Every story has a journey and a destination. Sometimes there are gas stations along the way where you might experience something or meet someone that then impacts your destination – you’re going off course… but is it wrong and does it make your story better? In life, we often start out with a plan and often we don’t reach it because a better one came along. Writing a screenplay is very similar when you let the story unfold, rather than unpack it. What does that mean… I have no idea, because I’m writing intuitively and my course is uncharted. Certainly, I’m saying that in jest… but there are many paths that lead to a tantalizing story and mystery characters that require the writer to leave the door open… for critters, for the wind, the noise, passers by and the stars. If I told the exact story to 10 different people, then they retold it – we would have 10 different interpretations.
Writer, director and producer of The Corruption of Divine Providence, Jeremy Torrie presents his film at the Whistler Film Festival. He understands the path of a writer and how to get to the finish line with a collection of golden eggs and stories of adventure and chaos along the way. Jeremy was destined to be a storyteller and in his pursuit of the story, Jeremy has traveled the world – including Iraq, Taiwan, Greece, Italy, France, England, Ireland, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, Chile, and virtually every corner of North America.
In 2003, Jeremy co-produced his first dramatic film Cowboys & Indians: The Killing of JJ Harper, which has won 2 international awards, 2 Blizzard Awards, and garnered 5 Gemini nominations. At 22, he wrote his second novel, which was the intersection in his writing and ultimately led to his screenplays. With more than 25 producing credits and 16 writing credits, this talented filmmaker has been busy. His latest film delves into religion, possession and stigmata. I had to find out how this incredible film was created, so I had my agent call his agent, who then called my manager, who then spoke to my neighbour, who then called my priest? It’s all very confusing but eventually we made contact!
HNM “How was this story inspired?”
JEREMY “It all started 19 years ago when I started dating my wife to be. She’s Métis from a town in SW Manitoba called Saint Leon and I’m Ojibway. There comes that fateful day in the relationship when you have to meet the parents. They are throwing a huge birthday party for her grandmother on a big homestead near Altamont, MB. We pulled up and there were about 50 or so people speaking in English and French welcoming you and offering a drink. I went inside the home and immediately saw Jesus suffering on the cross, I looked the other direction – there’s Jesus suffering on another cross. I went into the bathroom and the kitchen and there were more crosses on the walls, so I’m thinking this is intense, these people are super religious. The irony of it is, a few months later I hear these rumors that this person is sleeping with this person and another person is having an affair; there was a big story about a brother that had his parents and brother killed and made it look like a house fire, so he could inherit the homestead. It was discovered that he was mixed up with bikers, and it seemed pretty clear that there was a lot of sinning going on. I had to ask… what does religion/faith really mean to people?”
Jeremy continued to explain that he surmised the idea for the film out of the irony of it all. He began with the premise of a young Métis woman who spontaneously becomes stigmatic, where she bleeds from the feet, the wrists and the forehead. It evolved from there. There’s a lot of heavy theoretical questions in there that were important to Jeremy, enough to make him want to explore it further – he is a traditional Pipe Carrier, he has a drum, he goes to ceremonies, he knows songs, he picks medicines and more. The question of faith has always mystified him. His grandfather had given him a book by Joseph Campbell about comparative mythology, that looked at religion from around the world and found that the origin stories from the traditional people of the land, had similar tales of creation, of morals and ethics and although they were oceans apart, the commonalities are so fascinating. When Jeremy was 20 years old, he was told that he was a storyteller and it was his gift… and if he followed it, he would be rewarded. For the last 28 years he’s been able to travel the world, meet some incredible people and write some amazing stories – all through his work. He considers the path that he’s been led down to be divine and that there is an actual order; ‘if we could all set aside our differences and set aside the colour of our skin, humanity could do great things’, says Jeremy.
HNM “Are you then trying to get people to re-examine their own religion?”
JEREMY “Absolutely… we live in a day and age where distraction is always present because, as humans we like to be entertained. We learn about ‘getting on in life’ through print, through television and film being the most pervasive. I grew up going to the movies and the cinema was our cathedral… you’d come out and tell everyone about it and pull it apart… and try to interpret it. I do want people to meditate a little before they move on. There is a beautiful world out there beyond the materialist and capitalist society that we live in and I know that we need money to survive but I’ve been able to be spiritually fulfilled and continue to be, even after I’ve passed it onto my children. They’re learning about it, they believe it and they see how it works for them in their own applications. For example, a couple of months ago we had some new kittens and they were staying in a box in my son’s room. The kittens started acting up and he was convinced his room was haunted with a ghost. He wouldn’t sleep because he was scared. I told him to take my shell, some sage and smudge… and he did. He slept great, for a couple weeks and then he began to get a little edgy again, so he asked if he could smudge again. Another example; when we go out to the cabin, there’s this interesting stone that I use for food offerings because we’re more connected to nature and there’s lots of birds around. We do it because we want to give thanks for our health, our safety, to be fed, to have a warm fire and to have our family together. I’ve always been taught that you need to give thanks and all of my kids have learned these things and continue to be ‘inculcated’ with what we think are the right teachings that will hopefully serve them later in life. I’m not preachy and I don’t believe my faith is any better than your faith, we are respectful of everyone’s faith, so we’ll see how it plays out.”
HNM “How long did pre-production take before going to camera?”
JEREMY “We applied to Telefilm for funding in the summer of 2017 as well as taking it to David Kines (President & Co-founder) at Hollywood Suite for a television broadcast window and he said yes, we approached another distributor and they said yes, so we began casting and started shooting. It came together pretty quick, but I’m a very hands on guy – yes I’m the writer, director, producer but I also found every location and then left it in the hands of the location manager to negotiate the fees. In the case of the church in Lorette, MB where the big scene is, if you look at the ceiling, they call it the Sistine Chapel of the Prairies. I had to make a personal pitch to the priest and his council, to explain why we should be allowed to film there. I had to go back a second time before they said yes and gave us their blessing. We made a contribution to their church and it ended up being great – it’s visually stunning.”
HNM “You have an outstanding cast; how long did it take to put them together?”
JEREMY “I’ve known Corey Sevier (Peter Wolf) for a long time and he’d worked on 2 previous films of mine. We’d developed a really good relationship and I enjoy working with people like him because he’s such a pro and he makes your job as a director much easier. I’d been kicking around names for the leads and he said he’d worked with Elyse Levesque for a long time. I had gotten in touch with her manager to ask if she spoke French, if she could read the script and from there, we had a phone call, we talked and she was great. She told me she managed a couple of actors, which is how I was able to get Paul Amos (St. Francis) as well as David La Haye (Louis Seraphin). I had been looking far and wide to find someone to play Jeanne Seraphin. We literally went coast to coast before Ali Skovbye had put an audition on tape. She was really good and miles above everyone. I had known Tantoo Cardinal through various connections and festivals… and she happened to be available. We had gotten her after Westworld and she’s just amazing.”
HNM “What is your writing process like?”
JEREMY “I literally write on everything, which drives my wife nuts. I will write on napkins, notepads, the other side of a budget sheet, anything and everywhere. If I hear a song on the radio, I’ll take a snippet on my phone so I can look it up later. Music is a huge part of the film, which helps to paint the picture for you. If there’s a piece of dialogue or a visual that I like, I’ll write it down and hopefully find it later. I’ll then start a process of writing bits and pieces and I don’t do a traditional outline or treatment for deliverables for Telefilm or CMF (Canadian Media Fund), I will end up deconstructing it and going backwards – I always want to get to my first draft. I might write the ending first or other pieces, then everything flows in between. I can hammer out 8-10 pages of script really easily, with very little revisions. I channel it, it comes out and there it is.”
HNM “The actors that I spoke to from the film had said that you were so open to collaboration. What makes you more open to it than other directors?”
JEREMY “I think I was really lucky at one point and I took a course about 15 years ago in LA called Acting for Directors. It was great because it made you become an actor. It really helped me to understand and appreciate actors and where they have to go in order to get the performance that we need. I’ve used the mantra, ‘let’s use the script as a guide’ because we’re all here to work together to tell the right story. I’m not a 15/16-year old girl so I don’t know how she’d say that. The same goes for Elyse – I rely on them because they have skill sets. Let’s play in the sandbox to see what we can come up with. I’ve always been that way. For me, I want to get the emotional truth, which is why you have to rely on the actor. I try not to impose my will on other people but I know where I’m at in my career and I know how to talk about the best way to capture the scene.”
HNM “Did you try any new techniques on this film that you hadn’t tried in previous films?”
JEREMY “Yes, actually there were a couple of speed ramps that we did on camera, because it’s a supernatural story. I own my cameras but I hadn’t really played with it but the speed ramps worked really well. There was some green screen that worked really well too. We filmed the scene where she was levitating last and in my dining room. We were shooting her bedroom scene upstairs in our bedroom while the grips and electrics were setting up the green screen downstairs, so that we could get the shot of her levitating in her sleep. The salamanders were really challenging and it didn’t turn out the way I wanted… but we kept it in the film and it was my intention to always have them in it. It was my biggest trepidation… and they’re there. It could have been better if we had a couple hundred thousand more to work with, but we made due with what we had.”
This is an amazing story that tackles the subject of religion and the intent on being involved in it. Is it for the purpose of saving face and keeping up appearances or is it because it helps you live a better life? Jeremy Torrie is not afraid to go after tough subjects and The Corruption of Divine Providence is another prime example.