In his diary on the making of the feature film Flower and Garnet, Vancouver actor Callum Keith Rennie looks back on the 25 day shoot, most of which took place in the small B.C. town of Ashcroft.
Callum Keith Rennie's Adventures In Ashcroft
It’s possible that Callum Keith Rennie is Canada’s busiest actor. In the last ten years he has co-starred in the series Due South and My Life As a Dog, appeared in more than a dozen other series and in almost 40 features and movies of the week. In the following diary, he talks about his most recent film, Keith Behrman’s Flower & Garnet, the story of ten year-old boy whose mother died during his birth. Rennie plays the father, Ed, who is forced to reconcile with his son when he withdraws into the countryside. The film also stars Colin Roberts as Garnet and Jane MacGregor as his sister, Flower.
February 2001 John Buchan (the Toronto casting director) sends Liz Hodgson, my manager, the script for Flower & Garnet while I’m working on Slapshot 2. Their money isn’t set, so I’m not in a rush to read it. Liz reads it and loves it. I read part of it and push it aside. What’s a flower and garnet?
May 2001 My manager’s enthusiasm causes me to reconsider and I read the script with fervor. Enjoy. Think I’m too old for Garnet. He’s eight in the script. I think I can play ten if I shave. I’m struck by the structure of the piece. It’s very sophisticated and well crafted. I tell Liz that I’m interested.
July Keith Behrman, the director/writer and I meet in a West End coffee shop. He looks like Jesus. We talk for a long time, but not about the movie. Our conversation has very little to do with him being a director and me being an actor. I drink four cups of coffee and keep my hat on the whole time. My hair has been dyed blonde for my role as a sociopath hair collector in Dice. I figure if I take my hat off, he’ll never believe I can play a father. I tell him I want to be in the film. He says he doesn’t know what is going on. I can’t figure him out. I leave the meeting thinking Keith is an interesting person who is going to make an interesting film.
August “They want to have a meeting with you,” my manager says.
I say, ”What do you mean a meeting?”
“A meeting,” she replies.
Then I start to rant to myself, “Do you mean a meeting or a reading? Am I in LA or Vancouver?”
“A meeting and I’m reading? So it’s an audition. I’ve been in this business forty years [I think this should probably be "for ten years"]. Don’t they know who I think I am? And I’m getting scale?”
September 4 Accidentally, I’m at a party of Lynne Stopkewich’s and run into Flower and Garnet’s producer, Trish Dolman. I feel uncomfortable, then leave with a girl I barely know.
September 11 World crisis creates a desire to work on more life affirming projects.
September 25 I’m scheduled to read for the producer and director. I don’t have enough time to prepare, so I think I’ll fool them with snappy pants and sensible shoes. Beforehand, I’m a bit anxious, so I smoke outside on the stairwell. A guy yells, “I guess this sign about not smoking on the stairwell applies to everyone else in the f***ing world, but you.”
I get a good feeling about the meeting.
We work some of the scenes. Keith directs me and I don’t understand what it is he wants from me. I think to myself, “What would Bruce Greenwood do in a situation like this?”
I leave having no idea if what I did was right or not, or what he did was right or not.
October 1 I fool them with my talent, but conflicts arise as the producer and director try to decide whether to shoot now or in the spring. I get more offers for work.
Costa Rica = warm weather, golf, more money.
Flower & Garnet is being shot in Ashcroft, BC.
Ashcroft = cold weather, no golf, little money, hard work.
Ashcroft. Ashcroft. Ashcroft.
November 4 Get possession of a loft prior to show starting. Note to self – Never buy a place right before a show. Keith tells me, “You can’t really prepare to work on my films.” I say ‘ok’ and go hit a bucket of balls at the driving range. Note to self: Never listen to the director.
November 8 Read-through. Meet Colin Roberts for the first time. He blows his face onto the glass windows of the production office. Seems perfect. Meet Jane MacGregor. She seems perfect as my daughter.
November 12 On the day before production begins, I drive to Ashcroft with my dog, but without a map. I take the Coquihalla; there is a sign the size of a postage stamp that says “Ashcroft.” Check into hotel. The room is very small. The carpet is suspect. I ask myself, “What am I doing here?” Oh yeah, I signed up for this. Note to self: Never touch the carpet.
November 13 I try to put myself in the mood for the funeral scene, but a wind comes up off the lake and blows my soul right out of my body. I spend the rest of the show trying to get it back.
November 14 Seeing as I’ve only had the final schedule three days prior to shooting, I think I’m lucky that I don’t have an emotional scene off the top. Wait, on day two I have to go from laughing to crying in the same scene? In a gravel pit with a gun? Phil Granger plays my best friend, Fred. He makes me laugh. I have to deal with the crying part on my own. I haven’t found a working dialogue with Keith yet, at least that I understand in human terms.
The dog likes the hotel.
November 15 My cel phone doesn’t work.
November 16 The first week moves fast. Very ambitious boat sequence. I keep acting to a minimum whilst trying not to capsize camera into lake. Keith is great with Colin. Not exactly sure what I’m doing yet. Am I doing too much? Am I doing too little? Where is divine intervention when you need it?
November 19 Keith has described his films as “pointillist pieces where it’s all made up of small bits.” That’s what week two is for me. None of my sequences are longer than 3/8 of a page. Still caught in good day, bad day. Some scenes are par, some are bogies. Note to self: Try to be scratch golfer.
November 20 Still haven’t found what I’m looking for. But you can’t always get what you want. I think I need some new CDs. Everyone is very supportive.
November 21 The press machine has started up and they want to talk to me. It’s always distracting to talk to people while you’re working. They interview hockey players after the game.
November 22 My cel phone still doesn’t seem to be working. Keith is directing me like an eight-year old. I think he’s gotten my name confused with Colin. I like it.
November 23 I have paranoid thoughts that everything is a trick to put myself in the mind of Ed. Everyone is a conspirator. I consider therapy.
November 25 Options: Should I spend the weekend in Ashcroft or drive to Vancouver where it’s raining like the clickhammers of hell?
November 28 There seems to be something wrong with my trailer. Either the power is off or the heat isn’t working. Sometimes both. It’s very cold. As far as the film goes, I’m getting into it. Keith demands a certain honesty and reality. Simplicity. I peel my onion.
November 29 Well-oiled machine. I settle and start to have fun. I think Keith is one of the best directors I’ve ever worked with. I think Trish Dolman is one of the best producers I’ve ever worked with. I wonder what she’s going to do about my trailer. I start asking the other actors about their trailers.
November 30 I can’t make art with the fillings rattling out of my head.
Scene 77: We’re supposed to shoot an outdoor birthday party, a barbecue. It’s snowing, but not gently. It’s windy and blowing. We shoot anyhow. The burgers are frozen. The drinks are thick. My hotel is filled with local miscreants. Every Thursday my hotel is turned into the town’s courthouse. The police say hello; they recognize me from the numerous speeding tickets I’ve received.
December 1 I drive home for the weekend with another actor, lose my wallet, and spend the weekend in Vancouver like I’m on welfare.
December 3 My trailer is cold every morning. I consider cutting my dog open and crawling inside to stay warm.
December 4 Padi Mills (also one of the best line producers I’ve worked with) makes the following note in the production report after having shot for two and a half weeks inside a very small house with sub-zero temperatures outside: “CANNIBALISM: Crew dining on each other’s brains. Humour is rampant. Callum is happy.”
December 5 The jigsaw puzzle of the film is starting to come together. Keith trusts me more. Jane MacGregor is a talented young actor. She’s grounded, present and got a good slap. Dov Tiefenbach is insane.
December 6 My wallet shows up at the Shell station in Cache Creek. The cash is still inside. There’s something to be said for small towns.
December 7 The dog bowl is frozen in the trailer. I talk on my cell phone even though it still doesn’t work.
December 10 Great little scenes working with Kristen Thompson. I like being in scenes with her— they’re comfortable.
December 11 My last day in Ashcroft. The final scene is intense. Colin, our child actor is wrapped. I can’t connect with pieces of tape that I am supposed to play off. Certain scenes I can connect with tape, but not this one. So Keith gets into the crib and plays Colin.
December 13 We move back to Vancouver. My cel phone is working again. Everything’s working
December 14 We’re shooting in a hospital. My dog’s at the vet.
December 15 Last day. Flower gives birth. I finally get what Ed is afraid of. At wrap Keith gives flowers to everyone on set. I realize I am jaded and don’t want to be.
Epilogue The film is done. I’m sad. It’s probably the most transformative work I’ve ever done.
The website that used to host this (here) doesn't have it anymore, but Wayback machine still has a copy here.