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From The Producer's Notebook: Not just "another" film

Our writer/director Paco Arango is committed to making films that both entertain and can be a force for good in the world. 

Many years ago Paco created a Spain-based charitable organizarion called the Fundacion Aladina (http://www.aladina.org/eng/index.php) to help children fight cancer. With proceeds from his debut film, MAKTUB he was able to build one of Europe’s most advanced bone-marrow transfer centres, the Maktub Center at Madrid’s Niño Jesús Hospital.

Paco also sits on the Board of Directors of the Serious Fun Children’s Network, founded more than two decades ago by legendary actor Paul Newman to provide seriously ill kids with a chance to simply be children. The organization comprises a growing global community of independently managed and financed camps and programs that help children and families “reach beyond illness to discover joy, confidence and a new world of possibilities – always free of charge.”

When it came time to decide how to earmark proceeds from THE HEALER, Paco didn't hesitate, and we're proud to announce that THE HEALER has earmarked a large portion of its proceeds to benefit the Serious Fun Children’s Network. We are very much looking forward to set visits from Paul's daughter Clea Newman and Bob Forrester, CEO and President of Newman's Own.

Paco and I are thrilled to be able to do this, and we notice that the initiative is also having a positive effect on both our cast and crew who are that much more energized by the thought that we're not just making "another" film, but one that will help kids around the world have fun outside of the movie theatre!

Paco and I – along with our Director of Photography, Javier Aguirresarobe – recently attended a gala event for the charity in Los Angeles, where I learned vividly throughout the evening how the intense pursuit to solve a child’s medical problem can often rob them of their childhood, as much as the illness itself.

The gala was held at The Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, where the Academy Awards are held every year. The place was packed despite being large enough to hold 3,400 people. And boy, did they put on a show. Carole King sang, as did Natalie Cole. Danny DeVito was there, along with Renée Zellweger, Annette Bening and Angelica Houston, amongst other celebrities. But the real stars of the evening were the 20 or so kids from the camps who also performed. All were wonderful; some were truly amazing.  At one point the kids joined Burt Bacharach and together sang his legendary “Raindrop Keeps Falling On My Head.” I can’t remember how many standing ovations there were throughout the evening. It was magical.

A similar event was recently held in New York. I'm sorry I missed that as I might have been reunited with Tom Hanks with whom I started my career serving as his coffee boy on a film!

The event in LA was a wonderful reminder that making films is a privilege. That making them with people you personally like is a joy, and that doing so to benefit a cause that matters is sheer perfection.

What more could we possibly ask for?

If you feel so inclined, you can donate to the Serious Fun Children’s Network here: seriousfunnetwork.org/donate

From The Producer's Notebook - Dispatch 2: Casting Our Leading Lady

We're in Los Angeles, standing in the Lobby of the Peninsula Hotel waiting to meet the woman that Paco imagined when he wrote the script for The Healer. When he and I first discussed actress types to play the leading role of Cecilia, we knew we needed someone who would do a lot more than draw the attention of our male lead (Oliver Jackson-Cohen) by virtue of her beauty. He's a hunk himself, and plays a character who has no problem with the ladies. So Cecilia has to have that special something that sets her apart. The role also calls for an actress to project intelligence, strength and independence. Her character has a very specific purpose that won't be revealed to the protagonist or the audience until the end, so her performance must be subtle and layered.  

We also wanted to entice an actress who would be known to audiences around the world, preferably someone popular on a TV show. Though many TV series are on hiatus during the summer, actors on the more successful shows are highly sought after and have very limited availability.

It was late February, and with growing unease I realized we needed to start moving fast if we were to start shooting in June. I was getting desperate and thought we might need a casting director to help. Little did I know I had one at home. 

One evening my 14 year-old daughter, Natalie asked me how we were doing with the film and I told her about the challenges of casting the role. Being an obsessive Grey's Anatomy fan who's seen every episode of the last 11 seasons, it took her all of a nano second to come up with what to her was the obvious choice. "I know exactly who you need," she said, as she walked over to my computer and Googled Camilla Luddington.

Nat was right. Camilla would be perfect. And as we would learn shortly thereafter, she liked the script, and she'd squeeze us into her crazy schedule. I made a mental note; when it comes to casting, always consult your kids. 

Paco, Camilla and Ricky

 

And that's how we found ourselves waiting in the lobby of the Peninsula, anxious to meet our Cecilia. The lunch had been coordinated weeks earlier with her agents. There's always a moment of tentativeness before you meet a celebrity. Will the person be nice? Friendly? Generous? Or Standoffish and conceited?

At 2pm, as agreed, she arrives. Radiant and beautiful. She walks confidently towards us, smiles and gives us each a warm hug, immediately setting the tone. For the next 90 minutes we ate and spoke about life, about the script, about Canada, about Dogs (her rescue dog Gus, Paco's Border Collie, Batman who starts in the film and my Black Lab, Sandy.) Paco and she exchanged views about the story and her character, seeking a shared understanding of how to accomplish the intense work that lies ahead.

Good movies can be made by people who don't get along well. But something special happens when the work is shared by people who are generous and enjoy each other's company. Actors and their director who feel that way create something intangible that a camera can capture, something that breathes life into a film in a way that cannot be expressed in a script. It's a magical ingredient that makes a film wonderful, and makes the process fun for the whole crew.

After our lunch, as we watched Camilla drive off, Paco and I turned to each other and smiled. She's going to be great!

The night before, Paco invited me and our director of Photography, Javier Aguirresarobe to attend a gala event for Serious Fun Camps founded by Paul Newman. Paco is on the board of this amazing charitable organization. SeriousFun Children’s Network, as it’s name suggests is all about providing kids who suffer from serious medical conditions with all of what may be necessary for them to take their fun seriously away from hospitals, in a camp setting, regardless of what may ail them. As we learned throughout the evening, often the intense pursuit to solve a child's medical problem robs the children of their childhood as much as the condition itself.

In the same way that the proceeds from Paco’s debut film, “Maktub” were used to build one of Europe’s most advanced medula transplant centers, a large portion of the proceeds from “The Healer” will benefit Paul Newman’s organization.

The Gala was held at The Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard, where the Academy Awards are held every year. The place was packed despite being large enough to hold 3,400 people. And boy, did they put on a show. Carole King sang as did Natalie Cole. Danny DeVito was there as was Renee Zelwegger, Annette Bening and Angelica Houston amongst others. But the real stars of the evening were the twenty or so kids from the camps who also performed. All were wonderful; some were truly amazing.  At one point the kids joined Burt Bacharach and together sang his legendary “Raindrop Keeps Falling On My Head.” I can’t remember how many standing ovations there were thought the evening.

 

This last week I am reminded that making films is a privilege. That making them with people you like is a joy, and that doing so to benefit a cause that matters is sheer perfection. What more could we possibly ask for?

If you feel so inclined, you can help to SeriousFun Children’s Network by going here: https://www.seriousfunnetwork.org/donate

From the producer's notebook - dispatch 1:

It's been a great first week of prep! We arrived last Sunday to Halifax; Paco (Writer/Director/Producer) Batman (his dog) Ricky (Producer) Begoña (Director's Assistant) Miguel Angel (Post-Prod Supervisor) and Lorena (Friend). The snow that made this past winter the worst in Halifax in 60 years is all but gone, and we seem to have brought the sunny Madrid weather with us. We went out on a quick supermarket shopping spree and then settled into our homes away from home for the next few months.

The next morning we arrived at our production offices which was still being set up. Nothing is more energizing than the excitement of a team moving into new offices for the start of work on a film. Linda Ambury (Line Producer) and effective ringleader, is without a doubt the homemaker in the bunch. While the production offices are pretty nondescript, hers is without a doubt already the warmest and most welcoming; complete with a picture of her beautiful great-grandmother when she was a young lady, and this flyer which wisely advices anyone entering her office:

 

After a few basic introductions, Jason Shipley (1st Assistant Director) and Linda packed us off into vehicles and off we went to scout this beautiful city and its surroundings. This first week has been all about finding and locking the locations where we will shoot. Paco and I had already been to Halifax, to hunt for the perfect filmmaking spots (Paco in fact 3 times.)  However this time around, time is of the essence, and decisions need to be made. So we move around urgently together with members of the various departments: locations, transportation, direction, art department, camera and production - each weighing in on the pro's and cons of each candidate location. The challenge is mind-boggling when you take into consideration all the factors that have to combine to make for a perfect location. Not only does it have to work for the script, the location must be available, gettable within budget, controllable for traffic and neighbors, oriented against the sun in just the right way for the director of photography, logistically viable for the assistant director, suitable for the large convoy of trucks that make up a production unit, and workable for the art department to dress or build. Indeed, Shaun Clarke (Location Manager) and Andrew McInnes (co-Locations Manager) are unsung heroes who deserve far greater recognition than they get for the incredible work they do.

To their credit, much of the initial work to select locations is now behind us, which is not to say of course that the locations department's work is over. Far from it. Now they have to secure these locations - and hold them. Not an easy task. You never want to be the location manager that found a location that enamored the director, that worked for everyone else and which then suddenly becomes unavailable!

It's impossible to capture the level of activity that surrounds us now that we're 27 days away from the start of production. Four days into the start of prep, and the crew contact sheet already has 42 names on it. I'll do my best on these dispatches to explain why each of these people is so necessary and what it is they do. 

I do have one final thought for now. It never ceases to amaze me how well oiled a film crew can be, even when that crew has never worked together before. I can't think of any other type of work environment where a large crew can assemble instantly and be at work without orientation and without missing a beat. I think part of it has to do with the timeless tradition of apprenticeship that exists in film. Filmmaking is still very much a craft, and where there is craft there are masters and there are apprentices. The difference between them, it is said, is that masters have already made all the mistakes that apprentices have yet to make.

The crew of The Healer has its share of masters. Javier Aguirresarobe our director of photography is undoubtedly one of them. Whether he's shooting one of the Twilight films, or a film for Woody Allen, Javier is already showing Paco and I (and the others no doubt) what makes a great director of photography - great. And we also have our share of apprentices who I hope will fondly remember their time on THE HEALER as one of the films early in their careers on which they made a few mistakes and thus learned their craft. Andre Pettigrew (Trainee Production Coordinator) Ryan Kamperman (Assistant Production Coordinator) Heather Harvey (3rd Assistant Director) Johanna Shurko (Assistant Background Casting Director) Alex Mayer (Production Assistant) Natalie Posner (Production Assistant) and Laura Posner (Actress and Production Assistant) Kaitlyn Bernard (Actress) WELCOME!

You remind me of my own early experiences - one in particular as a coffee boy for Tom Hanks! I would happily trade my own Producer position for yours anytime. But I must have your youth as well...

Enrique Posner (Producer)