16mm Colour film, 23:03 min.
Synopsis: Colin Payne gets more then he bargained for when The Grim Reaper shows up at his door demanding to know why he won’t die.
After I graduated from college I began to work in the film industry. First as an office production assistant, then as a “heat wrangler” (I was in charge of propane heaters to keep the cast, extras and crew warm during winter night shoots on the 1994 Rae Dawn Chong vehicle Boulevard) and eventually I settled in as an assistant director. I took these jobs with the understanding that I was only doing it until I’d saved enough money to make a film of my own. In 1996 that moment had come.
The core premise of the film sprang from my personal experience with chronic health problems. I was diagnosed with ulcerative colitis when I was 12 years old. At the age of 22 I had an operation to hopefully correct the disease but which has proven to have unpleasant complications of its own. The surgery had occurred a few years earlier and I was dwelling on it when I had the idea for Reasons To Live. I began the outline for the film on April 16, 1996 while living in a rental apartment on Lauder Avenue near Oakwood and St. Clair in Toronto with my roommate Christophe Quillévéré (if you’ve read earlier entries you might recognize him as the actor from The Impostor. Christophe also made it into this film as the the Elvis like figure, Hervig Prufrock of whom Colin is a fan). A couple with a young daughter lived above us and the plot started to form as I lay in bed staring at the ceiling hearing the family make a ruckus. There was a lot of clomping going on and I thought, “What the hell is she wearing… tap shoes!?”
The heading in my notebook says “Death and the Colitis Sufferer“, I think it’s safe to say that I eventually settle on a somewhat more accessible title. This early version included considerably more personal anecdotes about living with colitis and included a girlfriend for Colin named Sue. Eventually my writing partner, Rob MacKinnon, and I streamlined it down to the the version that we finally shot.
I determined that for this film I was going to need actors who had some experience and not rely on the uncertain abilities of friends and acquaintances. I sent the script and character descriptions to a service that specialized in distributing this information to agents and soon received a package of head-shots of actors who might fit the bill and would be willing to work for free. We set up a casting room and spent a day auditioning.
While casting Colin, Rob and I had seen a few people who we thought might be able to do the job but nobody that seemed truly right for the part. Then Matt Watts walked in and we knew as soon as he finished his audition that we’d found the perfect Colin. In truth he wasn’t anything like I’d pictured the character but when he said “I’m trying to get through my list…” in his dry, earnest mumbling, my perception of the character transformed and I saw so many opportunities for humour to arise simply from Matt being Matt.
Similarly, before the imposing trench coat clad figure of Bill Baker walked into the audition room I had pictured “Death” as a tall spindly, skeletal figure. A picture of Boyd Banks had come in the headshot package and I thought “Now that guy looks like death!” but it turned out he wasn’t available. Fortunately Bill, like Matt, brought something to the character that I hadn’t imagined before and I was excited by the possibilities.
Fortune must have been on our side because that same day we found our mom and dad actors and a set of twins to play the doomed little girl.
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