Make a No Budget Movie: Chapter Four

Heroes and Villains
March 10th, 2011

The proper way to make a movie is to start with a screenplay, but this is not necessarily true in no budget filmmaking.  I had a rough story, but there wasn’t much point in writing a detailed script if I didn’t have any actors.  So I started recruiting.
Jonathan Harrison is an employee at a private museum attached to the Halifax Citadel where I work.  Jim Hubley is a retired teacher and a volunteer at that same museum. Both are re-enactors, or living historians, and both were enthusiastic about the premise of my film and interested in contributing. 

Jonathan is in his twenties, but I decided he could pass for younger with his boyish face and carefree demeanor.  Here, I thought, was the naïve young hero from a industrious and educated colonial New England family, someone who was looking for opportunity and a chance to make his way in the world. I gave his character the name Tom Saxon, a big hearted lad who would discover that the realities of war were more than he bargained for.

Jim, on the other hand, is in his fifties, has both Mikmaq and Acadian ancestors, and carries himself with a gentle sincerity. When I looked at him I thought: reluctant Acadian/Mikmaq farmer who has only taken up arms because he has no choice. For him, it’s fight or submit to exile. I named him Joseph LaForest, a symbol for all of those who found themselves in this terrible situation after 1755. But Jim could also play a real individual, a man who does not want to take up arms but does so to keep what is rightfully his, a man who also possesses a great deal of mercy and compassion.

Jonathan and Jim gave me two heroes, one from either side of the conflict. Now I needed a pair of villains. These would be the empire builders who would use whatever means necessary to see that their side prevailed.

For the English side, I had Rob Welch to play Captain John Noble, the Ranger commander. Rangers were light troops specifically trained to fight “Indian” style in the bush using lots of stealth and cover, the forebears of modern special forces like the US Army Rangers. Dozens of such units had been raised for British service in the French and Indian War, and many had fought in Nova Scotia. Rob was keen to play the captain of this fictional company and was perfect for the part, a big square-jawed fellow from New Hampshire with a lifetime of experience re-enacting 18th century American history. He brought a lot to his character, and made him not truly villainous but more of a realist, ruthless and determined,  a man who gradually becomes obsessed with taking down his enemy even when things aren’t going so well for his unit. 

To create my second villain I chose a more specific historical figure, the folk hero Joseph “Beausoleil” Broussard. Though most of the Acadians had been ambivalent toward British rule and had just wanted to be left alone, Broussard  was one of a small number who actively sought to return French dominion to Nova Scotia.  As a partisan leader, he had taken part in numerous attacks on British outposts as early as the 1740s, and had remained active after the 1755 deportation. I wanted a character like him, but fictional so I could decide what happened to him at the end of the movie. I decided to name this character Le Renard (the Fox) as a description of his stealth and cunning.  To play him I had Gabriel Purcell, a big cheerful guy who I hoped would make an interesting villain – a bluff bear-like figure who laughed and joked with you as he prepared to kill you.

My four volunteer actors were all re-enactors, albeit ones I worked with, who brought plenty of props and wardrobe bits with them. Their characters – young Tom Saxon the New Englander, Joseph LaForest the reluctant warrior, Captain John Noble, and Le Renard – formed a core that allowed me to start writing my script.

I knew my opening had to be strong and had to establish the problem that my characters would need to solve. I decided to feature an attack on a detachment of British soldiers by Renard’s band.  After that the necessary scenes lined up one by one like bricks: Tom Saxon on his way to join the Rangers, Tom and Joseph accidently meeting to establish an early connection between them, Noble receiving his orders to go after Renard, Noble addressing his hastily recruited ragtag company. The action would build, with Noble’s Rangers advancing slowly into the deepening wilderness, followed by an ambush scene, then a running fight as Noble pursued Renard, and finally a showdown on a boulder strewn headland above the roaring Atlantic Ocean.

It took me about three evenings to write a satisfying draft of just the historical part of the movie. I didn’t bother to write the modern sequence at this time because I still wasn’t sure what it would be about, and didn’t want my indecision to hold me up with the main part of the film.

The title I gave my screenplay was Ghosts of Bloody Creek.
Next: Shooting Starts