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Interview: Vic Sarin – Director of A Shine of Rainbows

April 5, 2010

By John C.

A few weeks ago, I had the pleasure of speaking on the phone with

Vic Sarin, director of the upcoming movie A Shine of Rainbows.  We spoke about everything from getting the movie made, to why young filmmakers should experience life.

I saw A Shine of Rainbows a few weeks back, and in my opinion it is a wonderful, moving, and heartwarming film, that every kid, above a certain age, should see.  Our reviews will be coming this Friday, April 9th, when the film opens in theatres.

Photo of John Bell and Vic Sarin courtesy of IMDb.

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My first question for you is, how long was the whole filming process for A Shine of Rainbows? The shooting was not that long, it was 28 days, but 28 short days, because with a child on the set there are no long days.  He was 10 years old, so could only do 8-9 hours a day.  On the plus side, with shorter days, we were able to go to pubs every night and be happy.

What were some of your favourite moments to film, and what were some of the hardest? To me, filmmaking is a pleasure.  I can’t talk enough about making films.  When you think about it, just to make films, they give you all this money and say go and make something.  There are of course pressures, time constraints, money constraints, and a lot of things you have not a lot of control over, like nature in this case.

The Irish people said there were more sunny days than in the last 85 years, so someone was shining for me.  The Irish themselves are very charming, and the area we shot was a gift from God.  The people were very cooperative, very loving.

When we first got there, I asked ‘can you get some artificial rain bars?’, and they said we wouldn’t need rain bars here – it would rain at some point, it would be a sure thing.  And guess what?  We did not get rain.  Somewhere where it rains all the time, it didn’t happen!  So there are unpredictable things like that.

The child only being allowed so many hours on set was a challenge.  Normally you’d shoot 12 hour days, but here it was only 8 hours.  How do you make up that time?  Time’s limited, there’s so much to do, so it was kind of a challenge, how to plan, and use the time with this little boy purposefully so that we don’t waste any of it.  On the weekends, I would go with the camera, since I like to shoot my own films, and film different things.

The seals were a bit of a challenge.  I wanted them in the same kind of an atmosphere – I didn’t want to go into water tanks like in Hollywood.  So, we had to shoot in cold, cold water, and the little boy had to go into the water.  He was very brave, I didn’t want him to do it, but he wanted to, so we said ok, so he ended up doing it in the end.

How did you cast the actors? Aiden [Quinn] was the right person.  He had to show his disliking for the boy, but also warm up to him.  And how do you do that when your character doesn’t say much.  He had to display that abrasivness but at the same time be seen as vulnerable.  Aiden was perfect for the role.  His eyes are a little bit on the cold side, but underneath, you can see he is warm.  Fortunately he liked Ireland, liked the script, and with Connie [Nielsen], who played the lead, they’d worked before together.  At first, I wasn’t thinking of Connie, but she was mentioned to me, and I entertained the idea, ‘why not have a European lady in it?’  So, I thought about it, and why not, so I went in LA and she read the first 30 pages, and then called me and said, ‘I’ll do it.’

And her accent was flawless. Yes it was.  When you have that kind of enthusiasm, it’s a huge plus.  You love attention from the actors, since you know they’ll do all the work – it will be a whole lot easier.

I’m presuming Smudge was a puppet, but what was it like working with the seals? I did try to get real a real Smudge, but the animal cruelty people in Ireland, and even back home here in Vancouver, won’t allow it.  I’d visited the Vancouver Aquarium, since they pick up abandoned pups all the time, but they won’t allow them for filming.  So, since I couldn’t get the real one, we had an animatronic one.  And it was really well made.  The guy who did it, Neal Scanlon worked on Babe, and all those big, big Hollywood films, and he came on board.  A lot of time we were with him in London, and then also, a lot of the stuff was real.  Before shooting the actual footage, I filmed some real stuff watching the seals in the water.  So there was real stuff, and there was Smudge.

This time you were filming in Ireland, but do you have a favourite location to shoot? I did entertain the idea of filming in New Zealand, South Africa, and even here in our country in Nova Scotia.  But why to go to some place when the story’s set somewhere else, and it is so much easier to be in the real place?  When you’re designing a cross for example, the local people know exactly what you need.  Here, you’d have to do all kinds of research, but the locals just know.  So, the boats and costumes, they were all there, the location was just incredible, and I look back, and I like being in Ireland.

It’s always best to shoot on location.

Congratulations on the Kodak New Century Award you received a couple of weeks ago, the cinematography in A Shine of Rainbows was truly beautiful.  What kind of camera did you use to film? Thank you.  The type of camera I used was an Eraflex.  Although what kind of camera I use doesn’t really bother me.  The film stock, I really care about.  I gravitate towards slow speed 45 AA stock, 50 for the daylight.  45b no grain, beautiful image.  Cameras all do pretty much the same thing, depending on the camera operator, I go with what they prefer.  Eraflex tends to go a little more noisier, so for a sound bite reason, but I like it.

What was it like watching A Shine of Rainbows for the first time with an audience? It’s very nerve-racking being so close to it, you think, I mean you hope it’s going to work, and you don’t know.  Something you think works may not for some, the magic of film is that nobody knows, even Steven Spielberg, James Cameron – they don’t know – you don’t know, until the action starts on the screen.

At the Vancouver Film Festival, where A Shine of Rainbows was shown, there were quite a few people there.  The lights came up, and they just quietly went outside, and I thought ok, it didn’t work I guess.  So I went out, and then one of the organizers said, ‘Vic, I was just, it was brilliant’.  It totally caught me off guard.  It opened the festival, and the reaction it got, it was a wonderful reaction.

People always stay and come up to you and talk to you about it.  There was this one Chinese guy, who comes up to me, and he says, “You make me cry,”, and I asked, “Is that a good thing?” and he says, “No, it’s very good, a very good thing,” and I say “Thank you,” and he says, ‘I’ve been having some problems with my own son, and watching this film made me realize what’s important.”

And then, at TIFF, there were all kinds of people standing around.  There was a mother and daughter, and the mother waited around while I was speaking to others, and finally she talked to me, and I said, “sorry to keep you waiting,” and she said “You don’t know how this film has changed my life now, I was having problems with my daughter, and I realize now what is important is my baby.  I don’t care about anything else now.”  They were both crying.  We all have a very short span of life, we’re all going to go to the same place.  There is too much negative around, but this film is a celebration of mother for child.

How you look at the world, view the world around you.  I’m living, I’m breathing all the colours, the nice people, the nice food, I think we all need an anchor in life.  I think we need more films about kindness.  Sure people all fighting, is reality too, but you can change the reality.  And how you change it is by going into this venue which is film, the internet, and what we view makes us feel better about these things.  You go back in time, if you do more things with your parents, your friends, a film like mine, you can take the whole family to.  Some films work for children but not adults, and some for adults but not children.  We need more films where families can be together.  Keeping people together, that’s what bonding is about – not being so isolated in our society.

Can you tell me about any other film projects you have worked on? Oh God, I’ve done close to 100 films, many films.  I lived in Toronto for over 25 years.  The last film I did before this one, was Partition, which was a  love story set in India before the British left, I’ve done films for half a dozen of the American networks – 3 were Emmy nominated.  And Dancing in The Dark, the filming was very nice and a wonderful journey.

Who are some of your greatest inspirations as a filmmaker? What are your favourite movies? I like James Cameron, he’s brilliant, and I did like a lot of the older movies, from David Lean.  He did Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia.  These are the main ones, these were all my favourite directors.  What we watch on the screen, opens new doors for us.  First inspiration, so called director in my life, would be David Lean.  So some of my favourite movies would be Bridge on the River Kwai, Lawrence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, Passage to India.  Each film opens new doors for you – you learn so much more.

I like Dr. Zhivago very much.  And the American film Shawshank Redemption, an English film called Hear My Song, the Italian-English film Cinema Paradiso, and The Full Monty just for fun.  These are the kinds of films, every country and society has wonderful films, but English and Italian films, are my favourite, I think.

What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers? Experience life – don’t just read about it.  Don’t talk about it, experience it, then you can write about it.  You have to feel it, not think about it, then it’s real, and you will be able to translate that.

Are there any upcoming projects you can tell me about? A feature documentary, Hue, and I’m writing a script right now too, which I’ll hopefully do next year.

Is there anything else you’d like to add before we wrap up? Get people to the theatre, on a big screen, not just on the television.  That’s the way I shoot all of my films.  With the colours, only that can really be seen in full on the big screen.  There is so much other stuff that it’s hard to get people to go to the movies, rather than just watch them on the tv, or anything else.

Congratulations on A Shine of Rainbows, it’s a wonderful film, and thanks for taking the time to talk to me today.

One Movie Five Views thanks Vic Sarin for taking the time to do this interview.

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