Screenings hard to watch, says Steveston film producer

Steveston’s Matthew Cervi loves movies. He loves helping make them. He’s just not so keen watching those he’s worked on in a theatre along with other film fans.

But that is about to change, somewhat, this Saturday (May 24) when his latest creation,Cruel and Unusual,has its Canadian premier at the Vancity Theatre.

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“To be honest, most times I don’t watch my films in big groups,” laughed Cervi, a creative producer and grad of the Canadian Film Centre (CFC). “I get too nervous. Although, I am going to watch Cruel and Unusualin the theatre.”

It wasn’t so for The Colony, a sci-fi flick he produced starring Laurence Fishburn and Bill Paxton which hit theatres last year. Cervi was so wound up emotionally he waited outside the movie houses in both Vancouver and Toronto on screening nights.

At the heart of his reluctance to be present, Cervi explained it has to do with being personally invested in his work.

“For me, you put your heart and soul into something. And that’s what creative producing is all about,” he said. “You can literally spend years before you get the film off the ground, if you even get that far. So, you have to love it, otherwise there’s a lot of other jobs that pay better.

“I just find that pivotal moment when the lights go down, I want everyone to love the film. So, I rather the audience enjoys it without me watching them. I’d probably be too intent looking over to see what their reactions are.”

The difference with Cruel and Unsual, described as a “supernatural puzzle film,” is the fact it’s production breaks new ground on the west coast for the CFC which helped fund the project — the first of its kind outside of Ontario. And that’s something Cervi said requires his personal support on screening night.

“Getting the film made here, it was a testing ground to see what could be done,” said Cervi, 41, who grew up in the Dunbar area of Vancouver and has called Steveston home for the past six years. “They have a pedigree in Ontario and a lot of people know about them (CFC) and the kind of projects they get involved in.

“The film centre really wanted to branch out, so the industry really supported us.”

The movie, shot over 15 days in and around rural Langley and the eerie interiors of decomissioned Riverview mental health hospital in Coquitlam, revolves around a man wrongfully condemned for killing his wife.

The main character, Edgar, played by David Richmond-Peck (star of Orphan Black) finds himself enrolled in an after-life, group therapy centre of sorts (Riverview) along with other murderers who have been forced to atone for their actions by reliving their crimes for eternity.

The story was pitched to him by writer/director Merlin Dervisevic.

“We had a coffee and he told me about this script he’d written and I found it extremely intriguing,” Cervi said. “I read the first draft and thought it was really great. There’s a lot of complex logic that goes back and forth between the different realities.”

Cervi and Dervisevic, another CFC grad, used their connections through the centre to get funding from the organization’s feature division which provides funding for smaller budget projects — those under $1 million.

“I hadn’t read a script that could be done in that budget level, and done properly,” Cervi said. “But when I read Cruel and Unusal, it was perfect.”

What followed next was a couple of years of development before shooting started in 2012.

The price tag?

Cervi said that, thanks to a lot of support from the local film industry, the film was completed for around $650,000.

“One of the biggest things (hurdles) was that we weren’t Godzilla, a big budget film that can come in and do whatever it wants,” Cervi said, referring to the blockbuster, re-booted, version that was partially shot in Steveston. It opened in theatres last weekend and started repaying its hefty, $160 million price tag. “You have to work with what you’ve got, think outside of the box and have crew members who will work with you on that. And we did. Everyone was really supportive.”

Being at the helm of such a multifaceted project is a task Cervi said he relishes.

But it wasn’t always his goal to become a film producer.

“For me I always wanted to be in the business some way, some how,” he said. “When I was younger, I wanted to be like Steven Spielberg, writing and directing. But as I went to film school, I realized I wasn’t a very good writer and life changed direction to more of the producing, business side of things.”

As a creative producer, Cervi found he was still able to deal with that creative side as well as the business side, satisfying his creative juices, “because I love working with the writers, directors, and working on the story and envision what this could be,” he said.

Cruel and Unusualis scheduled to play at the Vancity Theatre (1181 Seymour Street) May 24 to June 7.

For show times and tickets, visit and click on the film’s title in the Coming Soon section.

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