Stressed over writing essays in her final year of university, sick with bronchitis and discouraged as the acting gigs – even auditions – were drying up, Taylor Hill had had it. That's it, the 22-year-old told her mom. She was quitting acting. Maybe she would go to law school. Her mother, Barbara Hill, was having none of it. Mrs. Hill, who runs her husband's dental practice, reminded her daughter about that dance competition mockumentary she had been talking about writing.
Within half an hour, they had written an outline.
Not quite two years later, Leap 4 Your Life had its world premiere at this year's Vancouver International Film Festival, where it won the Must See BC campaign as the most anticipated B.C. film of the festival. Sure, this is essentially a social media popularity contest, but after screening the film and the credits (story by, screenplay by, produced by, and starring Taylor Hill), I was left with one big question: Who is Taylor Hill and where did she come from?
The North Vancouver native started acting at age 7, doing commercial work, and landed her first TV role at 12 in The New Beachcombers. More roles followed: The Exorcism of Emily Rose, a spot on the TV series Alice, I Think. She was also a competitive dancer. But by the time she left high school, the calls from casting agents were dwindling.
And then came that very bad day in November, 2011.
"The moment that my mum was like, 'Stop writing for someone else and be creative and do it yourself,' something clicked," Ms. Hill said in an interview at VIFF this week with her mother and the film's director. "And I'm like, 'I don't want to wait for someone to tell me when I can do this. I can just do it myself.' And it was really liberating, especially in Vancouver [where] you only play the wayward teen or the hot, slutty girl."
After whipping off the outline with her mother, Ms. Hill started writing the script. She began sending the script to actor friends, and to friends of friends, such as April Telek (Hell on Wheels) – a fellow North Vancouverite.
"She called me [and] she's like, 'Who the hell do you think you are? I love it,'" Ms. Hill recalls.
Ms. Telek signed on to play the in-your-face coach of a teenage team heading into a community dance competition: the headed-for-stardom Hilary (former So You Think You Can Dance Canada contestant Allie Bertram); the in-her-shadow nemesis Brooke (country singer MacKenzie Porter); the token guy, Matt (Reece Thompson, who flew up from Los Angeles to star in his old friend's film), and the awkward, braces-wearing Molly – the role Ms. Hill chose for herself.
"My mom was like, 'Can't you be, like, a little pretty in the movie?' And I'm, like, no, the dorkier the better, because I just love underdog stories."
Ms. Hill sent the script to director Gary Hawes, who has worked as a second assistant director on big features such as Elysium and Rise of the Planet of the Apes. They went to camera a month later.
"People are told 23-year-olds don't go and make feature films the first time out," Mr. Hawes said, before addressing Ms. Hill. "Maybe people told you that, but you didn't listen and you just went and did it."
The film was financed equally by Ms. Hill and her mother, both credited as producers and who – unlike the dysfunctional mother-daughter relationships portrayed in the film – get along fantastically. Taylor Hill's portion came from her earnings as a child actor.
"It was like, get a car and move out, or make a movie. So I made a movie," says Ms. Hill, who still lives at home. "I know it's super naïve, but it felt really right to do."
The film was shot on a shoestring budget in March and July, 2012. The crew volunteered their services, cast members returned their pay (some also contributed to the film's Indiegogo campaign), North Van neighbours offered their homes as shooting locations, craft service was provided by Taylor Hill's father, Steven, (and his Costco card). Dr. Hill also made Molly's braces. The background performers were the cast's friends and family.
The result is a fun, escapist romp. It's not perfect, but when you realize that the brain behind it was 22 when she wrote it, 23 when she shot it, and now 24, well, wow.
"To me, VIFF has really been the emergence of Taylor Hill," Mr. Hawes says. "She's a real It Girl. I like to call her the young Canadian version of Tina Fey or even Lena Dunham. Being such a triple threat, she really is." Then he turns to his producer/screenwriter/star. "I'm so glad … you were having that tough year, because … you have much more talent than just being a great actor."
For screening info, visit VIFF.org