By Jon Dewar
I was a late bloomer to film. For a long time I told myself I was just a film fan. That I only wanted to write about and critique films. That I had no desire to direct. All of this was a defense mechanism to shield my own intimidation of the medium. It wasn’t until I began studying film at the University of New Brunswick that I was able to move past this. My film courses opened me up to a new world of cinema beyond the blockbusters and multiplexes. I saw film as an expression of one’s voice rather than a means of entertainment. I learned early on that you can’t make films for other people. You have to make the film you want. This is a sentiment I’ve tried to carry from my first film, Pesticide, to my most recent, The Beautifully Drowned.
When R.W. Gray first approached me with his book of short stories, Entropic, I was immediately drawn to The Beautiful Drowned. The coastal landscapes, haunting imagery, and mysterious characters all spoke to my aesthetic palate. The visual interpretation came naturally to me. I grew up in Quispamsis and spent a lot of time as a child wandering the coastlines of Saint John and St. Martins. I’d make up stories in my head about all those lost at sea, the ghosts that creep along the sand and shells, and what lines beyond the endlessness of the ocean horizon. These memories became the backdrop for film. This felt like the story I’d wanted to find; the story I’d been waiting to tell.
When I told R.W. Gray that this was the story I wanted to adapt he jokingly said it was the only one in the collection that was unfilmable. In a lot of ways he was right. Bringing this story to the screen, and fusing it with my experiences of wandering the east coast, would require making several changes. To separate the short story and film, when I began the initial draft, I made the first in a number of deviations: I changed the title from The Beautiful Drowned to The Beautifully Drowned.
The Beautifully Drowned is an eerie Maritime fairy tale about a woman, Lilly, who longs for the day her husband, Marcus, will drown at sea. It became clear early on that this film was going to heavily rely on the lead actors as much as it was the setting. For Lilly, I wanted someone who could carry the character through stages of being bound and isolated, resentful and disheveled, and, finally, transformed and free. We had to empathize with her anguish and embrace the relief she finds at the end. For Marcus, I was in search for someone could embody a broken sense of masculinity; a character that feels he must present an image of fearlessness but was begging for help on the inside. Our film production company, Frictive Pictures, ran a vigorous casting call and audition process. Ariana Marquis and Jesse LaPointe were able to fully exemplify these two characters.
There is this theory in the filmmaking world that you are either a technical director or an acting director. While I don’t endorse this confining binary, I learned on this project that I am more drawn to creating an environment that is responsive to the performances than following a preplanned visual outline. I learned that, despite how much planning you put into a scene, you will never truly know how to shoot it until you’re in the space with the crew, actors, and cinematographer and see what they bring to it. This not only allowed for a more organic and freeing process, but created scenes that were far more dynamic and interesting than anything that could have been planned ahead of time. I have a lot to thank Ariana, Jesse, and cinematographer Matt Rogers for this approach.
Representing New Brunswick has always been an important component of my filmmaking career. In my 2013 short film Mirage I wanted to capture the humidity of our summers. I wanted my 2014 short film Hypothermia to be reflective of our harsh, unforgiving, and beautiful winters. And I wanted The Beautifully Drowned to embody perhaps our finest attraction: the coast. We are very lucky in New Brunswick to have the landscapes that we do and that we experience every season to its fullest potential. Not many other places can claim that. I truly believe that we have unique stories to tell here in New Brunswick and it’s important to me that my films reflect that.
When you tell people you are making an otherworldly period piece of a seaside fishing village that’s going to require putting bodies in the Atlantic ocean, a strange look crosses their face followed by the quintessential question: how much is that going to cost? There was no doubt that this would be an expensive venture and it never would have been possible without the endorsement and financial support of artsnb and the New Brunswick Filmmakers’ Co-operative. We are also indebted to Jeff McCarthy, who gave us full access to shoot at the King’s Landing Historical Settlement, and the people of St. Martins, who helped us immensely in finding shooting locations and accommodations for the cast and crew.
The Creation C grant from artsnb and Short Film Venture grant from the NB Film Co-op not only gave us the financial means to bring the film to life, but also the opportunity to sign on a larger cast and crew than we had previously worked with. This experience fostered a number of new creative collaborations, many of which we wish to continue developing in the future. artsnb also granted The Beautifully Drowned a Career Development grant to attend the Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival. Attending this festival gave me the opportunity to network with other filmmakers, festival organizers, industry specialists, and distributors. The film was awarded Best Short Film and Best Cinematography at the event and it was a special moment to accept these awards in person. Lastly, artsnb has also granted my next short film, titled The Wonderful Future, a Creation B grant. My film career owes a lot to artsnb and the NB Film Co-op, and I am forever grateful for their support. I can only hope that my films make them proud.
Jon Dewar is a filmmaker from Fredericton, New Brunswick. He graduated with a BA and BEd from the University of New Brunswick, and has been working in the film industry since 2011. His latest film, The Beautifully Drowned was officially complete in October of 2016. Since then, it has screened at a number of festivals in North America and picked up a few awards and nominations along the way. At the Silver Wave Film Festival the film won Best Short Film, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and the Audience Choice Award and was nominated for Best Art Direction and Best Editing. At the Tampa Bay Underground Film Festival the film received Best Short Film and Best Cinematography and was nominated for Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Director, and Best Screenplay. The film screened at the Short Sweet Film Festival in Cleveland, Ohio and received an Honorable Mention in Best Fiction. As of April 2017, the film has also been accepted into the Monadnock International Film Festival in Keene, New Hampshire, the Beverly Hills Film Festival in California, and the Emerge Film Festival of Maine where it is nominated for Best Short Film. The film was funded by the artsnb Creation C grant and the New Brunswick Filmmakers’ Co-operative Short Film Venture grant.