With the advent of consumer video cameras hitting the market way back when, it gave rise to a new breed of Indy filmmakers. Suddenly campfire storytellers and artists had a unique canvas/mechanism to express themselves. You were only limited by your imagination and editing skills. With the risk of dating myself, I also scooped up a high-8 consumer grade camera and began to explore the possibilities while also capturing my kids growing up. If a picture is worth a thousand words a video must be worth so much more. I can only begin to speculate the numbers of Indy filmmakers created with the dawn of this new technology.
Jeff Kopas is an award winning Canadian filmmaker that remembers those days. His dad had purchased a video camera when he was a young boy. The seed had been planted and his young mind expanded. All seeds need nurturing and nourishment in order to grow and Jeff tells me his first nibble came in the form of the film, Out Of Africa. He was only ten years old when he went to the theatre to see it. The film had earned 28 awards including 7 Academy awards.. He was fascinated by the story and how the film was created. Young Jeff had caught the bug. I myself had caught the dancing bug after seeing Saturday Night Fever in theatres, but that’s another story.
I was very fortunate to reach Jeff Kopas on the phone while he was screening his latest feature film, Blood Honey in Calgary.
Blood Honey is Jeff’s second feature film. It stars Shenae Grimes-Beech as Jenibel Heath, a young woman who returns to her family home, lodge and apiary to deal with her estranged and ailing father Marvin, played by Gil Bellows. They have a strained relationship because of unresolved issues over her mother’s suicide when she was a child. Her brother Neil, played by Kenneth Mitchell has been running the lodge and apiary with a few close friends and colleagues. Jenibel’s return is greeted with mixed emotion but she is determined to reconnect with her family. When Marvin reveals that he has received a lucrative offer for the property, he makes Jenibel promise to carry out his wishes to sell the lodge before committing suicide, using the very bees he tended to. Traumatized, but determined to follow her father’s wishes, Jenibel soldiers on against her brother and long-time friends who want the home to stay in the family. When she feels she may be targeted and her life is in danger, the world she knew becomes a nightmare. One she must learn to navigate in order to save her life and sanity.
“This film has a fascinating premise. What was the inspiration behind it?”
“It was inspired by the idea of trying to make an old school thriller. Rosemary’s Baby, The Shining, The Girl On The Train, Black Swan, Hitchcock. Written with the theme of ‘sins of your past, finding your own identity within the family as you get older’. The Lodge exists as a metaphor that represents family. I co-wrote the script with Splice’s Doug Taylor. It’s the first time I’ve written and directed a psychological thriller. I knew I was taking a risk but as a filmmaker you have to.“
The film was shot in thirty-one days on an isolated lodge on an island in Britt, Ontario.
“Considering the film was shot on an island, what types of challenges did it pose?”
“We had a 30 minute boat ride to the island and back to the mainland daily. At times the waves reached 5-6 feet high so the safety of the actors and crew became a concern. We had to find a bigger boat. At the end of the day, the actors and key crew would travel to another lodge at an adjacent island while the rest of the crew were boated back to the mainland. In the film, there is a scene where Gil Bellows had to be covered in bees. We had a helicopter stand by in case something had gone wrong. My co-producers would’ve preferred it be shot in a studio but I believe you always get a better performance filming on location. It was totally worth it. ”
Jeff later told me that in order to convince Gil to do the bee scene he had to promise to do it first. Luckily for him, on the day of shooting the bee scene Gil forgot to hold Jeff to his promise. Jeff tells me Gil is a method actor. I’m guessing he was to deep into character to bring it up. After all, being covered in stinging bees would require a copious amount of focus and mental preparation.
“How did you go about attaching all the actors to the film?”
“ We started by contacting their agents and waited to see if they’d respond to the material. We then set up meetings and went through a series of discussions to negotiate values and hoped it would all work out. Most of the cast was flown in from LA. We wanted a mostly Canadian cast in order to qualify for tax credits but it wasn’t a deal breaker. For the lead roles, auditions weren’t necessary but most of the cast was asked to send in a filmed taped audition.”
There was a cast of approx. 20, a crew of 16 and including the post-production team it amounted to approx. 120 people in total. The budget for the film floated around two million and was financed through various allocated funds. The North Heritage Fund, Telefilm, pre-sales, tax credits and private equity from several countries.
Blood Honey has finished its run of the festivals last year and Jeff explains that once it’s had a commercial release it can no longer be shown at festivals. He’s been travelling with the film to various theatres throughout Canada and has just returned from a ten day screening in Toronto, as well as Ottawa and Vancouver. There are plans to continue screenings for Blood Honey in more cities across Canada. It is being distributed by Raven Banner Entertainment and is currently available on iTunes and VOD. It will also be released in the US this coming January.
Jeff Kopas had briefly attended New York University’s Tisch Film School but is primarily self-taught. He’s lived on three continents and currently lives in Toronto and commutes to LA quite frequently. His first award feature film was, An Insignificant Harvey.