Deanne Foley is the latest filmmaker to have Telefilm Canada wondering what’s in the water in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Foley, a St. John’s native now based in Halifax, just wrapped up shooting her first full-length feature film, “Beatdown,” in which Telefilm is the major investor, in St. John’s with Pope Productions.
“I don’t know what it is about this province that it produces so many talented female filmmakers,” said Telefilm’s Gord Whittaker, naming “Crackie” writer/director Sherry White and Adrianna Maggs, whose “Grown-Up Movie Star” was screened at the Sundance Film Festival, as other examples.
“I think Deanne is a young, rising talent in the film industry, and she’s a good writer. This is an interesting progression of watching her grow.”
Foley moved to Halifax during the Atlantic Film Festival in 1998, with the goal of working in the business. Her quirky first short film, 2000’s “Trombone Trouble,” about a young girl who tries desperately to get rid of her trombone after being forced to take lessons, was screened at film festivals across the country and aired on CBC TV and The Comedy Network.
Foley has worked as a field producer for “Street Cents” and a producer for “ZeD,” both on CBC, and has worked on a number of films for friends, including producing the short drama
“This Boy,” which earned the Best Canadian Female Short award at Toronto’s Inside Out Festival. She created and directed the lifestyle documentary series “Going the Distance,” about couple in long-distance relationships, for Global Television, and wrote and directed “Boys on the Fringe,” an hour-long documentary which followed a Montreal hip-hop duo hoping to make it off-Broadway with a play.
Foley was also a field director for a season of Showcase Television’s “KINK,” and a guest director on the W Network’s Gemini-nominated show “A Guy and a Girl.”
In 2009, Foley co-wrote and directed the award-winning short film, “The Magnificent Molly McBride,” starring Andy Jones and Julia Kennedy.
“I feel like all those projects help me define what I really wanted to do,” Foley told The Telegram.
“I think it’s really about storytelling — whether you’re working in dram or documentaries, for me, it’s all about how to tell a story. Even now, working on my first feature, my approach is I want to tell a simple, well-told story that will really emotionally engage an audience. If people laugh, too, that’s great, but I really feel like I want people to connect; that when they sit down to watch one of my films, they’ll be brought to another place and it’ll make them think.”
Foley wrote “Beatdown” with Iain McLeod about circuit wrestling; the main character a young female.
“Iain was telling me about all these crazy experiences he was having watching wrestling in Pictou County, Nova Scotia. He was describing all these awesome wrestlers with names like Lincoln Steen and all these stories of crazy fans; of people losing it at matches. I just thought that was hilarious, and such a fascinating world.”
“Beatdown” tells the story of 18-year-old Fran (played by “Republic of Doyle’s” Marthe Bernard), who wants more than anything to become a professional wrestler. Her overprotective single father Whitey (played by Robb Wells of “Trailer Park Boys”) is a former pro who’s dead-set against Fran taking up the sport. Fran, determined, runs away to join Whitey’s former rival Dark Thunder (Tony Nappo) on tour, and her devastated father tries to get her back. Other cast members include Bernard’s real-life father, Andy Jones, and her “Doyle” co-star, Mark O’Brien.
Wells came on board with the project after reading the script and asking to play Whitey.
“It’s a very character-driven comedy and I’m a big fan of comedies, obviously,” Wells, who plays Ricky on “Trailer Park Boys,” said.
“The whole father-daughter relationship thing appealed to me; I really enjoyed the character and I really wanted the chance to do something different than Ricky, especially, and some other characters I’ve done. All the underlying themes fit around the wrestling and it really works well together.
“One of my concerns with the film was that the wrestling would not look authentic. They assured me it would and when I realized they were going to use real wrestlers for a lot of it, it changed my decision completely. I’ve seen it and it looks fantastic.”
Foley says she didn’t know much about wrestling at the time she wrote the script, and none of the cast members had wrestling experience. Bernard, Nappo and O’Brien trained with professional wrestlers in Toronto, some of whom make appearances in the film, while preparing for their roles, and Foley and Pope went on tour with the local Legend City Wrestling last spring.
“I used to box when I was a kid, but that was about 25 years and 80 pounds ago,” said Nappo, laughing. “We did a little bit of training and I couldn’t move for about three days afterwards.”
“Making sure the wrestling was authentic was a little out of my comfort zone and I just wanted to make it right. I wanted to satisfy the most die-hard wrestling fan, but you can enjoy the film if you’re not a fan,” Foley said.
“Ultimately you tell the story, but the wrestling is authentic. Finding that balance was very important.”
When it came to casting the role of Fran, more than 300 hopeful actresses from across the country applied. Bernard was who Foley had in mind to play the role, right from the beginning.
“She’s perfect for this role, and I’m really excited that she’s able to be a part of my film. I feel really blessed with the cast that I have,” she said.
Foley’s looking forward to having the film edited and ready for the fall, after which Whittaker reckons it’ll make the festival circuit before having a broadcast release.
“It’s one of those scripts that stood above the rest, and we’re trying to shepherd it and support it the best way we can,” he said.
“If Deanne delivers what is on those pages, I think we’re in for another winner from Newfoundland.”