Under Pressure

Winnipeg filmmaker Sean Garrity returns with the chilling thriller Blood Pressure

Winnipeg writer/director Sean Garrity on the set of his indie thriller, Blood Pressure. Courtesy Sean Garrity

Local writer/director Sean Garrity had a busy few years.

While the latter half of 2011 was spent in post-production on Blood Pressure, his new feature starring longtime collaborator Jonas Chernick (of TV’s Degrassi and The Border), it was also spent shooting and editing My Awkward Sexual Adventure, which also stars Chernick.

“I don’t know what planet I was living on when I thought that I could do that,” Garrity says over the phone from a Toronto Tim Hortons.

“When I returned to planet Earth and realized I was trying to do two movies at the same time, it was like, all of the times that I was doing one, I obviously wasn’t doing the other. Both of them took twice as long.”

Blood Pressure, the story of Nicole (Michelle Giroux), an unfulfilled 41-year-old pharmacist who begins receiving anonymous letters and gifts that lead to a favour, was to be shot in Winnipeg in late 2010.

Garrity, having made such Winnipeg classics as Inertia (2001), Lucid (2005) and Zooey & Adam (2009), was thrown a curveball when his wife’s job transferred her to Toronto.

“I had a casting director on, I had a lawyer drawing up the financial paperwork and had started to work on it,” he says. “While I was (in Toronto) I asked myself, ‘Should I shoot it here and not abandon my wife and child for two months to go back to Winnipeg?’”

The Toronto filmmaking experience was a new one for Garrity.

“I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize how good I had it in Winnipeg until I tried to make a movie in Toronto,” he says. “It’s a more crowded city for starters, tougher to find space. Where do you park your vehicle? Where do you shoot? Where are you going to find a park?”

“By no stretch of the imagination would I ever consider myself a Toronto filmmaker,” he adds with a laugh.

After the microbudget experiment of the shocking and successful Zooey & Adam, a film in which a woman is raped and impregnated on a camping trip with her husband, Garrity opted for a slightly larger budget on Blood Pressure, though nowhere near as close to that of Lucid, which cost in the neighbourhood of $2 million.

The experience on Pressure seems to be where the director is most comfortable living creatively, as it allows him to focus more on working with the actors.

“I have really focused in my recent work on the actor and their journey through the movie and kind of stripping away a lot of the other stuff, like smaller crew, less lights, fewer overhead people and trucks parked out front and all the infrastructure of what a feature film is. I’ve kind of minimized that stuff in order to maximize the focus of the actors and their work.”

My Awkward Sexual Adventure returned to a slightly larger budget, but had less shooting days than Blood Pressure.

“We had 30 days, six days more than I had for Awkward, which had about 20 times the budget,” he says. “This has been a kind of perfect year for me. What I would love in an ideal world would be to be able to make one like Blood Pressure and one like My Awkward Sexual Adventure every year.”

Though Blood Pressure seems to be Garrity’s favourite of the two, it’s Awkward that has been gaining the buzz.

“Most of the press reaction has been, ‘Garrity has this hilarious sex comedy and he put out another film, Blood Pressure,’ but reaction from audiences has been very, very positive,” he says. “Obviously for me there’s a real charge being able to go and show people and talk to them afterwards and hear what they’ve thought about it.”

The thread between the two is the diverse and loveable Chernick, who plays a mystery man in Pressure and a conservative accountant in Awkward.

With the exception of Zooey and a few shorts, Garrity has always gone with Chernick.

“I can only speak for myself, but it is one of my favourite relationships when I get to work with him,” Garrity says. “I just find him really intriguing to watch. I think he gave the best performance of his career (in Blood Pressure). I hope that people will look at his performance (in these two films) and say, ‘Wow, look at the range of this guy.’”

Blood Pressure premieres Friday, Feb. 22 at 7 p.m. at Cinematheque and screens again on Saturday, Feb. 23, Sunday, Feb. 24 and Wednesday, Feb. 27. Sean Garrity will be in attendance at the premiere. Visit www.bloodpressurethemovie.com.

Published in Volume 67, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 21, 2013)

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