Popcorn Magazine spoke to amazing Sarah Deakins about her life on set, transitioning to acting and directing, and her new film Yellow.
You started as an actress and then started to pursue writing/directing? What fuelled this transition?
I’ve been an actor for most of my life and a few years ago I realized I wanted to have more control over the types of stories I was putting out into the world. A friend of mine, Jason Goode had directed a film I wrote called Late and it went to Cannes as part of Telefilm Canada’s “Not Short On Talent” program. It was a wonderful experience, being on a set, collaborating on something that I had created, and I knew after that that I wanted to direct my next script. I wanted to follow something from conception right through shooting and post and see that vision all the way through. I was lucky that Brightlight Pictures in Vancouver took a liking to the script and came on board to produce, Greece which went on to win over 30 awards on the festival circuit. It was a dream working with such an excellent team who were truly there in support of my vision; I felt completely supported, and the film is something we are all very proud of. I am certain that is not always the case on a first project, so I got very, very lucky.
Reading your IMDB page, clearly you have been included in some incredible cult worthy shows, you have been in two Stargate series’ as well as Supernatural, what has your on set experience on those sorts of shows been like?
Vancouver, where I grew up, is where a lot of US science fiction shows are shot, and so yes, I did a lot of shows like that; I shot a lot of phaser guns and dematerialised and rematerialised a lot! Those shows are great fun to work on, as you would imagine, and there is a tongue in cheek quality to them that lends itself to a playful atmosphere on set. There were a lot of us doing the Sci-Fi circuit those days, working actors in Vancouver that you saw over and over on all those shows, and it created a lot of work (still does). There was a time though where it was the only kind of work we were all doing, and I remember a friend of mine saying at one point, “I’ve BEEN a robot, I’ve SLEPT with a robot, I’ve KILLED a robot, and I’ve given BIRTH to a robot; I’m DONE with robots!” It was, I am sure, an exaggeration on her part; however, it echoed something I was feeling as well at the time, which was a need for more variety in the work. After theatre school, I know a lot of us thought we were going to be doing Shakespeare in the park the rest of our lives, and in actuality, we’d ended up traipsing around space. Not a terrible way to spend one’s time, but at some point you yearn for something else. That is not to say we were not all incredibly grateful for the work and for the sense of play these shows brought to our lives, but I did want to tell some differently toned stories, and I’d always written short stories and plays, so I refocused and started writing screenplays.
What is some advice that you would give to aspiring actors/writers and directors?
To aspiring actors I would encourage ongoing training, and reading and working on good writing, which usually means plays. You don’t get better unless you are working on material that challenges you, so work on the greats – Tennesse Williams, David Mamet, Caryl Churchill, the list is endless. I also love to encourage actors, who are born storytellers, to write. Even if you think you suck at it. Tell your own stories, and learn about the craft from that side as well.
I’ve been getting asked a lot lately about advice I would give to actors moving in to writing and directing. I am still at the beginning of this journey, but it already feels like a natural fit for me, and when I started moving in that direction, I talked to a lot of my director friends about their approaches to the work. I think actually Jason Goode, who directed “Late” had an interesting approach. He wasn’t a writer, but he sought out short film scripts that had an element of something he wanted to learn about or work on in his directing. So each time, I remember him telling me, he picked a project that had something he thought he needed to work on in his development as a director. So, while my first film was set primarily in one room, with just two actors, I am now working on a piece that has a much wider scope, with ten characters all interweaving, and a sense of movement that my first film did not have.
I would also say to seek out scripts or write ones that really move you. It’s the only way I know how to work. Filmmaking is hard. The amount of prep before you even get to shoot, raising money, promoting etc. probably take up more time than the actual time on set and in post. So make sure you love and are truly passionate about the subject matter. If you are going to work that hard, it may as well be on something you really believe in and think is important for you to be doing.
Yellow is the new film that you are working on; can you tell me a little bit about it?
Yellow was a long short film that I had been developing and I realized it was the perfect length for a pilot. From there I thought what if I did a seven part anthology series, with each episode titled after a different color of the rainbow (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet). We could use “Yellow” to pitch the series, and attach up and coming female directors and writers from all walks of life, all ages, races and sexual orientations, so as to tell a wide range of stories. The series would have the theme of human connection through the arts, which is strongly illustrated in Yellow and I want that to run through the whole series, but other than that, the stories would be up to the women we end up working with on this. It’s quite “Black Mirroresque” in that each episode will be completely different, but with a recurring theme. They will each be able to stand alone, but will enhance each other as a series, sort of like a good collection of short stories.
The idea has been evolving and growing since then. I want to use established women directors to mentor the up and comers, and the main thing is to create a platform for women who have something to say, have a promising body of their own work, and need some more experience and a forum where they can all cross promote and have a community that is their own.
How did you come up with the concept of Yellow?
The inspiration for Yellow itself is from a day I spent at the Art Gallery of Ontario. I heard snippets of conversations, observed people’s behaviours and started making up stories in my mind about the characters wandering around in this place build for contemplation and reflection. People are different in those spaces. Things slow down, their humanity floats to the surface. There’s something about connecting with art that connects us deeper to our own humanity and I wanted to write something set in that world. So Yellow follows ten characters over the course of one ordinary afternoon in an art gallery, but on this particular afternoon, each of these characters experiences some sort of crossroads in their lives.
You are using crowd funding to finance the pilot, what in your experiences are the best things about crowd funding?
This is my first campaign and I did a lot of research. It is not for the faint of heart. It’s a full time job, keeping people interested in the project, spreading the word, and actually getting people to click on the PLEDGE button. I was lucky enough to be friends with the author of the e-book, “Kickstarter For Filmmakers”, so I had that as a guide, and had her to show stuff to as I was building the campaign, and she was able to help me focus on the right things, guide the order of how the information should be presented and go over things with me when I was unsure. One of the best things about crowd funding is you are building an audience for your piece before it is released. You have people invested, literally and figuratively, in the finished product and in its success. This is invaluable, as there is so much noise out there, and so much content for people to access, that if you have something people are looking forward to, that you don’t have to convince them to watch after the fact, that’s worth a lot.
You clearly have tried to secure one hell of a cast for this production; can you talk a little bit about casting the show?
The casting consisted of me calling up or e-mailing various famous friends that I thought would be right for the roles. I was lucky and almost all of them said yes. There were a few roles I had written for good friends who I knew to be wonderful performers but I felt never really got to show what they do best, and I wanted to write them really good roles. So they’re in there too.
If you do secure the funds for Yellow what are the next steps of production to making the pilot film happen?
The pilot is happening whether we make the goal on Kickstarter or not. It will just be at a lower budget level if we don’t make those funds, but I feel very confident that we will. I fly from Toronto, where I live now, to Vancouver this week to location scout and set shoot dates, and once that happens I hope to move forward very quickly!
Where can people find you on social media?
On FB: Sarah Deakins
On Twitter: @Sarahcdeakins
On Instagram: deakinssarahc
On FB: @Yellowthepilotfilm
On Twitter: @Yellowthefilm1