By: Addison Wylie
Life With Derek’s Michael Seater gets his directorial feet wet with the ensemble dramedy People Hold On. It’s a good place for the budding filmmaker to start. The film itself is contained within few environments and doesn’t call for visual tricks, which leaves Seater a lot of time to draw characters and connect with his tight-knit cast. The filmmaker must’ve also felt another level of comfort and confidence knowing co-star Paula Brancati – whom assisted Seater with the screenplay and producing the Canadian indie – was on hand to assist and troubleshoot through any first-timer difficulties.
Michael Seater isn’t the only person who should feel reassured though. By watching People Hold On, movie goers can get a sense that encouragement helped this shoestring delight earn charisma. Plenty of dialogue driven scenes require the performers to bounce off each other’s high energy in order to keep the film moving and for the humour to ring true – the actors reign victorious.
People Hold On is equally split with men and women, but the females edge the males out when it comes to blending the narrative with natural reactions. The men have a harder time disguising their “guy talk”. Then again, when the comic relief dude is frequently seen wearing collared wardrobe that could just as easily wallpaper a newborn’s bedroom, maybe the guys were working against a production that needed to dial it down a bit.
The cast play friends who are reuniting to celebrate a new marital milestone for one of the couples. They meet at a quaint cottage and proceed to catch up with each other, which soon divulges long-lost secrets and trudges up painful, embarrassing memories. There are sing-alongs and blow-ups, and giggles and tears. No one – including the audience – was prepared for the emotional roller coaster the trip ensues. The last few minutes of People Hold On really push the film’s weepy limits.
Seater and Brancati’s script happily surprises us. The screenwriters begin with a generic set-up, but then show the outcome in unpredictable – and occasionally very funny – ways. When a select number of friends indulge in psychedelic mushrooms, the audience straps in for cheap mugging and gawking. However, we end up seeing the friends wait around for the trip to kick in. They wait and wait, and we laugh and laugh.
People Hold On doesn’t demand much from the audience, but rewards us anyway with refreshingly alternative perceptions of adulthood. Seater also picks and chooses moments to break past the movie’s modesty to demonstrate his filmmaking potential. A scene featuring a distressed Katie Boland venting to Brancati while pacing up and down a beach’s shoreline shows how the filmmaker can make a relatively simple scene captivating.
I also briefly chatted with Michael Seater about his debut, People Hold On. As someone who saw potential in his ability to direct, I wanted to know if he intended to make more movies. I also wanted to pick his brain about the actual filmmaking process – especially the state of the script.
Addison Wylie: First of all, and don’t take this the wrong way, but what does the screenplay for People Hold On look like? Yourself and actress Paula Brancati wrote the script, but a lot of conversations sound very organic. Did you welcome improvisation?
Michael Seater: Yes! That was the plan all along. We almost always shot with two angles at once so the actors had the freedom to explore, overlap and play. It allowed for truly authentic performances.
AW: Congratulations on your directorial debut! This is a really good flick – and, so well directed. People may know you best from TV’s Life with Derek, but I have a feeling that’ll change down the road. Have you always had aspirations to direct?
MS: I remember when I was on set of Strange Days at Blake Holsey High, and realized that I wanted to try my hand at directing. I decided I would watch and learn. It became my own sort of film school. And man, was I lucky to have that access (Brancati) and this opportunity with People Hold On. But, I’ll never stop acting. I like the attention too much!
AW: Having plenty of experience as an actor, have you known your cast for a while? If so, did having prior relationships with your actors help when it came to rehearsing and ultimately shooting your film?
MS: We actually cast first, wrote second. We initially thought about our friends we grew up with on various sets. We then brought everyone together and pitched our idea!
AW: Did you find it easy making a movie in tight environments? Did everyone have enough room to move around in that cabin?
MS: It was TIGHT. Very small space, lots of people, VERY intimate.
AW: Now that you’ve gotten your filmmaking feet wet, do you have ideas for future films you want to make? Perhaps another collaboration with Brancati?
MS: Paula and I just rolled cameras on our second feature film, Sadie’s Last Days on Earth! It’s about a teenage girl with a crippling fear of the world and it stars Munro Chambers (Turbo Kid), Morgan Taylor Campbell, Ricardo Hoyos, and Clark Backo.
People Hold On hits select Lankmark Cinemas on Wednesday, October 7 as part of the Canadian Indie Film Series. The film receives a theatrical run at Toronto’s Carlton Cinema on Friday, October 9.