How everything changed for Carly Stone when she became a mother while working on her movie North of Normal

River Price-Maenpaa (left) and Sarah Gadon north of Normal. (TIFF)

Cutting planes is a series of personal essays where filmmakers tell how their film was made. This TIFF 2022 edition of Carly Stone focuses on her film North of normalwho __

Realizing she was eight months pregnant in the pandemic was no joke. Directing while eight months pregnant in the pandemic in a bug suit definitely felt like one. But that’s how I spent the summer of 2021.

On site in Sudbury, North Bay and Mattawa, I was often surrounded by poison ivy and experienced the joys of shad season. I loved every minute.

For four years, I had worked with Alexandra Weir, our screenwriter, on the adaptation of the memoirs of Cea Sunrise Person, North of normal. One of our producers, Kyle Mann, gave me the book when we were working on our last movie together, The New Romantic. I read it in one sitting. It was written with humor and pathos, and its universe — and the characters who populated it — captivated me. The book thrilled me and inspired me to bring this visually rich and emotionally charged story to the screen.

In his heart, North of normal is about a mother and her child. But during the development of the material, my relationship with the story changed.

When I first read the book as a young director who was not yet a mother, I felt Cea’s ambition and feminist spirit. But then I became a mom and felt more empathy for Cea’s mom, Michelle, despite her flaws — or maybe because of them. I felt protective of the complexities of Cea and Michelle: two strong female characters voiced in totally different ways, infinitely intertwined with each other, forever defined by each other. My goal was to capture that.

We were supposed to shoot the movie in the spring of 2020, but when the pandemic shut things down, we were forced to push the project indefinitely. A year later, when things picked up speed, I was in my third trimester and I hadn’t been within six feet of anyone outside my house in a very long time.

The first person I hugged outside of my family was my cinematographer, David Jones. He had just come out of a two-week quarantine after flying in from the US, so I deemed him cuddly. Kyle and I, on the other hand, were sitting on opposite ends of a park bench early in pre-production. He had flown in from Vancouver and was not required to self-quarantine. My hands were raw and red from overusing those little purple bottles of natural, organic, fragrance-free, and cruelty-free sanitizers. They were my safety net, real or imagined. It was a pleasure to work with me.

When I got to our first scout, my department heads spotted a disassembled crib in the back of my car, then took a look at my belly. They thought my plan was to give birth during production. I assured them that the work was reserved for the editing suite; the crib was for my two year old. You see, I had convinced my family to take the road with me. Staying in five different rentals for eight weeks wouldn’t disturb anyone’s sleep!

My husband and I soon realized that our son didn’t understand why I suddenly had to leave home to do my job. When I came home after my first day of prep, he told me he didn’t love me anymore. During breaks, I would rush to our Airbnbs to try and catch my son’s bedtime. On my days off, I did my prenatal blood work at Lifelabs in Sudbury. It elevated my connection to the material to make a film about motherhood while being so deeply immersed in it.

Before the vaccine, the idea of ​​making this film pregnant, while living with an unvaccinated toddler, seemed impossible. But when time and science meant I was double vaxxed and acclimated to other humans again, my fear turned into elation, adrenaline, pleasure. For me the only thing that beats realization North of normal was starting to mount it on Zoom, in my bedroom, while my newborn was sleeping on my chest.

This year’s Toronto International Film Festival runs from September 8-18. Find North of Normal hours here.

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