Life imitated art
Locally shot caper flick — opening today — was itself the victim of a heist of $250K worth of movie gear
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It is a bitter irony that a movie titled Vandits — a comedy about four would-be thieves taking out a bingo hall on Christmas Eve — would itself be the victim of a heist of some $250,000 worth of movie equipment on the day production was supposed to start last November.
But for better and worse, that’s what happened, and co-writer/director Stu Stone admits: “It was the most anxiety I’ve ever had. It was crazy.”
Stone is speaking on the phone from Florida (in a van, as it happens) driving from Miami to Tampa for his next film project, even as Vandits is preparing to open on screens across Canada on Friday. (It’s playing at Scotiabank Theatre at Polo Park.)
“It’s pretty remarkable that a year later, here we are, with the movie actually coming out, and being the biggest release we’ve ever had,” he says, referring to his professional partnership with producer and co-writer Adam Rodness.
Shot largely in Selkirk, Vandits feels like an amalgam of a host of different movies such as Big Deal on Madonna Street (about a group of thieves with the lowest of aspirations), Run Lola Run (the experimental 1998 thriller had Franka Potente racing to find money to save the life of her lover with several different outcomes presented), and finally Trailer Park Boys, a Canadian cultural milestone in its realm of east coast small-time criminals often undone by their own stupidity.
And yes, TPB’s Robb Wells is in the cast as a Bingo Hall employee and not a thief. For a small-budget film, Vandits boasts an impressive cast, including Jann Arden as a lusty concessions lady, and Enrico Colantoni (Galaxy Quest) as a deluded Bingo numbers-caller. The quartet of thieves include Tony Nappo, Jesse Comacho (late of the much loved local series Less Than Kind), Francesco Antonioni and Winnipeg actress Victoria Turko in an impressive debut.
Stone (who himself plays a weapons-dealing dollar store employee in an elf costume) says it’s a Christmas miracle the film managed to get completed after the theft.
“There were a couple of local companies, gear houses and especially the William F. White (a company specializing in movie/TV gear) donated some stuff and we managed to scrape it together,” Stone recalls.
“It was guerilla-style filmmaking though we never intended to be that way,” he says. “The crew that we had working with us, they didn’t even bat an eye. It was like: alright, the show must go on.”
Stone says the actors, too, rolled with the punches.
“The actors, maybe they didn’t know or maybe they knew, but they didn’t let on,” he says. “The bedroom was on fire but we kept the door shut, so nobody saw.”
“In 23 years of producing in this city, that was the first time I’ve ever had anything like that happen,” says local producer Kyle Bornais, of Farpoint Pictures. “I’ve had theft all over the world in different companies where we’ve filmed, but this is the first time it’s happened in Winnipeg,” he says. “It sucked obviously, but the community came together.”
Stone says he hopes the film will succeed on the strength of its cast, of which Robb Wells may be a secret weapon.
“It was incredible to have him,” says Stone. “Trailer Park Boys has been this huge show for, like, 100 years.
“But when you go out to Winnipeg with Robb Wells, you see how big it is,” Stone says. “It was like walking around with Elvis. Everybody knew who he was, and everybody wanted pictures.”
The film offers a different side to Jann Arden as well.
“We were trying to put together the best possible cast and Jann Arden’s name came up a few times,” Stone says. “And I thought, there’s no way she’s gonna do this. But we sent her the script. And she read it and said: ‘I’m in.’
“I couldn’t believe it when she came down to the set,” Stone says. “The script had dirty words in it, but she invented dirty words. She was working blue, for sure.”
Mostly, the film may ultimately stand as counter-programming to the usual sickly-sweet Christmas movie.
“I make Christmas movies and this is the antithesis of your Hallmark Christmas movie,” says Bornais. “And I enjoyed that.”
“There’s been a few movies where people do bad things on Christmas,” Stone says, citing everything from Bad Santa to Home Alone.
“This is our attempt to be in that space also,” Stone says. “It’s like getting people in the holiday spirit. But they can forget they’re watching a Christmas movie until the ending.”
Vandits is 91 minutes and is rated 14A.
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In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.