Talent On Tap – Richard Bell Tells A Tale of Brotherhood

When you’re young and with the guys you feel invincible. In the summertime I’ve spent many days on the beach, on the water and in a canoe. My friend and I would paddle out to the middle of the lake and cast our fishing rods. We might’ve been enjoying life in a bubble because we hadn’t considered the danger level if something had gone wrong… such as an unexpected storm rolling in. We caught our fish and headed back to my friends cabin with the goods without incident, but that wasn’t the same experience for a group of teenage boys in 1926.    


In 1926, a band of teenage boys arrive at Long Point Camp for the adventure of their lives. When their canoe capsizes in a freak summer storm, their holiday descends into a soul-shuddering fight for survival.


This film is based on true events and is written, directed and produced by Richard Bell. This is Richard’s second feature film and he has exceeded every expectation. Attention to detail, story and spectacular acting create an experience that will leave you invested and captivated with a wide range of emotions till the very end. The actors really own their characters and I found out why after speaking with Richard and one of the lead actors, Brendan Fletcher.    


Brotherhood had its Western Canadian premiere at the Rio Theatre on Sat. March 14. The film is now available on iTunes, Telus, Bell, Shaw and Rogers.


HNM: “Having watched the film, it appears that there was a lot of night shooting on water. How difficult was that?”

Richard: “I’m glad you think that but it’s not entirely true. A lot of the night scenes were shot with a lot of light. The scenes on the water were actually shot in a giant water tank in a studio.  The Visual Effects department went in and coloured in all the background. I’m a firm believer that the best visual effects are the ones that you barely notice and I think ‘mission accomplished’ because we were just nominated for best visual effects at the Canadian Screen Awards coming up at the end of the month. Thematically, this story is very much about the light and the dark, the comparing and the contrasting; it’s why I decided to tell the story out of order. If I told the story in sequence I felt the audience would be in the dark too long and they would suffer longer with the darker dramatic heavier bits. We’re comparing and contrasting, we’re flash forwarding and flashing backward, as well as exploring the themes of the lightness and the dark. Brendan’s character Arthur is all about the lightness and the dark, given that he has survived a great war.”   


HNM: “Considering much of the water scenes were in a controlled setting, did it allow for longer shooting days?”

Brendan: “Yeah, we shot for 12 hr.’s a day. We’d have the guys in the pool for 5 hrs. in the morning then get out, dry off and have lunch, then get back in for another 5 hours and finish the day.”  

Richard adds, “Sometimes the actors wanted to stay in when we were changing the battery on the camera because it was colder getting out and waiting in the studio air. There were also times when the younger guys had asked for colder water in order to feel the realism but because of union policy and our own responsibility for their personal safety, we kept it warm.”

Brendan adds, “If we were in an ice bath our acting would be amazing… for the first hour and then hypothermia would set in and it would be shut down (laughing).”  


HNM: “Is this the first film you’ve made on water?”

Brendan: “I’ve never been in water that much and had never shot that many days consecutively. It was 7 days in the studio and half the movie takes place in water. Most films will have a day or 2 but it’s the most time in water I’ve ever experienced.”

Richard: “I’ve never worked in water before and this is my first time working with green screen. It’s also the first time I’ve worked with minors, we had 3 of them that had school days in between. For me it wasn’t a huge challenge since I’m a writer already, it allows me to pivot quite easily but also because I’d been working on it so long and the gestation period was so long I knew the story inside and out.”  


HNM: “Where did you find all the cast?”

Richard: “The cast is entirely from Ontario with the exception to Brendan Fehr and Brendan Fletcher, who are both from Vancouver. Because this is a true Ontario story, the casting director and I acknowledged that there was a wealth of talent already there. We looked at Vancouver but there were so many kids in Ontario, we went that direction.”  


HNM: “How did you first hear about this true story?”

Richard: “I was living in Toronto in the summer of 2006 and happened to be in a restaurant reading a newspaper when I saw this tiny story about an 80th anniversary event of a brotherhood of Saint Andrew that was at a church in Kirkfield, Ontario, which is next to the lake. It was like a capsule story that described what happened. I thought it would be such a good idea for a movie. I also thought at the time that it would make for a great low budget movie because it all takes place at one location, a summer camp. It reflects my inexperience at the time because anytime you do any filming with water it gets incredibly expensive and complicated, as well as working with teenagers that require breaks, go to school and can only work so many hours proved difficult at times. I ended up filing the idea in the back of my brain and started working on getting another project off the ground but then the 2008 crisis happened and it deflated. I later remembered the other story but forgot the name of the lake; I just remembered a story about these boys that were clinging to this canoe over the course of an evening.  At that time there was nothing showing up on Google but there is now. I researched canoe, lake, boys clinging to canoe; Ontario and then I found the name of the lake. From there I went to the library and looked at all the old microfiche (a sheet of flat film) from yesteryear. The thing that surprised me was, it was in a lot of newspapers; all the way from Australia to Europe and up to England. I took all that research and I’ve laid my imagination around the real event.” 


HNM: “How did you, Brendan get involved in the film?”

Brendan: “I’ve worked with Richard on his first movie, which was 10 years before we started shooting Brotherhood. I’ve been familiar with Richard for so long we’ve become really good friends over the years. He sent me the script and I loved it! I know that his attention to detail/love and care he puts in his films make them so special and so resonant in how he can take a micro budget and really make these films look like a 10 or 20 million dollar movie. I was really happy to be part of it.”  


HNM: “There are multiple characters in this film. Is it difficult to create a voice and personality for each one?”

Richard: “It’s not difficult for me to do that but it does take a lot of care to track everyone. When I was trying to get the film funded and off the ground one of the concerns people had were about so many guys in the story. They wanted to know why we would care about them how we’re going to keep track of everyone’s story. That was harder to convince people as a writer but the work was there and everyone has certain tags and signatures and when it’s a movie and you’re seeing it, it will be even more clear. These guys aren’t all going to be clones, you’ll have blondes, brunettes, red heads and everything else, plus the actors are bringing their own lives/stamp to the character. They all bring their own moments of whimsy and character. The writing period might’ve been the only time it was challenging to keep track of everyone. In the original story there were more boys on the canoe but you get to a point where you amalgamate characters. This is a story about boyhood and masculinity, so it was important to me to create certain male archetypes. We have the rebel, we have the brain, we have the wimp and we have the kid brother and the big brother. We we’re able to explore the idea of masculinity through the prism of all these different male archetypes. I wrote the characters but the actors brought them to life.”

Brendan: “It was just incredible, when we got out there Richard had all the young boys fill out these journals that they wrote according to their characters. With the backstories, I think it gave it a richer life.” 


HNM: “Where would you have learned a technique like that, Richard?”

Richard: “I never went to film school but I did go to Drama school. I went to Langara College for 3 years when I was 19-22. When I had gone there it was pretty strict and they didn’t like lazy actors. I almost got kicked out of that program 8 or 9 times. We started with a class of 15 and when I graduated there were only 3 of us left. They didn’t like lazy actors and you were expected to do a lot of homework in crafting your characters. I find that because of that training I don’t like lazy actors either and I like when actors bring stuff to the table and make things as personal as possible. The actors were all game for that and were all thirsty for that sort of experience. I think that good actors want to bring that kind of authenticity. We had also gone on a retreat and stayed at a lodge in the woods. We sat around the campfire and everyone in the group were expected to bring something they could teach the group. One person brought a magic trick, another showed us how to make a rabbit snare and another boy brought a lacrosse stick and showed us a few lacrosse tricks.”


HNM: “What did you bring to the campfire, Brendan?”

Brendan: “(laughter) My character is one of the counsellors who is brought in. I play Arthur Lambden, a World War I vet that lost his family to a great pandemic, which we’re experiencing now. He’s a guy trying to get his life back on track because he’s turned into a bit of a recluse for a couple of years after the loss of his family and this is an opportunity to reconnect with people/the boys and rediscover himself through the boys again. That was similar to my experience showing up and seeing all these boys that were already so in it. They already had their dynamic worked out and I had to find out how I related to them. Richard had the boys read them back to Brendan Fehr and me so we could get an idea of who the boys were. He wrote it from the colloquialism vernacular at the time, so not only did it give us a sense of who the boys were but also a sense of the time we were representing; 1926, it was pretty amazing.”              


HNM: “Brendan, what attracts you to a new role?”

Brendan: “For me, if I read it and I’m scared or apprehensive and it’s not something totally familiar to me and makes me flex a different muscle. Every role is different and every movie is different. When I went into this I told Richard that I wasn’t sure if I could be a camp counsellor that has fought through a war and lost his family. I felt like people wouldn’t be able to tell me apart from the teenagers (laughter)? It was just part of my own insecurities but I did fight very hard for a moustache.”    


HNM: “You’ve written, directed and produced all of your films, do you prefer to wear all 3 hats?”

Richard: “I guess yes and no. I’d say that I’m a very entrepreneurial filmmaker and think you have to be in this country. I’d rather not produce at all but I find I need to be the producer to step up and take care of certain details that I feel are being left behind, yes. In our country you have to be a one-man band but I’d rather be a writer/director exclusively. I don’t dislike producing but it’s not my favourite part of filmmaking.”

Brendan: “You’d be hard pressed to find someone that cares more than Richard and through that caring it compels him to be this ‘Jack of all trades’ because he’s always thinking of what’s best with every project he’s working on.”


HNM: “How did you finance the film?”

Richard: “Telefilm Canada was our biggest partner and it was also financed through Ontario Creates, which used to be the Ontario Media Development Corporation. It’s also financed through the Northern Ontario Heritage Fund Corporation (NOHFC). The NOHFC is a fund, not just for filmmaking but to stimulate growth and industry in the north. It was also partially funded through Creative Saskatchewan as a co-production between Saskatchewan and Ontario. There was also the Shaw Rocket Fund, which develops and creates content for children and teenagers.” 


HNM: “How long would pre-production have been on this film?”

Richard: “My producer believed in a really long pre-production, which I credit her for. The prep for the film began in early July in regards to a lot of extensive location scouting in Ontario. Auditions started in August and we started shooting half way through September. I’d say the pre-production prep was approx. 2 ½ mths. Before that, the financing started in the fall of 2014. I started working on this project as a writer/researcher back in 2011, so from the time that I started to the time that it’s showing at the Rio Theatre this coming Saturday, which would’ve been 9 years.” 


HNM: “What’s your favourite sport to watch?”

Brendan: “I’m a big Canucks fan. I’ve been a Canuck’s fan since ’93, so I’ve seen a lot of highs and lows. I took a little break but this year I’m back on the train, I’ve got my seats and can’t wait for the playoffs.”


HNM: “Same question for you, Richard.”

Richard: “I’m sorry (laughing) I tuned out. All I heard was sports, sports, sports. I have 0 interest in sports, you guys are talking a different language; I tried watching a hockey game recently and I couldn’t follow the puck. My older and younger brothers are huge Canuck fans but I don’t know anything about sports. I’m more of a science fiction geek and the way you were talking about sports I could talk about Star Trek or Star Wars.”

 Brendan: “I was going to say, the only scene Richard didn’t shoot was the lacrosse sequence (laughing).” 


HNM: “What do you both enjoy doing as a hobby?”

Brendan: “I’m a real BC boy, so I love going up to the mountains, camping or hiking with my dog and snowboarding.”

Richard: “I would have to say that my hobby is also filmmaking. I’m happiest when I’m promoting the movie or thinking of something to do for the movie/next steps for the film. In this country it’s very difficult to have filmmaking as a career. I recently had a meeting with Telefilm and mentioned that the only way you can do this in this country is as a hobby and they agreed with me. As grateful as I am for the support and infrastructure, it’s not sustainable to have this as a career. If filmmaking isn’t your hobby then you can’t do it in this country.”   


HNM: “Is there distribution for this film?”

Brendan: “Yes, it’s distributed by a company called LevelFILM. 


HNM: “Did you storyboard this film?”

Richard: “All the night scenes were storyboarded; the scenes of the boys clutching to the canoe. They weren’t storyboarded by an artist, they were storyboarded with real people. When we were in prep we hired some high school kids to gather around the canoe and my Director of Photography took extensive pictures of them. They were all holding cards with their characters name. My DOP took that and moved them around to create the storyboards. With that being said, when we were shooting in the studio it was so fast that I barely looked at those storyboards. At the risk of sounding magical/mystical I would like to think that the work was inside us. It gave us the confidence to move quickly; it also helped that we had 2 cameras. When we were on the lake I told all the actors to stay in character the entire time because you don’t know when the camera is going to glide past you. Being in full character also helps your scene partners.”


HNM: “This last question is for Brendan. What was your biggest takeaway from being in this film?”

Brendan: “My biggest takeaway was the strength of the community to take an idea and give it life. This film was really special, especially the boys that all came together to create this world. The people of Michipicoten, Ontario had come together to make this movie. When we first got there we had a smudging ceremony. Its times like that you realize that what we do can mean a lot and when people come together really special things happen. It was an adventure; when we were out there in Michipicoten, we were all out of our element; we don’t have our homes to go back to. We formed this little community to make this movie happen.”  


This is a phenomenal film that needs to be seen to be appreciated. A gripping true story with a fantastic young cast equals a great movie. 

One thought on “Talent On Tap – Richard Bell Tells A Tale of Brotherhood

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *