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Definite answers
Web-series veterans Hannah Cheesman and Mackenzie Donaldson talk making the film-circuit rounds with their feature debut

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Saturday, November 18, 2017 – Page R4

For six months starting in late 2014, web series Whatever, Linda creators Hannah Cheesman and Mackenzie Donaldson chronicled their careers as young, female producers in the ever-shifting film/TV/ digital landscape for The Globe and Mail. With their first feature film, The Definites, having premiered at the Cucalorus Festival in Wilmington, N.C., this past week, The Globe checked back in with the producing partners over e-mail.

In one of your first columns, you chronicled shooting scenes guerrilla-style at Art Basel in Miami.

Was shooting the rest of The Definites in Toronto as exciting?

Hannah Cheesman: "Exciting" is one way of putting it. I kid. It was such an unusual project, because what we shot in Miami and brought back home with us, we then tore apart upon return to Toronto, rebroke the storyline and rewrote the script.

Mackenzie Donaldson: I would describe the Toronto leg of shooting, which was three separate shoots over 11/2 years, as more exciting than Miami. First, because after Miami, it was beyond pleasurable to be fully prepped and prepared with a fulsome crew and plan to execute in the old-fashioned indie way. And secondly, because of what our amazing crew pulled off including finding missing wardrobe pieces on Bunz (we traded broccoli for a matching American apparel shirt that was missing from Miami) and not just matching winter Toronto for hot Miami but also then spring Toronto for winter Toronto.

What's your elevator pitch of The Definites? (And do people even pitch in elevators any more?) HC: A woman leaves her husbandto-be and instead weds her own wild desire when she flies away to a libidinous, party-filled weekend at Art Basel Miami.

There, she collides with her estranged sister, as they try to navigate and reconcile with the untimely death of their mother.

MD: I don't know if we pitch in elevators any more, but a 30-second pitch is still as important as ever to sell your film. If you don't have someone interested in the first 10 seconds you've probably lost them.

You've already sold the film to Mongrel and TMN in Canada.

How did that come about?

HC: Mackenzie and I both brought two key elements to the table in order to procure this deal. For my part, I'd met one of the heads at Mongrel first at a TIFF karaoke night, then at Cannes. He's a smart business mind with a great eye for film, and when we finally had a cut of the film that we were proud of, I reached out to him.

MD: And I have a great relationship through my work on Orphan Black with executives at Bell Media, so as soon we had a screener I sent it their way to see if it might fit with their channel TMN. It did and they continue to be amazing supporters of the project and of both Hannah and I.

After Cucalorus, The Definites headed to the Key West Film Festival and the Whistler Film Festival - and it's also at the Bahamas International Film Festival in December. Is your life as glamorous as it sounds?

HC: I know it's cliché to bring up the starving-artist trope, but to say my life is any less precarious than that would be a misrepresentation. I wouldn't call that glamorous.

Almost every aspect of the festivals we go to are paid for out of pocket. I joke that filmmaking is an expensive hobby, but there's truth there.

MD: I'm still debating whether or not I will fork out the money to get to BIFF. I really want one of us to represent the film at our international premiere, but like Hannah said, going would be completely out of pocket for us so I have to look at my bank account. The business is an odd combination of glamour and poverty.

Whatever happened to Whatever, Linda - the "internet odyssey" we had a sneak peek of on The Globe's site back in 2014? I thought it was becoming a full series.

HC: Linda has indeed been (and continues to be) an odyssey. We were in development with behemoth Hollywood producer Mark Gordon and had a deal set up with BBC America.

This summer, that fell through. We are still working with Graeme Manson, who is on board to executive produce, and have another pending deal with a new network - but wait for that announcement in early 2018.

MD: Oh, the ups and downs. Linda is our first-born baby and she definitely is in her teens. The project has new momentum after a hard summer, but I've actually never been more excited about the future for Linda.

Can you each update me on some of your individual projects?

HC: The last year has been a really exciting one for me. I wrote for Workin' Moms (season 2), a new kids liveaction show about a time-travelling ballerina called Find Me in Paris and am in the development room for a half-hour comedy project with CBC and Project 10 Productions.

MD: We wrapped the final season of Orphan Black in March, which was like saying goodbye to my extended family of five years. I started my own production company in April and through that company, I'm working on a slate of TV and film projects.

My company is working on its first development deal with a network right now and is producing its first feature documentary, Citizen Bio, for Showtime.

And are you still teaming up to create work together?

HC: Indeed we are! At Cucalorus, we will also be premiering a short we made (me director-writer; Mack producing) called Emmy. It stars Amanda Brugel and we made it together last year. Also, we have a digital show in development with CBC's digital arm, called Did.

Your column for us was often explicitly about working as young women in a male-dominated industry. Have you felt anything shift since we last checked in with you?

HC: If we look at the stats collected by organizations like the Geena Davis Institute, no. But I think there is undeniably a fomenting of awareness and a rallying around the glaring inequities and biases of this industry. The fact that Telefilm has committed gender parity in its project funding could in fact mean real change, real shifts.

MD: There's a lot of buzz around change and equality in the business, especially with the whole Harvey/ Hoffman/Spacey news. And there are new opportunities and funds being designed to help facilitate that equality, so I hope we see real change in the stats in the coming years. Because when you look at those numbers today, it doesn't look good for equality or change, but I have hope.

The interview has been edited and condensed.

Associated Graphic

From left: Writer, co-director and star Hannah Cheesman; co-director and producer Mackenzie Donaldson; producer and actor Sam Coyle; and producer and actor Michael Seater are seen at the Cucalorus Festival in Wilmington, N.C., where their feature film The Definites premiered.


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