Sonja Bennett always knew she wanted to be an actress. After a successful career start, she started to notice a trend in the industry. One that was not so welcoming for seasoned female actors.
Usually the natural order of things is that the longer you do something, and the more seasoned you are, the better you get and the more money you get and the more opportunities you get. It drove Bennett, a Women in Film member, crazy that as an actor it just does not work that way and, unfortunately, there is a window of how long you can actually work. And for most females it is usually in their 20s and 30s. But as she puts it, “the solve is to diversify and make your own opportunities.”
And make her own opportunity she did!!
Bennett wrote an amazing script with a juicy role that she always wanted to play herself. Preggoland, now playing at the Vancouver International Film Festival (VIFF) is a comedy about a 35-year old woman who fakes a pregnancy to fit in with her friends. ***update: Preggoland won the VIFF Most Popular Canadian Feature Film Award***
It started with a jaywalk
Bennett came up with the idea when she was heading to her local coffee shop. She would always jaywalk across the street as it was a shorter route. People usually honked at her and gave her dirty looks when she crossed the street, just because they didn’t like her jaywalking.
So one time when Bennett started to jaywalk, she stepped over the curb, and the approaching cars screeched to a halt, letting her through as if it was the “parting of the red sea.” As Bennett wondered what was going on, she realized her pregnancy just started showing. That was the first moment, the first taste she got of how people treat pregnant women.
“It’s like you’re a goddess,” she says. “That was the seed of the movie. It all started from a jaywalk.”
Babbling about bodily fluids
Bennett says she had a hard time making female friends as an adult. But as soon as she got married and had children, it was easy to make female friends.
“It’s like being invited into a giant clique,” she says, adding this raised her interest. When she first had kids she found it very satisfying. People told her intimate things about their bodily fluids or their birth. But on flip side, it was very artificial. “Is just ‘having children’ enough in common to sustain a friendship?” That was what she wanted to explore in this film by merging those two ideas.
Producing with a little help from her friends
Bennett worked on the story with writer Katherine Collins and spent six months on a detailed outline. Telefilm Canada gave her a list of producers with experience in comedy. She didn’t know any one on the list, so she sent it to her friend, producer Kevin Eastwood (Fido, Emergency Room – Life and Death at VGH). She asked him who she should approach first but after reading her script, Eastwood loved it so much, he asked her if he could in fact produce the film.
Bennett and Eastwood attracted producer Dylan Collingwood (Cole, The Acting Class) and several private investors. Then Telefilm matched the private investors’ contributions to complete the budget.
Bennett had worked with director Jacob Tierney (The Trotsky) on a pilot seven years earlier. Tierney had also directed a film with similar tones to Preggoland. So they sent him the script, he read it, loved it and jumped on board.
The incentive for actor Danny Trejo (Machete) to play sidekick Pedro was a chance to expand his palette of roles. Trejo often plays criminals, so when the comedic part was offered to him he agreed right away. James Caan (Back in the Game), who plays the father, had previously worked with Tierney, and the remaining cast consists of locals.
Casting herself in the leading role proved to be the main obstacle for Bennett. The quality of the script suggested an A-list female actor for the lead. But Bennett had written this script to catapult her own acting career, so she really had to dig her heels in and say no. Both producers, Eastwood and Collingwood, backed Sonja up 100 per cent of the way and never pressured her to step aside, allowing her to follow her dream, even though it could mean less revenue.
“They didn’t have to . . . and this is one of the benefits of choosing to go in the business with people you are friends with and know you can trust,” says Bennett, clearly emotional.
Going through this journey with people that she knew and trusted, made the whole process fun for her. And finally what she wanted to highlight was the truth of what being an actress is and the importance of creating your opportunities.
Please go and show your support to this wonderful and inspiring female actor and filmmaker and watch her film at VIFF.
By Panta Mosleh
Panta Mosleh is a Women in Film member and an actor-writer-producer based in Victoria and Vancouver, B.C. She is the Vice President of CineVic and currently showcases her short Instance on the festival circuit.