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Edwin Boyd: bank robber, war veteran, family man

Alumni's feature film hits the big screen

Nathan Morlando and Allison Black on the set of their film Edwin Boyd Citizen Gangster (Photo courtesy of eOne Films)

Edwin Boyd Citizen Gangster, the first feature film of alumni Nathan Morlando (BA 1992 VIC) and Allison Black (HBA 1998 NEW –Cinema Studies) received The Skyy Vodka Award for Best Canadian First Feature Film at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival and opens across North America later this month.

On May 10, Morlando, the film’s director and screenwriter, and producer Black will host a screening of the film at Innis College. (View the trailer here.) The duo, who together founded euclid 431pictures, have several features in development in both the US and Canada including the political thriller The Lion's Share, detective thriller The Devil is Black, and romantic comedy Walking Gun.

They shared some thoughts on the joys of film with Innis College’s Karen Papazian.

Tell us a bit about this film.

Allison Black:  Edwin Boyd: Citizen Gangster is a true story about a family man and war vet who turned into one of the most audacious, notorious bank robbers in history. His need to support his family, coupled with his unfulfilled dream to be a movie star spurred him to find a solution by robbing banks "Hollywood-style..."   Nathan knew Eddie Boyd personally, he met Doreen and we've both had the honour and pleasure of getting to know their daughter Carolyn.

What were your most memorable moments pre-production or on set?

Allison Black: In pre-production:  the final drive from Toronto production office up to the set in Sault Ste Marie which would be home for the next 6 or so weeks.  It meant it was all really happening.

On set... The first take of the very first shot ... after years of struggling to make a film, it was an incredibly moving moment for Nathan and I.  And watching the emotion and life being created in front of the camera... it is such a special experience - of knowing a take was honest, that it captured something real and universal. I think that's maybe the addiction of making movies. Something honest and magic happens when the camera turns on...  and when so many people are working together towards the same end.

Nathan Morlando: There are no singular moments. The entire experience was truly remarkable. What I love most about film making is the collective focus. It is very powerful.

Edwin Boyd Movie PosterHow did you go from studying at U of T to actually making your own film?

Allison Black: In the spring of my fourth year, filmmaker Ron Mann was creating an Alliance Atlantis archive to be a special donation to the University of Toronto and was looking for, essentially, a "PM" (production manager) to organize and coordinate everything.  I got the job, which ended up turning into a full time position at Alliance (the archive turned out to be very big) and I was given access to every department, from Development, to Production to Business Affairs, to Marketing, etc.

I thought what they did in Development was something special - I loved the idea that one could actually get paid to nurture stories from a kernel of an idea, to deeply analyze the psychology of characters and to turn them into "real" and complex people on screen.

I went on to work as a freelance script analyst and story editor for Alliance Atlantis and other producers including Robert Lantos (the former CEO of Alliance who had now created his boutique production company Serendipity Point Films). This soon turned into an opportunity to join Serendipity as their Director of Development, where I was responsible for sourcing potential new projects and working on projects including Being Julia, The Statement, Fugitive Pieces, and Barney's Version.

At the same time, I wrote a short film that was produced and worked very closely with Nathan on the scripts he was working on for other producers.

Nathan and I knew we wanted to create our own production entity for our own projects and after the success of his debut short film as a director, we transitioned to Los Angeles where he was now represented at a major agency. Everything seemed to look kind of easy for a minute. Then, the reality of being independent hit - and we learned just how hard it is to get a movie made and that it is a tough, tough, tough business.

It took many years of close calls and near 'greenlights' (while struggling to stay sane amidst the many disappointments) until finally Edwin Boyd came to fruition. And it didn't come easy -- but the challenges that arose were so much easier to deal with than the 'not knowing' if we would ever have the chance to get a shot.
On our first day of shooting we looked at each other in amazement -- It's really happening?! I can tell you that I welled up. Neither of us had any idea that it would take so long to make a film, to "achieve" this crazy dream of making a film. They say "it's not the destination, it's the journey..." Oh boy, is that ever true.

Nathan Morlando: When I graduated from UofT I moved to rural Japan for two years to teach at a Junior High School. I read a lot of poetry in my spare time and was deeply inspired by the landscape. It was in Japan that I made the commitment to write for a visual medium. Filmmaking embraces the minimalism of poetry and the language of painting.  When I returned to Canada I enrolled in a philosophy graduate program to deepen my studies in Existentialism. I believed this would enhance my understanding of human nature.

It was also a way to postpone facing the blank page.

I took the leap in my second year of study and wrote a film treatment that generated interest in both Canada and the US. Writing the screenplay however proved more difficult. And writing a good screenplay would take more than the three months it took to write the first draft.

I learned through experience that 'writing is rewriting' and that rewriting sculpts one's craft. Two years later I sold a script to a prominent Canadian company and I thought I was a 'lucky writer' because it only took two years and I avoided the extensive hardship of poverty and struggle like so many writers that inspired me had endured in their life. I was so grateful because I feared poverty and struggle. I feared that pain.

That was more than 12 years ago. And it took all that time to make this film. Feeling 'lucky' didn't last long because I had to go through that struggle that I read about and feared going through. But it was worth it. When you make the commitment the universe conspires with you… you just don't know how long it's going to take.

Can you share some memorable moments from your time at U of T?

Nathan Morlando: There are many. And I'm very grateful for that. But generally, I found peaceful and protective refuge in the many beautiful libraries and halls of the University. There is a palpable atmosphere of a thriving and collective veneration of ideas. There are Truth Seekers everywhere and our Professors led the way. The University is a very special place. I dare say ' sacred'.

Allison Black: Being pushed to work and think harder in Bart Testa's classes... and the collective groans that we would share in the cafe before and after class. Those are good memories that still make me laugh. Hmm... And I second Nathan's answer above. Gee, he articulated that really well. 

What are you looking forward to most with this return to campus to screen your film?

Allison Black: It's such an honour and kind of amazing -- I never thought I'd be in Town Hall bringing one of my films to this screen. I didn't know that I would become a producer at that time -- so this is a really beautiful experience.

Nathan Morlando: Sharing the film and my experience. And delighting in the honour.

Which professors, classmates or guest speakers really inspired you?

Allison Black: Bart Testa, Bart Testa, Bart Testa. Guest Lecturer Dr. Deborah Levine (Psychoanalysis in cinema), Guest Lecturer Geoff Pevere (Film Criticism - he brought in Atom Egoyan to share his reviews scrapbook.... great stuff), fellow student and now TIFF Programmer, Andrea Picard.

Nathan Morlando:  Professor Donald Evans and Professor R Z Friedman. They taught the importance of questions that explore the meaning of life. I think storytelling is an exploration of those questions.

Any advice for today’s cinema studies students?

Allison Black: Focus on what you're passionate about -- even if you can't see how it's going to come together "career-wise" aka "pay off"...

Nathan Morlando: Follow your heart. And be patient.

Next steps for you?

Both: We are currently in early prep on a drama to be shot in South Africa and Kenya this fall.  It's an international co-production.