Sandi Somers: Hailey Rose

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

We subsequently had a chance to sit down with writer and director Sandi Somers at the Whistler Film Festival (WFF).

HNMAG: I’m taking a shot in the dark, right off the bat, was the movie filmed in Lunenberg?

Sandi Somers: No! It wasn’t as far down the coast as that. Lunenberg is a beautiful place. 


HNMAG: I was looking at the bright yellow of the Mom’s house and I thought that seemed like a Lunenberg thing.

Sandi Somers: The bright colours is a whole Nova Scotian thing. The House was in Chester and the other locations were close by in Hubbards and the surrounding areas.


HNMAG: You grew up in Cape Breton, when did you move away?

Sandi Somers: I’ve been in Alberta for over thirty years. 


HNMAG: In Calgary?

Sandi Somers: Yes, in Calgary. 


HNMAG: That’s partially where the movie is set. When did you start making movies?

Sandi Somers: I had a theatre background in design before I came to Calgary. I moved there because I got a design job. I kept thinking it would be a stepping stone to living in Vancouver. It was a culture shock to be in a landlocked city away from the Sea. But, there’s a great alternative arts community in Calgary and I was working with a very creative, high-concept company and was approached by someone who saw my work, and asked if I wanted to help make some music videos. We knew nothing about filmmaking. We showed up with a 35 mm film camera and I’m figuring out how to thread a mag blind for the first time. Then I continued getting gigs in lighting on film and then as DOP (Director of Photography). That was in the mid-90s. I started realizing that the director has a good job. I felt that film could take all the forms of art and performance that I had a background in, and bring them into one medium. I love the mastery of bringing all those varying elements together. I initially created video installations that were exhibited in art galleries. I found writing dialogue super challenging, so many of my initial short films had no dialogue. However, I did want to learn how to write a good screenplay. I did it, bit by bit, writing short films at first. I had made a lot of shorts and felt I wanted a different kind of challenge. That drove me to writing and directing scripted features. 


HNMAG: What was your first feature?

Sandi Somers: My first long-form was a dance film. I was the lighting designer for a dance company, and the choreographer wondered what would happen if we had a dancer on a road and not having dance be on stage? That led to the piece called Road Pictures. It was shot on many roads around Calgary. In 2017 I co-wrote the storyline and directed Ice Blue, which was a psychological drama. 


HNMAG: Where did that get distributed?

Sandi Somers: You can watch it on streaming services like Prime or Tubi. It had a beautiful run in the US and Canada on the festival circuit and a cross Canada theatrical release.


HNMAG: Where was it set?

Sandi Somers: It was set in the foothills of Alberta. 


HNMAG: It’s great to have Canadian stories set in Canada where they are made.

Sandi Somers: That’s what was nice about Hailey Rose. Growing up in Nova Scotia, and living in Calgary, Hailey Rose brings these worlds together. I found that the longer I was away from Cape Breton, the more ‘Westernized’ I became. When I’d go back home to visit , I began to see and hear it differently. I guess I acquired an ‘outside’ perspective. I saw the real beauty there in the landscape and the people.


HNMAG: You see that with Hailey because her accent is absent until she’s back home and it subtly pops in here and there but the accent is strong in Rose. 

Sandi Somers: Yes exactly. I don’t have much of an accent but…


HNMAG: …but you’ve been in Calgary for many years. 

Sandi Somers: I have been in Calgary but if I go home and have a couple of bottles of Keiths, it comes back pretty quickly. 


HNMAG: Do you have a distributor in place for a theatrical release?

Sandi Somers: The festival circuit is happening now, perhaps until the spring, but we do know there’ll be a theatrical release the future. We haven’t solidified dates yet. 


HNMAG: How was your relationship with your mother? 

Sandi Somers: Both my parents have passed, which is also Hailey’s experience. I had a typical relationship with my mother. She had my back a lot, she was a fighter, and she was super hilarious. She loved to have fun, she loved to play the guitar. There are aspects of her in the mother character. But, it is completely fictionalized and an homage to family life. Hailey’s sister Rose is a great character, too! They all are. How the audience responds to these characters has more to do with where you’re from and your own life and family experiences. 


HNMAG: I was really pulling for Rose for her budding romance with John Henry. 

Sandi Somers: You are, right? You just want it to work. You want her to be happy. You want her to find that special person who loves her uniqueness. It was so important to me that all the characters be well fleshed out and not portrayed as caricatures so that you were engaged enough to want to see them succeed in life and love.


HNMAG: It’s very challenging to come back to this place where it’s not as accepted to be gay. 

Sandi Somers: It is but at the same time, no one in Hailey’s home town really cared about that. A theme in the film is that if families don’t talk about something it becomes a big chasm that creates all kinds of issues. 


HNMAG: Right, there’s the whole issue around the father’s death. 

Sandi Somers: That’s perspective. Rose’s perspective is that Hailey left the family at a very hard time when their father died, while Hailey is living across the country feeling blamed and blaming herself for his death. No one ever talked about it, and their communication stopped for ten years because of self made stories around his death.


HNMAG: Does Olga have European ancestry?

Sandi Somers: Ukrainian. 


HNMAG: Have you ever met anyone who had died before?

Sandi Somers: Yes, my father. 


HNMAG: Did he ever say anything about being dead?

Sandi Somers: I do remember once, a psychologist came in and asked him his experience and my father said “No, just felt like I went to sleep and now I’m awake.” 


HNMAG: Does that affect your spirituality? 

Sandi Somers: My mother had a very different perspective on death, dying, and the afterlife, than my father. When you grow up in a household that is open to many different perspectives, we all get informed by it in different ways.


HNMAG: Any consideration of setting the story anywhere else?

Sandi Somers: I specifically wrote it to be in Nova Scotia and Alberta. The actual places are written in large type in the film, and clearly Canadian. We did talk about other places as possibilities, but ultimately it’s so nuanced for Nova Scotia that it really needed to be shot there. If you put it somewhere else, I and many others, would notice the environment is different. The trees, the houses, all of it, it’s so Nova Scotian! That east coast nuance is everywhere in the script. It comes through the camera and out onto the screen. I’m hopeful for the movie to be accepted globally as well. After the festival screenings the number of people that come up to me and talk about the relationships within their families is amazing. To know that people are having conversations about the dysfunction in their own families or talking about not having seen their adult children in years, and that the film gives them a different perspective to think about, is very telling. In the film there is also a lot of humour in the families’ dysfunction. I feel this theme will speak to people in places outside of Canada because they’ll relate the relationships in the movie.


HNMAG: What was the casting like for Hailey Rose?

Sandi Somers: It was really important to me to have proper representation of the characters. Hailey is a cis, lesbian, queer, woman. I wanted an actor who identified as that in life. The character Syd is non-binary, and is played by a non-binary actor. The actor who plays Johnny is in a wheelchair and Cole’s father was played by an actor missing a leg. That puts more challenges on casting for sure. ln the end it worked out great.


HNMAG: Where did you find them? 

Sandi Somers: Em Haine (Hailey) lives in Vancouver. Riley Reign (Syd) is from Halifax. 


HNMAG: Riley played a character that is not from Nova Scotia. 

Sandi Somers: That’s right.


HNMAG: Great acting and no accent. 

Sandi Somers: They did a great job.


HNMAG: Are the rest of the actors from Nova Scotia?

Sandi Somers: Kari Matchett (Olga) is living in BC/LA. Originally from Saskatchewan. Caitlynne Medreck (Rose) is living in Vancouver and is from Alberta. The others were local or grew up in Nova Scotia and are now in Toronto.


HNMAG: They all had to do some dialect work.

Sandi Somers: They’re all pros and great actors. We didn’t hit the accents hard but the script was written in a way that helped the dialects come out a bit.


HNMAG: The movie has a slightly dark humor to it.

Sandi Somers: It does. The story deals with, loss, disconnection and re-connection, and acceptance, which can be heavy. Laughs help.


HNMAG: Were there any challenges that stood out while shooting?

Sandi Somers: There was a lot of fun stunts. Remember when Rose was in the water?


HNMAG: What time of year was that? 

Sandi Somers: That was December.


HNMAG: Oh no!

Sandi Somers: It was December! Caitlynne was totally into it, “Can we do that again?” Imagine having to do a whole day of polar bear swims. 


HNMAG: What about the stunt, going down the hill? 

Sandi Somers: That took a lot of planning. We had a great stunt person and team. Brian George is in a wheelchair, and he was a trooper when he did have to go down parts of that hill. It was a challenging and a very fun day.


Hailey Rose is authentic and entertaining. It has some amazing life lessons as well. It’s a proudly Canadian movie that is also a wonderful ambassador from Nova Scotia and a bit of Calgary. You might start on Hailey’s side and be slightly amused and annoyed with her sister Rose. By the end of the movie, you will most likely fully embrace her unique character and root for her much-deserved joy. 

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