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Jeremy LaLonde has a thing about sex. His first feature, SEX AFTER KIDS, was a hilarious ensemble peek at all the ways your relationships change after a family of two becomes a three (or four or five….). It was frank and maybe should be mandatory viewing as part of relationship counseling. His newest film, HOW TO PLAN AN ORGY IN A SMALL TOWN, continues his unstated goal of bringing deviance out in the open. The film, which made its US Premiere at Slamdance, chronicles Cassie Cranston’s homecoming after being ‘slut-shamed’ as a teenager. (Slut Shaming: the act of criticizing a woman for her real or presumed sexual activity, or for behaving in ways that someone thinks are associated with her real or presumed sexual activity. Geekfeminism.wikia.com)

When Cassie returns triumphant, the author behind a popular magazine column about sex, she finds herself roped into a town-wide attempt to prove they are not so sexually closeted as her columns might have lead the world to believe. They draft Cassie to coach them on having an orgy. But Cassie has her own problems. She came back to Beaver’s Ridge (yes, that’s the name of the town) for her mother’s funeral. Her mother was an even bigger prude back in the day, and a town hero as the writer of a series of popular children’s books. Cassie desperately needs the money from her mother’s estate to repay the advance from the publisher for her unfinished novel. You see, Cassie has made all of the columns up. She in fact, has never had sex.

The funny setup leads to lots of opportunities for different characters to pair up (pun intended) and have honest, uncomfortable but very funny, discussions about sex. Jewel Staite plays Cassie, and instead of being some sort of sex crazed maniac, she gives the film a lot of heart. In fact, HOW TO PLAN AN ORGY IN A SMALL TOWN is more a romantic comedy about lost loves reconnecting than a sex farce, and that’s a good thing. There is plenty of eye-candy for men and women alike (I think I’ve been in love with Katharine Isabelle ever since I first saw GINGER SNAPS), and look for Ennis Esmer in the new, similarly-themed group relationship series YOU ME HER.   LaLonde’s film always finds a way to pervert the expectations (sorry) and deliver a laugh right when things start to get too steamy.

HOW TO PLAN AN ORGY IN A SMALL TOWN was just picked up by Gravitas Ventures for a theatrical/VOD release May 13th. Before that, it will be the Opening Night film at the Canadian Film Fest, a bit of a conquering bow for the local hero after playing Atlantic International Film Festival, Cinefest Sudbury, Edmonton International, Calgary International, and Whistler Film Festival also north of the border. I sat down with LaLonde at Slamdance back in January to discuss his film and just why he is so interested in sex.

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LaLonde: Well, it’s cold in Canada, you know? Yeah, yeah, I hesitated doing another sex comedy in a row because I knew that would be every question I answered. But, in all fairness, when I was wrapping up “Sex After Kids” we were editing and it  and I think the question isn’t so much do people watch porn? It’s, “What do you watch? What’s the stuff you’re into?” I always go into the mundane minutiae of stuff and that’s where I find comedy. And just thinking like, “How does that start?” First of all you’ve got to admit to other people that you’re interested in that, and then you got to find like-minded people, and then you got to organize it. That’s funny to me. Like not even the final moments, not even the act itself, it’s like-

BEARS: The logistics.

LaLonde: The logistics of it! It’s about the planning of it, it’s about the preparation of it. it’s the journey more than the destination.

BEARS: You realize you could have a perfect tie-in with a coffee table book. You know, “Orgy in a box” like have a plan, write down here, here’s some forms.

LaLonde: Oh, wow.

BEARS: This is a really good ensemble of actors. Were they people you had worked with in the past?

LaLonde: Some were. I worked with Ennis Esmer on Sex After Kids, he was in a short I did, “Bastards,” and he and I met originally when I worked as an editor for television in Canada. That’s how I support the independent- indie filmmaking hobby. Tommie-Amber Pirie — she’s been in two shorts that I did, one was at TIFF. A lot of it is just people I just know. Toronto is a pretty tight-knit film community and I put quite a bit of effort into meeting people. If I like someone’s work I reach out to them and say, “Let’s grab a coffee.”

BEARS: Had you written the idea and then you started investigating people?

LaLonde: No, “Sex After Kids” I specifically wrote for certain actors,  but this one I didn’t as much. Actually, the part that Ennis plays, I wrote a different part for him and he didn’t want to do it. I wrote Bruce for him and he for some reason just wasn’t gluing onto it. And so I was like, “Well, there isn’t really another part for you.” And thenI realized, “Hey he’d be actually a really, really good Adam.”

BEARS: Adam is the old boyfriend, the one Cassie got caught with as a teen, right?

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LaLonde: Yes, ‘cause the thing about Ennis, Ennis isn’t really a straight man. But I thought it’d be really fun making him a straight man. He liked that idea because he thought it was an interesting challenge. Tommie-Amber Pirie, who plays Polly, I wrote specifically for her and she was the first person cast in the movie. Then Jonas Chernick, who plays Chester in the movie, I met him at the Santa Barbara Film Festival. He’s also a Canadian writer, producer, actor, and he made a film called “My Awkward Sexual Adventure.”

BEARS: Sounds like something you would like.

LaLonde: That’s right, and we exchanges scripts and get notes, and he said, “This is great, don’t change a thing, I really love it. My only note is that I think the character of Chester-” (who at that point is written to be a 20 year-old) “I think he should be like, maybe 15 years older, I think it would make it a little more interesting, round out that story of his…” I was like, “that’s really great!” And he was like, “And I think you should cast me in it.” So we did.  I had mutual friends in common with Jewel, so we just reached out knowing- and were very honest that we have no money, this is what it’s gonna be.

BEARS: Did you have to be very honest about how naked they were gonna be?

LaLonde: Oh, that kind of stuff? Yeah, well, and that was part of it too.  Everyone in Canada knew about or heard about “Sex After Kids.” So, what was nice was that there were people who were interested in working with me. Because they already had – or they’d worked with people that were on the film.  Lauren Lee Smith  was on a TV show in Canada called “The Listener” with Ennis. Actually, I had her in mind for the part Katharine Isabelle played and she wrote back “I loved the script, I’d like to play Heather.” It’s a character she’s never played before, and that interests me. I love casting people kind of against type it gives them something to stretch out.

BEARS: And the nudity was right there on the page, so they knew what they were getting into?

LaLonde: For me it’s a comedy, so it was never about, you know, T & A all over the place, right? It’s great if you can get it, you know, why wouldn’t you? Why not? But it was more about the honesty of the situations and just sitting down and talking with them about what they’re comfortable with. Like, “What don’t you want to do?”

BEARS: Because it’s not just nudity. It’s actually, I mean there’s a lot of simulated joke sex.

LaLonde: Yeah, exactly.

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BEARS: That’s a different thing than I ‘m gonna run through this scene with my shirt off.

LaLonde: Well, what’s amazing when it’s an ensemble is it becomes a pissing contest.  They start one-upping each other, right? Especially ‘cause a lot of them know each other. But in terms of the conversations, I’m not sure how it works in the states, but in Canada with ACTRA (the actor’s union) you have to write a rider. Basically, it’s the most boring technical thing where it’s like, “You will simulate a handjob, you will be stroking vertically,” or whatever. It’s very technical and what you do is you write that out before and you send that to the actor and their agent and they either send notes back- “We won’t do this, we can’t- we can show sideboob…” Everything’s very specific about what you’re expecting and they sign off on it or they don’t and you modify it until you come to an agreement.

BEARS: That way they don’t show up on set and refuse.

LaLonde: Well, then what happens is if you get on the set and they refuse, you go, “You signed it, you have to do it.” But the problem is that, if an actor comes up on set and has a problem with it anyway and you say, “I don’t care,” you’ve instantly destroyed your trust with that actor. And so, for me, what I did is instead of writing it out, I got together with each actor and I said, “We’re gonna do the rider together. We’re gonna go through every scene and talk about exactly how I think it’s gonna be shown and how you think- and what you’re comfortable with and we’re going do it together. And that way it’s not me dictating to you what I want you to see- what I want you to do, it’s we’re agreeing on this together.”

BEARS: And then it becomes a collaboration.

LaLonde: Sometimes they pitch stuff that I would never have asked them to do, which is amazing, you know? And so it works out really well that way. Then I’ve established a collaborative nature of trust where I want you to feel comfortable and you know what I need from the scene. A lot of times you get on set and then all of a sudden they say, “You know what, we’re here, let’s just push it a little further.” Without giving away any spoilers, there’s a scene at the very end of the movie, the last shot, where the actors are all in modesty wear, which is like a combination of cock socks and nipple coverings and all that kind of stuff.

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BEARS: I love that it’s a technical term.

LaLonde: It’s a technical term. Well, someone came up with a scrotum patch, someone had a really funny one the other day, I can’t remember what it was. And they just ripped ‘em off, they were like, let’s just do this for real, and it was amazing, it was great. It just started a domino effect. And by that point, it was near the end of our schedule and we’d established a really strong base of trust and comfort with everyone.

BEARS: So, do you think that there’s a fundamental difference between the way Americans and Canadians view sex?

LaLonde: I don’t know, because I don’t really know enough about how- what do you feel, what do you think the climate is?

BEARS: Well, coming from the Midwest, and now I live in Texas, we’re a little more Puritanical I would say- we don’t really like to talk about things, we like to keep things hidden.

LaLonde: Which is perfect for a movie like this, because that’s what the characters are like. I view it through my own prism which is not the average prism. I screen it with people or we watch an audience and they say, “Wow, you guys really went there.” But for me, that’s my palette, and I feel like, “Oh, I could’ve pushed it so much further.” So, for me it’s like, I don’t have a good litmus for that.

BEARS: Yeah, well it’s funny because sometimes small town Canada feels very much the same as small town America.

LaLonde: I’ll say this, I’ve been to now about a dozen screenings of the movie because I go to every single screening, because I feel that’s an important part of the filmmaking process as well, to study the audience. You know, see what works in every screening.

BEARS: To actually watch people watch the film.

LaLonde: I’m seeing what are the niche little things that people pick up here and there and that’s what I’m really watching for. Moments like  “Oh, that didn’t play at all here,” or “That played here?!” or “Wow, we didn’t expect that joke to work.” What was interesting about the Slamdance screening  was that it played pretty much the same way it plays in Canada.

BEARS: Did you do that for “Sex After Kids” and did you learn anything from that process that you put into this movie?

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LaLonde: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I went to every single screening for that one. And for that one it was more working in an ensemble.  I would call this an ensemble film as well. but I definitely wanted to work on a more linear storyline because “Sex After Kids” is,  it’s more-

BEARS: Bits and pieces, it’s stream of consciousness.

LaLonde: Yeah short stories that lead in and out of each other.

BEARS: What was interesting about HOW TO PLAN AN ORGY IN A SMALL TOWN is it implied a goal in the film. The film’s gonna end when they accomplish that. Whereas “Sex After Kids” was more nebulous.

LaLonde: It’s a thematic movie where you’re asking the question, “Is it even possible?” And the end is  “Yeah, but it doesn’t mean it’s gonna be better or worse.” It’s gonna be what it is for every individual person and that maybe it will be better for you, maybe it won’t.

BEARS: Right, right.

LaLonde: That was the one thing about that movie. I wanted to raise a question and but not enforce an answer. Because I don’t think- it’s impossible to do that without just being pretentious and trying to say, “Well, this is what it means to me, so it has to mean that to you,” which is just ridiculous.

BEARS: So anything you learned from the experience of watching the film?

LaLonde: I think it was timing. I think it was a matter of just being more brutal with timing. Like our first cut of HOW TO PLAN AN ORGY IN A SMALL TOWN was like two hours and forty minutes – and it’s full of stuff I love.

BEARS: But now you’ve got a ton of stuff to put on your DVD.

LaLonde: We have an hour of deleted scenes and alternate, longer scenes.   It was being really brutal and going, “We don’t need that.” Also killing stuff that was doing really well on test screens, going, “You know, it’s a beat that doesn’t further the story. It’s nice, but it does slow down the plot a little bit.

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BEARS: What do you think happens in this town next? A month later, a week later?

LaLonde: Oh, in Beaver’s Ridge? Lotta suicide. No. You know what’s interesting? I kind of already have an answer to that because originally there was an epilogue that took place a couple months later. But, it was from a really old draft and things changed, so it’s not great. We get a bit of a hint at the end when there’s a flash forward to the living room, so you get a sense of what happens with Cassie, that maybe she sticks around. I think these people at least have more honest relationships with each other.  For my small town experience, and I love the place I grew up, but my experience is that people put on a show for who they are.

You know, everyone’s kind of in competition,  keeping up with the Joneses thing, and so people put on this faux sense of who they are. I remember when I was a kid when we went to the city we had to put a button up shirt on to go see a movie.  “Why?” “Well, we’re going to the city.” Who gives a shit?

I thought about that kind of stuff, and for them they’ll be a little more comfortable with who they are, and not having to try to put on airs for anybody else.  For me, that’s kind of what the movie’s about- it’s about learning to be comfortable with who you are and not worrying about what other people think.

Jeremy LaLonde’s HOW TO PLAN AN ORGY IN A SMALL TOWN opens the Canada Film Festival on March 30th. His next project, THE GO-GETTERS about a deadbeat drunk and a junkie hooker to hatch a plan to scam their way to $98 in bus fare, is currently seeking funding on Indiegogo.

Bears Fonte covers indie film for AMFM Magazine and programs and consults for film festivals nationwide.  He is the Founder and Executive Director of Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival as well as the former Director of Programming for Austin Film Festival.  His short The Secret Keeper played at 40 festivals, his feature iCrime was released in 2011 by Vicious Circle.

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