Prostitute Sister Inspires Reformed Playwright

TORONTO--Jerry Ciccoritti appears to live in two different worlds. In one, he is a noted director of award-winning, highly rated Canadian television, who's taken home seven Geminis for a list of productions that includes the hockey movie Net Worth (1995), the 2002 political drama Trudeau, and the fish-out-of-water TV series Due South. The movies that he writes and directs reflect a darker side. They are low-budget productions whose themes range from the erotic (1993's Paris, France) to horror (Graveyard Shift [1987] and Psycho Girls [1985]) and violent crime (1999's The Life Before This).

His latest film sees him pairing with his Paris, France collaborator Tom Walmsley. Blood, which opens Friday (December 10) in Vancouver, stars Emily Hampshire and Jacob Tierney as a brother and sister who live messy lives. The film, which features just the two characters, begins when he arrives at her house looking for money. She's a prostitute who is waiting for a client, but she has enough time to reflect on their lives together and to admit that there has always been a sexual tension between them.

Ciccoritti says Walmsley wrote the play on which the movie is based as a tribute to his sister, a Vancouver prostitute who died after a drug overdose. "We were finishing up on Paris, France in Toronto, and Tom's sister Maxine died in Vancouver. Tom and Maxine had the relationship of the two people in the movie, but without the incest. They turned tricks together and they were junkies. Tom cleaned up and became a playwright, and she stayed behind. I could see he was shattered by this, but he dealt with it by writing this poetic piece, called "Maxine", and then a friend of ours turned it into a dance piece. He read it and she danced it and it toured North America. Then he wrote it as the play Blood and I saw a man do in art what he could not do in real life, which was to save his sister.

"When he talked about his sister during that period, he would say interesting and insightful things like 'When I got out of that life and came here and my poetry was published and they got great reviews, I got credit for getting out of the life,' and Maxine would say, 'Why don't I get credit for staying?' So the way he saved his sister was to validate her life through the play, and now the movie."

When Ciccoritti decided to take the play to the big screen, he knew he had to have two young actors who would be interesting enough to watch for the duration of a feature film. He had worked with both Hampshire (a Genie nominee last year for A Problem With Fear) and former child star Tierney, and felt they would be able to find a relationship on the screen that worked for the audience. He also needed the same kind of chemistry off-camera, because he expected his two actors to shoot the entire movie every morning and afternoon for four days and then to work with him on improving their performances during the intervening hours.

"We shot the movie eight times, straight through....Then, in the editing room, we took the best scenes. We had a rule that in the first five minutes you call 'Cut,' but not after that. When we got to the editing room, I could cut it like a real movie and split screens and layer images and stay on one person for three minutes with the other person talking. I needed two great actors, but I also needed two actors who had a good relationship off-camera, and Jacob and Emily have a good relationship off-screen....They actually listen, and when that happens, magic occurs."

Mastering this magic has made Ciccoritti one of the most sought-after directors in Canada.

His philosophy is simple. "When I do a feature film, I wake up in the morning and think 'I have an idea, and now I have to do whatever it takes to make this project.'"