but I can't think of any that are specifically about events that I've been through. I think the reason I like writing lyrics is that they are personal in an intense way -- feelings, sensations etc. While screen writing is personal there's always the distance forced by plot and character etc. Lyrics don't have the middleman so they're a little more direct.

Sue P: When do you start filming Manifest Destiny? Might it be shown in Australia?

PaulGross: We start preparing that show in early Jan. and will shoot mid march. The title is flipping around at the moment -- The Last Prime Minister is one, H2O is another. And it's going to be fantastic. As for seeing it in Australia I don't know. I suppose that will depend on the finished product.

Marianne/Victoria: Do you have a set date for the beginning of filming of Passchendaele and possible "wish" list of actors?

PaulGross: We're assembling the money now and are planning to start shooting next fall -- in Alberta and probably the UK, as a co-production. As for actors, the casting is underway and unfortunately I can't tell you any of the names because they're not confirmed yet but I think the cast will be knockout.

Carole: Can you give us any more information about Wilby Wonderful, which I believe you have recently filmed with Callum Keith Rennie?

PaulGross: We had a ball. It's a very small movie about a group of people in a small island town called Wilby and the story takes place over the course of one day. Daniel McIvor wrote and directed and I had a wonderful time working with him as well as the rest of the cast. One hilarious thing was working with Callum again. Our first scene was sitting inside a police cruiser (I play a local cop). We looked at one another and realized that last scene we had shot together on due South was also in a car. Eerie.

Victoria: How many episodes of The Just Society did you write before you found out that there would be no financing available for it? Is there still a chance that the series will be produced?

PaulGross: We wrote the first draft for three scripts. There have been a couple of developments that might mean we can get the show going for next fall. Some foreign distributors are interested and we're working things out now. I'm hopeful that we'll get it going. It's an important topic and one I think could be hugely entertaining.

Marianne: Your mini-series Manifest Destiny has been described as a conspiracy drama. Could you give us a bit more description and tell us whom you hope to have acting with you on the project?

PaulGross: In thumbnail: the P.M. of Canada drowns in a canoeing accident. His son (me) returns from working at the World Court in the Hague to attend the state funeral. he delivers a blistering eulogy that inspires the movers and shakers to suggest he stand for the leadership of the party. He does, wins and is installed as the P.M. At first glance, it looks like he's the white knight any nation would love to have as a leader. But slowly we discover he has a darker purpose. Beyond that I don't want to give it away cause there are a lot of great twists and turns and shocks. We're starting to cast now -- there are over 110 speaking parts so we'll be seeing lots of actors, including stars from Quebec. It should be an exciting collection of talents and faces when all is said and done.

Colette: Is it possible that you might still produce the series SteelString at some time in the future?

PaulGross: I doubt it.

Carole: You mentioned some time ago the possibility of producing Thunder, Perfect Mind as an animated feature. Is that still a possibility?

PaulGross: I haven't thought about that for a long time and at the moment it's not high on my wish list. The next couple of years should be pretty hectic if everything pans out so maybe after that I'll think about it.

Marianne: We heard that you were going to appear on Mary Walsh's Open Book programme about Tooth and Nail. Do you know when this will be broadcast?

PaulGross: I've already gone out to Halifax and taped the show with that wild force of nature, Mary. (God, that girl can talk). So, it's done but I don't know when they air those shows.

Marianne: What are you currently reading?

PaulGross: I can't recall the name of it, but it's a book by Jon Krakauer (who wrote Into Thin Air about Everest). It's a book about a murder by a couple of fundamentalist Mormons but is really about Mormonism in general and wow it makes for some really creepy reading.

Angela: When Robert McKee was asked if he noticed a difference between his Canadian and American screenwriting students, he replied that he didn't in terms of talent, but that the Canadian writers "do not get strong support from their culture. They feel like it's an uphill battle, there's no welcome mat for them." What are your thoughts on this and also is there any particular piece of advice you would give to a new screenwriter (not necessarily a Canadian one)? Thank you, Paul.

PaulGross: I've never found that there isn't interest in what I'm writing or even new writers for that matter. He is right when he says there's a lack of support from their culture but I would argue that this is in part the responsibility of the artists. We've got to make ourselves necessary to the culture. Now, in Canada that's an uphill battle because we are so close to the cultural powerhouse of the U.S. But ... if we make the attempt I think we'll find the audience is out there. If I've heard it once I've heard it a thousand times about Men With Brooms, where people who'd seen the movie were thrilled because they could see themselves, or people they knew and recognized on the screen. I think we may see a shift in the next couple of years where we start to make movies more interested in the audience and this will help complement the great movies that we already make (Atom's and Cronenburgs etc). It's a slow process but it's happening.

BC: Mr. Gross, I am enjoying greatly the DVD sets but was wondering why there wasn't any actor/director commentary? Will there be, perchance, an Executive Producer commentary on Season 3? How about actor commentary? Or actors? (please!)

PaulGross: I wish I could answer that but I had nothing to do with the release/sale of the CDS. I'm not sure why they didn't include some of the commentary -- all I know is that I was never approached by them to do any.

Jules: Paul, hi there, just wondered if you might remember me? I was that English girl who came all the way over to Toronto to be an extra in Men With Brooms. Anyway my question is how come the film wasn't released over here in the UK, especially following the Olympic gold success of the UK ladies curling team? It would have been the perfect time to release it.

PaulGross: Ahh, that's a good question and one that baffles me. The company that would logically have handled it was Momentum (a distribution co. owned by Alliance Atlantis) and for whatever reason the guy running that outfit didn't think there was an audience for it. Who knows?

Hannah: Now your children must be reaching the teenage years, are they seriously considering the performing arts? And would/do you encourage them one way or the other?

PaulGross: If that's what they want to do I'd encourage them. At the moment they both say they're interested in this business but my daughter (also Hannah by the way) isn't particularly interested in what I do. She thinks she'll be a Hollywood movie star. Not sure where the school is for that but is sure she'll find it.

Amanda: Where were you when the lights went out?

PaulGross: I was in Halifax and we'd started boarding a plane. The weird thing is that the night before the blackout I was working on The Last Prime Minister and wrote a section that involves a blackout. Less than 24 hours later I was watching it all happen for real in an airport bar. Spooky.

PaulGross: OK, everyone I'm going to have to go -- I've got a meeting. I want to thank you all, in particular, I'd like to thank everyone who contributed to The Hospital For Sick Children. It's truly an amazing place and I think you'd be proud to see your help at work. I wish you all the best and we'll talk again soon. Thanks.

Moderator: Thank you very much Paul for coming along and answering so many questions. Goodbye to you from all of us and good luck with all your plans - you sound busy!

* PaulGross has left #paulgross

Moderator: That's all folks. Thank you all for coming along.

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