“It’s the 80’s once again”
A John Hughes-Style High-School Comedy
In this hilarious coming-of-age tale, ‘80’s new wave angst and gender-bending fashion are all the rage, but new kid at school Chance Marquis (Tad Hilgenbrinck) is trying to find new ways to be original. It makes him the target of the school bully. To deal with this dilemma, Chance turns to the opposite ends of the high school spectrum for help.
With the help of a flamboyant drag queen and the varsity jock (Brett Chuckerman) Chance overcomes the daily classroom showdowns and develops unique friendships that show him how to be the young man he was born to be!
Chock-full of the comic conventions of the high school genre – the idiot faculty, the good-hearted but delusional parents, the fairy tale reversal of popularity – The Curiosity of Chance is a frothy bit of nostalgic ‘80’s inspired filmmaking, but at its core its a story that will also touch your heart, as Chance battles bigotry to make high school a diverse utopia.
ABOUT THE SCREENPLAY/CONCEPT
As a script alone, The Curiosity of Chance started as an experiment to accomplish several things: create a teen-comedy unique in it's voice, but still familiar in themes; to pay my own respect to some of the great teen films I grew up loving and which influenced me; and lastly to put a young gay character front and center, without the issue of sexuality being what everything hangs on. (yet still keep in integral to the story.) The Curiosity of Chance could on one hand be defined as a coming-out story, but not in the expected turmoil-and-angst-filled way one might expect. In that regard, Chance (the character) is already "out" - the issue of his sexuality a foregone conclusion from the start of the film- which makes his "coming-out" odyssey more about finding himself, and his true voice. Chance's struggle - like so many teenages' - is one of finding acceptance at a time when you're figuring out who you really are; even if that person is eildly different than anyone else around you. For Chance, he has the added burden of being and "out" gay teenager in a world that isn't all that accepting, while discovering and trying to find footing in a world that is.
The opportunity to take this project from script to screen was a chance to try -- in a single film -- some of the things I've always loved about cinema. Creating and writing teen characters has always been fun for me and let's face it, high school is a microcosm of life. Being able to re-create a high-school experience with a wisdom and perspective that didn't exist when I was living it, is akin to writing an autobiography that I wish I'd lived. And we'd all love to re-write parts of our own histories once in a while. Adding in a musical element -- both in soundtrack songs and on-screen performances -- was another challenge I'd always wanted to tackle. Setting the film in the 80s, and at an international high school were the most autobiographical parts of the story -- maybe something to personalize it a bit more for myself and to create a more pointed love-letter to the classic teen-comedies of that decade (thank you John Hughes). But beyond that, the story and characters are creations from my imagination, all combining in an attempt to capture an emotion, a moment, and ultimately a truth about navigating the turbulent teen years.
Having worked in the entertainment world for a while now, I fully expected a long haul before ever cobbling the money together to make this film -- a script I felt strongly about directing myself. But a funny thing happened on the way to Making-An-Indie-Film-Frustrationville (yes, that's a real place): the greenlight and money came together at an alarming speed that took me by surprise. And in this case I don't think it was due to any perceived 'genius' in the writing or my 'take' on how I would direct it, but moreso like everything in Hollywood, I happened to be at the right place, at the right time, with the right project. (And know the right people.)
So thanks to the willingness of executive producers Michael Gleissner and Kacy Andrews to take a chance on this story (and me as a director), I teamed up with my friend, and fearless producer, Lisa Schahet -- to make the film a reality with a scant 6 weeks for pre-production. That would include practically round-the-clock casting sessions in LA to find our two leads (which included a 'Chance' who could actually sing), plus more casting (for just about every other role) in Belgium, only 4 weeks before we had to start shooting. But what at many times was the most stress-inducing part of the production , turned out to be the most satisfying. I love the cast that came together to make this film -- and loved every day of being on set and working with them. From the greenest-of-the-green to our most seasoned vet, everyone put forward an amazing amount of effort and talent, and took this little story to another level I could barely have imagined only a month before we started filming. I could write a story on every single one of them, each with a unique history and personal style. But as I look at the finished film today, the greatest compliment I can extend to any of them is that I can't possibly imagine any other actor playing their particular part. They found a way to own it; taking what was on the page (and in my head), and making it better, sharper, funnier and more emotional.
The look of what I wanted the film to be was equally as important as the cast and I quickly realized the script I had written was ambitious for the budget we had. But I decided to be stubborn about trying to achieve it (instead of scaling back), and thankfully never once did our collaborators back away from the challenge. Instead, they not only rose to it but surpassed it. And so all in thanks to our dept. heads: D.P. Jack Messitt, Production Designer Kurt Rigolle, Costume Designer Lorette Meus, Hair & Make-up Stylist Frank Wolleghem, editor Mark Rees, (and their respective 'crews') and our music wizards (Cathy Duncan, Christopher Henry, Joey Peters and Willie Aron), what they ultimately accomplished in creating the 'look and feel' of this film -- on the budget we had -- was nothing short of astonishing.
Despite its period nostalgia, I endeavored for the final film to resonate in a way that feels timeless. So that whether you're a teenager living through high-school hell right now, just stepped out of it, or you're a 10, 20 or even 30-year reunion removed from your graduation, you'll find things in this story and these characters that are relatable. It was never my intent to shy away from Chance's sexuality, far from it. But I did ask myself: was there a way to make a teen-comedy that could appeal to an audience -- gay and straight, male and female, young and older -- and be enjoyed by all on a level that transcends sexuality? My hope is that no matter your age, ethnicity, sexual orientation -- whatever -- that this is a story and characters that entertain you. If everyone seeing The Curiosity of Chance exits the theater with no more than a comment along the lines of: "That was a fun and entertaining way to spend 90 minutes", I'll feel as if I've done my job as a filmmaker. If they take away more from it than that, then all the better.
ABOUT THE PRODUCTION
On the surface The Curiosity of Chance is like a throwback to the classic teen comedies of the 80's, only it couldn't have been made then, mainly because the lead character is an openly gay teenager. But writer/director Russell P. Marleau's vision is far more universal. Indeed, his goal - and challenge - in writing the script was to create a story that focuses on an "out and proud" sixteen-year-old who remains relatable to viewers of all ages and sexual identities. It appears Marleau succeeded.
"Obviously the lead character is gay, but I think the important thing is it's not about a gay kid," says lead actor Tad Hilgenbrinck. "Chance could have been any sort of minority...anything that makes you feel somewhat different. It's that story we all go through - the feeling that you don't fit in, no matter who you are." As soon as he read Marleau's deeply resonant script, Hilgenbrinck knew he had to go after the role of Chance Marquis. "I read a lot of scripts that were being passed around, and when I saw this script, it was so intelligent. The way Russ takes every stereotype and strips it down...I really couldn't pass up the opportunity to do it."
Marleau's strong script is what drew many of the cast and crew to the project. The opportunity to tell a unique and thoughtful high-school story in the fun, exaggerated trappings of a stereotypical 80's film was irresistible. Maxim Maes, who plays bully Brad Harden, loved the depth of the story. "In a sense you could say it's a stereotypical movie, but ... it's actually there to break through those patterns." "The dialogue is really smart and honest, and the story is relevant to a lot of people," adds Brett Chukerman, Chance's hunky crush, Levi Sparks. Veteran actor Chris Mulkey was attracted to the project because of the father/son relationship between his character Sir and Chance. "[Sir is] a little like my dad ... he was in the military and sent me to military school. I didn't have the same struggle [as Chance] of course, but the struggle of identity is always there."
With such a strong script, Chance had the unusual experience of coming together rapidly. "We had an incredibly quick ramp-up," says producer Lisa Schahet. "We were green-lit the second week of June; by the first week of July we were in Belgium beginning pre-production, and we started shooting mid-August." Once green lit, Marleau's first hurdle was finding a young actor who could handle his lead character. "I always thought [Chance] would be a hard part to cast. He's pretty unique. Tad...came in towards the end of the audition process and had this specific take on the character... and after that first audition I knew this guy was the one to play Chance." Hilgenbrinck was game, and quickly got a reputation as someone willing to do anything for the film. "Tad arrived in the perfect frame of mind for me as a director," Marleau adds. "From the minute we started rehearsals it was clear he was fearless about this role, and ready to do anything for it. He came with a ton of ideas, and an attitude that he would go to the edge if I asked him. Tad was so collaborative in all the right ways - and so talented. There were layers to what he could do and create that I never expected. When I saw that, I only got more excited about him and what the film could be.
Because the film shot in Belgium, another challenge was finding local cast. "There were some language issues," notes Schahet. "English wasn't their first language, but we were able to communicate using a combination of English, Flemish and French. We all understood filmmaking and the story that Russ wanted to tell. So, ultimately we were able to bridge any cultural or language gaps that we might have had."
Still, the Belgian cast could relate to Marleau's characters. "It's fun to play someone who is 17," says Pieter Van Nieuwenhuyze, who plays Chance's geeky friend Hank Hudson, "to go back to that time in your life." "I found that I was similar to Twyla, though I'm nicer," admits lead actress Aldevina da Silva. The Belgian actors rose admirably to the challenge, but throw in hundreds of non-English-speaking extras and a team of famous European drag queens appearing on film for the first time, and you're bound to run into a few problems. As Schahet explains, "there are many challenges for a low budget film to begin with...but to take an American director, producer and director of photography to Belgium, where they've never filmed before, was almost foolhardy. But we met some terrific people and had a great local cast and crew, and put together something we're really proud of."
One of the greater challenges was Marleau's decision to set the film in the 1980's - an homage to the inspiration of John Hughes. "I always approached this project influenced by John Hughes' films, plus there was the fact that I went to high school in the 80's. I also wanted to use some specific music from that period so I made the decision to set it in that decade." This meant the production team had to capture the specific, quirky nature of the 1980's without going over the top, not to mention the young cast, most of whom were not old enough to remember the decade. "I only had, like, 7 years in the 80's," notes Van Nieuwenhuyze. "It seems like a fun time to have lived in, with all the strange clothes and stuff. But I really love the music, even now."
In the end, cast and crew, American and European, came together under the inspiration of first-time Director Marleau. Lead actor Chukerman notes, "Russ does an amazing job of letting the actors find their own story, their own version of the character. For someone who has such a sharp tongue on paper, he's really a very gentle guy." Schahet relished the opportunity to work with a director who had worked in other capacities on film sets. "Working with Russ was a great experience. He is incredibly astute, smart and creative. As a writer/director who thinks like a producer, he's incredibly aware of financial constraints and issues that come up in filming any movie. He's produced before, so he has the ability to understand what it takes to put a film together." Marleau certainly had no complaints about the decision to shoot him first film overseas. " There were absolutely no compromises in shooting this in Belgium, not with the commitment and talent of the cast or crew."
And so The Curiosity of Chance survived the challenges of a tight schedule, a small budget, a multi-lingual cast and crew, and the relative inexperience of many of its participants. The result is a charming coming-of-age film that touches a nerve with all of us who ever experienced high school. Now safe on the other side of the process, Marleau looks at his finished product with satisfaction. "We captured the film I wanted to make - the humor, the characters, the music, the clothes and the way the story played out."
Tad Hilgenbrink (Chance Marquis)
Brett Chukerman (Levi Sparks)
Aldevina Da Silva (Twyla Tiller)
Pieter Van Nieuwenhuyze (Hank Hudson)
Chris Mulkey (Sir)
Maxim Maes (Brad Harden)
Director/Writer: Russell P. Marleau
Producer: Lisa Schahet
Executive Producers: Michael Gleissner, Kacy Andrews
Line Producer: Bart Eycken
Director of Photography: Jack Messitt
Editor: Mark Rees
Art Direction: Chris Lievens
Production Designer: Kurt Rigolle
Costume Designer: Lorette Meus
Music Supervisor: Cathy Duncan
Composers: Willie Aron, Josef Peters
Casting: Joe Adams, Leen Verhelst