The humour and the tragedy

St. John’s-based screenwriter and actor Sherry White calls her hard-to-categorize short film Diamonds in a Bucket her first ‘real’ experience directing a film. High production quality, excellent acting, and White’s careful guiding hand help make this film the strange, satisfying experience it is.Elling Lien had a chance to talk to White about where the ideas came from and how things came together…

Diamonds in a Bucket has a kind of flavour that’s really hard to pinpoint… How did the script come together?
It’s funny you say that… I started writing this story when—sometime after 9/11—somebody in town wrote a song about 9/11 and posted their lyrics around downtown. They wrote them up, posted them downtown, and there was a little bio with their name and info.

The lyrics were just terrible.

I had a mix of feelings about the whole thing—I found it hilarious because the lyrics were so bad, and I found it sad that person felt they needed to do something so badly. I could just tell this was someone who was really never going to make it but really wanted to, and was going about it all wrong. And then I felt kind of angry that he was exploiting such a tragic thing; trying to market himself as the champion of this event with these terrible lyrics.

So it was a mix of feelings, and I got a hit of who this character was… And I kind of know other people that have that self-involved, highly-insecure, not-so-smart people… So that was where the male character came from. Because you feel a mix of feelings for him.

[singing a line from the film] “My duck, my duck, my duckie.”
Yeah, the kind of stream-of-consciousness rhymes that he comes up with that don’t mean anything, but he thinks this is genius. But, I mean, we can all do that. So that’s where the guy came from.

Then I started thinking, “what kind of woman would want to go out with this guy?”

The answer is lots of women. Lots of women I know, including myself I guess, at times, I have tried to deny the truth of what I knew about somebody, rather than be alone. So that’s what [the main character, Vivian] is doing.

She’s described as a doormat in the promo material…
Yeah, and it’s what I liked about her, and what I think I accomplished in the film.

But some people have a different reaction. Some people think that I made her too much of a doormat, but I think she’s very aware. She’s trying to bite her tongue, to put up with it, because she’s afraid. It’s like Trina says, “You’re afraid he’s all you can get.”

She really is afraid of that, so she lets herself be a doormat.

As for audience reaction… You’ve screened it at five festivals this summer, haven’t you?
It’s been at Toronto, Halifax, and Vancouver now, and L.A.—L.A. Shorts. So this will be the fifth at the Women’s Film Festival.

Were you able to attend the screenings?
I was at the Toronto Screenings, for both…

How scary was it?
You know, it wasn’t so bad. …The Toronto Film Festival is huge, so it was hard to get too-too excited about it.

But it was received really well, especially opening night. People laughed at lots of it…

In the right spots?
Yeah! And more spots than I thought. Because it’s not overtly funny. And I wanted it to be like that. And there’s a price I paid for it to be like that. I find it hilarious all the way through, but I find it sad all the way through as well.

I watched it with a friend of mine who had a completely different reaction to it. I thought it was funny, but she felt even a little upset afterwards, saying the lead character was being too desperate, too dumb…
I have a feeling this range of reactions is common with this film.

I’m much more interested in making something that’s a little bit more challenging. If I were to make something that was just a joke, then I’d be telling a joke. But I don’t want to tell a joke.

I’ve seen that kind of negative reaction before… My mother found it very upsetting too. …I don’t know why. I think people fall into those types of relationships all the time, and some people might not want to believe that happens.

The actors: how did you cast this film?
Susan Kent is somebody I work with a lot, and I love her acting, so I cast her.

When I saw it Susan was the one who helped me realize it was a comedy; that it was okay to laugh…
And Glen auditioned and was perfect. Glen is a comedian, he’s really hard-working and an eager actor. He was happy to pull the comedy back, because he plays it quite low-key compared to a lot of his comedy.

Liisa Repo-Martel is an actress that I adore. I’ve seen her in other stuff and really adored her.

She’s a kind of a big name in film and Toronto theatre…
Yeah, she’s done a lots of stuff. Lots of quirky, weird things. She’s somebody who can at one point look gorgeous and at another point look homely, somebody who can look old or look like she’s twelve.

She changes quite a bit like that from moment to moment in this film…
Yeah, and that’s what I loved about it. Because that’s what Vivian is, and that’s what a lot of women are.

I could see myself casting Liisa all the time, because she has a lot of emotion in her face, and she’s funny. She gets the humour in the tragedy. She doesn’t see them as separate, and that’s how I feel, in the writing at least. I like it to be sad and funny at the same time.

Diamonds in a Bucket screens this Wednesday, October 17 at The Majestic theatre at the “Short and (Bitter) Sweet” collection of dramatic shorts. 7pm.