Making films that bring social issues front and center is a balancing act. If they throw it in your face, you’ll just tune out or walk away, so wait and remain seated… there’s more to the story. I always like to say that life is stranger than fiction and you can’t make this stuff up. All you have to do is watch the news and shake your head when you tell yourself ‘now I’ve seen everything’. Although history is being made daily, there are books written about historic events, so we don’t forget them. They are to be read and shared so we can be inspired and impacted. When I see a new film based on true events or a book’s recollection of events, I’m immediately interested in the when, who and why.
Therés Amee is an actress, she’s a model, she’s a businesswoman and a movie producer. She has been involved with acting most of her life and knows both the modeling and acting world inside and sideways. She currently teaches young girls in Vancouver about healthy body image, though the @beayoutiful foundation and @yinandfit Athetics while frequently traveling to New York for Fashion Week and further production developments. Some of Therés most recent fashion films are ‘Sa Lune‘ and ‘Rebel with a Claus‘ which she produced last year.
We had a chance to grab a cup of coffee in Downtown Vancouver and discuss her amazing new productions in the works. A short time ago Therés Amee acquired the film option rights to two books, ‘Backshadow’ and ‘Blessed Be.’ The author, Julie Mann is based in Vancouver, BC and both stories are separate from each other but share a common theme of survival, sacrifice and strength.
“After reading both novels, what was it about them that inspired you to option rights for the two stories?”
“I had worked with the author’s husband in the fashion world. At the time, he owned the editorial and luxury magazine ‘HLM – Haute Luxury Mode.’ When he became aware of my film background and current production endeavors, he informed me that his wife, Julie, wanted to option her first book, ‘Backshadow.’ I was instantly interested in the subject matter and after reading the book, I knew I had to take on this project. The second novel, ‘Blessed Be,’ had not yet been completed, but Julie provided me the summarized context. Both books were compelling stories of dark subject matter involving women’s traumas, which is why I founded my platform, Prowess Productions Inc, to tell female driven narratives. Everything fell into place, and I acquired the film option rights to ‘Backshadow,’ in December of 2017, and ‘Blessed Be,’ in August 2019.
“What was it that made you want to turn both stories into films?”
“They are both strong stories of global issues. I want to make movies that create awareness for what society turns a blind eye to. I want these films to ignite the necessary conversations and provide justice to those who have suffered because of the fearful aftermath of their truths. Julie Mann bases these characters on real events and true cases. Everything is referenced in the back of her books, which further supports these stories. I believe every woman that reads ‘Backshadow,’ can relate in some way. The relativity of what Gregory, Aneeta, and Kameko go through is terrifying. The book speaks on the darkness of cultural expectation, the repercussions of brave protection, and the sacrifice of one’s owns happiness, to carry out family duty. This book scares me. That’s when I knew.”
“Can you take me through the process a little. How did you seek out the screenwriter and did you have to leave anything out of the story in the adaptation?”
“Taking a novel to a script is a very difficult process. It is impossible to take a 410 pg. novel and adapt it into a 1 hour and 45 min. film. Specifically, we went through about 7 script drafts. Our first screenplay writer, Jordan Brown, Sydnicate Seven Films, wrote the initial novel to script adaptation. About 3 drafts later, we brought on a script polisher, Nabil Chowdhary. Nabil is based in Melbourne, and I had met him indirectly through the Cannes Film Festival, via my producing partner Adina Coomber – also based in Melbourne. We purposely did not want him reading the novel, instead we wanted him to polish the current draft that Jordan had condensed to about 123 pages. From there, Nabil wrote another 3-4 script versions. Jordan, I was familiar with his writing and his previous works. Both him and Nabil really understood the story of ‘Backshadow,’ and both made extremely bold scripts. Ultimately, everyone who has come on board this project so far, shares the same passion for telling this story.”
“Whose decision was it to keep the rewrites going until you had a final version?”
“Script re-writes can happen even when you are in production and filming. Currently, we have all agreed on the current script version. However, when bringing on your director and partnered producers, the script can change again and again. As long as the narrative is giving our characters the justified support of truth, I am happy.”
“How long did the screenplay translate into?”
“We have two different versions we’re currently working with. One is 123 pgs. and the other is 103 pgs. Both are great but you have to keep in mind that we’re following the lives of 3 different women. You have an A story, B story and C story that all interrelate. Some screenwriters will argue that it’s impossible to give three characters the same exact amount of screen time.”
“How do they all intertwine?”
“Gregory, Aneeta and Kameko are the three women ‘Backshadow’ is based on. Gregory is from America, Aneeta is from New Delhi, India and Kameko’s story takes place in Japan. All women meet when their lives take them to San Francisco, CA. They become students in a creative writing class and form an unlikely bond as their writings allow them a voice, to come out of their dark, shadows of the past.
“Can you share more about the women’s journey’s and what they go through?’
“Yes, they all go through different levels of abuse. Gregory follows the story of a minor who commits manslaughter to one of her parents (father) out of protection for her mother. There are numerous cases regarding homicide committed by minors out of their family’s defense. Specifically, with Gregory, she is accused under the Butte County of California in Durham. She is offered a plea bargain of five years in a Women’s Correctional Facility. Upon completing her sentence, Gregory is counselled and guided to start a new life – bringing her to the creative writing class in San Francisco.
Aneeta’s story is based on her childhood traumas of being a rape victim to her uncle. For years she grows up in the living hell of her family confinement and expectation to marry. When she finally breaks the news to her Mother and Sister, they deem Aneeta dis honorable to their family, and arrange her to marry an American Indian. Once finalized, Aneeta is sent away to San Francisco to live and serve her new married family. Aneeta’s traumas continue until she forms an alliance with her brother-in law, who ultimately provides her the escape for a new life.
Kameko grows up in Tokyo, Japan and witnesses her father’s affair throughout her upbringing. As her Mother’s last dying wish to finally see Kameko marry, she does so while suffocating her own happiness and true desires. Kameko moves to San Francisco with her new husband, and makes it her goal to become the perfect wife. Failure to conceive a child causes history to repeat itself, and Kameko’s husband commits adultery with a woman at his work. Kameko joins the creative writing class to help with her English, but finally discovers her brave independence to break free from expectation.”
“When do you anticipate production on the film?”
“We are currently working on funding in LA. When that becomes finalized, we want to begin production this year.”
“Did you attempt to get it funded in Canada?”
“Yes, British Columbia provides numerous beneficial platforms to support Canadian Film. Specifically, we explored the Herold Greenberg Fund and the Telefilm program. However, we are re-evaluating as we are currently dealing with private funding through the United States. I want to film in BC, as we would fall under the service production tax credits. Once our top tier cast and production team has been finalized, then we will see which grant systems we qualify for.”
“What stage are the films at now?”
“Interestingly enough ‘Blessed Be’ has generated great interest to go into production first. Once the novel is complete next week, we will commence the script adaptation process. Both films are in pre production.”
“What is the background of Blessed Be?”
“Blessed Be is about human trafficking in India. A newly graduated female doctor working a 6-month term with an international maternal health NGO in northern India is fixated on the mysterious links between the postpartum death of a teen and the secretive adoption practices of a nearby orphanage when she discovers its sinister ties to powerful global leaders of both church and state. ‘Blessed Be’ follows the story of this underground world at its entirety. From the birth of the child, to the business of who receives that child, and all the middle men in between.’
“What do you want audiences to walk away with?”
“Awareness. Empathy. To obtain the global knowledge that abuse happens in every culture, regardless of wealth or background. I want audiences to be brave enough to start the uncomfortable conversations of truth, and to hopefully take action.”
“What is the name of your production company?”
“Prowess Productions and I incorporated in Dec. of 2017.”
“Even though you’re still in pre-production, have you started scouting out locations?’
“I have spoken with film friends and past producer affiliates regarding their location expertise. My main concern is the manipulation of India and Japan. Our current cinematographer, Tony Mirza has extensive experience and made an initial look book with key locations in mind. Surrey has prominent spots, as well as Kelowna, BC.”
“Is there any talent already attached to the films?”
“We do have great Canadian actors attached, whom I have had the pleasure of working with or experiencing their work on past projects. I would also act in both films. Without announcing our named cast just yet, I know this film will be amongst incredible talents.”
“If you could attach talent to the film, who would you approach?”
“I have my wish list, which I also cannot expose just yet. But for the role of Aneeta I would love Deepika Padukone onboard. I am excited to see her star in ‘Chhapaak,’ where she plays Malti, the acid attack survivor in India. Deepika would bring intense depth to Aneeta’s story and give profound justice to her character.”
“What prompted you to start your own production company?”
“I’ve wanted to start my own production company for a long time. I grew up in a business family, and was studying marine biology – primarily sciences, and math, before committing to my acting pursuits fulltime. My production company allowed me to marry my two backgrounds, and have more control over the stories I wanted to tell. The catalyst was ‘Backshadow,’ however. In order to obtain the film option rights, I had to incorporate. And thus, Prowess Productions was born.”
Therés Amee isn’t wasting any time with these productions and we hope to get an update soon as per scheduling. In the meantime we wish her the best in moving forward to achieve her two films. They both sound extraordinary and will no doubt find their audience across the globe.