Entertainment

Pembroke native uses her talent to co-write award-winning screenplay

A life-long love of writing for a Pembroke native now living on the west coast has turned into an award-winning screenplay and film starring Danny Glover.

Melodie Krieger Cliffe, who was born and raised in Pembroke, and her director husband Jim Cliffe recently wrapped up filming Donovan's Echo, a story they wrote together about a series of uncanny déjà vu events which force Donovan Matheson, portrayed by Danny Glover, to re-examine his tragic past, memory, instinct, and future.

Earlier this year they secured Mr. Glover for the lead role. His name immediately jumped out on a list provided by a Los Angeles casting agent and after talking it over with their producers all agreed he made an interesting choice and felt he would be perfect for the role. Two weeks after the discussion, they got word that he loved the script and agreed to play Donovan.

"Securing Danny Glover was an incredible coup," Ms. Krieger Cliffe wrote in an e-mail. "It was very, very exciting. To be making a low-budget, independent Canadian film with a first-time director, and then attach talent like that, it just doesn't happen. So yeah, we are infinitely grateful about how everything has come together for us."

Ms. Krieger Cliffe graduated from Fellowes High School in 1998 then went on to study advertising at Loyalist College before landing a job as a marketing copywriter. She credits her high school English teacher, Mr. Vijay, calling him a wonderfully memorable man, who gave her a good base with the skills she needed to pursue a career in writing. Ms. Krieger Cliffe moved to Kelowna, British Columbia in May 2003. Her parents Adele and Garry Krieger, and many other relatives still live in Pembroke, and are all extremely proud of her accomplishments.

Donovan's Echo has been in the works since 2006 when Mr. Cliffe asked if she would be interested in co-writing the screenplay. Although they both had full-time jobs, they sacrificed countless evenings and weekends plugging away on the project. The screenplay was finished by the spring of 2007 just in time to begin entering a few contests, Ms. Krieger Cliffe explained in an e-mail.

In 2007 Donovan's Echo was a quarter-finalist in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences' Nicholl Fellowships in Screenwriting Competition and was awarded a bronze at the Page International Screenwriting Awards in Hollywood.

The screenplay began garnering all kinds of attention from producers and production companies as a result of the competitions, she noted.

In late 2008, the couple received a year's worth of financing to quit their day jobs and work on the screenplay full-time. Although it was a huge risk, it was one they knew they'd regret it if they didn't grab the opportunity while it presented itself.

"It was one of those things that's just too rare to pass up -you know it's happening for a reason," Ms. Krieger Cliffe wrote. They spent the latter part of 2008 reworking the story based on feedback from friends, family members and professional script readers. They embarked on the process of networking and trying to find a production company willing to take a chance on Mr. Cliffe as a director at the beginning of 2009. Later that year, they secured Vancouver producers Trent Carlson, Andria Spring and Mary Anne Waterhouse, who loved the script and believed in Mr. Cliffe's talent to direct, she noted.

Since then, the pair has reshaped and polished Donovan's Echo to bring it to the next level. Meanwhile, the producers have been working behind the scenes to bring everything together by securing financing from Telefilm and other sources.

After years in the long and slow development phase, when they hit the pre-production stage everything became a blur. It wasn't until production wrapped earlier this month that Ms. Krieger Cliffe and Mr. Cliffe were able to sit down and absorb everything that had happened. The work is far from over, however, as the next step is editing.

The goal is to premier the film at the Toronto International Film Festival in September 2011 with a theatrical release soon after. Small independent films often have a limited release, but they are keeping their fingers crossed that the film will develop a good buzz and have a longer run in theatres.

Production lasted only 20 days, which is relatively unheard of considering how ambitious the story is, including many locations around Vancouver, in Pitt Meadows and Maple Ridge, several big stunts, different time periods and a very small budget, she wrote in her e-mail. The budget is one of the reasons for condensing the shoot, she added as movies with bigger budgets typically film over several months and shoot one page in a 12-hour day, but they were shooting between five to seven pages a day.

"It was pretty intense, but everyone was pretty happy with what we've produced," she wrote. "We were blessed with an awesome cast and crew that really brought the story to life in ways we never could have imagined. It'll be exciting to see the final product."

Although production was exhausting, the accomplishment to date is still amazing and rewarding when she looks back on the experience. One thing that was surprising was the number of people it takes behind the scenes to make a film, as there were about 85 people in the crew.

Ms. Krieger Cliffe was also fasc i nat e d to see how all of the departments worked behind the scenes to bring their written words and even the tiniest details to life.

She has already started working on future projects, as she has learned it is important to have a few things on the back burner and people are already asking about their next project.

Tina Peplinskie is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist