Every now and then you get sent a copy of a movie you have never heard of, sit down to watch it and find a true discovery that you want to see more of. LUBA, this little Canadian movie that could, is definitely one of these experiences. It’s a Toronto story that feels all too real and honest and would connect very well with the working class vibe of its own city. In the film, the title character Luba (played by Nicole Maroon) is a hard-working, open-minded mother trying to raise her six year old son all the while having an addict ex-husband challenging her life. It’s a simple premise told very well, and I also really loved the Toronto setting actually featuring the streets, subway and getting out there in the physical city much more than other Canadian projects.
I had the chance to talk with filmmaker and actor Vladimir Jon Cubrt (who plays Donny, the previously mentioned addict ex-husband) about the movie, which is currently touring the film festival circuit (including an award-winning screening in Toronto’s own Canadian Film Festival), with an upcoming stop at the Traverse City Festival.
One of the biggest joys in watching LUBA was the incredible lead performance by Nicole Maroon, who gave such a brave and nuanced performance. Tell me about how you brought her to the movie and working on the film!
Nicole Maroon is absolutely fabulous in the role. The thing that really makes this performance great, and one of Nicole’s greatest skills an an actor, is how genuine it is. You never, at any time, feel like Nicole is playing to the camera. You buy every minute. I wholeheartedly agree that she is fantastic in our movie.
So, as it happens, Nicole Maroon is my wife. We started dating a year or so before pre-production when I was still trying to decide whether I really wanted to make it happen. I had met Nicole via an acting thing and was aware of what a talent she was and broached the topic to her of making Luba. She said she’d be willing to help with the production side of things but didn’t want to act in the film as well, fearing that it would be too challenging for our relationship.
Well, cut to a year and a half later and Nicole and I had just gotten married. At the same time I had finally found the financing to produce the film and needed to go to camera ASAP for various reasons. I asked Nicole if she was still adamant about not playing the part and we had several long conversations over the next few days about it. Finally, she said yes, adding the immense amount of work required to play a lead role to all her producing duties which were already well under way. It really is amazing how she handled everything but Nicole would tell you that women are great multi-taskers.
She might also tell you that, in some ways, it may have actually helped her with the role as she was too busy to be precious with her process and there was no time for her to overthink things. We are very glad that we snagged her for the title role and, as her husband, I am immensely proud!
I would love to know about the rest of the cast and bringing them into the film as well!
Porter Schaefer (the son in the film) is The One. Not Keanu Reeves. Porter is the man and the little dude seems born to be. He is so unbelievably comfortable in the spotlight and he is only ten years old now; he was eight when we shot the film. At our Canadian Premiere the Canadian Film Festival in Toronto, Porter was late and missed the screening because of the shoot that I can’t talk about because they’d have to kill me. Porter made it in time for the Q&A afterwards. Porter walked in, took the mic, made fun of me for five minutes, finished off with a zinger which tore the audience up and, thus, dropped the mic! There was four hundred people in the audience. Did I mention the kid is TEN?
What’s also interesting about Porter is that thing where he can flip back and forth between the work and play, no problem. There’s some pretty weighty subject matter and Porter had to act in some very tough scenes and, except for the most intense scenes, was able to jump right into the work even when moments before he was dance battling the assistant director.
The thing about working with child actors though, is that even if they’re great to work with the whole thing can come apart if the family isn’t on board or is difficult to work with. Porter’s family were all troopers. His mother, Jenny, and dad, Chris showed up ready to go and often brought Porter’s siblings along on days where there were things for them to help out with. The Schaefer family ended up providing about 1/10th of our background performer needs. Well, maybe not quite that much but a lot!
The rest of our cast is populated with numerous peers of mine and Nicole’s, Toronto industry vets, who we have known and admired for years, whose faces are familiar to most Canadians, if not the names.
Patrice Goodman plays Luba’s new best buddy, and an inspiration to Luba in deciding to make some changes. Patrice is a beautiful, funny and very talented actress who is equally adept at comedy or drama.
Jillian Rees-Brown is one of the best stage actors I have ever met. Talk about genuine! I have known Jillian for twenty years and seen her in dozens of roles and I don’t think there has ever been one word that’s come of her mouth that I didn’t believe. She is an amazing multi-talent. She is a lovely singer. She was in the touring company for Billy Elliot and has her own vocal group “The Daughters of the Rock”. She is also a belly dancer.
Jeff Kassel is hilarious in the dryest possible way. Lots of people know and love him from his show “Testes”. I know Jeff’s wife, Amanda Rosenthal, who happens to be my agent. Amanda is beautiful. smart and talented and when I signed off on casting Jeff to play the love interest I felt quite sure that he and Nicole would not go run off together after the shoot, if only because Jeff would have a hard time leaving Amanda and their two kids!
And I would be remiss not to mention Sam Moses, who passed away a month after we wrapped principal photography. Sam Moses was a longtime veteran of the acting industry and is recognized throughout the world for his roles in ADVENTURES IN BABYSITTING, MOSCOW ON THE HUDSON and GHOSTBUSTERS. Sam, who began his arts career as a dancer with the National Ballet of Canada, is loved in Canada for a series of ads he did in the 80’s for Spumante Bambino that are still remembered and loved to this day. Sam was one of the warmest people you will ever meet and a true artist.
I loved the Toronto look and feel and I felt LUBA “got out more” than other Toronto productions showing a lot of streets, stores, transit that Toronto almost becomes a character on its own. I have only been in the city for the film festivals and have been curious what the day-to-day life is in the city, and I feel like the movie captured that very well. Talk to me about filming in Toronto and if there were any challenges or fun stories shooting in the city.
Toronto is a fantastic city and one of the best places to live in the world! Every time I go anywhere, no matter how much I like where ever it is, I always return home thinking how lucky I am; although, something needs to be done about the traffic. It’s the big red pimple, with the white tip, smack dab in the middle of Toronto’s handsome face.
One of the pre-production concept stills featured Luba on a snow-covered playground. We shot the still in the middle of winter and there was three feet of snow on the ground, not unusual for our city. But all of the key creatives had this image in their mind when it came time to shoot, especially for certain outdoor scenes.
We had a very temperamental winter the year we shot the film. For weeks at a time it was almost balmy and you could be outside without a jacket on and be quite comfortable. Then it would suddenly drop down to Mars like freezing temperatures. It was so cold one day that the camera froze and we had to shut the day down.
Well, it came time to shoot the big climax of the film which we all envisioned to be this winter wonderland and wouldn’t you know it, no snow. We couldn’t change things around to wait for the weather to change as the scenes were location dependent. They were in a public park overlooking the city and we had secured permits to shoot for this particular weekend when, again, you could lounge about in your t-shirt.
Except, that it was still winter in Canada, so even on the warmest days of February it’s still around zero celsius. Keeping a cast and crew of 40 plus people warm, fed and happy under those conditions is hard to do so we were glad for the warmer temps as the winterscape we had all envisioned would have been challenging to shoot in, to say the least.
Also, my character is wearing only a t-shirt and jeans in these scenes, which include a major fight with rolling all over the ground. I got sick anyway, and that was without the snow. If there had been three feet of snow that I had been rolling around in for two days in just a t-shirt and jeans I probably would’ve gotten pneumonia and died. DIED, I said! But, there wasn’t and I’m fine.
Who were some of your biggest filmmaker inspirations for LUBA?
FIVE EASY PIECES and PAN’S LABYRINTH were two films that I absolutely love and kept referring back to when I was working out problems with the Luba script, production or post. Luba has similarities to both films, though the common elements with FIVE EASY PIECES might be more obvious.
Post-production is like a giant 1000 piece puzzle that you have to put together. Only the pieces you have to work with all seem cut differently and the shapes and colors don’t seem to quite match the picture on the box. You can tell it’s still the same puzzle, in essence – maybe it was printed from a different factory with different machine specs – but it’ll still work. You just have to flow a bit, not be too fixated on matching the picture on the box, and let the pieces tell you where they’re supposed to go. Eventually, if you keep at it, and keep trying the pieces in different places in different orientations, the pieces all end up fitting and making a (beautiful) picture even if it’s not exactly what’s on the box.
Well, when I was in that flow stage staring at all those puzzle pieces we had assembled that weren’t quite matching the picture on the box I kept thinking of those two movies, what I loved about them and what they did right that made them both work so well and create such magical experiences for the viewer. There were a couple big problems we had to solve where the inspirations for the solutions came from somewhere within those two movies.
This movie has already started to have a film festival life including the Traverse City Film Fest which is leading to this interview. What have your screening experiences been like and how have audiences reacted?
We’ve had a wonderful time with screenings so far. Many people have seem genuinely affected and when, the opportunities have arisen to chat with audience members we have had extended conversations with many people about their own lives and situations. The subject matter of Luba is one that most people can relate to in the here and now. We have all had first or second hand experience with these issues. And what’s really great, and what we hoped for, is that people find the film very honest and true. And that’s the best we could have asked for.
We have won a number of awards including the Audience Choice Award at the Canadian Film Festival which is based on overall rating, not number of votes. Apparently we had one of the best overall ratings in the festivals history. That seems like a pretty good indicator of how people are responding to the film.
The movie features some animated sequences for the titles to go along with the gritty, true-to-life story along with the artist character. Really unique. What was your inspiration for this?
The inspiration came from John Coburn, an artist friend of mine whose work can be seen all over the world. He did ads for Macy’s and was involved in a tenth anniversary of 9/11 art exhibit in NYC.
The love interest character, Ben David, was a little bit shapeless in early drafts. At some point along the way I thought of making him a little like John and so an artist Ben David became. John let us shoot in his studio for the scenes that took place at Ben David’s and that’s where the idea started to really take shape about making the animated sequences, which John did the drawings for, animated by amazing art director/motion graphic artist Amanda Grant.
The final draft of the script, before the shooting draft, had a prologue that for various reasons we decided to can. But with John Coburn floating around the idea soon came to us about doing the prologue as an animated sequence. Then, after we wrapped photography, we decided to book-end the movie with these sequences and had John and Amanda do the epilogue, which go a long way towards giving the audience a good feeling about Luba and her son’s future prospects, without having to fix everything in the real world. We love the sequences and are so grateful to John and Amanda for their beautiful work.
Where is the movie going next after this and where can people follow the movie online?
We will be announcing two more festivals in the next few weeks including our first fest outside of North America. The fests have not announced yet and we can’t scoop them so you’ll have to stay tuned for that info. Peeps can follow us at our website www.lubamovie.com and there’s a link to Facebook there as well.
And finally, what is your favorite movie of all time and why?
THE ABYSS & ALIENS, the greatest love stories ever told on film. One in space. One under the sea. Many people die. Great films!
Be sure to keep an eye out for LUBA on the film festival circuit!