Every so often, an actor seems destined to play a particular role. From all accounts, it was Taylor Olson’s fate to not only perform in but also direct Bone Cage. It also marks the Halifax actor, writer and filmmaker’s feature-length directorial outing, receiving its debut at this year’s FIN Atlantic International Film Festival.
Adapted from Canadian playwright Catherine Banks’ Governor General’s Literary Award-winning play, Olson first read Bone Cage while studying theatre. He would go onto perform in the drama with Halifax’s Matchstick Theatre in 2017.
“I played Jamie, the same role I play in the film, and a couple of days into it, I thought this would make a great film,” he says by phone from Antigonish.
Olson’s connection to the material, in which he plays a small-town wood processor dreaming of a different life, goes beyond the page and screen.
“My family has a long history in the forestry industry, and it is something that I’m close to,” he says. “I grew up in various towns, including saw towns, and I knew Jamie in multiple ways. I thought it would be an ideal film for me to tackle, given my background.”
Olson also found himself drawn to the play’s environmental themes around sustainable logging. It was a subject he has discussed with his family, including his father, who currently works as a heavy-duty mechanic in the forest industry.
“There are those like in the movie who are doing selective, environmentally friendly logging. On the flip side, there is the darker side of the forestry industry, which is clearcutting, which is what Jamie is doing in the film, and that is what is eating away at him,” he says.
While the film closely follows Banks’ original story, some changes were necessary to bring the play to the big screen. “The plot is virtually intact, but because the play was so sprawling, for the film, we needed to be a bit more focused because it is such a different medium,” he says.
The most significant change in the film version is in a more narrowed focus on Jamie. “That was the character I understood,” says Olson. “We cut away a few other storylines and streamlined the play, but otherwise, the heart and the plot are the same.”
Olson was helped immensely by Banks herself, credited as script editor for the film.
“When I was working through the screenplay drafts, I would send them to her as I was working on them, and she would give me notes,” he says. “She was instrumental because there were a lot of things I didn’t understand or know exactly the specifics of why something was in the play. I could get her feedback and use that as I adapted the words and wrote new scenes or characters we heard about in the play and didn’t see.”
Not Olson’s first foray into filmmaking, having made several short films in the past, he saw Bone Cage as the right vehicle for his feature directorial debut. He also saw it as an opportunity to direct himself, having found the connections to the play’s character Jamie. And while he may have some initial doubts about directing and acting at the same time, his mentors urged him forward. “They all said I had to do it because I would regret it if I didn’t,” he says.
Having already experimented as both actor and director with his short films, Olson says he enjoys the combination. “I like working that way as an actor and director together because you’re in the trenches with the other actors,” he says. “You can set a tone or lead by example as to how you are going to tackle the project.”
Acknowledging that directing and acting does come with its challenges, Olson says it is a small price to pay to do it right. “It is a way I love working,” he says. “It felt like the two went hand-in-hand for this project.”
While he found time management on set to be difficult at times, Olson says the real challenges in the making Bone Cage came from the film’s budget and the bureaucracy of filming entirely on location.
“We had a small budget for a very ambitious movie, including some fairly large stunts like a car crash,” he says. “But the biggest challenge was getting permission from Stewiacke town officials to film on the beautiful bridge where we shot some of the film. In the end, it was a really special place to shoot.”
While the pandemic may have prevented Olson from seeing his directorial debut on the big screen, things are starting to open up again for the film industry. From completing Shelly Thompson’s Dawn Her Dad & the Tractor, which is why he is currently in Antigonish, Olson will quickly move onto other projects of his own.
“I just found out that two features that I’m part of have received funding,” says. “The one is a feature that I co-wrote with my partner called Bystanders, and the second will be my second directorial outing for a feature film that I wrote last year.”
In the meantime, Olson is looking forward to the premiere of Bone Cage at the Festival, proud of what he and his team accomplished.
“We had an incredible crew of all Nova Scotians,” he concludes. “It is a Nova Scotia story, and we were lucky to work with some of the best in the industry, even in this small movie. My producer Melanie [Wood] was incredible, and her partner Kevin Fraser who was the DOP (director of photography), was a dream to work with.”
Bone Cage will be available for streaming beginning on September 17 through September 24 as part of the 2020 FIN Atlantic International Film Festival. Visit finfestival.ca for more information.