Film adaptations of books are dime-a-dozen. What isn’t seen very often are adaptations from stage to screen. With Eadweard, Vancouver filmmakers Kyle Rideout and Josh Epstein have taken a stage play from Vancouver’s Electric Company Theatre and spun it into a feature-length film.
Playing as part of the spotlight on British Columbia films at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival, Eadweard is based on the 2006 Electric Company Theatre production of Studies in Motion: The Hauntings of Eadweard Muybridge.
“We were both actors in the Electric Company play,” says Rideout who directed and co-wrote the screenplay with Epstein. “We toured across Canada, jumping, dancing, and getting naked on stage, and every time we did it we thought it would make a great movie.”
“There were so many great elements in the play that captured this historical figure and we wanted to use that,” he continues. “Kevin Kerr is such a great writer and to be able to adapt a play into a screenplay was a little less daunting.”
The first full-length film from the duo’s Motion 58 studio, Eadweard not only recounts Muybridge’s pioneering work to catalogue the movements of animals and humans, the film also delves into his personal life.
“It was that mix of his photographic work and his personal life that makes his story so interesting,” says Epstein.
Indeed, controversy seemed to swirl around Muybridge not only because of his provocative images that captured men and women in the nude performing every day tasks, but he was also the last person in the United States to be found not guilty by reason of justifiable homicide in the murder of his wife’s lover.
With filming underway just eighteen months after optioning the play, Eadweard was shot in just 24 days around the Vancouver area, which seemed entirely appropriate given Muybridge had visited and photographed the area during his lifetime. Without the use of crowd-funding, Epstein and Rideout financed the movie through friends and family, but took a very business-like approach to getting the film made. That, and seed money from their first film venture together, a 2010 comedy short called Hop The Twig.
“We never really wanted to do the crowd funding thing,” says Epstein. “We used the $30,000 prize that we received from the CBC for Hop The Twig and equity from people that were familiar with us and believed in the project.”
No doubt helping with the funding was in landing Canadian actor Michael Eklund in the title role.
“Kyle and I sat down one night and we watched all these demos of these great Canadian actors,” says Epstein. “[Michael] blew us away how far he went into a character and his commitment to a part and a certain edginess that we appreciated. He was the guy he wanted.”
As these things go in Hollywood North though, they found themselves waiting to see if Eklund would take the part.
“The story we heard later was that his agent read the script, and because Michael gets lots of scripts to read his agent said to put ours at the top of the pile,” says Epstein.
Agreeing to grow a beard for the role limited Eklund for other work, something that Epstein and Rideout are grateful for, but it was in the nude scenes that could have caused the most problems for the production.
“Michael didn’t have a problem getting nude in front of the camera,” says Rideout. Nor did apparently any of the other actors that became Muybridge’s subjects in the film, who clambered to be part of the project.
“The nudity was very clear in the script and done in such an artful way that we didn’t encounter any issues finding actors,” says Epstein. “There were all of these brave local actors that wanted to be in this period piece and we ended up with over 1,100 submissions for the roles.”
It also helped that both Epstein and Rideout had performed in the stage version.
“Having done the nude stuff in front of a live audience we understood what it meant, so we did everything in our power to make it easy and comfortable for the actors,” says Epstein.
Buoyed by the success of Eadweard, including festival screenings around the world, five Leo Awards, and audience choice awards at the Maui and Nashville film festivals, the duo are off and running on their next projects including two new feature films, and a project with the National Screen Institute.
But they first come full circle with the Canadian premiere of Eadweard in their hometown at this year’s Vancouver International Film Festival.
Eadweard plays as part of the BC Spotlight series at the 2015 Vancouver International Film Festival on October 2 & 5. Visit http://viff.org for tickets and information.