Elsa Morena on monsters, fertilizer, and working in St. John’s film industry

    Posted on: Monday, April 30th, 2012

Writer and director Elsa Morena just finished shooting her latest short film, Winners, which she – appropriately – wrote and directed. She made the film through NIFCO’s Picture Start program, which guides selected writer-director-producer teams through the filmmaking process and gives emerging filmmakers and producers a leg up on their careers.

I caught up with her to talk about Winners, monster dating, and uppity Vancouver fertilizer.

You had a short film in the Women’s Film Festival last year.
Yep, it was in the Women’s and the Nickel, it was called Watching Emily.

Was that your first film?
It was the first I did that had a story. I’ve done music videos, and things to put up on YouTube, but this was my first script that I wrote and directed myself.

What music videos did you make?
I made one for the Idlers.

What did you do for YouTube?
I did this sort of comedy sketch with my writing partner, Amy Doherty. We did a parody of that 80s dating video montage and instead of awful, weird, quirky people, there were monsters. It’s called Monster Date and it’s about monsters trying to get a date. We did it while we were at the Vancouver Film School and they loved it so much that they put their name on it and used it a promotional video like, ‘Look at what our students can do!’

Was there a monster in the video that you would have dated?
Probably the elf. He’s weird and interesting.

So, Winners. You guys shot that over St. Patrick’s Day?
We did. It was really risky because we didn’t know whether it would be summer or winter.

You had that crazy ice rain storm, too.
Yeah, we had that mini ice storm on the first day! Everyone was all, ‘I don’t think we can do this,’ but then we all remembered that everyone on the crew has shot in worse weather than that.

What is Winners about?
It’s about two best friends that are really competitive and they find out that they have to… well, you know at school, when you sell chocolate to raise money for the school? Well they’re selling fertilizer. And they find out that the principal is conning them and they have wind up having to figure out whether they want to keep selling and keep competing with each other, or just stop and save the friendship. It’s a battle between winning the prize or saving your friendship. And in the end, there’s a big old fertilizer fight.

Why did you pick fertilizer as the thing they’re selling?
Because I thought it was the most ridiculous thing to sell, especially in a city. Ironically, when I gave the script to my friends to edit, it was when I was in school in Vancouver, and some of them said, ‘We had to sell to fertilzer!’ But of course, I was in Vancouver and everybody’s into that, pro-green was the way of life out there.

Sorry to get off track here, but when did you graduate from the Vancouver Film School?
A year and a half ago.

So, overall, how was the Winners shoot?
The biggest challenge with Winners was that we had children in our film, so we could only have eight-hour shooting days. So every minute was precious. Because of that, it really made me have to prepare a lot in advance. I prep all the time anyway, I’m organized in that way, but you have to prepare yourself to be able to cut your shoot list and be able to just let some things go.

We were lucky, too, because our crew was a mix of poeple who have been in the industry for a while and new people. We had a really young crew and we were able to give responsibilities to people who had never been in that position before. But that meant that they were extra passionate and really driven to prove themselves and make it work on a really tight schedule.

How old were the kids you were wrangling?
They were between 9 and 14. Percy White plays Max, and he is just an amazingly talented little kid. His mother is Sherry White and his father is Joel Hynes so the talent is in the blood, but I was so impressed with him. He was jumping off the walls but the minute the camera started rolling he was so focused, it was amazing to see such talent.

You’re also a writer at Best Boy Entertainment, right?
I’m a writer for two of their shows: Mickey’s Farm and a docu-drama series called Pet ER. I’ve been working there for a little over a year.

So you’re living the dream, employed in the industry to you want to work in.
I’m doing the job that I always wanted to do, yeah. I’m 27 years old and I can say that I have a career job right now. I’m glad that I moved back to St. John’s. I don’t think that I would have been able to get so far ahead so quickly in the industry if I hadn’t have come back here. And I personally think that in St. John’s, women in the film industry are well respected. It feels a lot different here than from Montreal and Vancouver where I lived before, where it’s still kind of a novelty for women to be in the industry. But because of the Women’s Film Festival here, back in the day if you wanted a film to get into a festival, that was the only festival. So you had to get a woman on board and that meant that women were part of the creative process. And I really think that because of that, it’s easier over here for a woman to break into the industry.

I started here as a boom microphone operator. I went to NIFCO and I banged on the door and said, ‘I wanna learn sound.’ It was something that I just never knew anything about in film, and I wanted to know everything about the industry. So I did that, and I worked my way up. When I moved to Vancouver, I started getting gigs as a boom op and I had so many people out there saying, ‘Oh my God, a female boom op?! A woman in sound?!’ But over here, it’s nothing. Over here, there are lots of women in different parts of the film industry.

If you could go back and tell your younger self anything, or give yourself some advice, what would you say?
I’d probably go back and say, ‘You don’t have to drink that much, I mean really.’ [laughs] But no, I have to say, I’m in a pretty good position right now and I think I’m really lucky to be where I am right now. I know a lot of talented people out there that are still struggling to break in, but I’m really lucky to be in this position and I recognize that, so I try to give back. I’ve had a lot of people who have mentored me throughout my career, so I try to mentor people as well. I volunteer and I ask people to give me their scripts and I’ll give them notes — anything I can do to pay back the community.

What sorts of mentoring things to do you?
I did the 24 hour film challenge for high school students with the Women’s Film Fest and I also toured with the Nickel to schools in the province and did some workshops on how to make a film with high school students.

I wish back when I was in high schol that there was someone like me that came in and talked to me! I had no idea about the film world except for what I saw in the movies. You don’t learn about it in school, it’s something you find out later in life when you’re in college or university, so I’m really glad that I ended up doing those workshops.

Maybe you’ll wind up mentoring them through Picture Start! How did you find your Picture Start experience?
You submit a script with a director and producer team, and then they choose the teams. My producer was Patrick Condon (pictured left), we’ve worked together on a lot of things, so they chose us. Then you’re given a budget and you have mentors that guide you through the process. You have to at least have done the First Time Filmmakers program which I had done to make Watching Emily the year before. But yeah, they really are great at mentoring you through the process, and you get access to a lot of people who have been in the industry before, and I think that was actually the most helpful part of it: having someone sit you down and tell you the realities of the film world.

Is there anything else that you’d like to add?
I am actually the only female that got chosen in the Picture Start program this year. Last year, there were three woman but they were all producers. This year I‘m the only one, and it’s a creative position, as writer/director.

Not bad!
Not bad at all!

Pictures from the Winners shoot were taken by Susan Morrissey Wyse. Elsa’s headshot taken by Herb Gibbons III.

Static #2 – DJ Detox at Nova Yoga

    Posted on: Wednesday, April 25th, 2012

Welcome to the second episode of Signal’s (still-new) streaming audio show, Static, featuring Melanie Caines and Krystle Hayden. They joined me to discuss their ongoing music and yoga collaboration, DJ Detox at Nova Yoga.

Thanks to Melanie and Krystle for their time, and thanks as well to Krystle for selecting and arranging the music for this episode – a taste of what’s to come at the DJ Detox yoga class at Nova Yoga Thursday, April 26th at 6pm!

Taste testing QV’s new seasonal: The British IPA

    Posted on: Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

First off, a caveat: I don’t really drink that much beer. Err, I mean, I’m certainly not an expert on brewing or tasting beer and wouldn’t want to upset any of our beautiful beer experts out there. So, to put it out front and in the open – no, I did not go to Beer University nor did I taste the beer and spit it out into a bucket (like you see on TV and in the movies).

I totally drank it.

So, armed with a dozen of Quidi Vidi’s latest seasonal, the British India Pale Ale, otherwise known as IPA, and joined by a group of friends, my mission was clear. But before the drinking could begin, I decided to check out Quidi Vidi Brewery’s website to see what I had gotten myself into. There I learned that the QV IPA took Gold at Chicago’s World Beer Championships, and that Tastings.com describes it like this:

“Beautiful deep amber color. Savory grainy bread, dusty root vegetable, and Swiss chard aromas and flavors with a crisp, frothy medium body and a nicely astringent, honeyed citrus and minerally, leafy hop finish. A very nice food beer that really nails the British IPA hop profile. 90 Points [Exceptional].”

Whoa, that’s a pretty great review. But, how does it taste out here in the real world? I decided to put the IPA to the test, literally taste testing on the move!

First up – the standard Road Pop. The what, you ask? A walking Road Pop is the beer that an enthusiastic and free spirited young lad or lass would grab to drink for the five minute walk from the house party to the bar show. The Road Pop is a bit risqué considering that drinking in public is a no-no around these parts, but maybe that’s what makes the Road Pop so darn delicious. We hit the streets, walking a staggering pace and I cracked the first beer… ssst. Nice and cold, compliments of my oddly small Kenmore fridge. The beer was quite smooth, and a little creamy… and has that really cool “tastes like pennies” after taste, which gives it a “HELLL-O” kick.

Was it the wind blowing in my new boy-band coif, the salt water in the air of downtown St. John’s? Or, was this beer really showing me the love? I passed it around to my companions, and they agreed… good and tasty.

The following day, a Sunday, we hit the woods. Half dazed, our small crew headed out along the trail near Topsail Beach with the Quidi Vidi IPA packed away nice and safe. We climbed small sets of beaten up stairs, threw ourselves over boulders, got completely weirded out by the creepy shaped trees and numerous “fairy” holes dotting the trail before descending down to the beach to make a fire. A brilliant idea popped up – chill our beers in the icy cold Atlantic water before swinging er’ back! Perfect.

It was a beautiful spring and SUNNY day, a light breeze was blowing if any. We watched the waves crash in and out on our brown bottles secured to the rocks, licking our lips with anticipation. Finally, when sufficient time had passed, “Let’s go” I said. Ssst, ssst… ssst. Chug, chug, chug… it was the most delicious thing we had ever tasted! Refreshing, woodsy and edgy. A perfect addition to our trip… someone yelled, “this ain’t no amateur’s beer – it’s got a bold bite to it!”

Satisfied, we kicked sand (ok, rocks) over our fire and began to walk northwest back along the beach.


For our final destination, we decided to do the tourist thing and drive the 20-odd kilometres out to Cape Spear. With our designated driver behind the wheel, we hit the road.

When we reached our destination we climbed to the crest of the hill, where the lighthouse sits ever so comfortably on top its sea beaten boulders. There we sat, side by side, looking out over the vast ocean, amazed for a moment by the sight of massive white ice chunks just across the way – floating just outside of the Quidi Vidi Gut.

We listened to the waves and seagulls play their spectacular ocean symphony as it carried over the air. I couldn’t think of a better time to pass out the IPAs… although a little warm with backpack heat, the first gulp went down smooth, clean and delicious. And, who could forget that biting hoppy taste?! It might just be a little bit of Newfoundland in a bottle.

After a few groovy adventures, and twelve empties neatly stacked back into their box – the mission had been accomplished. Quidi Vidi Brewery’s new IPA has proven to impress on the street, on the beach and sitting on a rock at the edge of the world.

I’ll admit, as an infrequent and light beer drinker, it did take several initial sips for me to get adjusted to the bitterness of an IPA. But, after that, I grew to appreciate the strong taste of pine and distinctive earthy aroma that is consistent with each bottle. In short, no matter where we went the IPA tasted great and if anything, reminded us how great it was to enjoy a homemade brew outdoors in the fresh air. Thanks Quidi Vidi, and a job well done!

In case you missed the arts centre meeting…

    Posted on: Tuesday, April 24th, 2012

The forum about the St. John’s multi-purpose arts centre on Thursday was packed! If you missed it, The Scope live-tweeted the proceedings. And if you’d still like to submit your two cents, Taryn Sheppard, an architect with Sheppard Case Architects, the company hired to oversee the demand assessment for the centre, says you haven’t missed your chance.

“People can send email to info@sheppardcase.nf.ca,” she says. “It would be great if they could provide a bit of info about themselves and their role in the arts community just so we can be sure that the feedback is coming from the stakeholder group (i.e. the arts community).”

Remember, this is just an assessment about the existing demand for such a space.

Out for a crawl

    Posted on: Saturday, April 21st, 2012

The Lawnya Vawnya festival is back for a second year, and this time they brought the Inbreds. And Cadence Weapon.

But they also have this wicked little thing called a Music Crawl, wherein a gang of music fans prowl through the sunny, glorious streets of St. John’s to undisclosed locations at which musicians are waiting to greet them with a mini concert. A klezmer band may or may not lead the procession.

Point is, it’s fan-bloody-tastic, and if you missed today’s Music Crawl, there’s another one tomorrow, April the 22nd, that meets at Model Citizens at noon. And you can even bring your kids. If you got ‘em. Otherwise, well, maybe some thick-rimmed glasses and a good-looking hat.

Here’s the Music Crawl line-up for Sunday. And here are some pictures from today’s music crawl.

Outside the Laura Barret show at Afterwords

Beautiousness at Ebb and Flow provided by Richard Laviolette and a very appreciative crowd:

Mo’ Wax: Wax Mannequin at Rocket

Four days in, and Lawnya Vawnya organizer Ariel Sharratt is still sane.