Jonas Chernick & Diana Frances – The Burning Season.

We need more great, authentic, movies set in Canada. They are being made and The Burning Season is one worth watching.  

You can also read the Hollywood North article by Shaun Lang with director Sean Garrity

I know, way too many Shawns. 

We subsequently had a chance to sit down with writer, and producer Diana Frances and lead performer, producer, and writer Jonas Chernick at the Whistler Film Festival (WFF).

HNMAG: Congratulations, great job. You’ve been working on this movie for a while?

Jonas Chernick: Yes. 

Diana Frances: Yeah, a couple of years. 

Jonas Chernick: More than a couple.

Diana Frances: Ok. 

Jonas Chernick: Probably four or five.

Diana Frances: Oh, god! I think you’re right. 


HNMAG: That’s how it goes right?

Jonas Chernick: Oh yeah but it was pre-pandemic and it started as something else. We were trying to write something else. Couldn’t quite crack it. We had another collaborator at the time who was an executive producer on the film, Fab Filippo. He then says “What about this other idea, we have a love story up at the cottage that takes place backward?” I was like “Yes! Let’s write that.” So we sort of started from scratch after we developed something else. 

HNMAG: Sara was great but did you ever at any point Diana, consider yourself for the lead role?

Diana Frances: The reason I started writing was so I didn’t have to worry about what I looked like anymore. I love improv and that’s how we know each other. When it comes to real acting, I don’t enjoy it as much. I don’t know what to do with my hands, so I put them on the keyboard and I do the typing. I did so much on set and was crazy busy with multiple jobs. My favourite part was at four in the morning, chasing raccoons off the craft services table. I had a war with raccoons. The movie was inspired by something I was going through at the time, relationship-wise. 

The idea of big love with somebody where the timing is off. That was something that I was going through and part of the inspiration. 


HNMAG: It’s been said that the camera captures everything you’re thinking. There’s a scene in Chapter Six, at the wedding, where Alena and JB see each other for the first time. Nothing is said but the viewer knows everything that is going on from their reactions. What does that look like on the page?

Jonas Chernick: It would say something about a loaded look. A look that has weighted depth that is unspoken. That is the core of what is exciting for us, telling a story backward. In a linear narrative, you would see what has happened already but something is enticing about that when you are telling a story about secrets. The viewer first sees the outcome of the secret and then where they end up. You play a moment like that, they just look at each other and you can tell there is history there. It plants a seed so the viewer wants to find out how that happened. We would keep planting little seeds. For that scene you are referring to, I would credit Sara, for the performance as well as Sean Garrity’s direction. If you overplay that moment, it would be off-putting and if you underplay the moment, it’s missed. The editing is also key to knowing exactly how long to linger or hold on to one character before cutting away. All those roles add up to making it work. I had an acting coach for twenty-five years, who just passed away and one of the first things he said twenty-five years ago was to give your character a secret even if it’s not in the script or on the page. Have a secret that can be underneath. To this day I like to use that. Sometimes when you watch a scene, you can tell something is going on with a character that you can’t quite put your finger on, often that is happening from that never-released secret. 


HNMAG: It was helpful that Sara read the entire script so she had all that in there for an early scene in the movie. 

Diana Frances: It would have been kind of wild to have shot the movie chronologically but backward. Then Sara doesn’t find out what happens till the end of filming. 


HNMAG: Are you originally from BC or did you move out here?

Diana Frances: I was born and raised in Vancouver. I moved to Toronto for work ten years ago. I moved to Toronto and then got into the Canadian Film Centre (CFC). I still think of myself as a Vancouverite. 


HNMAG: Where did you…

Jonas Chernick: Winnipeg, born and raised in Winnipeg. Moved to Toronto in my late 20’s. I still think of Winnipeg as home. Our director, Sean Garrity is from Winnipeg too. He and I made films there for many years. 


HNMAG: The film was shot and set in Algonquin Park. It’s not trying to be Utah or anything. It’s beautiful and that’s appealing. 

Diana Frances: We got pretty lucky with the weather for the most part, except for the wedding. That was pretty tricky for mostly two days with a lot of background. For the most part, it’s a pretty small or more intimate movie. We had it all planned out how we were going to shoot that Wedding scene and then we had to move it to an outdoor tent. It was a big challenge. I’m having PTSD flashbacks of that weekend. 


HNMAG: As a producer, what was the most difficult task?

Jonas Chernick: There were so many difficult tasks. I think, as Diana hinted at, shooting at that remote location, had a series of challenges. We were quite far from anything. It’s a smaller movie, the crew was tiny, and many of us did the job of seven to eight people. It was exhausting. We were constantly problem-solving, mostly Diana since I was acting in most of the scenes. Anything that could have gone wrong did.  The equipment truck got stuck in the mud and we couldn’t get it out. Wonky cell signal, you name it. 

Diana Frances: We had one crew member who just left and didn’t tell anyone. One excuse was “Yeah, I had IBS and shat my pants, so I went home because my wife was here to pick me up.” 


HNMAG: There wasn’t anything out there.

Diana Frances: We were near the town of Whitney with a population of 600. It had the most amazing tavern, Bongopix, with this delightful human named Bongo Bongo and his partner Andrea. The actual town of Whitney is one of my favourite things. All our accommodations were unexpected, weird, and wonderful. The whole thing was quirky but amazing. That town was fantastic. Great support. 


HNMAG: What was the camp like? 

Jonas Chernick: We were shooting at Camp Ahmek, after the summer camp let out but they did have groups come in. It was fantastic. They were so excited to have a movie shooting there. They opened their doors and hearts to us and they were amazing. 


HNMAG: What was the financing like?

Jonas Chernick: After seven movies, this was the easiest to finance. We pre-sold it to CBC and we had Hollywood Suite come on board. Our Canadian distributor is Raven Banner. They were very supportive right away, early on. Telefilm Canada was also terrific. The script caught everyone’s attention and helped so much with the pre-sales. I usually have to scrape together private investors and convince people to put their hard-earned money into a project, This one has no private investors. It’s all government agencies and broadcasters. In March or April, it’ll have a theatrical release and then it will move to the broadcasters. 


HNMAG: It’s great that the film is also set in Canada.

Jonas Chernick: All my films are set in Canada and I take them around the world. People love the specificity. It somehow feels more universal the more specific it is. 


HNMAG: Have you written Feature Films before?

Diana Frances: This is my first feature that has been produced. I usually work in TV, mostly comedies. This is the first time I tackled drama. Inherently I can’t help but to put humour into anything I write, even when it’s dramatic. It’s way less pressure when you’re not worrying about the joke. In televised comedy, they want …set up, joke, set up, joke…The other challenge of drama is trying to find the narrative arc. Coming from improv, I really enjoy the collaborative nature of writing. 


HNMAG: Where did you meet?

Jonas Chernick: Through Fab. I was originally developing a project with Fab and we agreed that we wanted to have another voice in the room. We wanted a female voice. Fab then said, “I got the person, trust me!” As soon as I met Diana, I was like, yap, this is it. Our lead is a woman, there is a lot about that experience I don’t know. 


HNMAG: Early on, watching the movie, I was wondering if it would have been easier if it was an honest polyamorous relationship. 

Diana Frances: It came very much from my experience at the time. When we started writing this movie, I was in an open relationship. It was the first and probably the only time that I would experiment with non-monogamy.  That’s what I meant earlier when you are in a relationship but you have a big love where the timing isn’t going to work out. Ultimately it doesn’t matter if you are monogamous or if you are in an open relationship, you can still be betrayed. 

Jonas Chernick: When you are telling a story about extra-marital affairs, there are now so many more accepted types of relationships on non-monogamy, we felt we had to address that. 


HNMAG: JB went as Benny as a kid. Was Benny his middle name? 

Diana Frances: The idea was he was redefining himself. We decided that his given name at birth was James Benny. 


HNMAG: The first film that came to mind for me with The Burning Season was Memento.

Jonas Chernick: Yeah, that’s the first thing that comes to mind. It’s the best example of backward storytelling. There is a literary tradition with a Harold Pinter play Betrayal, there are some others. 


HNMAG: Is the ending of the film, the same as you always had in mind?

Jonas Chernick: I’m going to credit Sean with that. He wanted it to end with a note of hope. Essentially Alena and JB are trapped in this trauma bond. Until Alena can confide in Tom and tell him what happened, she’s a prisoner to it. It was important to Tom that she goes through it completely and gives a kernel of hope.  


The Burning Season is a unique, entertaining, and thought-provoking movie that starts on the page. It should come as no surprise to anyone who read the script or seen the movie that it won the Borsos award at WFF for Best Screenplay. Of course, it is also visually stunning, wonderfully performed, and captivating. The concept and dialogue set it apart. We highly recommend that you see it. The fact that it’s a Canadian story, set in Canada is a bonus and hopefully a trend for movie theatres around the world. 

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