A site to promote the up-coming Audio series.

My Friend Elfy

Some people you just know forever… well sometimes it seems like that, doesn’t it? Time has a habit of getting away from even the best of us and before you know it, you’ve been friends with someone for almost twenty years. And even though your lives may diverge and go off in different directions, you still remain good friends, even when you suddenly run into each other in the middle of the street or at the supermarket counter. And it never seems like twenty years has slipped by unnoticed, does it?

My friendship with Elfriede Erzen is sort of like that I guess… timeless in that it just seems so incredibly impossible that it has nearly been two decades since we first met. But happily, I don’t have to hope for a chance meeting while in line at the deli counter because for all intents and purposes, we’ve always remained in touch with one another, even though we’ve been separated by an ocean for much of the last ten years – first her living in Ireland while I was in Canada and now me living in Wales while she has returned to Canada. But what’s an ocean between friends anyway, when you can still get to work with them once in a while?

The character of Bellissima was a hard one to cast I remember. When Michael first wrote her she was a fair bit zanier than what she ended up actually becoming. I felt she used to suffer from a sort of split personality that manifested one or the other side of her character from scene to scene. In one scene she’d be critical of Belinda, scornful of Barroqa and bitter about the world. In the next, she’d be passing comments that sounded like she belonged in an asylum. Rather I think Michael just forgot for whom he was writing and just tacked bits of dialogue onto whichever character hadn’t spoken in a while. And so Bellissima ended up with lines that I thought sounded better coming out of Belinda’s mouth, or even Barroqa’s mouth. In those early scripts the three B-Girls were kind of hard to tell apart and quite, quite interchangeable as characters.

I think it was partly due to my fiddling about with which scenes we would shoot for our pilot project, and partly due to casting Elfriede in the role that finally brought out who the real Bellissima was actually supposed to be. Elfriede managed to instill the character with a sort of laissez-faire attitude that readily altered to one of disdain for her fellow advertising campaign writers. Her “I don’t give a sh*t” attitude shone in comparison to the rather more pompous musings of Belinda or the kooky ruminations of Barroqa. I felt that when we were recording the pilot, those three characters, portrayed by three very strong and very different women, started to gel more in my head than they had done in any script.

When I came to write the audio adaptation I modeled a lot of the tone of 21st Century Bellissima on Elfriede’s portrayal in the video and from what I remembered of it. It was a joy to write for her this time around because in many ways, Bellissima is the voice of reason in an unreasonable situation. She is kind of like the audience, like what I’d be if I were a character in the serial. She had all the quippy one-liners, the doubtful asides, the wry self-references that I think are important in the kind of comedy I was trying to realise. I was of course more than thrilled when Elfriede told me she was up for revisiting the character and giving the new material a try.

I recently caught up with Elfriede via the Internet to ask her some questions about our time together both before the audio series recordings and her thoughts on the process and where she thinks it will go in the future. I was rather lucky to get a bit of time out of her as she is constantly busy with her work and raising a family but she graciously rose to the challenge. We settled down to chat about nearly twenty years of knowing each other and all that life entails:

Ed: Hi Elfriede! I seem to always be asking this question but I was wondering if you actually remember the day we met?

Elfriede: Yes I can. I remember you in my first film acting course with (teacher) Maruska Stankova. You were her right-hand man filming all our scenes (or as Bellissima would say, those “god-awful scenes”, but really I’m trying to quash HER kind of directness at the moment). My friend Charles had got to know you and I believe we must all have had wine at some point. Haha! And that’s how it all started! Shortly after, you asked me to be in a piece you had written and I remember fitting into a little black dress and you making me look glamorous! Well, from that moment… you had me sold.

Ed: I thought at the time that you had this incredible depth to explore as an actor and that you could probably play it safe and take on sweet, innocent roles, kind of like a young Andie MacDowell, or you could be more mysterious. While I thought you were wonderful in the short film you did for Maruska’s class, I felt that given the right material, you could really embody a sort of femme fatale! Hah! I suppose that was me wanting desperately to do a genre piece and work with just the right actor. In fact you and I did three short films where you played a woman that could easily have come from a past decade. The one where you say I made you look glamorous was called “Pink Streets: Stiletto” and you did look glam in that black dress. Plus it was shot in black & white and you drank red wine while lounging on the parquet flooring! Although I have to admit I joined you in finishing off the bottle well before we finished the shoot! The other “period” films we did were “Saltz Wasser” and “Isabella”.

Elfriede: “Saltz Wasser!” I just had a flashback to you editing footage from a trip to Germany and you making that wonderful video for me. “Salz Wasser”… Love that! Thanks by the way.

Ed: How it happened was… well, I recall you telling me you were off to Germany for a vacation and either I said “here, take my Super 8 camera with you” or you had one of your own – I can’t remember which – but when you returned you had all this wonderful footage of a train journey with the mountains in the background and it was all in black and white and extremely moody. So I sort of took all that away and contemplated it for a while before adapting a piece of writing I had done about four years previously into a voice over that you translated into German. I also remember shooting more Super 8 footage of you dressed in 1940s clothing, looking forlornly out a window and making tea, only it wasn’t tea… just hot water and salt. The film was meant to be a comment on feelings of betrayal, of once having intimacy with someone you loved so deeply but then devaluing it all with the reality of separation. It was the most artsy of my artsy films at the time. You were brilliant in it, giving a very moving performance considering you didn’t have any lines, only a voice over. But the power of your voice… that always stuck with me.

Elfriede: I remember thinking what an incredibly versatile and talented man you were. What couldn’t you do? You filmed, you edited, and at that time you wanted to direct but hadn’t really done it professionally at that point… you did music and graphics. Wow. I mean, who wouldn’t want to work with someone like that?

Ed: We were all part of a community of people that liked to work together I remember… to feed off of each other’s creativity. Someone would write, someone would direct, some would act and so on. I sort of muscled my way into what I knew was a fairly tight and guarded circle of “actor” friends, but what I hopefully brought to the group was an interest in video art and other elements of production. It must have intrigued people because you and I worked together several more times and also with other people in that group. There was Patrick, Randall and even Charles. Funny how Pat and Randall and you and I ended up doing Flashback then in 1999. I guess it was just a natural progression of all the short films we had been doing up until then, wasn’t it?

Elfriede: I can’t recall clearly enough… can you answer that because my mommy brain is failing me. What I believe happened was you generously asked me to be in The Flashback pilot and then you introduced me to our lovely Michael Balser.

Ed: There was no generously about it. I really wanted you to be in the pilot and I know when Michael saw you act out the scenes, he was secretly very proud. Apparently, according to him, he had written it perfectly for you… which was his way of saying that there was no one else he could have possibly imagined playing the role so well. A kind of high compliment from a man who didn’t want to pick favourites. I also know he thought you were probably the funniest of the B-Girls because you had to be the constant “straight man” to two more outwardly comic presences. The lines given to you were far more subtle than the lines he had written for either JoAnne or Tara. I think deep down he related more directly to the kind of character that Bellissima had become.

Here’s something I can’t remember, but Flashback had been your first time working with both Tara and JoAnne, was it not?

Elfriede: Yes. I didn’t know JoAnne then, but I had seen Tara in some theatre productions around Toronto and I remember her energy was just fantastic. Then when she ended up working at the same restaurant as me, I suggested her to you. I think that’s it. Or I got you her contact info.

Ed: So we all have you to thank for introducing us to the crazy Tara Samuel! I think you are right in that recollection, though it is funny how a detail like that slipped me by. I was meeting so many new faces during the casting that I forget how the names actually ended up on my desk. I still have electronic copies of all your headshots though! It is freaky!

Did you enjoy the shooting experience on the pilot?

Elfriede: I absolutely loved the whole shooting of the video. The characters really came together and there was a lot of play and exploration. I have to say that I found the screening a bit disappointing, as the sound was horrible and a lot people in the audience found it confusing. I think that was the fault of condensing the whole idea of an episode into a pilot of various scenes, and it really was never fully recognised and as appreciated as Michael wanted it to be. It was a shame. I know I had great belief in it.

Ed: The whole screening experience was bizarre. It was sort of a fundraiser to recoup some of the money we had spent on the production but it was under the guise of an award’s ceremony where people could nominate their friends for a fee for an “Embarrassing Mediocrity” Award. Anyone could be a winner of an award if the price was right. It was a dark theme to what should have been a light evening. We were younger then, and I have to take some of the blame for that zealous approach just as much as Michael. I guess we just thought that people would understand the video for what it was and not try and read anything into it. But I have since learnt to only release things that the general population can understand… don’t ever do anything in production short hand! Even television executives can’t be trusted to understand the intrinsic differences between a rough edit and a final mix.

Did it surprise you that almost ten years after that evening, Flashback made a comeback with brand new scripts and a whole new medium?

Elfriede: No, I’m not all that surprised you revised the project. But I am so very happy – especially for the memory of Michael, whom I wish could be here to see your efforts and hear this new, finished project.

Ed: Well, finished it isn’t yet… real life and money making always seem to take precedence and I’ve had to put the editing of the series on hold for a few months, which of course means delaying the release. But what I’m hoping to do is finish it all by New Years. I think the dedicated time I’ll spend with it over December will mean that it will be better than it would have been had I rushed it and tried to finish it for September like I originally planned. You yourself know all too well about real life responsibilities, don’t you?

Elfriede: Let’s put it this way… acting never brought in a stable income and being a waitress could no longer be viable with the birth of my two boys. I put off having a “real job” for a very long time but now having a life for my two sons is priority number one. But I have to say that being a mom is the best role I will ever get to play, and all the acting projects in the world couldn’t match this experience, and all the joy it brings me. I wouldn’t trade this in for anything. That said, mind you… if someone offered me an acting job that would continually provide for my family I wouldn’t say no! For those who can be creative always and still make money… that’s great.

Ed: I salute your honesty and I admire your choice to focus on your family life and all that it brings. I guess I wondered though if you missed acting just a little bit? I know that when our last recording session was drawing to an end and you were in a rush to go off and collect the kids, it was a bittersweet moment. I think you enjoyed being back in the saddle again, but you also had a different life now and more important responsibilities. But for my part, I am only too pleased to have had you reunited with JoAnne and Tara, to bring the B-Girls into the 21st Century. Speaking of which, did you find it difficult to redefine those relationships to the other girls?

Elfriede: Well, having developed a relationship with the two of them in the video it was pretty easy to revisit that scenario. Mind you, reading the script beforehand might have made it even easier! I mean, “HOLY jumping right into it!!!”

Ed: Hah! Well audio is a mad, mad world of barely any rehearsals at all! And it was indeed a whirlwind experience, wasn’t it?

Elfriede: For me, life was too crazy to even find the time to read a newspaper! I was working full-time, I had the kids to look after, but hey, I hope you’re happy with what we got. I honestly loved our solo recording sessions in the kitchen as much as the group recordings. Remember me asking, “So Ed, um just what is this scene about?” Hah! So professional, huh?

Ed: I don’t think anyone was prepared for the rollercoaster recording sessions we all did. I spent two nights with Patrick recording for Professor Swyft, individual sessions with you, with JoAnne, with David Tomlinson and Ryan Kelly. Then some group sessions because I felt that although everyone was so busy and coordinating it all would have required an immense amount of resources, we really needed a bunch of “together” moments, and so did the characters. I think in the end though we all had a laugh no matter what situation we were in.

Elfriede: Yes we had lots of laughs and that was great. What can I say? JoAnne and Tara… their voices are fantastic and they both have such wonderful personalities and explosive energy. I loved it! Of course having more time instead of doing five-hour marathons might have reduced my headache a bit afterwards!

Ed: Oh! Is that you or a bit of Bellissima creeping into the conversation?

Elfriede: Well I hope I’m nothing like her! Ed what are you suggesting???? Type casting? But seriously, I have been known to have my Bellissima moments: the sharp, sarcastic tongue that I should probably censor a little more. But equally, that’s what I love about Bellissima. She doesn’t care what people think of her and she is cruelly blunt and outspoken. Perhaps a little too negative, even for me – but she’s definitely a fun character to play. I tell you, NICE characters are boring to play, aren’t they?

Ed: I remember both you and JoAnne separately doing your first takes at the microphone and me sitting there feeling that I wasn’t getting exactly what I wanted but I was too scared to offend either of you… And it was purely because you are both too NICE for the nastiness of the characters! Once we discussed the allowance for going OTT, then I think you both took the words and chewed the hell out of them! But I for one, am definitely glad you’re nothing like Bellissima… well, maybe 10% Bellissima… okay more like 25%! LOL! I guess I’d better stop there or I’ll be buying the drinks when I see you next month!

But as for Bellissima… do you think we’ve heard the last of her?

Elfriede: God no. I think we’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg with her.

Ed: I know with your other commitments that the possibility of taking up more of your time with additional recordings might be a bit impractical, but I’d still like to think you’ll always be a part of my creative life somewhere and at some point. Hopefully you found the experience of recording this a bit of a creative rush despite your busy life.

Elfriede: Well as I said, I never had the time to read the scripts you sent me, so it was just jumping in from scene to scene with your initial instruction. In the past I would have been more prepared, but actually I kind of loved the challenge and the on the spot discovery. As for future work… I’m always open!

Ed: Now that you’ve hopefully heard a bit of the rough edits of episodes one to four, what do you think of them? Do you think that Michael would have liked the project?

Elfriede: I’ve only heard bits but it sounded fantastic. Yes it’s hard to believe all the characters weren’t in the same room together! As for Michael… Absolutely. I just got shivers which means he is hovering over us. He’d love it. I think the new scripts do his initial concept justice and he’d be very moved and proud of you. He was always so annoyed that it wasn’t properly recognised and he also felt you were so talented.

Ed: We all have hidden talents! Is there anything creative that you’d still like to do? I guess I’m asking if you have an ideal project in mind for something in the future?

Elfriede: An ideal project… as opposed to Flashback? Well, I think writing my own work still appeals to be. If I were a millionaire, I’d write a few screenplays because I believe I have a few stories in me. Haha!

But of course I’m proud of Flashback. It’s wonderful that I got the chance to work with you again. You know, I did it mainly for you but then, as were taping it I realised: “Oh yeah, I remember… this is FUN.” I suppose, to do that daily and still make a living at it would be the ideal thing. Hats off to all you out there who can do that!

Ed: Well, I’m sure you’ll be back in Series Two if we ever get to that point! I suppose in a way we’ve all grown up a bit. We’ve all taken our lives on different paths and getting to do a project or receiving the recognition for doing a project isn’t as important to us as it was in our younger days. Now we do it on our own terms. Me… I will take as long as I need to finish the edit and release the series because I’m not desperate to get it out there as fast as I can. I want the project to be as good as it possibly can be and I will work at my own pace… and of course, allow my busy life to take priority most of the time. Because I suppose in the end, it doesn’t matter. All that does matter is that when it is released we, and a handful of other people, can sit back and enjoy something original and funny.

I don’t know how the project will be received out in the world, but the one thing I do know is that if we both live to be eighty, we’ll always be friends!

One response

  1. sarah douglas

    Love reading about all your wonderful actresses and characters. Still hoping that one day we will all meet!

    September 14, 2011 at 2:51 PM

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