Lisa Vatcher on "Long Term Care"

Lisa Vatcher’s short film "Long Term Care" will be screening as part of SJIWFF’s Late Shorts on October 23rd from 9 -11pm at The LSPU HALL. We talked to her about the inspiration for her film, collaborating with her partner and the challenges of re-creating the past on the screen.

SJIWFF: Can you tell me a little bit about your film?

L: I wrote and produced “Long Term Care”, it’s a story about a father and son who are coming to terms with the fact that the father has dementia and needs to be admitted to a care facility. While it’s a heavy topic, there’s a lot of Newfoundland humor peppered throughout because that’s how Newfoundlanders deal with things.

SJIWFF: How important is place to the story in “Long Term Care”?

L: It’s really important, one of the biggest challenges we faced in pre-production was location. My grandmother was admitted to a long-term care facility in St. John’s. I wanted to find a location that could capture the way that place looked and the visceral feeling you get when you enter one of those spaces. The Centre for Nursing Studies eventually came on board and they were incredibly supportive. We were able to use one of their study floors and turn it into a long-term care facility.  

Setting the film in Newfoundland was also really important to me. I wanted to show the way that Newfoundland families deal with this stuff. We tend to turn to dark humor, there was a lot of that when my grandmother was admitted to a home. I wanted Charlie, the father character, to have that dark sense of humor.

SJIWFF: Charlie is willing to joke about his dementia but sometimes it feels like a way of hiding his insecurity about the loss of control he’s experiencing.    

L: I’ve noticed my relatives aging with a sense of humor. I think that humor partly comes from a desire to make it easier on everyone else. They’re not thinking about themselves, they’re trying to lighten the mood and elevate everybody else.

SJIWFF: What made you want to tell this story as a film?

L: I mentioned earlier how visceral it is to walk into a long-term care facility. The sights and smells are completely different than anything else you’ve ever experienced. Those places are trying so hard to cultivate a sense of home and failing at it. The visual nature of a short film really captures that.

My partner Ian Vatcher directed the film and did the cinematography. We’ve been together for a long time and we work very collaboratively.

He was around when my grandmother went into the home. We had just graduated from university and gone backpacking across Europe. I was more of an audience member in that situation. I watched my mother and my grandmother going through that experience together. I wrote about a father and son but that was partly because I was thinking about Ian directing it.

We were really lucky to find John Pike who played Charlie, this was kind of his acting debut. He had done some work on Republic of Doyle as a stand-in and a few years ago he was in a play of Death of a Salesman. It was also me and Ian’s first time making a short film.

We would all sit down together and talk about the character. John was really interested in the backstory; what regiment Charlie would have been in, what kind of relationship he would have had with his family. He showed up on the day and did a great job.

SJIWFF: Can you talk a bit about filming the scene set in the past?

L: Our art director, Debbie Vatcher (who also happens to be my mother in law), worked on Republic of Doyle for years and lots of other films. Period pieces are her passion. She did a lot of research on wartime hospitals. She was able to find out exactly what regiment Charlie would have been in. She found out what hospital in Britain he would have ended up in and how it would have looked. The flashback is short but I think it’s very effective.

SJIWFF: What are some things that were done to make the set look authentic?

L: The set designers and painters did a great job.

One thing that helped make it look authentic was the medical equipment. The Centre for Nursing Studies was great for filming the present day stuff but they also have a museum of medical equipment in the school that  we were able to avail of. One thing that stands out to me is the I.V. stand and glass that hangs from it. There are all these little details that you add in as a writer without thinking about how props are going to be sourced. We just screened “Long Term Care” at the Atlantic Film Festival and it was really nice to see people’s reactions when the narrative switches into the past. It’s a big moment in the film.

SJIWFF: Who are some of your influences?

L: Jonathan Tropper, he wrote This is Where I Leave You . He writes a lot about family, the sadness and humor that you can pull out of family dysfunction. I thought a lot about his work when I was writing this.

This film came from a really personal place, I let it percolate for a long time. My grandmother unfortunately passed away in 2010. It wasn’t until I started working in production that I realized I had the tenacity to actually write something about it. I let it sit in my head for a really long time before I actually wrote anything down.

SJIWFF: What’s next for you?  

L: I just saw Rhonda Buckley’s “TerraNova Matadora” at the Atlantic Film Festival, it’s a short form documentary about a Matadora from Newfoundland. I found that film really inspiring. There’s a lot of funding out there for digital and interactive projects so I’m thinking about doing something like a webseries or a short form documentary.  

Rhonda Buckley's "TerraNova Matadora" will also be screened during SJIWFF's Late Shorts on October 23rd from 9-11pm at the LSPU Hall. Stayed tuned for an interview with Rhonda on the making of her film.