Daisies chain

Kate Watson visits the Halifax set of Chaz Thorne’s funeral home comedy, Pushing Up Daisies, the Poor Boy’s Game writer’s directorial debut.

Funeral director Chaz Thorne on the set of his movie Pushing up Daisies.
photo Chris Reardon

There is a crowd gathered on the side of Herring Cove Road, watching open-mouthed as smoke billows out of a soot-stained, green-roofed building. A fire engine is idling in the parking lot and several police officers are conferring officiously beside it. It looks as if the set of local writer/producer/director Chaz Thorne’s feature film Pushing Up Daisies has just gone up in flames.A loss like this could spell disaster for the $3 million indie comedy.

Slowly the truth dawns.A closer look at the police officers reveals that one bears a suspiciously close resemblance to local actor Nigel Bennett. Sure enough, the cameras are rolling. The movie is safe.

Pushing up Daisies is the story of a young man who inherits a funeral home in the fictional town of Elder’s Bluff, Nova Scotia, only to find that the business is dying—because none of the townspeople are. He and a pretty young embalmer decide to take matters into their own hands, leaving a trail of suspicious deaths behind them. Today’s burning building is all that’s left of the Whynacht Funeral Home, apparently destroyed by upset characters in what one crew member described as an “awesome explosion,” filmed the night before.

Around the craft table, a group of people huddle together, laughing and shivering in the November chill. It’s surprising to see the film’s two stars, Montreal-based Jay Baruchel (Million Dollar Baby and the soon-to-be- released Fanboys) and Australian-born Rose Byrne (Troy, Marie Antoinette), waiting patiently in the cold for their next take. Why aren’t they warming themselves in some luxurious trailer?

“This is Canada, baby!” Baruchel exclaims.

Byrne says she was won over by the script. “It’s a very good story. Really good. Great characters. Good dialogue. Really one of the best things I’d read all year.”

For Baruchel it was partly about being able to work in his beloved homeland. “I have a maple leaf tattooed over my heart,” he says with a goofy grin. “So, to be able to do this is unbelievably huge. It means a heck of a lot for me to be able to contribute to English-Canadian cinema.”

Both actors seem tickled to be working with Thorne.

“The pace is awesome,” says Baruchel. “It’s very quick. He clearly knows what he wants to do. He wrote the bloody thing! Having the writer-director be one and the same is always better.

“He’s lovely. He went to theatre school, so he’s very understanding of actors’ eccentricities. It’s fun working with Chaz.”

Thorne is equally as excited to be bringing his script to life.

“Feature films, which are what I’m really interested in, really are a director’s medium,” he says. “When you also write your own stories, you just want to be able to tell the story the way you conceived it the whole way through.”

That said, Thorne clearly takes a collaborative approach to filmmaking. “I’ve tried to surround myself with people who are much smarter than I am in their area of expertise, and to not be intimidated by that. For instance, I have a director of photography that obviously knows way more about cameras and lighting than I do. I have actors that know way more about their particular parts than I do and a film editor that knows way more about cutting film than I do. I don’t believe, to be blunt, in the arrogance of that whole ‘film by’ thing. The director’s job is to be sure everyone is pulling in the same direction.”

If all goes according to schedule—including a breakneck 24 days of shooting—it seems possible that Pushing Up Daisies will be sharing the screen at the 2007 Atlantic Film Festival with another feature film written by Thorne, with Clement Virgo—Poor Boy’s Game, which wrapped here in June and stars Danny Glover.

Back on the set, the camera stops rolling. The temperature dips even lower as the sun disappears behind the clouds, but there are no complaints from this crowd—just the impression of people pulling together under a talented young director to make a movie that they believe in.

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