MICHAEL MELSKI is an award-winning writer and filmmaker from Cape Breton. His many plays, including JOYRIDE, HOCKEY MOM, HOCKEY DAD and CARIBOU have been performed to rave reviews across Canada. He has been playwright in residence at the Shaw Festival, Shakespeare By The Sea, and has published in BLOOD ON STEEL:TWO PLAYS. Since his residency at the Canadian Film Centre, Michael has written extensively for film and television, including writing and story-editing STRAIGHT UP (Gemini-nominated for Best Dramatic Series); the Gemini-nominated STREET CENTS; as well as short films which have played in festivals around the world.
Michael has numerous feature film scripts are in development across the country, including INFILTRATION (Sienna Films), and HUMAN ACTS (Mentor Films). He is also writing and directing on COME AS YOU ARE, a feature collaboration of six of the Maritimes' hottest film talents. In the past year, for television, he has been developing new prime-time dramatic series including: HOCKEY BOYS (Insight/ Global) and WILD HEARTS (Sienna Films/CTV) on which he is Series Creator. Michael also wrote for the cop drama BLUE MURDER (Barna-Alper/Global), and as well as the historical documentary PROGRESS OF CENTURIES for CBC.
His first feature film as writer, MILE ZERO (Anagram Pictures) was completed in 2001, and recently premiered at the Montreal Film Festival, where it was named 'the festival standout' by the Globe and Mail. It had also been selected to screen at other film festivals around the world, including Halifax, Vancouver, Sao Paulo, Austin, and Fort Lauderdale. Michael's first film as director and writer, the short SERENADE, premiered at the Atlantic Film Festival in 2000, and won the BEST FIRST-TIME DIRECTOR award. It has since been sold to CBC television. Michael's second feature film as writer, the dramatic comedy TOUCH AND GO (Chronicle Pictures) wa shot in November in Halifax, and is currently in post-production.
In the past year, a new production of HOCKEY MOM, HOCKEY DAD, produced by Two Planks and A Passion launched a successful nationwide tour, and has recently been published by Breton Books. The play is scheduled to tour the United States in 2003. Michael's recent play, MILES FROM HOME was a smash hit at its World Premiere in summer 2001, and broke box office records at Ship's Company Theatre. Michael's latest play A SENSE OF DIRECTION had its world premiere in Halifax this fall, where it was hailed as 'Gripping' (The Chronicle Herald) 'Intense and wonderful...don't miss it.' (ATV News). Michael is currently adapting the play into a feature film script.
Michael divides his professional time between Toronto and Halifax. His other interests include golf, fishing, kick-boxing and a novel-in-progress. He has been called 'A great writer, a wonderful new voice' (David Adams Richards), "An important new voice in Canadian fiction' (Atlantic Books Today), and named one of '100 Canadians to Watch' by MacLean's.
Q: Michael Melski, why do you write?
A: It's been a calling from a very young age, and I definitely feel part of a maritime storytelling tradition, even when that locale isn't a key element of my stories. All experience and observation, even minor and mundane, have an impact-- for me, writing is an attempt to understand life. Sometimes it's even entertaining.
Q: We met and attended the University of Kings College in Halifax in the late 1980`s and early 1990`s. As a freshman, you acted in small but successful University Theatre Productions like The Cherry Orchard and we both performed together in Equus. I wondered what kind of a role your early origins as an actor have played in your writing?
A: Going to King's, rather than film school in Ontario, was a choice that reflected my need to read more literature, and to learn to tell stories before jumping behind a camera. Getting involved in the theatre was enjoyable and accidental. Any aptitude I may have shown as an actor in those days was funnelled into my early writing, when I began writing and directing plays the following year. Acting helped me to understand the structure of dramatic writing, especially from the pov of someone who has to speak the lines. My time on the boards was valuable. It still informs the work I do today.
Q: Currently your feature film Mile Zero is playing in theatres in Toronto. You have told me that your goal is to direct a feature film. You have been to the Canadian Film Centre and have written and staged numerous plays across Canada including, Joy Ride, Hockey Mom, Hockey Dad and have worked with Sheldon Currie (Margaret`s Museum) to adapt films. You have written a lot of plays and teleplays and are a growing force in the Canadian screenwriting community. What do you think is your strongest attribute as a writer?
A: I'm fairly relentless in my drive to get better, clearer, and more original. I'm not afraid to take risks; to particpate in new forms, and to test my own limits on projects that seem impenetrable or daunting.
Q: Michael you had a whirlwind ride in the early nineties with fringe play success in Halifax, then Boston, a writer-in-residence appointment at the Shaw Festival and then getting accepted into the Canadian Film Centre. Can you tell me how things developed and how close you are, if you are, to the Halifax Film community and what your take is on the productions coming out of there at the moment? What do you think about Salter Street getting bought out?
A: I'm still close to the Halifax scene -- a lot of my work comes from there and there are a lot of collaborators that I admire in NS. My plays are often produced back east. My first short as director, SERENADE, was shot there in 2000 and my second short LIFT-OFF shoots there next month. My second feature as writer-only, TOUCH AND GO, was commissioned by Chronicle Pictures, a Halifax company, and was shot there last year. Halifax is a good place, more fraternal and less pretentious than the Toronto scene can sometimes be, although smaller and the opportunities fewer. I try to maintain a profile in both places so that I don't need to depend on one or the other.
There needs to be more indigenous production in NS. Service productions from the states are unreliable and won't sustain, especially with their current political bent. I think it's early to say what Salter Street's new role is going to be.
Q: You are from Cape Breton originally, New Waterford, I believe. There is a growing catalogue of strong work about Cape Breton in literature (Cape Breton Road, Fall on Your Knees, No Great Mischief), films like Margaret`s Museum and so on. Do you find that you write a lot about your native roots in Cape Breton? If so, are you still interested in writing about that time? Are you ever concerned that with success comes versatility and a watering down of the original talent?
A: Actually, I'm from Sydney. There is a great literary tradition in Cape Breton. A lot of my early plays spoke to life there. I'm still interested in it--I'm chipping away at a novel, a personal project that is more autobiographical than anything I've done. However, I'm reluctant to set work in Cape Breton now, at least for the time being-- there's a 'trendiness' about it which borders on opportunism. Lately there've been writers who've spent only a short time living there, and have become, whether professed or acclaimed, authoritative voices on the culture. So, despite some good craft, we're getting into surface impressions, and stereotypes of quirky Cape Breton or Nova Scotia characters prevalent in recent work. For the moment, I'd really like to get away from having my stories limited by locale, and expectations around that.
Your second question is intriguing. Success as a writer is very much about survival, and to survive, you must be versatile, and sometimes write work that pays the nut. If that's all you do, then I'm sure you can get 'watered-down'. I think it's vital that a writer have their own projects that are more personal, involving risk, that are not confined or rushed by the rules of the market.
Q: Screenwriting is a collaborative medium. How are you by and large to work with? I have a friend who works as a producer, he tells me a lot of horror stories about the director being a 'screamer' and the writer a 'basket case'. He was referring to largely over budget, American productions with big stars, big egos and asshole directors. Also this quote comes to mind:
Producers are greedy.
Directors are meglomaniacs.
Writers are crazy.
Christ, Melski, are writers crazy?
A: Are you? Some are, but that definitely goes for the other two categories as well. I don't think I'm the typical personality type. I'm open-minded, reliable, but I don't suffer fools. I'm sure some think I'm difficult. That's their problem.
Q: I know that you have immersed and proven yourself in screenplay and playwriting. Are you now interested in other genres, such as fiction or poetry?
A: I used to write some poetry. I still read it. I'm a big Al Purdy fan, and visited Ameliasburg last year. Very cool. Too many cottages on the Roblin Lake though.
Q: Music and being on the road with the smalls has played a big role in my writing and has been a big influence in my poetry performances in Toronto. Is music or comedy part of your writing style?
A: When I'm directing, I'm always thinking of music as an element, as part of a motif or a moment. When I'm writing, I listen to rock to get motivated.
Q: We both lived in Chapel Bay at The University of Kings College in Halifax. There were some shenanigans gotten up to whilst there, including the stealing of Iron Man, Bay Parties etc., and there were some characters living there named Purcell, Darren Greer, (new novel, Tyler`s Cape), Timmie Breau, Colin Trethewey, Jeff Curtis, and so on. I saw you at Brent`s screening the the other night and I wondered if you still keep in contact with any of the lads.
A: I've managed to stay in touch with only a few close friends from those days, but I would always like to run into or hear from any of the above.
Q: At the beginning I remember that you used to write and workshop plays at UKC with many of the Kings students like Drew Yamada and Charles Austin (later the pop quartet, The Superfriendz), Fiona Highet, etc. Also there was quite a close relationship between some Kings students and NSCAD at the time. Was this creative and enviroment something that inspired you or were you quite driven at the time?
A: It was an inspirational period, and I was already pretty driven. It's cool that so many of those people at King's have gone on to strong careers in entertainment. I don't think anyone would have predicted that. We were pretty wasted at the time.
Q: You divide your time between Toronto and Halifax? Now given what has happened in New York, do you take the train, drive, or fly?
A: I make the drive often. But usually I fly, 9-11 notwithstanding.
Q: One time, a few years back I told you that I was holed up in my apartment in Toronto like Travis Bickle and pounding out the 'Trainspotting of Halifax.' You laughed and told me that you were working on exactly the same thing. So what is next for the great Michael Melski?
A: After a lot of production last year, I'm looking forward to taking my time developing the next new projects, directing my next short film, enjoying some security and creative freedom. No new plays for a while, though I may revisit an older one.