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Poor Boy’s Game caster Wanda Taylor used her community connections to find over 500 background performers for the Halifax-shot film. Carsten Knox joins the crowd.

"People still come up to me and say, "When is it going to play?' So, that's good...I'll get the word out."

Wanda Taylor has just heard that Poor Boy's Game, directed by Clement Virgo and co-written by Chaz Thorne, the toast of this year's Atlantic Film Festival, is opening November 9. A journalism student at the University of King's College interested in documentary filmmaking, she's been a bit busy with school lately so hadn't heard of the local theatrical release, but she's thrilled.

When the drama went to camera last year, Taylor was responsible for the extras casting in the gritty tale of redemption set in the very recognizable working-class communities of Halifax and Dartmouth.

The dramatic crucible of the film involves Donnie Rose (Rossif Sutherland, half-brother of Kiefer, son of Donald), fresh out of prison having done a stint for the vicious beating of a young black man, Charles Carvey (K.C. Collins), that left him disabled. Rose boxes and is challenged to a bout by a champion from the black community, the vengeful and deadly Ossie Paris (Flex Alexander). Charles's mother Ruth (Tonya Lee Williams) and father George (Danny Glover) still take care of their son, but George, for his own reasons, decides to coach Donnie for the fight.

A Dartmouth native herself, Taylor's first job in the industry was as an extra in the CBS TV movie The Elizabeth Smart Story in 2003, which led to more extra work and being a credited day player on locally shot TV movies such as The Riverman, Trudeau II and North/South. She quickly found work as an "extras wrangler," finding background performers to fill crowd scenes. And that led to Poor Boy's Game.

"Because it was such a large black cast, they were looking for someone who had some sort of connection with the black community," Taylor says, and she was hired even though she'd never done anything on this scale.

"People said "Are you absolutely mad? You're never going to find that many black people to fill the roles.' But I knew there were a lot of people in the black community who wanted to do film, but there just wasn't any entry in for them.

"A lot of films that come here aren't looking for black cast and there is a lot of talent out there."

Taylor credits her church, the African United Baptist Association, as a resource which networks the faithful throughout the 48 black communities in Nova Scotia.

"So, like Lucasville, East Preston, Cornwallis, we're all connected through one central system. I started recruiting people there." From her community work she was able to find even more.

"A lot of it was through people I already knew. And we did some open casting calls, myself with and another woman, Tara Doyle. We got a lot of people, black and white, young and old. And we needed everybody."

The climactic scene in Poor Boy's Game was shot at the Olympic Community Centre at Hunter and Cunard, a familiar local space transformed into an overcrowded boxing arena. Watching the film you can practically smell the sweat of the combatants and feel the heat off the crowd. The scenes there were shot over two days, the first requiring Taylor to find 300 background performers, the second 470.

"You'd never think you'd fit that many people in there," she recalls. "But once they were all in you'd think you were in an actual arena."

Taylor was impressed with the class and community spirit of the out-of-town lead actors who made an effort to get out and meet people. "A lot of the cast, like Danny and Tonya Lee and Wes ...actually, it was them who asked to go out and touch base," she says. "It was really great for the community."

Glover made a special effort, visiting a seniors' residence and a number of community centres. "Danny in particular was really touched...when he worked with the extras he wanted to talk, to be a part of the community, so to speak. You know, sometimes a lot of actors will do the job and will go to the dressing rooms or wherever and you'll never see them. He didn't do that."

Poor Boy’s Game opens Friday, November 9.


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