Leave that phone alone

Mariel Sharp and Kaye Adelaide on low-budget filmmaking, crystals and Don’t Text Back

by Jennie Kermode

Naomi Silver-Vezina and Kaye Adelaide preparing to shoot Don't Text Back
Naomi Silver-Vezina and Kaye Adelaide preparing to shoot Don't Text Back Photo: Jeremy Sandor

There’s always a lot of excitement about the features screening at the Fantasia International Film Festival, but that doesn’t mean that one should overlook the shorts. Part of the underground section, Don’t Text Back is a wee gem of a film looking at what happens when a young woman finds herself in trouble after receiving a magical gift and visits an alternative healer to look for help. It’s directed by Mariel Sharp and Kaye Adelaide, a young couple with big ambitions and energy to spare. We got in touch just before the festival to chat about how it came together.

“We created the film together. It’s our first collaboration as co-writers, director and producer,” says Mariel “I started my own company last year as a producer, True Sweetheart Films, which is specifically for genre films including and for women and gender minority people.”

Kaye Adelaide and Mariel Sharp
Kaye Adelaide and Mariel Sharp Photo: Kaye Adelaide

“We’d both done several films in different capacities before,” adds Kaye. “I have a background in special effects and I did the special effects for the film, and Mariel’s done more producing and I’ve done more writing”

This is the first time they’ve directed a film together outside film school, they explain, though each of them has made three or four short films before.

“We were trying to come up with a film that we could produce extremely independently on a shoestring budget,” says Kaye. “We were applying for a lot of grants and getting some money for development but not really getting much production funding, so we wanted to try to do something that we knew we could do self-funded. Our goal was to come up with a story that could work with two actors, one location, and shoot it all in our apartment. That was what we ended up doing and it was possible because we have this great network of women and queer creators who were able to rally behind us and lend their talents to our project. We were really happy with what we were able to make happen with very little money...”

“...but a lot of talent,” adds Mariel. “And our whole crew were women and queer people, so that was awesome.”

The film lays its cards on the table early on as the woman looking for help is shocked by the sight of an apartment full of crystals. Was an irreverent bit of humour within Mariel and Kaye’s own community?

They both laugh. “I don’t know,” says Mariel. “We spend a lot of time in Montreal but there is a element of that culture here.”

“They’re into astrology and reiki healing and crystals and all kinds of New Age methodologies for balancing energy and these sorts of things,” says Kaye..” We like talking about horoscopes and that kind of thing but then there are elements of it that we can find a little bit funny”

The man behind the mischief
The man behind the mischief Photo: True Sweetheart Productions

Still, it seems a reasonable place to turn when struggling with a supernatural problem.

“Yeah,” says Kaye. “We figure that if you try to imagine in your life that you were stuck with something so impossible to deal with, you might want to go to somewhere where people do things that already seem impossible, like making magic happen with stones.”

The budgetary restrictions facing the film meant that they had to turn to trading groups to source all the crystals in the film, Mariel explains.

“W’d just trade someone like a bottle of kombucha to borrow all of their magical stones. We got tons of response, s we sent our production manager round to pick up all these crystals from people’s apartments. We just borrowed them and gave them back after...”

“...so we had to worry about all the lighting and camera gear that we had to return and all the crystals that we had to return as well,” says Kaye, laughing.

One of the things that’s appealing about the film is that’s ultimately very open and warm-hearted, and it never seems to take sides.

The Don't Text Back team: Fiona Cully, Mariel Sharp, Kaye Adelaide and Vjosana Shkurti
The Don't Text Back team: Fiona Cully, Mariel Sharp, Kaye Adelaide and Vjosana Shkurti Photo: Jeremy Sandor

“Absolutely,” Mariel says. “We wanted both characters to be humorous in their own ways. We certainly didn’t want to be means and say like one or the other is mad or ridiculous. Everyone has their own quirks and there was something very fun about having these two opposite type of people – one who’s a lot more straightforward about things and one who’s esoteric, and we wanted to treat each one with...”

“...some respect, and not be mean-spirited,” Kaye concludes. “We didn’t want people who are into crystals and stuff to watch the movie and say ‘Hey, they’re making fun of me!’ We wanted it to be fun for all...”

“...and accessible,” says Mariel.

As we talk, they’re sitting in the living room where the film was shot. How did they manage to create the sense of movement and space that we see in the film within a space like that. Mariel says that it helped that they didn’t have a great deal of equipment.

“Yeah,” agrees Kaye. “We had very, very few lights. “We had a couple for the daytime stuff and we did use a lot of natural light from a large window. It also helped that we were trying not to do anything complicated like dolly shots or anything, or have any big set-ups. We had two cameras over the shoulder and then we just crouched in different corners trying not to get each other in the shot. I think we built a lot of sense of movement also through the editing. We had multiple angles on every shot. It sort of feels like...”

First impressions
First impressions Photo: True Sweetheart Productions

“More dynamic,” says Mariel.”

“Yeah. Their small movements around the space feel larger because we have the option to cut around from all angles.”

So how do they feel about the film being selected by Fantasia?

“We’re delighted!” Mariel says.

“So excited,” adds Kaye.

“I’m a huge Fantasia fan,” Mariel continues. “It’s a huge honour.”

They’re hoping that it will serve as a calling card for them in the industry.

“We both have, individually and together, more shorts and features in the works,” says Kaye, “so we’re both hoping that this will show people what we’re about.

“I’m working on a feature called Transvengeance about a transgender woman who is pushed to the margins of society and brought near death and sees herself as having died and been reborn, and in her new life she decides to take vengeance on all the people who wronged her and led to her downfall and demise, so it’s kind of your classic revenge film that has been done many times, but from the trans perspective and examining the ways that society can be difficult to navigate for transgender people.”

Talking it over
Talking it over Photo: True Sweetheart Productions

“I’m working with Kaye as a creative producer on Transvengeance,” says Mariel, “and then on my own side I’m also finishing up writing a short. It’s a family drama about an unstable mother who fabricates a haunting in order to force closeness between herself and her children.”

As for Don’t Text Back, it’s been accepted into a few other festivals, including Out For Blood. They’re primarily targeting queer and feminist festivals, and some additional genre festivals.

“It’s been really exciting with all of the virtual festivals happening,” says Mariel. “All the festivals deciding to go virtual, it’s been interesting to see that happen and we’re kind of excited to see how it goes.”

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