Generally, menopause is no laughing matter, especially if you experience symptoms at as early as age 40. Vancouver filmmaker Kellie Ann Benz was diagnosed with the condition sooner than she ever imagined and didn’t know who to talk to. What was worse, her boyfriend at the time got cold feet and the relationship ended dramatically.
“It was clear that menopause evokes this panicky reaction in people, as if aging is contagious and that it was just one of those realities of life that no one wanted to talk about,” says Benz. “The whole experience made me feel like my ‘market value’ had plummeted and yet here I was, still in this world, still vital in so many ways, still loving, still attracted, still attractive, yet now very aware that I belonged to a different club of women. It was such a weird time that I knew a movie had to be made.”
In the summer of 2012, she took a $5,000 line of credit, convinced a bunch of sisters (and some brothers)-in-arms to join her and directed the guerilla-style shot independent feature comedy Naked Night Bike, which was launched on IndieFlix on May 9th.
Maud (Jennifer McLean) is a 40-year-old, beautiful woman, still married to her high school sweetheart, E.L. (Raul Inglis). As the couple desperately wants to start a family, stress is heightened with every negative pregnancy test and the return of a new menstrual cycle.
One day, Maud’s period stops. Overjoyed, she spills the beans about the presumed pregnancy to her colleagues at work before visiting a doctor. However, Maud is crushed as she learns her lack of menses does not derive from motherhood, but from a condition called early menopause.
Hoping for a miracle, Maud hides the diagnosis from E.L. and agrees to sign up for a swinger club in order to increase their limp libidos. On top of it, she joins a self-help group of other premature menopausees, who rely on unorthodox measures to lift their hot flashes…
Benz describes the making of her film in a series of blog posts for the National Screen Institute (NSI). She shot the film on several weekends in the summer of 2012, with a small team including DP Lindsay George, who used her own Canon D7, sound recordist Eric Weisner, production coordinator Lisa Urakabe and producer Selena Paskalidis.
Paskalidis managed several film projects parallel that summer and felt challenged by having to accommodate schedule and locations to an evolving script.
“The most rewarding was actually working with people who were so focused on their quality of work, but knew how to adapt. We never let anything slip, but always thought of creative solutions to accomplish what we needed,” says Paskalidis.
“Working with Kellie has been amazing. We really understood each other’s strengths and weaknesses and gave each other the space to make the decisions that were needed. Trust me, we didn’t always agree, but we came to conclusions and supported each other on that.”
A film full of BC faces
The cast features “no one you’ve ever heard of,” as Benz puts it, but Vancouver movie goers might recognize two faces among the supporting characters: Vancity Theatre colleagues Barbara Chirinos and Mickey Brazeau, (Chirinos has since become exec. dir. of Granville Island Cultural Society) in their first feature roles, and quite brilliantly so!
Jennifer McLean is a face to remember, as are the men, including supporting actor Dave Campbell, who stars as Harold, a determined writer who plays mind games with his publisher in order to get his book printed. One hilarious scene in which Harold encourages E.L. to behave like a roaring lion is all the more remarkable as Campbell only got the newly scripted scene, a lengthy monologue, on the morning of the shoot.
“It’s a testament to Dave he did it,” says Benz, who, like the rest of the crew and cast, has a all-hands-on-deck attitude, which included getting release forms from participants of a real-life naked bike ride.
The script was convincing enough to receive Telefilm Canada funding for post-production and was nearly finished when Benz decided the score should consist of songs by Canadian indie bands.
“A last-minute decision that caused my producer to almost pull her hair out (we had to scramble to get licenses to use their music),” says Benz on her blog. But the result is an uplifting montage of hilarious scenes and a fun soundtrack including songs by VanDamsel, the Oh Wells and Legstand aka musician Kris Elgstrand, who plays a substantial part in the film.
“Kris’ song ‘everyone found out’ pretty much summed up my own feelings of being a major disappointment to everyone who expected me to have kids,” says Benz. “I had no control over my body doing what my body was destined to do, and Kris’ song so perfectly described how I felt that I actually wrote the character of Bertrand for Kris and around his character singing that song.”
digital distribution, social media key to success
Reception by film festivals proved less than stellar, but Benz’ film got picked up by IndieFlix, a Seattle-based, non-exclusive online distribution platform that gives subscribers access to a wide range of independent movies (currently for $5 per month.) The site currently boasts 177 indie films from Canada, including shorts and web series.
“We were drawn to the honesty and how relatable the story is,” says IndieFlix’ Chief Operating Officer / Chief Content Officer Kristie Lanum. “We felt like this was a great example of a film that explores a very difficult time in a couple’s life/marriage and how they got through it in a way that leaves you feeling happy and inspired!”
The platform works with a “royalty pool model (RPM),” which is calculated by taking 30% of the gross subscription revenue for the month and dividing that by the total minutes watched in that month. For example, if 10 people watch Benz’ 90-min film all way through (one viewing per subscriber per month counts,) the filmmaker will have 900 minutes viewed (90×10). If the RPM is at $.04 (which was the valuation at the time of writing) Benz would earn $36.00.
Lanum says IndieFlix is very pleased with the growth of its subscriber base after their launch in January of 2013, and a film’s success will also depend on how it is received and how hard Benz and her team beat the social media drums.
By Katja De Bock
***Update: Find out more about Kellie Ann Benz in the feature about her on IndieFlix’ website. Interview: Samantha Herndon***