You can have the most amazing parents in the world but I firmly believe it is life experience and your life choices that shape you. Your influences, your friends, your experiences and your moral fiber determine how you will respond when facing your fears, your challenges, your successes and your decisions. Some of those decisions will be right and some, not so much. We’ve all had those moments where we’ve wished we could go back for a redo…. but it’s too late, the damage is done and the ripple effect has altered your life in ways that will haunt you till the end of days.
What if you’re still a child trying to figure out who you are, who to trust and who to fear? Compounded on top of that; you are a bullied and abused boy that has discovered a chained man alone in an abandoned warehouse. Is your immediate reaction to help, to hinder or to hate? The chained man is not the abuser but the memories of a father’s beatings can’t help but channel through the male figure and now, the boy is the one calling the shots. He has arrived at a crossroads, as we all have at one point in our lives. There are no redos and his decision, right or wrong could haunt him forever.
This is the premise for the film Chained. It was written and directed by the incredibly talented Titus Heckel. Titus is a veteran screenwriter that has tasted success 3 times in the Nicholl Fellowship with two screenplays placing in the quarter finals and one placing in the semi-finals. Not an easy task when you are competing against 8000. Titus has written 6 films and directed 3 of them. His latest TV film was A Deadly Vendetta in 2018 and other past writing credits include With Child and A Better Man.
Titus filmed Chained in Kelowna with an incredibly talented cast including Aleks Paunovic, rising star Marlon Kazadi and Adrian Holmes. I spoke to him about the production and the rewards of watching your vision becoming realized.
“How long did it take to shoot this film?”
“We started shooting Dec. 4 and just wrapped up on Dec. 22nd, so 15 days of shooting but we still have one more piece to shoot, which means that we’ll probably go up to Vernon sometime in January or February to get it depending on the timing of the rough edit and what we still need.”
“I had heard through the rumor mill that this film almost didn’t get made. Is that true?”
“I don’t know a lot of the details about it but we were a few days in, when it looked like we wouldn’t be able to continue. The great thing that happened was right out of ‘A Wonderful Life’ movie because the crew along with my cinematographer loved it so much they didn’t want to let it go. They had all rallied together to let the filming continue to help finance the film. I’m sure it’s happened before somewhere but I’ve never heard of it. Everyone I’ve talked to also told me they’d never heard of that happening but time and time again, during the week people would come up to me to say that they’ve been in the industry for 20 years and they’ve never been more inspired. It was so amazing and a total complete surprise. It was such a blessing, it was unbelievable.”
“This sounds like a very interesting premise for a film. I had a brief description but I’m hoping you can fill me in on more details of the idea behind the production.”
“The semantic of the story is really about what it means to be a man and masculinity. This is an abused kid that’s bullied at school and when he’s home he has no control. When he finds this man chained up, the control switches and the roles have been reversed, where he’s now in total control of this man in comparison to having no control at home. It’s really about the cycle of abuse and how the abused become the abusers and victims become the perpetrators. There’s a big element of that in the story. One thing I love about this story, which is true is that this kid is a gardener and a lot of times we think of gardening as this very peaceful thing we do to shape it, cultivate it and care/nurture it but at the same time there’s an element of control. We decide which plants get watered and which ones get rooted up, which is why I believe we like gardening because of that element of control. There’s also this parallel where this kid is gardening but when he finds this man, it’s like gardening on steroids. Not only does he have 99 plants he’s in control of but also this human being.”
“Where did the inspiration come from for this story?”
“Usually ideas will come to me and if they’re really interesting they’ll stay with me for over a year. There are many story ideas that fade after a few months but this one really stuck with me. It actually started with the image of a boy standing in front of a man chained up with nobody else around and he’s completely alone. The story had stuck with me for about 4 years and wouldn’t go away so I started writing it 4 years ago. It’s actually been about 8 years since the first thought I had of the story.”
“You’ve got some really good talent in this film. You’ve got Aleks Paunovic, Adrian Holmes and a young rising star, Marlon Kazadi.”
“Yes, Aleks is a very creative actor and a big guy. He’s 6’5” and the boy is 5’3” so it’s quite a contrast. Marlon has been in a number of features and most times he auditions he gets the part because he’s just that good. He’s never been the lead in a feature film before but boy, is that kid a star! I’ve never come across an actor like Marlon before, especially at his age. I call him Marlon the Marvel; he nails every performance, he nails every take, he knows all his lines and will modify it and he takes direction well. He’s such a joy to work with and I’d work with him over and over again, I love working with Marlon. We had a huge national casting call for the role and had kids audition across Canada. Marlon was at the top of the list just based on his audition tape. It just so happened that he was also in Vancouver at the time of the auditions, so we got to audition him again in person. It was very obvious that he was the one for the part. We really didn’t know what we were going to get because there’s not a lot of child actors of colour but Marlon was an absolute gem. There were some other good actors but Marlon stood head and shoulders above them all.”
“Why did you decide to shoot it in Kelowna?”
“It’s a lot cheaper to shoot it there in comparison to Vancouver but also, there’s a huge community of filmmakers up there that want more films shot there. It’s a great place to shoot with great locations and people are really open to it. The locations are really amazing and stunning. I wrote this piece to look like the urban decay of a Detroit setting. There was this space up near Penticton that almost seemed to be built for us by a production designer. I just showed up and we were able to shoot in there.”
“Did you have to bring a large crew up to Kelowna or did some of them live there?”
“Most of the crew is from Kelowna. There were a few people that came up from Vancouver but everyone was local. I think a lot of them were up there for another show and rolled over into our show. They were excellent and real pros.”
“A 15-day shoot sounds like quite a run. It’s not a lot of time.”
“It was crazy, 15 days is not enough time to shoot a film if you’re not prepared. Luckily, my DP Vince Arvidson and I have been preparing for this shoot for 2 years. We didn’t know the look of the space yet but we knew in general how we wanted to shoot it. Once we got to the location we knew exactly what we were shooting, so there was never a time when we weren’t shooting our shots or setting up for the next one. It was a sprint from sun up to sun down and beyond everyday. With Marlon on set, we’re only allowed to have him for 10 hrs. a day, so that restricted us even further. The good news is, Marlon is a marvel and when we worked with him he’d nail it every time so we could move fast. There were so many amazing people and things that happened that gave this movie magic and Marlon was one of them. We made our days every day and it’s a testament to the crew, it’s a testament to Marlon and it’s a testament to planning and preparation.”
“Would that planning have included storyboarding and a shot list?”
“We didn’t have a storyboard artist but we did have a shot list that Vince and I had been developing for a very long time. Before each day of shooting we’d plan out our shots for the next day and how we’re going to shoot it. We agreed on the plan so when we arrived we’d execute the plan. The crew wanted to work rather than stand around so they loved it. They felt respected and felt like they were part of something meaningful and they loved the story.”
“I had read that your screenplays have done quite well in the Nicholl Fellowship. Was this screenplay one of the finalists?”
“I’ve had 3 screenplays that have placed in the Nicholl Fellowship in 3 different years. Two of them were in the quarterfinals and Chained was in the semi-finals. Chained was also in the quarterfinals of another contest. It had received Greenburg funding because of the story and content. I’ve been writing for a very long time and without sounding arrogant, I’ve become a really good writer and I know what I’m doing.”
“Are you self-taught or did you go to school to learn screenwriting?”
“I’m totally self-taught. When I decided to become a filmmaker I thought writing would be most cost-effective because I had no money. I had already gone to film school and didn’t want to go back and finish it. I thought if I’m going to do it, I should just do it. I had so many stories bubbling inside of me so I started to write but I was really terrible at first. The stories I was writing though were original, they were interesting and different. I look back on them now and realize there were some good nuggets in there but it was just a torrent of creativity with no shape to it. With more time and experience, if you go off track, you can have the good judgment to decide to get back on track or keep going to see where it takes you. As you become more experienced, you sometimes want to roll with it and get better at listening to those beats and making better judgments about them.”
“Would you consider yourself an intuitive writer or do you start with an outline?”
“I’m certainly almost entirely an intuitive writer. I’ll have a very basic outline, such as a beginning, middle and an end but I really believe in the adage, no writer surprise/no reader surprise. I need to have space in my writing to surprise myself, so if I have to get from A to B in a story then I need to allow myself the freedom to get there in a jagged way/serpentine way; it shouldn’t be a straight line. It’s that serpentine, that jagged line that’s surprising but I know it has to end up at point B otherwise the story can’t function. It won’t work when you get from point B to point C. The only rule I have is, I need to get to point B and how I get there is up to the immediacy of my creativity.”
“With your film Chained, what do you want the audience to walk away with?”
“I’d love for them to feel like it was worth their time and that they enjoyed it. I think my job as a filmmaker, first and foremost is to entertain. I don’t really want to dictate what they take away from the story but I do want them to find meaning in the story for themselves. There’s a multiplicity of things to take away from the story as well as a multi-layered aspect to it and many interpretations of it, so allowing people to finish the story in their own imaginations and find their own meaning in it for themselves is unique. That’s really what I want them to take away from it.”
“What would you rather have in your bucket list; skydiving, exploring the pyramids or running a marathon?”
“Well, I’ve ran a half marathon before and I can’t imagine wanting to do that again. I don’t think I have it in me to skydive, I’m too terrified of heights but I would love to see the pyramids. That sounds amazing! That will be on my bucket list for sure.”
“Do you already have distribution for the film?”
“We have a little bit but that’s to the films benefit at this point because distribution always blocks you in but we were able to produce the film without distribution. Now it’s up to us to see where we take it and we’re all pretty excited about that. We all know it’s going to be something special so we want to hold our cards close to our chest about all that stuff.”
Thank you Titus Heckel for an extremely interesting and revealing interview. I look forward to the premiere of the film Chained mostly because it is so original and the premise/concept is so intriguing… I really want to know how the young boy responds to his dilemma and the consequences of his choices.