First-time filmmaker Deborah Chow hit the TIFF scene last September with 'The High Cost of Living' -- the story of a pregnant woman (Isabelle Blais) from Montreal who loses her unborn child in a hit-and-run accident and is subsequently befriended by her hit-and-run driver (Zach Braff). This hard-hitting drama took Toronto by storm and won the filmmaker TIFF's Best Canadian First Feature.
The flick is finally set to open -- in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and Montreal -- to a wider audience on Friday. To mark the opening, Moviefone.ca sat down with Chow, who dished about her love of fantasy like 'His Dark Materials,' the inspiration she found in Nick Cave, 'Incendies' and the cautionary tale she plans to film next.
What is 'The High Cost of Living' about and how did it come to be?
Deborah Chow: It's basically the story of two strangers from very disparate backgrounds who end up meeting through a car accident. The film looks at how their relationship plays out as a result.
It was a long process. I was working on it for about five years, from start to finish. At first it was more fantasy oriented. It was a little bit more bloated, I think. So what really happened over the years was it got more and more stripped down to its core essence -- the accident, the characters, the relationships.
What sort of fantasy spin did you have in the first drafts?
The very first incarnation was really different. Isabelle's character died and she was trying to come back to life. She was in this netherworld and it was this huge thing, her coming back to the real world.
Zach Braff has traditionally played warmer characters. How did you go about casting his role and the other leads?
We managed to get the script to his manager. Fortunately, he read it and really responded to it. It's funny, because I think most people know him from 'Scrubs,' but I had mostly seen his film work like 'Garden State' and 'Last Kiss,' so, for me, it wasn't a big departure. Especially 'Garden State' -- there are a lot of similarities with this project.
For the rest of the casting, everybody else was from Quebec. Isabelle Blais and Patrick Labbé are very well-known in [the province].
There seems to be no absolutes in the film -- bad guys do good, good guys do bad. There is no certainty, whether we're talking about the stranger who doesn't want Nathalie drinking or Nathalie's own insistence that Henry is a good person. What is it about this ambiguity that attracts you?
Uncertainty was really a big part of it, particularly with Zach's character. I wanted his character to be a shade of grey so you couldn't go, "Oh, he's a really good guy; he just made this mistake."
We all make mistakes and screw up at times, but it doesn't mean we're good or bad. Some moments in our life are good and some are not. I wanted characters who are not one or the other, but a bit more complicated and a bit more like real life.
That's an interesting juxtaposition with your interests in fantasy. Is there a specific story you'd like to tackle, like the billions of 'Snow White' projects or 'The Wizard of Oz'?
The next one that I'm working on, actually, which I'm hoping to do in Toronto, is called 'Billy Bones: A Cautionary Tale for Adults.' It's based on an old cautionary tale about mothers from the 16th century England -- it was a folklore story where mothers would tell their children, "Don't go near the water or Billy Bones is gonna get you."
For a new filmmaker, you've directed some impressive names, like James Urbaniak, Zach Braff and Isabelle Blais, who've in turn, worked with notable filmmakers like Hal Hartley, Woody Allen, and Denys Arcand...
*Laughs* You're the only person who's ever looked up Urbaniak to know that he came from Hal Hartley.
I love Urbaniak.
You do? Okay, you're the only person who's ever known that!
Do you find yourself collaborating with the talent or marking your own path?
For me, my favourite part of directing is directing the actors. I'm not trying to change the world or be Martin Scorsese inventing a new language of cinema. I just love working with actors. The actors have always been the most important element of the story, for everything I've ever done.
If you could make a dream project, with a dream story and cast, what would it be and who would you love to work with on it?
I would've loved to do 'His Dark Materials,' the Philip Pullman book. I didn't love the way it was done. So something like that. Or the giant comic series, 'The Sandman.'
On the other side, I've always wanted to do an adaptation of 'The Threepenny Opera,' and make it really down and out. I love the Nick Cave, Tom Waits stuff and would do it with all that kind of music.
As a Canadian filmmaker, are there any Canadian films, or filmmakers, that inspire you?
When I won the award at TIFF for Best Canadian First Feature, I was at the ceremony with Denis Villeneuve. It's interesting because when I had written this project, I hadn't seen 'Maelstrom,' which was one of his earliest films. When I went to Quebec, everybody was like, "You have to see 'Maelstrom.'" It's a very similar storyline, actually, to 'High Cost of Living,' and I was like, "Oh God, I'm never going to get the money!" But fortunately, I did.
Anyway, It was really nice seeing this filmmaker who kind of started in a very similar place [as me], to see such a great career so many years later and I think he's had a lot of integrity in that career.
Also check out our interview with star Zach Braff and the first five minutes of the film.