One of the most beautiful and complex relationships in this world is that of a mother and her daughter. This theme has been explored throughout time through art and literature, and Canadian filmmaking power couple Chandra Michaels and Myke Bakich have now contributed to that extensive and distinguished list with their upcoming film Nail Bait, which takes a unique and compelling look at the bond between a mother and her daughter.
Nail Bait, written by Michaels and Bakich, tells the story of Emma and her mother Carol, who head to a nail appointment only to discover the salon is a front for a rub & tug massage parlor. It doesn’t take long for Emma to discover that Carol has ulterior motives for their day. Emma is baited and dragged into infiltrating the underbelly of the salon with her mother to prove her father is a paying client there. After stumbling on some “hard evidence” but no sign of Dad, the women confront their issues and discover other illegal and dangerous enterprises. Before they can sneak out, they are caught, cornered and threatened, discovering they would do anything to protect one another, surprising both themselves and each other.
“We wanted to portray an honest mother-daughter relationship, that despite its challenges, when put to the test reveals how unbreakable that bond can be. We like that we’re breaking new territory exploring a location with weight and stakes we haven’t ever seen before in a mother-daughter buddy story. The story straddles a few genres; drama, comedy, action which was tricky to execute but rewarding to do,” said Michaels.
Michaels acts as writer, producer, and leading actress in the film, playing the role of Emma. When writing Nail Bait, she was inspired by visits to the spa with her own mother, questioning its integrity and wondering what could be going on behind closed doors. She and Bakich were interested in creating a film that delves into the often-ignored occurrences at such spas, while diving into the dynamics of the mother-daughter relationship and internal and external facades.
“Chandra is an incredible filmmaking partner. It’s amazing that she was able to balance the demands of playing Emma with producing the film. She was very aware of the needs of our cast and crew, managing schedules and taking care of our production while balancing her demands as a lead performer. Chandra’s got a great instinct for performance and was very involved in the editing process and finding the authenticity. She’s a great talent, shined bright throughout the entire production and was crucial in bringing this film to fruition,” said Bakich.
Bakich’s approach to the story while directing was to embrace the uncomfortable. He wanted to tell a different type of mother daughter story, one that takes place in an unexpected location and situation and see where that would go. He wanted to play into the discomfort of the bizarre juxtaposition of a rub & tug parlor. This would also allow for a project with two dynamic leading female roles, something important for both Bakich and Michaels.
Finding the ideal location was one of the biggest challenges that Bakich and Michaels faced while making Nail Bait. They required a hallway long and wide enough with many different doors to actual rooms. Bakich wanted to create distinct difference between the upstairs reception and the underbelly of the salon. The upstairs being drab, mundane, slice of life, and the massage parlour below being colorful, intense, and almost surreal.
They found a warehouse space, that was previously a grow-op, with the required hallway. However, it was only half as long as they needed. They decided to embark on an ambitious set build for the downstairs hallway and adjacent doors in the film. With a talented art department team that was diligent, the build was achieved within days. Though, even with the build, the doors and rooms still needed to be reused and connected in ways that they weren’t naturally available. The night before, Bakich plotted it all out and did his best to convey the logistics to the team. They successfully turned one hallway into two, connecting many different rooms and doorways that were in different directions and ends of the location, with changing lighting and color schemes as well. Such execution is a real testament to Myke’s strength as a visual problem solver and storyteller.
“Part of what attracted me to shooting Nail Baitwas creating the two worlds that the characters inhabit. I liked Myke and Chandra’s energy and commitment as well. It’s always a challenge to elevate visuals on lower budget projects, but thanks to the generosity of Panavision Canada and John Lindsay I was able to utilize some great camera tools. Shout out to the amazing crew as well who worked hard to make it all happen,” said Gregory Bennett, Director of Photography.
Bakich’s favorite scene in the film came when shooting a tracking shot down a flight of two dozen stairs. It was no easy task, but the director was up for the challenge. Filming into the early hours of the morning, he and Bennett did five takes with a heavy steadi-cam rig and totally nailed the shot. Only once it was perfected did they discover that a key prop was missing, and they had no choice but to reshoot.Bennett leapt up the stairs, willing and ready to do it again and they all followed his charge. They shot another five takes, and the end result is mesmerizing.
“Toni Ellwand who played the mother Carol, grounded her in reality, while bringing a comedic spontaneity to the role. She balanced both the serious and ridiculous nature of the situation in spectacular fashion,” said Bakich, who co-wrote and directed the film.
Ellwand is a Toronto based actress who is known for a series of popular projects, including Blindness, Murdoch Mysteries and the Emmy-award winning The Handmaid’s Tale. She had previously worked with Michaels years prior on a commercial for Ontario’s health care cards, so they were happy to reunite as mother and daughter on this exciting new project.
“Myke and Chandra are a dream team, I would work with them in a heartbeat. They both love what they do so much and are generous and enthusiastic. Chandra is an absolute dream to work with as both an actor and as a producer. Working is her happy place and it shows in everything she does when we’re on set. Myke is quietly determined. He’s gentle but he knows what he needs, and he patiently works until he gets it,” said Ellwand.
Nail Bait premieres at the Toronto Shorts International Film Festival on Saturday March 2nd, 2019. From there, the film is expected to make its way to several more festivals, seen on international screens. They are also exploring the possibility of expanding it into a series, as this film is part of a bigger mother and daughter story.
“It’s an honor to premiere at the Toronto Shorts International Film Festival where our local cast, crew, colleagues, friends and family can share in the experience,” said Michaels.
Toronto Shorts has a special place in Michaels’ and Bakich’s hearts, as their first film, Busy Bee, had its world premiere at the festival back in 2015 and ended up winning the Best of Canada award. Here’s hoping for similar success on their latest venture.
“We love making films and we love doing so together. Creating our own projects is empowering and liberating. We really learned so much making this film and look forward to applying that knowledge to future projects. Filmmaking is really a team sport and we had an amazing team on this project,” they concluded.
Torontonians should check out Nail Bait this Saturday at 7 p.m. at Carlton Cinema. In the meantime, watch the trailer here.