Key to any great film is a great story. And Colm Feore believes that his new project opens with a true heart-warmer.
In 2005, the Canadian actor known for both homegrown fare (Bon Cop, Bad Cop) and Hollywood glitz (Chicago, Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy) was arriving at Toronto Pearson International Airport after a London vacation with his wife, Donna. Bleary-eyed at the luggage carousel at the crack of dawn, Feore was approached by two young men from the same flight who said they were filmmakers, and asked for a selfie. Feore, thinking that “one is always selling a ticket to something,” agreed, not paying much attention to how the siblings said they had the perfect movie for the actor, and all that they needed was some time to finish it.
Months later at the Stratford Festival, Feore was approached by the same brothers, Matt and Jeff Campagna, who brought along their mother to see the actor star in Coriolanus, as a birthday present. Being the gentleman, Feore agreed to meet the family in the parking lot after the show.
“They pull out a prehistoric DVD player and show me the trailer to this film, which I’m already in,” Feore explains, noting that the pair digitally inserted his face from the airport photo into a proof-of-concept clip. “How could one say no to such guys on their mom’s birthday after she’d had to sit through Coriolanus? We’ve been together ever since. So when a Campagna calls, I always answer.”
Which is how Matt Campagna and Melissa D’Agostino, his partner in work and life, managed to just wrap production on Six Guns for Hire. The dystopia-western is the third in a trilogy starring Feore beginning with 2008′s Six Reasons Why – and just one of the two films that the Campagna/D’Agostino/Feore team completed in the midst of the pandemic. (Brother Jeff co-wrote and appeared in Six Reasons Why but not the sequels.)
At the best of times, making a film is a headache. For Canadian filmmakers, it’s more like a migraine. Throw in all manner of COVID precautions, and it’s a pulsating skull-crusher. But for Campagna and D’Agostino, Six Guns for Hire was almost tailor-made for the pandemic.
“We were uniquely positioned to film this now, which is the real surprise gift,” says D’Agostino, who co-directed Six Guns for Hire, as well as co-stars. “Because Matt is basically his own camera person, we could have a crew that’s only five people. We planned to make this movie under very different circumstances, but new restrictions meant we could still do it, just with a different technique.”
That meant following all standard industry guidelines for testing, but also telecommuting members of the crew onto the set through video chat, and shooting actors one at a time on green screen, bringing the performers together in post-production. This last bit is something of old hat to Campagna, whose genre-leaning filmography (2014′s short Doomsday, 2016′s series Tactical Girls), involved creating big stories with few people.
“We were able to bring those indie sensibilities here, with a confident plan to safely move forward without putting anyone at risk,” says Campagna, who acts as his own editor. “A lot of other production companies weren’t able to shoot now, so that moved us to the front of the line with our financiers.”
Which also meant a boost in resources: Six Reasons Why was made for $12,000, with Feore “working for sandwiches.” Six Guns for Hire had $4-million, with Feore now getting sandwiches and scale.
It helped, too, that the Six Guns for Hire shoot was preceded just half a year by Six Days to Die, the second film in the team’s trilogy, which was filmed this past August. “This time around we had a more robust COVID mitigation plan because we knew more going into this,” says D’Agostino. Which translated into a distinct nimbleness gleaned from experience.
“Melissa would have her on-camera days saved until the end of production, so if someone needed to isolate we could always bump her scenes up. Her being the Rubik’s Cube of the production meant we never had to miss a day,” says Campagna, who spent about four weeks shooting the green-screen coverage.
“We’ve also become quite accustomed to the masks and the swabs and having fewer people,” adds D’Agostino, who also worked as the dialogue director on-set, making her not just a co-star with a few scenes but every single performer’s green-screen acting partner. “The challenge was trying to get the eyelines right, but everyone embraced it and for the actors it’s a plus: they’re the whole focus for that day.”
The project wouldn’t have come together, though, without the participation of Feore, who adapted to the filming conditions with ease.
“The biggest challenge is trying to retain any sense of ‘normal’ between the words ‘action’ and ‘cut.’ Everything about our new protocols isolates each of us in what is usually a hugely collaborative operation,” says Feore. “Matt promised and delivered a very safe environment while at the same time creating a free space to work, even if I had to be alone to do it.”
Once completed, the new films will make their way to the festival circuit before becoming available to stream on Campagna and D’Agostino’s Highball TV, a niche streaming service specializing in genre and art-house films that the pair launched in 2018. Due to new consumer habits formed during the pandemic, Highball has experienced 300 per cent growth in the past 12 months, according to Campagna, although specific subscriber numbers were not disclosed.
Meanwhile, Feore is just glad that he took the time to take that airport selfie all those years ago.
“It is imperative for people who can support independent productions to do so,” he says. “Not only does it address the notion of paying your good fortune forward, I really love the idea of being useful. And I love a good story.”
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