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High schooled 

Steven Yaffee, star of Michael Melski's Growing Op, plays the isolated teenager of parents who secretly own a grow house.

"I've read a lot of things, talked to some people at the Atlantic Film Festival who were saying, 'What is it? Is it a comedy? Is it a drama?'" says Steven Yaffee, star of Halifax filmmaker Michael Melski's Growing Op. "I don't think it can be put into one category. I just think what it really is, is an entertaining movie that just has every aspect of a good movie---first love, comedic bits, tricks up its sleeve, but then at the heart of the whole movie is this story."

That story finds Yaffee's teenaged character, Quinn, in the middle of a situation about to hit its breaking point: He's spent his life being home-schooled by his parents (Rosanna Arquette and Wallace Langham), who keep uprooting him so as to keep their grow house business operating. When a new family---and its attractive daughter Crystal, played by Rachel Blanchard---moves in across the street, Quinn decides he wants a taste of "normal" life: He wants to go to high school. It's a mash-up of styles including Hughesian coming-of-age, family drama, stoner humour, romance and a mercifully brief detour into grossout comedy.

For Yaffee, 22, the biggest challenge with Quinn was "just letting myself be very vulnerable to everything he's going through," he says over the phone from his native Toronto. "When he goes to high school and gets into those situations, he actually puts himself into the most vulnerable situation he's ever been in. He has no idea how cruel high school or teenagers are."

Quinn's first few days in public school are typically rocky---compounded by the lie he's told Crystal that he hasn't been to school in awhile because he contracted bird flu---he's surprised to find himself doing well academically, making friends and holding onto the eye of the girl next door.

"One of the biggest things on my mind was throughout his whole journey, where things start to come into play and he gets confident---being around Crystal, you've got the prettiest girl in school who starts befriending him---when he starts getting accepted from other people, and for some of the wrong reasons, one of the things we wanted to focus on was while this confidence was coming into play," says Yaffee, "was how at the same time he wasn't 100 percent comfortable with it."

The actor got a lot of help from Melski, making his feature directorial debut after years in the theatre, short film and Canadian television trenches. "He knew all the characters inside out, but especially this one," says Yaffee of Melski, who also wrote the script.

"Whenever I had trouble understanding him, I would never get into a hole and then try to dig out myself, I would just go over and talk to Michael...I got into Moncton four days before we went to camera and started shooting, and he and I went out to dinner the second night and we started talking and both knew we were gonna click. We were on the same page about the script, the characters, arcs, everything that's going on in the movie. We just sat there and talked for three, four hours."

Yaffee bonded with Arquette and Langham off the New Brunswick set. "We would all have family dinners together, in Tracadie especially, just us together in these little cottages," he says. "We would just hang out."

For a movie whose title is a play on words and uses a grow house as one of its main sets, there's little in Growing Op about the politics surrounding marijuana use and it doesn't come down on the side of either for or against usage. Quinn's parents are never shown selling what they grow---though Quinn's sister Hope (Katie Boland) has got that locked down---and they're against public high school as a system of conformity, not because they're whacked-out hippies (although: a little bit) or keeping him out in case they have to run.

Yaffee digs that aspect. "It's what it's built around, it's not being preached, not being shown as something to do or not to do," he says. "I don't think the movie's about marijuana at all. It's their business---it would be the same thing as if they owned a grocery store. Well, maybe not a grocery store."

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