Shot on a self-funded budget of about $10,000, HALF A PERSON represents four years of work for first-time producer-writer-director Adam Santangelo and a small collective of Toronto-based film actors and technicians.



Adam Santangelo began writing his first drafts of HALF A PERSON in November 2003, two years before production began. "To be honest, I first sketched out the arc of the script while trying to stay awake in a screenwriting seminar," he notes. "At that point I'd written a couple of unproduced features and wanted to develop a project that I could self-produce with very little funding."

To that end, Santangelo plotted a scenario he could realize amidst his everyday surroundings: no stunts, special effects or elaborate settings. This wasn't as difficult as it might sound. Santangelo explains, "I've always taken to heart the advice 'write what you know'. Even when I wrote my comic book stories for Marvel [in the summer of 1995], I somehow managed to incorporate my grandmother and grandfather — who had recently passed away — into the world of Spider-Man."

HALF A PERSON, however, is strictly a work of fiction. "It's actually a strange blend of fiction and autobiography. None of these things actually happened to me personally," Santangelo continues, "but, having said that, everything in the narrative was drawn from my own life and experience... some themes and events more obviously than others."

An example of this was Santangelo's decision to set the film's action in Toronto, Sudbury, and surrounding areas within his native province of Ontario, Canada. "That was just a given for me, right from the start; I had no interest in shooting Toronto and arbitrarily pretending it was New York or Chicago."

The decision to begin and end his tale in Sudbury, Ontario, Santangelo explains, came — as many creative choices do, particularly on a low-budget film — from a mix of both practical and personal considerations. "I grew up in Mississauga, and the trip between there and Toronto really didn't make for much of a road movie. I spread out a map and ultimately settled on Sudbury; one of my best friends grew-up in the area and the choice felt very right to me intuitively."

"As we progressed through shooting and finally editing the film," he concludes, "the differences between Sudbury and Toronto made for an interesting contrast."


From the moment he set about assembling his cast and crew, Adam Santangelo laid the ground rules for a production that would do without the luxuries most other films take for granted. Inspired by do-it-yourself gurus Rick Schmidt and Dov S-S Siemens, along with filmmakers like Richard Linklater, Spike Lee, John Sayles, and Robert Rodriguez — all of whom kickstarted their careers with ultra-low-budget first features — Santangelo shrugged-off a series of rejected applications for public funding and formed Castle Frank Pictures Ltd. with his own personal savings of $10,000.

"I remember speaking to Marjorie Lecker — our fantastic casting director and the first person other than myself to commit to the project — about our scaled-down approach to HALF A PERSON," relates Santangelo. "Like many cast and crew members to follow, Marjorie got totally onboard and was very generous with her time and efforts."

"The character of Mark really got me excited," says Michael Majeski (who plays Mark in the film), one of several actors cast from extensive auditions in Toronto's east end. "There was something very original about the material; I could totally play against stereotypes and bring a lot of my own personality to the character."

Santangelo describes the three-week shoot as being one of the most stressful and exhilarating experiences of his life. "During production you really start firing on all cylinders. I pushed myself quite a ways past my own limits; after spending five 12-16 hour days on set, I'd usually return to my part-time job — which, I have to admit, was very relaxing by comparison — to earn food and rent money during our off days."

On location in Toronto and Sudbury, Ontario, Canada, director of photography Matthew Lazzarini worked hard amidst a tight shooting schedule to bring HALF A PERSON its rich DV aesthetic. "We didn't have the luxury of a traditional crew, so I assumed the role of teacher to any of our friends who were willing to help." Laughs Lazzarini, "Our production assistants were great people and fast learners, but for almost the entire shoot I served as director of photography, camera operator, key grip and gaffer."

"I can't stress enough how grateful I am to the folks who pitched in and helped us out during production," adds Santangelo. "My dad cooked most of our daily meals for cast and crew. My sister loaned out her apartment as a location. Brian Santangelo, my cousin and close friend, not only appears in the film as an actor, but provided music towards the finished soundtrack and served as the film's graphic designer. Let's just say there's a long 'special thanks' list at the end of our credits. My family and friends really came through for me on this project."


After the daily pressures of film production had subsided, Adam Santangelo was left with perhaps his greatest challenge yet. "Production was definitely an ordeal, and I walked away very proud of what we'd manage to accomplish during those three weeks," he explains, "but when the dust cleared I was left with about twenty-five hours of raw footage... and that's where a different kind of stamina kicked in."

Editor Ryan j. Noth worked closely with Santangelo to refine HALF A PERSON into a lean 70-minute feature. "In a way, editing is like an opportunity for one last re-write," Santangelo continues. "That's what Ryan and I did: literally breaking the story down onto index cards and building it back up from scratch. Ideas grow and change at each stage of the process, you begin to feel the strengths of the material, and I think we really made the most of it with this approach."

Sporting an original score by Township Expansion — "I absolutely loved his album," says Santangelo, "and was so happy when he agreed to work on the film" — and featuring songs by Toronto indie acts hisgirlfriday, Capital and The Art Of, HALF A PERSON's arrival on the festival circuit in fall 2007 was a tremendous conclusion to the project's four-year journey.

"I'm really excited about the movie and its future, and about what we were able to accomplish with limited resources and a ton of hard work," concludes Santangelo. "HALF A PERSON was an incredibly satisfying experience, and it only strengthened my resolve to keep making films for the rest of my life. Our next one's already in the works..."

HALF A PERSON is a Castle Frank Pictures Ltd. production, written, produced and directed by Adam Santangelo, edited by Ryan j. Noth and photographed by Matthew Lazzarini.