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Sweeping onto the Screen

by Karen Hill

Screenwriters Paul Gross and John Krizanc like to joke that Men with Brooms is the best curling movie you'll ever watch. The film's co-writers (Paul Quarrington gets a "Story by" credit) go back 20 years–so they're a writing team with a lot of personal history.

How was the project born?

Paul Gross: [Producer] Robert Lantos and I had dinner one night and he was suggesting we should try a hockey story. I thought about it for a while and talked about it with John and Paul Quarrington. We started having a hockey discussion. The problem with hockey seemed to be that it's very difficult to shoot and very complicated to do well. On the budget, we could arguably expect it to be really difficult. On top of that, a hockey team is just so large–it's hard to condense it down to a group of characters you can really focus on. And I didn't want to get involved in anything that involved big-league games.

John Krizanc: It was also: How many hockey movies are left to be made? I don't think Les Boys 3 was where we wanted to go.
We kicked around a bunch of ideas but they all seemed derivative. Then I had a pitch: "Trainspotting goes curling." A day or two later, Paul Gross says 'Yeah that would be funny, and no one has done a curling flick.' He pitches Lantos. Robert doesn't laugh–he isn't even sure what the game is. Then two weeks later he phones and wants to meet us. He was on his treadmill and curling was on TV. He watched and he saw that curling was about real people. It's amateur in the best sense of the word. So he got into it… In the writing we lost the Trainspotting and got more Full Monty goes curling. That's probably the right balance given the genre we're toiling in. Curling is funny in and of itself. The difference was I came at it more mocking, but Paul said, 'If we're going to do this, we'll do this straight and you have to get rid of that cynicism.'

PG: Technically, it's much easier because you never have to go into slow motion. You don't need a high-speed camera. There are four people to a team. You can concentrate on them and the people around them. More than anything, I had wanted to do something that was a platform for an ensemble of actors. And to do something that was outside an urban setting.

Do either of you curl?

PG: No. We knew nothing about it. It was pathetic. We knew absolutely nothing about the game. Nothing.

JK: We didn't read a book about it until the second draft.

PG: I think that was good. We really hammered the story out before we got lost in the minutiae of the game. Like any game, it's incredibly complicated with all the little subsets of rules you can get completely tripped up on.

JK: The more you know how to do something, the more you get into the nuances. It would have been a different movie. We really wanted to have it as a backdrop for the characters. In the early drafts, that's what we really worked on. The characters. The climax of our movie is based on an obscure curling rule.

PG: I'm typing away up at my farm and John's reading the rule book and comes in saying, 'Is this of any use to us?' And it's some really obscure rule.

What was the process for beating out the story?

PG: It was interminable. Endless conversations.

JK: It wasn't like doing a TV show where you need a beat sheet and you just go and do it. It took seven, eight drafts. The best times came when Paul was doing Hamlet in Stratford for a week. He'd come home and work on his off-hours or go up to his farm.

The farm was really boot camp with Gross the taskmaster. We would go up, usually for five days at a time, but sometimes just a weekend… Paul loves writing up there because in the city there are so many people and obligations distracting him. We literally would work from ten in the morning until two at night–mind you we'd take time out for political rants and gourmet meals. It was very civilized.

PG: It was a very complicated script to balance because there were 10 or 12 fairly significant characters, and it's really hard to keep everybody alive knowing that a big chunk of your time is going to be taken up with games. It's very condensed. We had really detailed back stories for everyone.

JK: You can see why people make their first movie about two heroin addicts locked in a basement.

How do your writing styles complement one another?

JK: Our fights are mainly about dialogue. I think we agree about the scenes. Paul likes to write the way people actually are in real life and I have no interest in that. I don't care. To me, that's not why I go to the movies. I want to see people who are better than me, who are smarter than I am, who say the things that I just cannot say.

PG: Who say the one thing you should have said before you left the bedroom.

JK: All those overwritten lines? They're mine. If it's real and honest, that's probably Paul. We're very different in our approach. Because we challenge each other and because we have a history, I can talk to him and say, 'That's fucking awful.' And he can say the same thing to me. When we're meeting as writers, we're really equal and we respect one another.

PG: And the really nice thing is that any idea is worthy until it's shot down. I don't censor myself.

JK: The other thing we fight about is that Paul doesn't believe in subtext, whereas I am coming from the-nobody-ever-says-what-they-mean school of thought.

So you enjoy writing together?

JK: The nicest thing about writing as a team is that it's not so lonely. It's very social and you have a lot of fun. There are very few people you're willing to expose yourself to–and let them know the secret that you're really not that smart until the seventh draft. We were lucky that way. We were prepared to put it all down and see where it went.

PG: In this kind of script, I feel like you need two people. I absolutely could not have written this alone.

JK: Because it is a genre picture, it has conventions and you can get into it because you can get into the craft of it. You can say 'I've been in this business long enough and we're pretty good cabinet makers.'

How did you find the difference between writing for television versus writing for a theatrical release?

PG: Everything about a feature is more complicated. Fundamentally, the process is the same but I've been stunned by the complexity. When I was doing Due South, I was thinking there's really no difference; it's the same process. Essentially, the shooting is the same process. The schedules don't alter much. You can't have a scene go by that isn't really thought through and hasn't proved itself as an essential ingredient. This was just a lot harder to do. All of it.

JK: To me it was the precision involved. Anybody can write that bit of exposition in six lines, but can you do it in an image? Can you do it in three words? That's what takes so many damn drafts. Can you get three scenes happening in that scene, please? In TV just one thing happens at a time. Here, it's got to be richer.

PG: Knowing the picture is going to be bigger makes a difference.

The complete article can be found in the Spring 2002 Issue of Canadian Screenwriter.