Toronto International Film Festival 2020
Short Cuts
Hannah Cheeseman

Succor

hannahcheesman.com

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Heartbroken after a bad breakup, Angie finds comfort in her best friend Abigail, who helps her sign up for a dating app. Angie’s new online suitor, however, is not what he seems.
 

Hi Hannah thank you for talking to TNC, how are you held up during these very strange times? 

Strangely! Ha. Actually, I’ve been fortunate in many ways, but there’s also been a lot afoot. I completed the entirety of the Succor post during lockdown, and was in development for my TV show Badger (in a wholly virtual writers room) and just two days ago wrapped on a feature shooting in Northern Ontario. But I also lost my father mid April, Easter Sunday in fact. So it’s been a lot, now that I look at all that. But to be honest, Succor has been a true joy. And a constant pleasure to be working on and continuing to think about, as it moves into festival time.

Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?

Hm, maybe I answered that above haha. But yes. This time has certainly. The show I mentioned, Badger, is actually about my dad and sister and I — so losing him 3 days before we were to start working on the season 1 scripts was quite the timing. And therefore made the whole process tinged with emotion, but also a sort of catharsis — as the show is about the stroke he had 5 years ago, and my sister (Alex) and my subsequent experience being young caregivers to him. But also, this time has allowed me to do some really relaxed deep-diving into the Criterion library, and also showed me just how much I like my alone/solo time. I have been so relieved not to be living with the near-constant feeling of FOMO and “I should go do/see/speak to/network with…” inner dialogue that is a part of my life, outside the pandemic. That mindless time let me just dig into journaling, watching films, and some other internet endeavours that might be called wasting time… but also might be filling up ‘the well’ creatively. 

Congratulations on having Succor part of TIFF Short Cuts, how does it feel to have your film a part of such an amazing lineup of short films?

It feels AMAZING. I am so very proud of this little one, Succor, and am truly honoured. Do I wish we were doing the whole fest live? With the parties and hangouts and also (of course) the live viewing? Of course. So much. I worry that it means less connections with other interesting filmmakers and producers and thinkers and creators. But what can you do? It doesn’t diminish my happiness at being accepted into this amazing festival — and with a smaller ‘film count’ than… ever? That’s an honour. I can’t wait to see the other filmmakers’ work, and am also curious about the curation of each Shortcuts section. I love seeing how the programmers decide on blocks of films — and like to mull on why they choose certain pieces, and set them next to one another.

Can you tell me a little bit about Succor, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay? 

Well — real life and fiction! I was catfished, and it caught me so off guard. I thought cat-fishing happened to 50+ men and women who don’t understand the internet, and then are forking over thousands of dollars to their lovers “stuck in Dubai” or whatever. Apparently not! My still-unknown catfisher didn’t ask for money, and never discovering their motivation made it stick in my mind all the more. But the weird thing was just how connected we felt. Or rather, I felt to them, whoever they were. I hadn’t been that excited in a while about someone — and then when I discovered they were fake, I was hit with so many emotions… and immediately wrote them all down in bullet-point, because I knew it would make an interesting story. Then, I learnt from my sister’s boyfriend that he was once the subject of cat-fishing: that is to say, that his image and likeness was used by someone. And I just sort of mashed all these ideas together, and turned it into a story of friendship, rather than lovers. 

"You often live poor, for a long time, your successes and breakthroughs can be few and far between, and yet you do it."

What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you've taken away from making Succor?

To trust myself when I think I’m “onto something” creatively. And to follow it and pursue it, and then bring the people on board who believe in it and are equally excited by it. You can always feel when a piece has real life, and I felt it deeply here. Lastly, I think this is a piece where my taste, and my skill set, actually met. This feels like a first, maybe! I felt like a real filmmaker, a real director haha. Or rather, that I came to better understand my job as a director and filmmaker. And that wave of confidence might be helpful to ride on for a while as I try to turn Succor into a feature script.

Once a film is complete are you able to let it live its own life or are you always thinking 'I could/should have done this differently?

I think I think that way if I am dissatisfied with a piece. I am satisfied with Succor, so I don’t have those haunting thoughts. Nothing will ever be perfect, but that’s not the goal. For me at least, it’s to ensure that a given film fully lives out its voice, and fully expresses what’s at its heart. I feel Succor does that — so I feel free and easy (and proud) about it. 

Where did your passion for filmmaking come from?

I bet a lot of people in the arts feel this way, but the drive to make films and stories on screen is hard to explain because it’s a bit obsessive and not very rational. You often live poor, for a long time, your successes and breakthroughs can be few and far between, and yet you do it. So I can’t always say where this passion to create comes from, but I think it’s probably just something that feels worthwhile — creating, that is… and filmmaking happens to be my métier. It makes me feel ‘fully realized’ when I create a piece of work or writing that just feels right, that is so clearly told in my voice. And I chase that feeling because I can suddenly ‘see myself’ when I get my work ‘right’. I guess the faster way to say all that, is that it feels so great to express myself — and to have others respond to that. Then it’s a conversation and connection, and that’s so satisfying.

How much does your acting background inspire the films you write and director?

Hm, I’m not sure that my acting inspires the films I write and direct, but it certainly endows me with an understanding of how I want a film to be played, acting-wise, and what tone and dynamic I want the actors to hit. I have a clear sense, thanks to my acting background, of where I want my films to sit, performance-wise — and that’s a big help

"I just like it when it can also have some elements of more interesting or complex elements of the human / my experience." 

Does being an actress allow you to build a closer connection to your actors?

I think so, yes, and at the very least, I hope so! I think I might not be a half bad director when it comes to working with actors, thanks to my being one too, and I hope it means the actors I work with feel that they can trust me (and understand me). 

Has your style and the approach to your films changed much since your debut film?

Oh god yes. My first film was a comedy called Brunch Bitch. I still love it for what it is — wacky and funny and silly — and comedy will and does always have my heart. But I feel interested in bringing in more nuance and edges and details. In short, I like making stuff that is less broad, now. But I will always want to make comedies. I just like it when it can also have some elements of more interesting or complex elements of the human / my experience. 

Is there any advice you would offer a fellow filmmaker?

Well, probably the same advice I like to remind myself of: follow and trust your voice and your taste. 

And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Succor?

I hope they’ll feel it, and feel it rattle around inside them. I hope they’ll be excited by it, and curious about the motivations of the characters, of their relationship. I hope they’ll laugh and wonder about it, long after it’s done.

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