Tru Talk: A Two-On-One With Kate Johnston and Shauna MacDonald

Alice and Tru arrive on Island

Tru Love hits Toronto’s Carlton Cinema today, and it’s a wise choice to support it.  While it occasionally dabbles as a soap opera, I found its romantic intimacy lovely.  The characters are innocent when facing the premise, which makes their maturity manifest naturally.

Recently, I talked Tru Love shop with the film’s co-directors, Kate Johnston and Shauna MacDonald.  We discussed the film’s snowcapped Toronto setting, the importance of setting a general tone, and if post-production altered that original mood.  MacDonald also opened up about her own real life romances.

Addison Wylie: How important was it to define a gentle tone for Tru Love?  I could see some filmmakers taking this subject matter and turning out a film that’s steamy and campy.  But, I found your delicate nuances worked.

Kate Johnston: It was very important to create exactly the right tone which was nuanced.  This was intentional.  The opening sequence is more poetic with ice breaking up and our composer Patric Caird’s hauntingly beautiful score.  It was shot classical style, the camera  work containing the tension within the frame, the actors acting out that perfect tension, a slow build until the end.  That allowed for subtly in staying with actors’ faces and silent, emotional moments alone or together which created a more dramatic structure for the film itself.

AW: In your opinion, do you think a campy version of Tru Love could’ve worked and hit all those same emotional beats?

KJ:  No, not with the same emotional beats.  Camp is by nature melodramtic and very over the top.  Tru Love is more dramatic in nature with a lot of humour.  The nature/genre of camp (which I love) would not allow for the characters to dive deep emotionally, which they did.  But please make that film!  I would love to see it.  Perhaps a gay male operatic version.

AW: Did you find Tru Love took new life in the editing room?  Or, did the film stay consistent to the original visions?

Shauna MacDonald: Absolutely!  It’s astonishing how much surgery you can perform in editing!  Some scenes that were in the original script just did not work once assembled as written – and so we shot alternate scenes on a pick up day and deleted about 10 scenes. 8 of which appear on the DVD.

Some of the scenes were also waaay too long, so they were trimmed to reflect the essence of the scene and cut the fat – which kept the story moving.  Veteran editor Susan Shipton had heard I had made a film – we had both worked on Breakfast With Scot -and she offered to give editing notes.  THAT changed the game hugely.  She suggested lots of big cuts – we took every one of her notes and applied them.  It really made all the difference!

Alice, Tru and Suzanne toast

AW: When you’re putting the finishing touches on those scenes where Tru and Alice are drinking in life together, was it difficult to figure out how long to linger on those moments of intimacy?

SM: That really is a senses thing, instinctual like breathing – knowing when to get in and out – and we experimented greatly with that to find what suited our tastes. And then, of course, we had to watch the edits to see how they fit inside the entire film.  I think Tiffany Beaudin (our editor), Kate, and I all watched the film about 500 times together!  But seriously, we really did take a very sharp razor to it, cutting off frames, here and there, in those moments.  I was surprised how much I loved the editing process.  A good editor is a magician.

AW: Tru Love takes place in a chilly, snowcapped Toronto.  Did you feel the constant need to showcase the city?  Do you believe an environment should be its own character in a movie?

KJ: Toronto was showcased because it is beautiful in winter and also served the film on a thematic, poetical level of beauty and isolation.  And it served our budget!  We also got the Canadian flag in the opening montage sequence so people would see it was Toronto.

Yes, the city became a character in the film, but that is not always the case with every film.  There was no constant need.  I do love elemental images of water and sky though.  We can be very disconnected to nature living in a city, so featuring Tru living on Toronto Island and crossing the water by ferry was like all of us being transported from concrete into the natural world.  We have been told we should have been paid by the Toronto Tourist Board as Toronto has never looked better in the wintertime.  That made us laugh.  That would have been nice!

AW: Shauna, were you pulling certain emotions from real-life experiences when Tru was faced with a decision to choose between her best friend and her forbidden love?  Those moments were especially – and precisely – harrowing.

SM: I’ve never been in that “exact” situation but I have been in the “affair” situation and THAT madness is not something that I ever want to experience again!  Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful to know the incredible highs and lows of the “pain” of forbidden love, but it’s exhausting!

When you are apart or cannot be truthful to your feelings and you are so desperately crazy about the person but are absolutely terrified of making a decision that would have irrevocable and possibly devastating repercussions, that’s an intensity that is dizzying and consuming and dangerous and addictive and takes your breath away – much like the length of this sentence.  That’s the exhausting and punishing and torturous whirlwind I wanted to put Tru through.  I think I did that.  So thank you, ex-lovers!


AW: Has the concept of finding love in curious places with unique people always interested you, Shauna?

SM: YES!  I’ve always met the most interesting people in the strangest “coincidental” ways, especially when I’ve been traveling.  And romantically, I am for sure a “I saw him across a crowded room… in the weirdest place…and I shouldn’t have been there at ALL” kinda person.  I do believe that when you are ready for love, THAT person will just enter your life and you might, quite literally, bump into them, when the alignment is right.

I met my own true love while shooting Tru Love, although at first, he thought I was a lesbian and at first, I thought he was too young for me to date.  It’s true!  But we had this sparkly connection that neither of us could explain.  The funny thing was that I was playing a character who was re-emerging from a deep hibernation from the possibility of love and I was doing exactly the same thing in my own life.  I’d been single for about 12 years, had tried the online dating thing, the introductions from friends, bars, etc – and it was just brutal.  I knew that I didn’t work that way.  I was holding out for “magic”, as cheesy as that sounds, but I knew I would meet “the one” in an unusual way and I just had to stop searching and let him find me.  So I decided to just try to have fun and forget about it…to work on a project (Tru Love) that I was excited about and that would make me happy.

Being happy and busy became the most important thing.  And, I was excited to play Tru who was opening her heart again and as I got deeper in her mind, I could feel myself changing.  We were casting a small part of a homeless kid and our casting director, Sharon Forrest said, “Now, this next guy is my wildcard.  He’s not a teenager.  He’s in his 30’s, but I’ve loved him since I saw him in Woody Harrelson’s play, Bullet For Adolf and I bring him in whenever I can.”  And then in walked – Brandon.  We sat on the floor and played the scene between Buddy and Tru.  I just thought – “Wow.  He sparkles.  He is sparkling.  What amazing sparkling energy!  I could spend hours with this sparkly person”.  I’m very happy to tell you that I’ve spent two sparkly years with him so far….and oh yes, he did get the part, but the scene was cut from the film.  It does, however, appear on our DVD in our deleted scenes.

AW: What drove you to make this movie, Kate?  What do you hope audiences take away after seeing Tru Love?

KJ: My passion for story.   My relentless delusion to get it made.  And meeting Shauna, who was also determined and ready to bring in a team with me of incredible people –  actors, producers, crew who all helped to realize this dream.

I wrote Tru Love first as a short film and later as a feature film (Shauna came in after that point to collaborate with me on making the film).  I am a story teller and film is my medium.  Shauna and I put our talent and chops together to make it happen.

This story itself for me was inspired by, but not based on, a young lesbian friend of mine who has a great friendship with a beautiful  older widow like Alice.  One time over too much wine, this older woman leaned across this table and said “In my next life, I am going to come back as your lover”.  I loved it, the idea of two outsiders who would normally never be together.  It lit a spark in me.  That is what drove me to write the script and to make the film with Shauna.

We need more movies about love.  The audiences tend to agree as we have won numerous audience awards for best feature film at LGBTQ film festivals around the globe.  I hope the audiences take away a sense of Carpe Diem, that we have to live now because that is all we have in the end.  That is it never too late to let go, to start over and to love again – if only we can get past our daunting fear.  I’m working on it, she said smiling.

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