The creative process takes many forms.
How one arrives at that process varies uniquely as does the person creating the work or the subject of that work.
Joshua Jamieson, a St. John’s based writer/director/producer has made several short films in his emerging career.
Q&A with St. John’s producer/director/writer Joshua Jamieson
His latest work “Waiting outside …” has received great acclaim at several film festivals and is has been added to a third in Scotland later this month.
The following tells how Jamieson was inspired to create the project and how it went from that vision and message to the screen:
Q: What or who inspired you to pursue this as a project?
A: My day job is doing communications, social media, and event planning for our provincial arts council, ArtsNL, and one of the events ArtsNL does every year is the BMO Winterset Award - it's one of the largest literary awards in eastern Canada. In 2014, one of the finalists for the award was Carmelita McGrath for her book Escape Velocity (Goose Lane Editions).
In that book, there's a poem called Outside Clinic 2B and it describes a man sitting in a waiting room and the anxiety and boredom that comes with it. It talks about how he's watching the clock and pondering filling out a mail-in card for information on a luxury vehicle that falls out of a magazine; throwing caution to the wind and chasing a dream. He’s drawn into his family memories by the “No Postage Required if Mailed in the US” that you see on mailer cards - remembering a vacation to Florida. That's paralleled with lines in the poem about his big thick folder somewhere beyond the doors, that tells the "secret of his cells" and moments before a nurse calls his name, he retreats from the notion of filling out the card feeling foolish, and he tucks it into his coat pocket.
So, I extrapolated a bit from that and made some decisions to frame up how I wanted to tell the story. It got me thinking about how many people are dealing with a lot underneath the surface. And that you can learn plenty about people by watching what they do and how they behave. I decided that the "secret of his cells" reference was in relation to a cancer diagnosis and that the person was there waiting for an update on his health. That was my starting point, and then I built the narrative around that - creating the man's backstory, the family around him, and so on. It wasn't until after I'd written the first draft (of what would eventually be nine) and shared it with Carmelita that I learned she wrote the poem while sitting in the waiting room of a cancer care clinic awaiting news on a family member of hers.
Being a gay man myself, I wanted my main character (Simon) to be gay as well and given the family vacation flashback in the poem, I decided I wanted him to have a family too - one that went beyond just having a partner. To that end, I gave them an adopted daughter, who I named Scout (inspired by To Kill A Mockingbird, because she is and will have to be a strong young woman). I knew I wanted one of the main scenes, or turning points, in the short to address my idea about observing people with the added consideration that it’s impossible to get the full picture of someone that way, so I created a character for Simon to interact within the waiting room (Amy House) who would make assumptions about him.
I also really want to drive home the idea that no matter how much time we have in our lives, it's important to ensure you cherish and make the most of every single moment and opportunity that is before you. For those reasons, the opening and at home scenes shared between Simon and Scout are very important.
I also wanted to challenge the typical composition of an LGBTQ film (many of which are filled with tropes or clichés) and the traditional ideas of what a gay couple/family life can look like. So, on top of giving Simon and his partner an adopted daughter (and not wasting precious film time explaining why and how their family formed), I also made Simon's partner – Felix — be enlisted in the armed forces. The intention there was to raise the stakes of the situation even further, along with being a touch-point for the idea that LGBTQ people are important members of any workforce, including the military.
Q: I know these things are like children and each one is different, but how did this project compare/differ to your previous work?
A: The other film projects I've worked on followed different creative paths. My first short film called “Fate” was done as part of my post-secondary education. It was fun, and a challenge in its own right — to tell a story without words. Another of my shorts, done for Choices for Youth, had a social and community focus; it's more of a short documentary. And, the other film I did was a full-length documentary that I was a producer and director for called “Just Himself: the story of Don Jamieson.” That particular one was personal, as it told the story of my grandfather's life and career as a broadcaster and politician in the years Pierre Trudeau was Canada's Prime Minister (1966 to 1979), after which my grandfather became the Canadian High Commissioner to the United Kingdom where he became a firm favourite with the Queen.
“Waiting Outside...” was a completely creative project from start to finish. I had to write the source material based on the inspiration I found thanks to Carmelita's incredible poem. It was an exciting opportunity and I’m proud of the work that's been done from 2014 to 2017 to make this happen. When I was awarded the Linda Joy Media Arts Society award for an original script not yet made into a film back in 2016, it gave me a huge boost — both in terms of confidence in the script and story, and providing us with some of the resources that were needed to make the production happen. I was also very lucky to be able to call upon a large number of individuals whom I’d established an excellent working relationship with who had worked on the documentary like Brad Gover, Darryl Couch, and others. That made working on this project a joy because we knew how to be a team from the outset. I was also thrilled to have the expertise of Ruth Lawrence in the mix as a producer on the project, and I’d be remiss to not mention the fantastic original scoring we got from Rozalind Macphail. Co-writing lyrics for our closing credits song with her was a bucklist item for me as I’d always wanted to try songwriting. In fact, it’s worth highlighting that of our more than 30 person cast and crew just under half were professional women in the film sector. I’m extremely proud of the diversity we had on our amazing team that really brimmed with talent and expertise.
Q: The topic of cancer touches everyone so is there a personal message you want to get out there based on this film?
A: For this project, because cancer factors into the storyline, I had to do a lot of research. I had to make choices about the type of cancer, how developed it was, and I wanted to make sure that the language being used was accurate and reflective of real life experiences. I did that in a number of ways. I talked to a friend of mine who's an internal medicine doctor (who's actually an extra in the film), and he helped a lot with terminology. Another member of the production team also had recently faced their own battle with cancer and has since overcome it, so I relied on that person heavily for the experiential side of hearing things from a doctor. And, last but not least, I approached the Canadian Cancer Society's Newfoundland and Labrador office to talk to them about the script. They actually felt it was so well written that they wrote a letter of support for the project that said the script accurately reflected the experiences of the clients they support. That meant a lot to me. All of the advice I received from these folks meant a lot. I wanted it to feel as real as I could, so the weight of these situations drew out the right emotions.
On a personal level, we’ve had a few relatives see and feel the impacts of cancer over the last few years, and I’ve watched an honourary aunt of mine fight tooth and nail against it. As I mentioned, we also have a member of our production team who’s also stared cancer in the face and overcome the battle. I don’t really think there are many folks who haven’t had it affect their lives in some way. I’m happy to say Auntie D is doing well now and the films dedication in the closing credits is to her, and all the other cancer warriors out there who fight the fight every day — as well as to one of my creative heroes, David Bowie, who also faced that fight.
Q: Who do you need to recognize for helping get this over the top and out to the public?
A: I have to acknowledge the public funding our project received from the City of St. John’s arts grants program and the support that the Newfoundland and Labrador Film Development Corporation provided to us. We were also very fortunate to have amazing private businesses and people financially back the project, who are all listed on our website at www.waitingoutside.ca. Of course the Linda Joy Media Arts Society and the Canadian Cancer Society-NL are important thanks to give. Robert Young Photography did our stunning drone shots at the start of the film a few months after our main shoot in August 2016 because I really wanted the opening to unfold the way it was in my head. They’re a great complement to the amazing cinematography work from Brad Gover and our camera crew. Honestly, I want to list everyone’s name from the credits because we just wouldn’t have the film we do without any one of those individuals. We also must thank the film festivals who’ve officially selected the film to screen, and those who are taking the time to consider it for programming, as well as our audiences for coming out to see our little story.