Canadian Press

by John McKay

(This article originally appeared in the National Post on July 8, 2002.)

TORONTO (CP) - Quick. Name two things you can do today that were impossible 10 or even five years ago. Well, one is you can now shoot and edit a complete, professional-looking motion picture on portable digital video equipment. The other is that thanks to the Internet, you could survive by living and working in the home, never leaving, not even to pay the bills or do banking.

Toronto filmmaker Kent Tessman has accomplished the first to tell a story about the second. Apartment Story is his one-man movie, the tale of a person who wakes up one day and simply decides not to go to work, in fact not to leave his apartment. . .ever. He orders deliveries of groceries, and even beer, by phone. He trades stocks on the Internet. And he amuses himself by playing video games and snooping on his neighbour and the guy's visiting girlfriends.

Tessman wrote the script, shot and edited the footage, did the sound, composed the musical score, dressed the set, even catered the set (well, the set was his one-bedroom Toronto apartment, the catering involved sandwiches).

Total shooting time: about two weeks. Budget: between $10,000 and $15,000.

"Frighteningly little," says Tessman, 31, who adds that now that he owns the laptop editing equipment he could do the same job for closer to $2,000.

The results so impressed CHUM Television that Apartment Story will air on Bravo! on Wednesday night.

"I didn't really intend necessarily to do it so cheaply, I didn't intend to make a movie that was all in one apartment or to do it, in fact, even all by myself," he says. "It was sort of how it turned out."

But the Innisfail, Alta., native who studied film production at York University stresses that not only did he not want to deal with funding agencies, grant programs or studio meddling, but that there is a certain esthetic to low-budget, indie filmmaking that appeals to him.

"Not everything has to be perfect, not everything has to be in focus and the movie doesn't have to cost $50 million," he says. "There are other things of value. . .an energy that comes from doing things cheaply and quickly.

"Big studio movies sometimes become a little bit sanded around the edges. By the time they're spending $150 million to make and market the thing, they really don't want to leave anything up to chance."

Tessman likens big-budget moviemaking to creating Big Macs.

"They want everybody to like it, which is a perfectly acceptable business decision but it's maybe not what you want in terms of being an artistic guy."

As for the agoraphobia, or whatever ails Guy, his "hero," Tessman says he didn't want to get into the distracting medical details, noting that screenwriters are always being asked to explain motives for their characters when often those motives don't ring true. He just felt there wasn't a place in the film for going into it that deeply.

"It's an extreme version of that day that we've all had, when you just don't want to go out. We call in sick and we play hookey and take an extra-long lunch hour."

Tessman says he hasn't seen Don McKellar's similarly themed Twitch City, a CBC-TV show. But he is aware of fellow Albertan Gary Burns' Waydowntown, a film about a group of Calgary office workers who make a bet to see who can stay indoors the longest.

"I dunno if this is a weird Canadian thing or what," he says. "If this becomes a movement we'll probably see a lot of new delivery services."

While wearing many hats assembling his desk-top movie, Tessman decided against starring in the picture himself. And he has great praise for his leading man, David Bajurny, who brings a fascinating sense of anomie to his enigmatic character.

"David was great because not only did he show up every day. . .but he had a great responsibility, he was carrying the movie."

Tessman confesses he found all those hats overwhelming at times but that he would do it again, except he'd like a better cinematographer and editor.

Apartment Story has been submitted to film festivals, but hasn't been picked up by any yet. Tessman says the intention was primarily to have something of quality to show people. Still, it's expected that he won't have to be so frugal next time around.

"The fact that Apartment Story is so professional and engaging is a testament to Kent Tessman's great talent," says Paul Gratton, station manager for Bravo!

"I can't wait to see what Kent can do with a budget and crew."  

This excerpt is copyright © 2002 The Canadian Press




Copyright © 2002 The General Coffee Company Film Productions. All rights reserved.