This week, as part of my TIFF experience, I had the pleasure of watching a screening of the all-Canadian film The Odds. Yes, that’s “the poker movie” that everyone’s buzzing about. But really it’s about 17-year-old Desson (Tyler Johnston) who gets involved in a shady situation (a gambling ring) that turns fatally bad. While I loved the movie and its portrayal of teenage angst, relationships and responsibility, my poker-playing husband liked it so much he actually compared it to two of his all-time favourite movies — Rounders and Go.
If you’re in the Toronto area, you can catch the final TIFF screening this afternoon at 3:00 if it’s not sold out, as it has been at other showings! The film’s beautiful and super-sweet all-Canadian cast will all be there. Here’s a fuzzy picture I took of them on my visit with them last Tuesday….
It was a while before the staff was ready for me to interview Kirsten Newlands (executive producer, producer) and her hubby Simon Davidson (writer, director, producer). So I got to hang out with them, the cast, and their adorable 8-month-old baby Caper! The interview is full of great insight into what it’s like to be working parents — and to be working parents in the film industry. Checkit!
What’s it like for you to work so intensely together and then go home at the end of the day and be a couple?
Simon: That’s funny because we work together at home in our off hours — we both have full-time jobs. Kirsten is vice president of a children’s animation company, and I work in the film industry [editorial]. To do this project, I took time off to write the script, so I was at home. But home life kind of becomes work life. When you throw in the pregnancy and child, it’s difficult. There are pluses and minuses. The pluses are that we both know what we’re doing. Kirsten knows why I have to be up in the night or can’t talk or I have to go in my room. And I know why she has to go to a party and talk to people or fly to Toronto. But it’s also difficult because you’re always bringing up The Odds.
Kirsten: And the fact that we’re always together isn’t an issue for us because we were friends for a long time before we actually got together. But there’s no separation between church and state in our household. We’re always talking about work and working on the next thing — especially with The Odds getting into the festivals, the marketing, sales and things like that. It can be all-consuming because you really want to make the most of it. You want to come to Toronto with everything ready to go, hit the ground running and get a name for Simon and the film.
So it’s really hard to step out of it. How do you step out of it?
Simon: Sometimes we like to go to Costa Rica together. Not only because it’s warm and because we like to surf, but because there is no movie talk, no talk about our jobs — were just ourselves. I can’t wait to go this time with Caper, as a family. The rest of the time, really, especially with The Odds, we talk about it all the time. Like, in the night when we go to bed: “Did you talk to Robyn…”; “Where’s that email…?”; “OK, go get Caper….”
Kirsten: The big thing for me is being present. I’m signing documents, someone’s at the door, I’m checking email, doing laundry, and now that I have Caper I need to look at her and play with her and not get distracted by other things I need to do.
How did the dynamic of working together change when you had Caper?
Kirsten: Time management became a big thing. Caper is the most important thing to us. But at the same time, we kind of had another baby — with Simon making his first film. I really didn’t really want to shortchange either one. So I had some pretty dark days when I felt I was doing a disservice to the film, and we’d been working four years on this, and I couldn’t give it everything I had. And then there were other times I felt I was shortchanging Caper because I had her on my hip and I was on the phone and I was trying balance things.
So you have to become very efficient with your time. So, Sunday mornings she sleeps from 9 to 11. Therefore, we have to nail down our marketing plan from 9 to 11. And it has to be done because she’s going to wake up at 11, and then we have to go. Or, Simon will say, “Saturday morning I have to get up and I have to pull in all the stills for the publicity.” And I say, “OK, then I’ll take her out for a walk” — because if she’s in the house, he wants to see her! So it’s all about becoming very efficient.
Simon: And Kirsten does a great job. She makes Caper’s organic baby food in the Magic Bullet. She plans all the meals and puts the baby bag together. Stuff is always ready, she cooks gourmet meals and she’s always got plans. She takes Caper for walks. She bought a book called 109 Walks Around Vancouver, and she did 25! She does it all.
Kirsten: I needed a goal!
How do you juggle the demands of promoting a film and being at TIFF with a newborn?
Kirsten: Well, Jenny [their caregiver] is amazing. We found her through Wee Care, a local Toronto agency. And my mom came along, and we have family here. So between Jenny and my mom it’s been a tag team. We’re out the door at 9 a.m.; last night we got in at 1:30 a.m. We also got an apartment that’s two blocks away from festival headquarters — because we knew we needed laundry, a kitchen and a bit more space.
So who gets to go to the parties?
Kirsten: Last night was our premiere, so Simon came home a little later than I did. But for the most part we make it work. Sometimes, I’ll say, “I’m having a good time, I’m going to stay.” And Simon will say, “OK, I’m going home.” But we get up so early with Caper anyway, so sometimes it’s just not worth it. [Laughs]
The movie has a very YA feel. Were you inspired by young-adult literature? What inspired you to write The Odds?
Simon: I love Blake Nelson books. I would love to get a certain Blake Nelson book that I’ve been trying to find. But [beyond that], I had an experience when I was 16 years old that changed my life. I was headed in the wrong direction, and there was a traumatic event that led me to a turning point. I could have kept going, or I could change. And I changed. It was a really big moment in my life. So I wanted to tell that story about a young person who had that kind of experience. Then I discovered a teenage gambling ring, and I started researching it and immersing myself in that world. I thought that would be a great way to tell the story about a character who’s not a devil, not an angel, but he comes to a turning point. For me the last scene in the movie is where he has the turning point — where he has that decision to make.
What’s your favourite parenting tip (based on your experience)? Simon: My tip was given to me early on when our baby cried for 6 weeks straight. Someone told me to get an exercise ball and, after you feed and burp her, you sit on the ball and bounce her to sleep and put her down. It worked! As soon as she started, boom, I was on that ball. And wouldn’t let us watch movies or anything, she was just, like, “I want the attention right now….”
Kirsten: I used to find it frustrating when people would say, “Go with your intuition,” because I thought, “But I’ve never done this before, I have no intuition!” It’s so new. But I think kids are resilient and you’ll find your way. You need to give them structure, but they also have to be a part of your life. Taking Caper to things like this or to Korea [for the film] — I think it’s important, and it will form her. You just have to find a balance.
Simon: Here’s another great tip that changed our life: putting her to bed at 7:30. We would start at 6:30, put her in the bath and put on her lotion, feed her, burp her and put her to bed. That literally changed our life because we could have an evening together now. The structure helped us know what we were going to do from day to day as much as it helped Caper learn structure. Now, we put her in the bath and she knows what’s coming, and you can see her getting tired.
Can you tell us about the name Caper?
Kirsten: Her full name is Caper Lillian Davidson. My grandmother, unfortunately, passed away five days before Caper was born. I was very close to her, and I couldn’t fly then. So we used her name as Caper’s middle name. And the name Caper just came to us. We really love caper films….
Simon: And there’s that salty vegetable!
Kirsten: When you put capers into hot oil they pop into flowers. So it really worked for her, and she grew into it. We didn’t actually have it picked out until we saw her.
Congratulations to Simon and Kirsten on their huge success with The Odds — look out for it in theatres in October — and their beautiful baby Caper!