Saturday, June 23, 2012

HIGH INCENTIVE - The movie that almost was...

Last night I attended the PRAXIS annual BBQ. It was great re-connecting with a few old acquaintances and in chatting with actor Mackenzie Gray, we got to talking about a project we collaborated on many years ago. The project was the improvised feature film High Incentive.

High Incentive was shot in 4 days.

And no, that's not a typo... We shot an entire feature-length film in 4 days... Without a script...

Say what?!

It was the year 2000. The Blair Witch Project had taken worldwide audiences by storm the previous year, the Dogme '95 filmmaking movement was inspiring the art house scene and during the time we were in production of High Incentive, two small television shows launched an entire genre. These shows were of course Survivor and Big Brother.

High Incentive Co-writers Charles Zuckermann, Jamie Foster and myself spent 3 months developing High Incentive. At the same time I began working with lead actors Mackenzie Gray, Shelley MacDonald, Naomi Snieckus and Don McWilliams developing and workshopping their characters, Brandon, Leah, Sandra and Dale. Our backstory development work and improv exercises fed the story-building sessions and the story sessions fed back into my work with the actors.

Don McWilliams, Shelley MacDonald, Mackenzie Gray and Naomi Sniekus - blissfully unaware of what they are walking into!
Trust was built between us all during this time, and a good thing it was too since the actors were led to believe that we would be shooting a quiet, intimate character drama... But we had other plans for them and so began the craziest 4 days of our lives.

Before each scene the lead actors would be given a set of notes from me. These notes would be specifically non-specifc. For example, "You will be getting a phonecall; Be prepared to defend yourself; Don't let them push you around; When you hear about THE PACKAGE end the conversation, grab your jacket and exit". In on the gag were all the supporting actors (all 23 of them!) as was our small but dedicated crew. It was an exercise in manipulation, madness and mayhem made crazier by the fact that instead of shooting a quiet character drama we were shooting an extremely ambitious caper film involving shady business deals, drugs, drag queens and kidnappings!

"Neil, have you been completely honest with us...?"
Rounding out our principal cast was a veritable who's who of Vancouver talent including Adam HarringtonChristina Jastrzembska, Donny James Lucas, Lindon Banks, Kirsten Robek, John R. TaylorKathy Duborg, Ari Solomon and many others. We shot in more than 20 locations and captured all the craziness on two MiniDV cameras. Our budget was zero but our enthusiasm was limitless. Everyone we spoke to about the project thought we were insane to even attempt it but we were young and thankfully didn't know any better.

So what happened to High Incentive? Is it available on DVD? Is it on iTunes?

Sadly no... You see, despite months and months of editing (by the talented Rob Wenzek) we found ourselves with- well, let's just say there were a few niggling issues with the audio... We spent months more (still with zero budget) doing ADR for the majority of the film (you've no idea how hard it was to loop dialogue that was improvised!), we attempted to raise finishing funds and we even had a small, private test screening of the final cut, albeit with temporary sound which was enthusiastically received. However, with no funding in place, with a key component of the actual story now not so topical and cool (thanks Reality Television!) and with the team all busy with other projects and life commitments, the project languished, lost steam and slowly faded into oblivion.

This trailer is the only piece of High Incentive that was publicly screened (at the awesome Celluloid Social Club). It gives a great taste of the craziness albeit in grainy, low-res Mini-DV...

High Incentive - The movie that almost was (Trailer) from Neil Every on Vimeo.

Though High Incentive is now 12yrs old and is long forgotten by most, those of us who went on the journey will forever be changed by the experience. We're all older and, one would hope, much wiser. Many of us have had considerable success in our careers and though we may not be in regular contact with one another, the experience bonded us for life - we're the equivalent of war veterans I suppose.

It's been fun dusting off these memories. If you got a kick out of the trailer and want to see more, please, please comment and let us know. Share it, like it, Tweet it. If we get a positive enough response then who knows, maybe we can find a way to finish the film and perhaps split it up into a webseries or something.

If for no other reason than for the sake of posterity and nostalgia, it would be great to get it out there for curious folks to discover and as a final entry in the High Incentive family album.

"We did it!" Key cast and crew at the end of their 4 day mad adventure
Until next time folks!