Geraldton – “It’s pretty cool to be here!”

Coconut Hero was filmed in Geraldton
Coconut Hero was filmed in Geraldton

Coconut Hero was filmed in Geraldton
Coconut Hero was filmed in Geraldton

Coconut Hero Filmed in Geraldton

GERALDTON – “It’s pretty cool to be here!” A lot of people in Geraldton were saying that, or thinking that, when “Hollywood” came to town. On Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, a professional film crew was making a movie. For close to twelve hours on Wednesday, vehicular traffic ceased in the entire 4-block business sector.

The feature film “Coconut Hero” is the brain child of Florian Cossen, director, and his chief collaborator, scriptwriter Elena von Saucken. Cossen, born in 1979 in Israel, now makes his home in Germany. Promotional material describes the film as a “sad comedy”.

Two years ago, Cossens and his colleagues scouted Geraldton locations for the story-in-progress. Last year, the project received major funding from Ontario Media Development Corporation. This summer, filming began in Canada in Sault Ste. Marie, and after five weeks there, the crew came to Greenstone.

The official synopsis of the story begins “Abandoned by his father at an early age and butt of abuse at his school in a sleepy logging town, 16-yar-old Mike Tyson (a name that’s just one of his many problems) is determined to exit this weary world. His various suicide attempts have met with failure . . . “

In an interview with the writer, the actor Alex Ozerov explained how he plays the role of Mike Tyson, the 16-year-old. Ozerov himself is 22; he was born in Russia, learned to speak English when he resided in England for three years, and moved to Canada when he was 13. “The boy [Tyson] has been longing for death for quite some time. He feels he doesn’t fit in.”

After several attempts at suicide, Tyson finds his father’s old rifle, shoots himself in the head, and finds himself in hospital. He survives the injury but discovers that he has a malignant brain tumor, and doctors give him two months to live.

The young people acting as extras are, L to R: Emma, Hannah, Curtis, Nick, Annikki, Donald, & Sheldon.
The young people acting as extras are, L to R: Emma, Hannah, Curtis, Nick, Annikki, Donald, & Sheldon.

The filming on Wednesday in Geraldton portrayed Tyson’s feelings after his release from hospital. As he is riding his bicycle downtown, he experiences euphoria at the prospect of dying soon and ending his misery. For the filming, several local residents were recruited as extras to portray Tyson’s joy in a dream-like sequence.

Local resident Maureen Cyrenne acted as community liaison for the production. She recruited extras by posting ads on Facebook sites, and accepted pretty much whoever showed up. “There were no speaking parts,” she said, “so there were no auditions.” The extras showed up for work at 7:30 on Wednesday morning; they signed on for minimum wage.

Cheerleaders make their moves as the camera passes.  L to R, Jamie Zawierucha, Mike Magee, & Zach Haslam.
Cheerleaders make their moves as the camera passes. L to R, Jamie Zawierucha, Mike Magee, & Zach Haslam.

Cyrenne also took care of logistics such as lodging for the film crew, catering, and vehicles for particular scenes. She also posted flyers about the upcoming event.

On Wednesday morning, everyone in Greenstone woke up to a winter wonderland. It did indeed feel cool to be there. The script called for a rain-free end-of-summer day. Environment Canada station at the airport reported 4 centimetres, but other locations were hit with up to 10 centimetres. With up to 7 centimetres of snow on the sidewalks, boulevards, and streets in the downtown, Geraldton Ward fire department pitched in with hoses, and film crew wielded brooms to clean up the remnants.

As contracted, the extras reported for duty at 7:30 a.m., spent a long time filling out paperwork, and then participated in rehearsals. After the lunch that the project provided, the filming began. Public Works had barricaded the side streets that led to Main Street, and Ontario Provincial Police cruisers diverted traffic from the downtown area. Pedestrians could still access the businesses.

The writer arrived at the scene close to 4 o’clock that afternoon, and one extra said there had already been sixteen takes. Each take involved a van with cameras hung out the side and back doors. The van started at Mary Browns and slowly drove north to the vicinity of Marino Hardware. A gang of young cyclists fell in behind the van and ranged themselves across the breadth of Main Street. They mimicked the moves of the actor Alex Ozerov, who preceded them on a bicycle. If he stuck out a leg, they all stuck out their legs. Music blasted from the lead truck. En route, other extras performed on cue.

At one point, three men waved pom-poms and jumped around. Mike Magee said, “We were chosen to do some good cheerleading moves.” The night before, he had fabricated the pom-poms. The other cheerleaders were Zach Haslam and Jamie Zawierucha.

Another group threw confetti on the street, which was swept up and disposed of after each take. Ted Marino’s role required him to exit the store holding a guitar and to walk around the corner. In each of these cases, timing was vital. Not all extras performed for each take.

There were three dancers: John Magee, Irene Gordon, and J.P. Houle. Magee said he was “a rock star dancer”. Some extras performed cartwheels or swung a bag of oranges. Elgin Ratushniak portrayed an elderly handicapped gentleman experiencing a miraculous cure: “I was supposed to drive a scooter up the street, stand up, and walk away.”

As the scene went down, powerful sound emanated from the pickup that preceded the van. It was the song “The Look” by the electronic music group Metronomy. The group formed in 1999 in England, and “The Look” comes from its third album, “The English Riviera”. The lyrics suggest that the singer is living the best time of his life, his adolescence: “We didn’t read it in the big book / And now we’re giving you the look look / Just remember how we shook shook / And all the things we took took”. The refrain is “This town’s the oldest friend of mine”.

During a pause in the filming, the writer interviewed one of the young cyclists. Sheldon Shaw’s mother had called the high school and got him released for the job as extra. Some of the cyclists were still in elementary school. Close to 4:00, Shaw thought they had done 30 takes already. How did he find the job? Online. What did he think of the process? “It’s only a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Shaw. “It’s pretty cool to be here!”

The director, Florian Cossen, proved to be too busy for an interview, but he did introduce the writer to actor Alex Ozerov. Ozerov said that subsequent to the dream sequence, the character Mike Tyson meets “an older woman” ̶ the script calls for a 22-year-old named Miranda ̶ and undergoes a dramatic change of heart. Asked if there would be an even more emotive scene to express that feeling, Ozerov said, “You’ll have to wait for the film.”

Florian Cossen has made one other feature film, “The Day I Was Not Born”. It debuted in Israel in April 2011 to critical acclaim. Cossen, a diplomat’s son, spent his childhood in Israel, Canada, Spain, and Costa Rica before completing his high school education in Germany. He studied film directing, made several short films, and got the idea for his first feature when on a trip to Argentina.

According to Ozerov, “Coconut Hero” is a German-Canadian co-production, and will be in English.