April Mullen : “How did we get there ? If you keep going and keep your head up, it happens”

A new Canadian movie – the first Canadian movie ever to be filmed in 3-D – got its start not long before Chuck GravyTrain and Uma Booma were handing out flyers in downtown Toronto.

The flyers were for a 2010 movie called GravyTrain, which concerned the adventures of small-town policeman (played by Tim Doiron, who wrote the film) and his girlfriend (April Mullen, who directed it). The filmmakers/co-stars got dressed up as their characters and hit the streets to promote their cop comedy.

Doiron and Mullen were used to that sort of thing: Two years earlier, they made their debut film, a mockumentary about the culture of rock-paper-scissors, called The Way of the Tosser. To promote that one – which they also made and starred in – they toured the country holding rock-paper-scissors competitions.

“We were doing post-production on GravyTrain, and we were looking at what was trendy and what was coming up next, and 3-D was starting to get really popular, so we decided we wanted to do a 3-D feature,” Mullen recalled the other day. That, naturally, led to the idea of comedy horror, and that, naturally, led to something called Dead Before Dawn 3D, a film whose description – “A bunch of college kids accidentally unleash an evil curse that causes people to kill themselves and turn into Zemons, a.k.a. Zombie Demons!” – tells you most of what you need to know.

Dead Before Dawn 3D is is the first fully Canadian film to be shown in 3-D, they say, and, furthermore, Mullen is the first woman ever to direct a feature film in 3-D.

Nor is that all. Like GravyTrain, which picked up some surprisingly well-known cast members (Jennifer Dale, Colin Mochrie, Tim Meadows), Dead Before Dawn has some names. It stars Devon Bostick, who had a few weeks off before his latest Diary of a Wimpy Kid movie was to be shot (“and he loved the script”); Martha MacIsaac (Superbad) as his love interest (“it just so happened she was available and she loved the script, too”); rising star Rossif Sutherland, and Kid in the Hall, Kevin McDonald. To top it off, they managed to get a script to Christopher Lloyd (“he thought it was a fun spin on the genre”) to play Bostick’s grandfather.

“The curse is a magical occult thing, and the only person who could pull that off in the world, we thought, was someone like Christopher Lloyd,” Mullen said. “He has that element of magic and mystery in him, because he’s so well known for Back to the Future and those other character roles he’s played. His charisma makes the whole world come to life.”

The film was shot in Niagara Falls, Ont., Mullen’s hometown, and made its way to the marketplace at the recent Berlin International Film Festival, where Doiron and Mullen attended screenings for foreign buyers. There, it was sold to Russia, the U.K., and Germany. “We can’t wait,” Mullen said. “I think it’s just fabulous. In Russia, 3-D is very huge right now.”

There’s no Canadian sale yet, but the filmmakers are optimistic, and they plan some kind of promotional event. “We plan on doing something really fun across the country in eye-popping 3-D, I guess you’d say,” Mullen promised.

The eye-popping 3-D itself is possible because of technological advances that are happening so fast. Mullen said they’ve changed their camera package five times since they started shooting last July. 3-D is most often associated with Hollywood blockbusters, but with new cameras, it’s now within reach of even small producers.

They got some help along the way – Telefilm and the Ontario government invested in the movie – but Mullen said the real secret is never to give up.

“The biggest thing is dare to dream big and believe in the impossible,” she said. “When we started pitching 3-D, it was at a time when no one had even shot 3-D in the country and we were the first indie 3-D feature ever made in Canada.

“Standing on the other side, I always think back, ‘How did we get here? And how did we accomplish 3-D at a time when it was so unpredictable?’ And we say it was the sheer belief it could be done. There’s always a lot of ‘nos’ and a lot of doors closing, but if you keep going and keep your head up, it happens.”

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