Some directors have interesting ways of working on set, and some are so strict they do extreme things to crew members. But some directors have ways of putting the cast and crew at ease. I know at least one or two directors who do so by giving motivational speeches or singing songs of teamwork and universal love. Patricia Chica on the other hand, has come up with her own method involving exercise, breathing, and relaxation routines. This practice is referred to as Chi Energy, which brings energy centres and intuition of one’s mind and body together to make them get more in touch with their creativity. I can definitely see this method becoming more common and I may know a few directors (maybe a little TOO personally) who should consider methods like this.
Patricia used this method to help her with directing her first feature, Montreal Girls. The film focuses on a medical school student who has moved to Montreal to become a doctor, only to get his first taste of Montreal nightlife thanks to a couple of girls and he decides to pursue a more artistic way of life in poetry. His father does not approve. I can’t say I relate to this one fully if at all, but I can understand how much of a struggle it can be, as I’ve certainly seen things from that perspective. It was quite interesting to hear how things went behind the scenes. The very first production meeting didn’t take place in an office or living room, but rather, a yoga training centre. From there she taught both the cast and crew how to get more into emotion and have a better understanding of characters. During that time, she also helped lead actress Jasmina Parent with a voice problem which was actually more of a solar plexus problem. Chi Energy was also used throughout the film in ways that had to be seen to be understood. For example, some certain scenes were shot in special shades of green and yellow to empathize emotion and power, accompanied with the special music in them.
But there was much more to learn, and learn I did. I spoke to Patricia and her fellow screenwriter Kamal John Iskander about the writing process, the filmmaking process, and what Chi Energy is. Prepare to be educated and cleansed as I slowly bring you into the answers of what happened on Patricia’s very first feature film. Breathe in, breathe out, relax, your body is your temple, let the info fill through your brain and show you the incredible process of making a film in a creative new way.
HNMAG: This is your very first feature. Was it difficult to do something that wasn’t a short for once?
Patricia Chica: It was a little challenging, the fact that we got funding from the Canadian government. From Telefilm, and the Harold Greenberg Fund. To put things together took awhile, it takes different parts, different people, different expertise to put a feature film together. This was my first time directing a dramatic feature so it was a little longer than I was used to with being a short filmmaker.
HNMAG: Now, Kamal, I understand you helped with the screenwriting. What was it like working with Patricia? Did you struggle to agree on plot points?
Kamal Iskander: For the most part, Patricia and I were in agreement on a lot of things. We were in deep discussion about the characters, and about plot and vibe, and where we wanted it to go. We were in agreement with most of it. Towards the end, there was a lot of fine tuning, and points where we wanted to take it into divergent directions. But all of that was very detail oriented and in the end, it was really about her finessing the script so that it corresponded with what she wanted to say and the logistics of what was available with the budget and the limitations with the COVID situation, which had a tremendous bearing on the outcome of the film.
HNMAG: Was there anything else you did while working with her?
Kamal Iskander: I was not on set. I was in Los Angeles, and she was in Canada shooting the film. I would’ve liked to have been on set but there were no travel options.
HNMAG: Would you recommend her as someone to work with?
Kamal Iskander: Patricia’s enormously collaborative, patient, and diligent. She understands how all of this works and it’s kind of a slow process to get to where you need to go that we’re effectively chiseling a mountain down to a marble statue. Being somebody who edits, directs, and understands filmmaking on so many granular levels. She knows what the process takes so I think that makes her an incredible collaborator to work with. She’s able to work with anyone and really understand what they need at various stages of their process.
HNMAG: Patricia, seeing as you did a fair amount of jobs, writing, editing, casting, being videographer for a dream sequence, is it typical for you to wear so many hats when filming?
Patricia Chica: I can do a lot, I have had a lot of careers in my life while being in this industry. Because this is a labour of love project that took a lot of time, but also the budget didn’t allow all the resources that I had in vision for the story. I just took my only initiative to fill in all the gaps. As for the videography part, I took the camera one day and went to the mountain with lead actor, Hakim Brahimi. The poems needed to be filled with visuals and not just have somebody read the paper with a voiceover on top of them. I told Hakim “Let’s go to the mountain and I’ll film the beauty shots with you.” and it just comes together as the poem that the mother reads at the end of the film. There are so many other shots that I shot during my lunchtime when I had access to the big cameras. The DOP went to have lunch with the crew and I just asked permission to shoot b-roll in every location that we were. I barely ate my lunch, took a smoothie, and shot a lot of b-roll. All the flashing neons, I added to the edit. Those things you have to do, especially when working with limited resources and just to be creative. The hats I wore were out of necessity because I love what I do and didn’t want to compromise the quality of my film.
HNMAG: I’d like to hear more about Chi Energy. What exactly is this creative process and how does it work?
Patricia Chica: Chi Energy was a method that I have developed throughout the years, that utilizes the properties of the energy centres we call the Chakras. So everybody can understand how to manipulate them consciously in a way that will expand their creative potential and also reach out to a higher level of consciousness where the story already exists. I strongly believe that storytelling is already available to us, we just have to tap into it so I use meditation, breath work, sound working, and other techniques and practices with my cast and crew so they can tap into their highest potential. Then they can become aware that they can execute at a more elevated way in any intention they set for themselves on set or outside the set.
HNMAG: Chi Energy was used to train the cast and crew. Was it a difficult process to show them your methods?
Patricia Chica: It was not because everybody understands energy and once you explain it physically in a room where people are moving their bodies, they are there together, it’s very easy to understand. Any child can understand this, but the challenge for me was to integrate it into the ecosystem of production and I have a production company producing the film, a distributor and people who were not aware of these methods and not necessarily open-minded to them. My biggest challenge was to convince people, especially decision makers that this was the process I wanted to integrate from beginning to end. I believed it would help everybody, especially the lead actor Hakim who was not a trained actor and the method really accelerated his results to perform authentically in the film. He didn’t have to be in his mind but in his body to allow that flow to be expressed through the character on set.
Patricia told me convincing the crew was the difficult part but once they started learning it, the process was easy from there.
HNMAG: So they began to feel better about the new process?
Patricia Chica: Yeah, because when I cast the actors, I was very vocal about it when I was in the casting room, I told all the agencies, the managers, and the actors. I told them it’s going to be a new process working with Chi Energy. Everybody who came in to audition was already aware of what the expectations were. When I interviewed the actors after their audition, I was asking questions to figure out how curious and open-minded they were about it. People were very excited, the actors that ended up collaborating on the film all embraced the method and are now using the method in their daily life or on other projects. It’s very transformative and once you have tasted it, there’s no way back.
HNMAG: Before using Chi Energy, how did your directing method originally go with short films?
Patricia Chica: I was not being intentional enough before using Chi Energy. I was just allowing other factors exterior to myself to be in control of what was going on rather than me taking control of what should be done or how I wanted things to be done. Also my results became accelerated. When I get the testing clear to align with that intention, it becomes something more harmonious to collaborate on rather than not being sure if people understood my vision. It doesn’t happen when you work intentionally, and everybody follows the same mindset so it really allows everyone including myself to focus more and be more precise in what we want to achieve.
HNMAG: So by thinking intentionally, that’s how you came to develop it?
Patricia Chica: I came to develop it when I made a short film called Ceramic Tango, and there was a camera following us around during rehearsals. I was training 2 known actors on that short film and people can watch the documentary on my Vimeo. During that process, I used a lot of energy work but I was not aware I was working with energy. It was just something natural that I always have done, as an artist. It’s only when we premiered the documentary that people asked me if I was a reiki master. I had no clue what that was, so the next day I googled the word Reiki and I started reading about it and finding out that it was something I had been doing since the beginning of my career but was not aware that it was not a thing. I found mentors and teachers who helped me understand my gifts as a clairvoyant and clairsentient who understands energy.
HNMAG: Do you see Chi Energy catching on? Are you afraid of imitators?
Patricia Chica: I’m not afraid of anything because everybody uses energy at different levels. Most people are not consciously aware of it, but once you are it makes everything flow better within teams, collaborations, artistic expressions. The results are faster, and my intention is to use this feature as an example of how it can be done and my goal is to keep educating everyone in the industry so we all make it as pander to follow. Something that can expand our potential, and you know there are intimacy coordinators and stunt coordinators. I would love to create a new position that is energy coordinators, anybody who can come and teach what I bring my cast and crew with so everybody can have those tools in their toolbox and can use them whenever they want. Especially on a day where it’s very stressful on set, running out of time, and things are not going according to plan. Then people start becoming tired, impatient, and frustrated. Chi Energy thankfully gives you energy to get out of that state of stress quickly and keep that focus and attention guiding you though the day.
HNMAG: Kamal, did you experience any Chi Energy through the screenwriting process?
Kamal Iskander: Patricia was talking about it and discussing her plans to do it, but we didn’t really discuss the details or really sort of intensely introduce it into that process. The screenwriting was kind of a slow drip if you will, so it sort of percolated over a long period of time. Whereas on set, you need the actor to focus immediately, in the moment where there’s a myriad of distractions. I think that’s really where it becomes a tool to create a kind of laser focus in a moment that you can achieve the results you need very quickly. The screenwriting process was more of a discussion that lasted a great deal of time.
Kamal explained that they talked about an intentional kind of process while writing and that he has a more cerebral energy he uses when working his process but he has some similarities in Chi Energy whenever he’s working as a screenwriter. Patricia also mentioned that Kamal had lots of notes that he had been collecting over the years. Little sentences, ideas, and they are contained in a rather large document that he uses from time to time. When Kamal gave Patricia some of his ideas, she would go and meditate where she would communicate internally with the character, then write who they are. From there, Patricia and Kamal would discuss the new ideas Patricia was able to come up with. That’s how they found the common ground to collaborate together in a harmonious flow.
HNMAG: It sounds like you did use Chi Energy, Kamal. Did you experience it somehow?
Kamal Iskander: For me, when I started watching the film in its completion, there was a kind of knack between what I experienced on the page as the movie, vs what materialized as the movie itself. I was not part of the editing or shooting processes, so to come to the final film and watch it was a very unique experience because I had to essentially divorce myself from what it was on the page. I had to cleanse my pallet so to speak and each subsequent viewing of the film reveals all these wonderful surprises that emerged from that process of Patricia working with the actors. I didn’t have the means to articulate specifically what Chi Energy was, I would describe it in a different way that corresponds to the training I understood. There are other techniques that I’ve built up through my screenwriting process, whereas you have to put yourself into a trancelike state to get to that point where you are in a subliminal state of mind that you can harvest these ideas with the subconscious.
HNMAG: When it comes to longer productions, you’ve usually made documentaries, Patricia. Did you use some of your skills in documentary making for Montreal Girls?
Patricia Chica: Absolutely, I found that my training as a documentarian was a tremendous help working on Montreal Girls with a non-actor who had no training. Hakim was cast very last-minute and was somebody who looked the part, had the energy, and also the background. I had to be patient with him as he had to take more time to get into the emotional state that the character required. I remember driving the crew nuts on set, I had to tell everybody during pre-production sometimes it will happen where I call to roll the cameras with no clap, no announcing the shot until the end. Because when the actor is in the zone, you just hit Record on the camera, and capture that performance. That’s how I was able to stay alert whereas I developed a very strong bond with Hakim that I could sense his energy. I would sometimes shoot three takes without cutting the camera like I did in documentaries. If you watch the scene where he’s crying with his mom in the hospital, that was the third take but we shot all three at once. I kept rolling and kept saying things to get him into the state of crying and when he did for real, we’d allow it to be and used it in the film. To get there, I needed to be patient, and the crew had to be patient to do an end-clap. There’s another moment where he has to wake up, the alarm clock rings and he wasn’t able to play like he’s tired so I had to tell the team but told them they were not allowed to talk or make noise while Hakim lied in bed and I caressed his head to make him fall asleep for real. Then we silently set up the alarm clock. We started rolling, waited for the alarm clock to ring and then ‘BEEP BEEP’ it rings and he wakes up. (laughs) At the end of the day, we ended on time. We didn’t have any overtime in the budget, and I knew if I got my actor in the moment and to be authentic and real we only needed one take. My documentarian background really helped.
HNMAG: Was Chi Energy also a big part of the movie’s plot?
Patricia Chica: There’s hints to it in the film. For example, Desiree is the character who is closest to whom I am. I was also a rock-and-roll photographer back in the subcultures of Montreal back in the day. She goes to her Chakra workshop where she does meditation and she hugs trees. That’s who I am in real life, so I added a lot of myself in her character. But it’s not the film about Chi Energy, I used it even in colour correction. When I wanted to convey some emotions in the colours of the Chakra that is associated with those emotions and those behaviours. The composer also received from me a very accurate Chakra-chart with all the frequencies and vibrations. Everything was intentional and based on energy.
HNMAG: Will you be making more features with the methods of Chi Energy?
Patricia Chica: It’s part of my DNA now, I don’t think I’ll be imposing Chi Energy on cast and crew if I am hired as a director. I don’t think it would be necessarily the right way to proceed, in the way I speak and direct, there’s always that intentional process and I share it with my team. If they’re open to it, they will learn from it. That is what I want, for people to keep growing to their highest potential. I am constantly learning myself so having that growth mindset is very important for me.
HNMAG: It mainly focuses on nightlife and subculture. What kind of research did you have to do to get the vibe just right for the movie?
Patricia Chica: Yes, Kamal and I did a lot of research, and Kamal even came to Montreal a few times to visit the locations and experience the nightlife and also to interview people from the scene to have discussions with them. Kamal also comes form that era.
Kamal Iskander: I grew up in Los Angeles and most of my coming of age was during the 90’s, where we used to go to see a lot of shows similar to the ones in the movies and we’d go to places the Whiskey-a-go-go, and the Roxie, and the Strip out in Hollywood. As well as other local venues close to home, and we would go see bands play because that’s what you did back then and so what’s interesting is this a very contemporary story and so it was a bit of a challenge to not only incorporate some of my past experiences in that or Patricia’s, but what kids are in this day and age, thinking and doing? Where are they going? Is our experience as young people relevant to theirs? It was a lot of “Is this going to work? Would somebody do this now?” kind of thing and what we learned is, Yeah, kids are still doing this even if it’s niche and a small cohort of the population. It’s still something we can say that is done and include it in the movie. In fact, there was moments where Desiree tells punk-rocker Tanner that punk is dead and they’re not even fashionably late. He sort of balks at that, and says you can’t introduce somebody to culture at a club. He’s sort of a snob for the past and I think we all know people like that. We wanted to add some culture.
HNMAG: Speaking of culture, there are 3 languages in it, did you want to add a multicultural feel to the film?
Patricia Chica: Absolutely, it was very important for us to stick to the characters and even the accents and the French, how they speak, the Arabic. The actors were cast for their culture and what they represented, and we wanted to have that diversity showcased in the film.
Kamal Iskander: I thought as somebody who visited Montreal for the first time as an adult… I had family there, and lived there as a child, but to experience it as an adult, specifically with Patricia as my guide, I found it incredibly diverse and wonderfully colourful in that regard. Everywhere you turn, there’s somebody who’s speaking in French. If I had trouble understanding them, they would switch to English and their English was absolutely perfect. It was kind of interesting to me and there’s so many different people there because Montreal’s effectively a gateway to the West for a lot of immigrants. We wanted to be reflected in the story and languages as well.
HNMAG: And as for locations, how did you decide which venues would be appropriate to film at?
Patricia Chica: That was a no-brainer because the places we used were very well-known rock venues in Montreal and they were part of my journey as a photographer. I used to hang out a lot in the bars and that’s where my friends hang out, that’s where I even hang out now. I go to network with friends and we know each other in the subcultures.
Patricia asked permission and say that it really was in the bar and not anywhere else according to the story. They all agreed and the venue owners were excited to have their businesses be a part of the film.
HNMAG: Montreal Girls has gotten its Cinequest premiere recently, but won’t have an official Canadian release until spring 2023. Is the plan to see how US viewers react first and then try Canada next?
Patricia Chica: The intention comes from the distributor, and the distributor film option international. Originally, we wanted to release the film in the Fall, because it’s a going back to school type film, transitioning between Summer and Fall. What we discovered is a backlog of films to be released this Fall and for an Indie like Montreal Girls, it would be a very challenging period to release in the Fall with so many bigger films coming out. The distributor suggested we release it in the Spring where you will have more months to be in the Festival circuit, win the awards, gain publicity, and gather interest, then it becomes more like a romantic film possibly around Valentine’s Day or when young people start to go out. After the snow melts in the spring and people feel like they want to go out, but it’s too cold to be on the terraces outdoors, but warm enough to go out to the cinema, for example. Because we live in such a seasonal country, you have to think when to release a film, to maximize the potential of the publicity and marketing around it.
HNMAG: And what do you hope it will show Canadians as well as everyone else?
Patricia Chica: It will show Canadians that Montreal is really cool. Because it’s my city and I love it, and when I moved to LA in 2014, I was missing the vibe of Montreal and that high energy. That bohemian lifestyle. So it will show Canadians another side of Montreal that they are not used to seeing in Quebec cinema. Quebec cinema is known for being Francophone most of the time, but also showing the Quebecois culture. In Montreal Girls, it shows the diverse tapestry of characters that Montreal has and it also shows the underground subcultures that are not seen in regular Quebec cinema. I believe that people would want to come here and discover the city if they haven’t yet. Or at least to discover that their true calling lies within themselves and its for them to discover who they are by following their heart.
Kamal Iskander: I’m actually very curious as to how it will be received in Canada. I’m excited that it will be released in theatres and I look forward to Patricia’s dispatches from the North letting me know how its being received because I really have no idea. I’m not Canadian, I haven’t been there as a film audience so I’m incredibly curious and I think it’s going be exciting as people take it.
Yes, I’ve covered a lot of Patricia’s work before, and they were short films, but this sounds like this could be her most interesting. It will relax you, and also give you that crazy feeling you get from the nightlife. It may be a while before any of us can see it though. Until then, just stay relaxed. This will be something worth waiting for, and there will be more articles of mine to read as well as more content to watch while we wait. Maybe even in that time some of us will find our centres and create content with what we discover within us. Namaste.