The way things were going for Stephen Dunn a year ago, his life and career appeared to be on a major roll. His short film, Life Doesn't Frighten Me (which stars iconic Canuck actor Gordon Pinsent), was making a bow at TIFF. And he was to begin writing another film for the prestigious Canadian Film Centre.
But there was trouble in paradise, Dunn says. "The CFC is amazing, but I found they were pretty restrictive in their ideas about structuring a script. I had a lot of independence with Life Doesn't Frighten Me. Suddenly I was working in a very different way, with a lot more input from people."
During this time of feeling huge amounts of stress, a friend went out of town and left him in charge of the friend's young daughter. "After everything I was going through, suddenly I was responsible for this little girl. All this pressure just went right out the window. I was responsible for this girl, and that put a lot into perspective."
This formed the inspiration for his latest short film, We Wanted More, which focuses on the plight of a singer (Christine Horne) whose star is rising rapidly as news of her beautiful voice goes viral. She has an ambitious agent (Angela Asher) who has her booked on tour and is clearly envisioning a meteoric rise for her client's profile. But in a surreal twist, the singer retreats into her apartment after she comes across a mysterious child (Skyler Wexler) who seems in dire need of some TLC.
Is this child real or part of the singer's twisted imagination, one shaken up by intense pressure to perform?
"I tend to make films about whatever emotions I'm experiencing at the time," Dunn says. "I was really tense. I actually didn't know the film would be so full of tension when I first started making it."
The result is a quirky exploration of the anguish a creative personality might feel when constrained. Horne turns in a fine performance as someone caught up in the turmoil of a new and challenging career, one based on performance. It's a mini-horror story or cautionary tale about the pitfalls of a life in show business.
Dunn says there are no hard feelings with the CFC whatsoever. "Oh, they know it was a stressful time for me. And I couldn't have made this film without them — they produced it!"
He's now hard at work on his first feature, Closet Monster, a coming-out story set in Newfoundland. "I'm really excited to be working with [Toronto film production company] Rhombus. And developing my first feature film is thrilling."