Filmmaking without a net: improvised Afterparty realizes genuine moments


Graham Coffeng and Ali Liebert in a scene Afterparty. Photo by Richard Amies.

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Ask most actors and they will tell you that  improvisation is the equivalent of a high wire act performed without a net.  By not being able to rely on a script, it is the actor’s skills that will ultimately determine whether they make it to the other side.  Up for the challenge, a group of Vancouver 30-somethings have taken on this death-defying metaphor, with Afterplay, an improvised feature-length movie.

Afterparty tells the story of Charlie who, on the night of his brother’s wedding, gathers his old high-school gang for a post-reception party to help him forget about his own marriage.  Over the course of the night Charlie must decide if he gives into his husband’s ultimatum to return home, while the rest of the group discovers that revisiting the past doesn’t always prepare you for the future.

Proving once again that art does indeed imitate life, the story for Afterparty comes partly from gay actor Graham Coffeng’s real-life story, having moved to Vancouver in 2011 after separating from his husband.  Like the character Charlie he plays, Coffeng was housesitting for his brother when he first arrived out west and recognized the empty house as an opportunity to make a movie.

“The film was inspired by some true life events, but a lot of ‘what ifs’ came into play,” says Coffeng.  “I definitely had a strong emotional force to draw on and I was able to draw on my own experiences to create a scenario of why the character of Charlie was coming to the end of his relationship.”

“The house came first,” laughs director Michelle Ouellet.  “We had this fabulous location and this reunion film came from the wonderful house that Graham was staying in.”

Graham Coffeng and Ali Liebert in a scene Afterparty. Photo by Richard Amies.

Graham Coffeng and Ali Liebert in a scene from Sociable Films’ Afterparty. Photo by Richard Amies.

With the location and Coffeng’s personal story as the jumping off point, the Sociable Films team set out to create Afterparty, but quickly realized that without the luxury of being able to wait for a script the group decided that the only way to get the film completed was through improvisation.

While cast and crew had a general idea of what the film would be about and they had worked extensively on character development, it wasn’t until the “cast chats” before each scene that the general direction of that particular scene was agreed.

“We built the characters together and why they felt the way they did,” explains Ouellet who used a large questionnaire to help her actors build out their character back stories.

Despite the risks of shooting the film without a script, director Michelle Ouellet says that it resulted in some genuine moments.

“The thing I liked most about it was that I didn’t know what was going to happen next,” explains Ouellet.  “The process was so foreign and there was much less control because there was no script, but that is what makes it unique.”

“Definitely there was a fear factor involved, but it there was an appeal that for me and the cast about how are we were going to make this film a different experience and stand out from anything else,” admits Coffeng.

Afterparty gets its world premiere at the upcoming Whistler Film Festival with two screenings on December 5 and 7.  Members of the cast and crew are expected to be in attendance.

Following its premiere in Whistler, the film will start making the rounds on the festival circuit and they will undertake what they are calling a “cast caravan”, touring the film across the country and into select U.S. cities.

Visit for more information on Sociable Films.

Mark Robins on Google+

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