Smart and funny Picture Day has roots in Degrassi

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      Kate Miles Melville has never made a movie before. But as executive story editor (and episode writer) on TV series such as Being Erica and Degrassi: The Next Generation, she got grounded enough in youth-culture entertainment to come out of the box with the very non-TV Picture Day.

      The smartly written, beautifully acted, and consistently funny feature, which screens at the Vancity Theatre five times between April 14-25, won multiple awards at last year’s Whistler Film Festival, and made waves at TIFF. It stars Tatania Maslany, who has since gone on to anchor her own series, a doppelganger mystery called Orphan Black. Here, she plays a troubled Toronto teen caught between angry childhood and some glimpses of the more balanced woman to come. It’s part of a post-Juno landscape, but the tale has actually been brewing for almost two decades.

      ospace: none;">“I originally created the character when I was in high school myself,” says Melville, calling the Straight from her Toronto home. “So I guess it’s dealing with my own adolescence, in some way. I put her into a play called I Hate You on Mondays, and it was actually performed... in a basement near Commercial Drive, in 1998.”

      ospace: none;">The Jessie nominated tale centred on three characters who made their way into the movie: the canny, tough-talking Claire (Maslany); sensitive nerdmeister Henry (Spencer Van Wyck), whom Claire babysat when she was younger; and Jim (Steven McCarthy), an older, indie-rock singer she’s currently seeing.

      ospace: none;">Melville met actor-musician Steven McCarthy when she was at Concordia and he was at the National Theatre School, and thought of him to play the rocker. “I ran into him at the Horseshoe Tavern,” she recalls, “where he was playing with his band, the ElastoCitizens. He’s already had a lot of acting experience, with this weird, space-funk group on the side, and I ended up with the whole band, so the movie starts with a real concert.”

      ospace: none;">McCarthy had done one episode of Degrassi, while Van Wyck was a featured player in the latter-day run of the popular series.“I created his character on that show, and it really came to life when Spencer walked in for his audition," she says. "He comes across as very quiet, but he’s head-to-toe actor, with that physicality that makes someone memorable.”

      ospace: none;">The movie, rehearsed and shot almost two years ago, is populated by other up-and-comers, including stand-up comic Mark DeBonis, who plays an uproarious side character. But with all this talent, how did the new director keep her story focused?

      ospace: none;">“The litmus test was always Claire—how are we bringing her along on this journey to growing up? I wanted to keep the teenagers’ voices fresh and authentic, and hopefully amusing, set in a complicated, sometimes confusing reality, but seen mostly through the eyes of this one special girl.”

      ospace: none;">While she still works with other writers in a story-editing capacity, Melville is busy with a follow-up feature that will definitely be more adult-centric. “I could use a break from high school,” she says of her next project. “But something tells me I’ll be back.”