Lessons learned for young local filmmaker

Melissa Hiebert talks about brining Torn to the screen

Melissa Hiebert (centre) on the set of her first feature-length movie. Courtesy Melissa Hiebert

Melissa Hiebert is barely out of her teens and she has already written, directed and filmed most of her first feature film.

Torn is a semi-autobiographical film about a young girl, Rachel, whose pursuit of what Hiebert refers to as “aesthetic perfection” eventually leads her through a self-destructive path of tears and turmoil.

Rachel’s character starts to recognize the superficial lies she has constructed for herself, and begins fighting an internal battle between who her dead mother wanted her to be and the person that her new boyfriend, Noah, loves.

Hiebert said she has been unsatisfied with many of the love stories in current mainstream features and believes Torn reflects a more genuine kind of love story about forgiveness.

Originally an actress, Hiebert’s endeavour into writing and directing manifested itself as another outlet for her artistic expression.

“As an artist, I believe you have to do more than one thing. If I was only acting, I would be a mental hack right now,” said Hiebert, who filmed the movie in two weeks this past summer.

As her first feature film, she’s invested in every aspect of its creation. Torn stars Jaymee Fuczek (as Rachel) and Michael Strickland (as Noah), both local theatre students, whom Hiebert directed through two months of rehearsals before filming to build their onscreen chemistry.

As an artist, I believe you have to do more than one thing. If I was only acting, I would be a mental hack right now.

Melissa Hiebert, actress and filmmaker

Hiebert’s film is character driven, but the protagonist’s “fall from grace” was the essential plot line that never changed throughout the ongoing writing process.

Initially, Rachel’s character was based on Hiebert’s personality, but rehearsals revealed that what worked in her head didn’t necessarily translate to film with the same effect.

“For the first 16 drafts, the character of Rachel was introverted, like myself, but it wasn’t fun to watch,” Hiebert said. “I decided to make Rachel more quirky, weird, outgoing. She ended up being a hybrid between myself and Jaymee, which is more fun and interesting to watch.”

Another obstacle Hiebert needed to hurdle was the inevitable censorship of political correctness.

Trying to keep dialogue about racism and religion realistic while being politically correct can be like trying to describe elephants without saying the word “big.” Because the film deals with controversial issues it was important to Hiebert that the dialogue maintain the authenticity of the film without being offensive.

Although the development of the film ended up being a very collaborative process between the director and her principal actors, Hiebert sometimes felt as though the film was literally being torn from her grasp when others tried to make changes to her script or to the characters.

“I had to pull the reigns as much as I could,” she admitted. “I wasn’t comfortable having another person in charge with me.”

Torn is scheduled to be released July 29, 2011 (venue TBD). Visit windycityprod.blogspot.com for more details.

Published in Volume 65, Number 11 of The Uniter (November 11, 2010)

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