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Making of “The Boy In The Woods”: Director’s Conversation

Making of “The Boy In The Woods”: Director’s Conversation 1080 608 Forest City Film Festival

Our popular Making Of session is back; we explore how one of our FCFF films is created from start to finish, offering a real inside look into the nitty-gritty details of making a successful feature film from the filmmakers themselves – This year, we have the team from one of TIFF’s Industry Selects films The Boy in the Woods, a true survival story from Holocaust survivor Maxwell’s perspective as a young Jewish boy. We sat down with Director Rebecca Snow to ask her some questions about the process of making such a meaningful piece of work.

Rebecca have you applied any of your knowledge from Cheating Hitler: Surviving the Holocaust into The Boy In The Woods? How does making a feature film of Maxwell’s memoir compare to bringing his story to life in a documentary?

I had a head-start on the screenplay for the movie because of my experience researching, writing and directing the documentary Cheating Hitler. I had spent a year or so immersed in the history, walking the actual locations in eastern Poland and western Ukraine and spending hours interviewing Maxwell about his experience – when it came to adapting his memoir, I had so much additional material and knowledge of the events that it was hugely helpful. For me the documentary was just the start. There was only so much I could delve into his story, and so the movie allowed me to go that much deeper.

What inspired both of you to make this film?

After the documentary had aired on History Channel and I had moved on to other documentaries – I just kept coming back to Maxwell’s story and discussing it with [producer] Robert Budreau. It was haunting me – this image of a boy alone in the woods, hiding from forces of horrific evil – it was like a dark European fairytale, and I could literally see it playing out as a movie. Robert quickly realized it was all film-able in Canada – the woods being the main location, and so he could see that it was doable as a Canadian feature, which made it all the more attractive as a project.

How does doing a historical piece impact your location scouting and/or other parts of production?

I wrote the script bearing in mind that we would probably film everything in northern Ontario, passing for 1940s eastern Poland. To that end, most of the story takes place either in the woods or at a peasant farm. I knew we’d be able to find the woods, and we’d likely be able to find a log cabin of sorts that we could dress as European. The biggest challenge location-wise were the few urban locations we needed for the first 12 minutes of the film – we scoured Sudbury and North Bay and did, in the end, find some old buildings that work well (thanks to our amazing production designer Helcio Pugliese) but it definitely was a challenge, and I was glad it was just a small handful of locations that we needed.

This film has an amazing cast, what are some of the first steps you took in selecting who would star in these roles? Did you have them in mind or were you able to come about it organically?

I did write one or two parts with the actors in mind – including Christopher Heyerdahl who I am a huge fan of, and I was so thrilled when he signed on for the role I had hoped he would. The most important piece of casting of course was Max, the lead, who is 12 years old in the script. I was willing to go a little older with the actor if necessary, but we put out a big casting call and that’s how we found Jett Klyne. His audition tape was excellent but I wanted to meet him in person before casting him, so I flew out to Vancouver and we met in Stanley Park amongst the trees. I wanted to see how he moved through the woods since the role of Max is such a physical one. It is a hugely demanding role for a young actor, and Jett did an extraordinary job. He was exactly the age the real survivor was when these events occurred, so that made it perfect. I am so happy with the cast in this film, I feel extremely lucky to have worked with them all and am so impressed with what they all brought to the script and screen.

As Ontario filmmakers, do you feel as though there is a larger filmmaking community throughout the province? Can you and do you seek support within this community?

I definitely leaned on support while I was prepping for this film. This is my first narrative feature and so I had many discussions and asked the advice of other Ontario filmmakers who have made the transition from documentary to narrative. I actually shadowed Robert on his film set during the summer before my own shoot, and asked lots of questions of his crew who were very open and insightful. There is also a lovely production community up north where we shot the film, and I felt a real warmness for us southerners coming up and embracing what can be offered up there. We found that local northern filmmakers were very happy to share advice about locations, crews, and infrastructure during our prep period.

What was one thing you did or experienced  in the production of this feature that  was completely unique to the creation of this film compared to others you both have previously created.

There was a very unique and special sense of purpose amongst the crew at all stages of this production because of the very real subject matter. Certainly on location, everyone – from actors, to ADs, to PAs, made the point of telling me how important they felt this story was, and how moved they were to be a part of telling it. I suppose we all felt a sense of duty to amplify this history. And that was solidified when Maxwell himself (the Holocaust survivor) visited the set for two days. That’s a moment I don’t think any of us on the crew will ever forget.

Gain insider knowledge of the film’s trials, tribulations, and successes to get a behind the scenes perspective when watching the film played out before you at  the FCFF. Get your tickets to this exclusive panel, featuring Robert Budreau and Adam Madrzyk on Oct 21 at 2:00pm (only four hours before the screening of the drama at 6pm!).