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The irony of Lakewood, the Naomi Watts-starring thriller that follows a mother racing against time to save her child as the police put her town into lockdown, is that the indie movie was shot during the height of real pandemic-era lockdowns across North America.
“No one was shooting in America. You really couldn’t shoot in America,” Dylan Sellers, a producer on Lakewood, told a Toronto Film Festival press conference on Monday. So, for a script without major crowd scenes or explosions, the producers chose to send director Phillip Noyce’s thriller across the border to North Bay, Ontario for one of the first movie shoots to take place during the COVID-19 crisis in summer 2020.
Producer Zach Schiller said the indie project looked worldwide for alternate locations before settling on Canada. “We knew we had technically something that could be done during COVID, but we had to figure out how and where to do that and how to tolerate the risk of doing so. Once we decided to do it, it became everyone else’s burden,” he told the TIFF presser.
For Watts, who plays a mother on her morning jog in the woods seeing her world turned upside down when she learns of a school shooting via her cell phone, the chance to fly to Canada after self-isolating with her family and to get back onto a film set was just too irresistible to pass up.
“The need to connect was really powerful and with people who share your vision of storytelling. There was incredible amount of joy in the first days, as we said, ‘can you believe it, we’re here!'” she recalled.
There was also nervousness because Lakewood was shot before any COVID-19 protocols playbook for Hollywood had been fully drawn up, and without production insurance to cover any virus outbreaks on set.
But Watts said she felt safe during the Lakewood shoot because it took place entirely outside, in the Ontario wilderness, amid waterfalls and conservation areas, and cast and crew maintained social distancing throughout on set. For director Noyce, the previous seven months spent in isolation with his own children came to inform what audiences will see onscreen with Lakewood.
“I’d just spent the most intense seven months that I’ve ever spent with my kids. And that was reflected in the movie we made,” he told the TIFF press contingent about his movie centered on a mother’s heroism and devotion to her child.
Lakewood screenwriter Christopher Sparling penned the script before the pandemic, and first talked to Watts about the script before they had to go into lockdown. But it wasn’t long before Sperling also jumped at the chance to get the cameras rolling in Ontario.
“We were just so eager to do something creative, because that’s when we were truly on lockdown, all of us. And just the idea of getting out and doing something, that’s to the credit of everyone who were able to make this happen,” he said.
Andrew Corkin, another producer on Lakewood, recalled being able to overcome weather and other logistical challenges to shoot a movie that aimed to capture a desperate mother in real-time using only her cell phone to save her son during a mass shooting.
“We found these incredible locations, which is a testament to just how wonderful North Bay was as our backdrop, these waterfalls, lakes and incredible trails in the woods, so that we could do it as linear as possible. For the most part, we were able to tell a nice story in some chronological order,” he said.
The Toronto Film Festival continues through Sept. 18.
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