How They Did It: Selling Dead by Monday, a Comedy About Suicide

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Right up to prep we still tinkered with the script with our writer and friend Myra Fried. Myra is a very talented comedic writer, and was incredibly supportive of all the things we wanted to try out-except when she didn’t agree. Then we had to fight for every line (which was almost always the case). She has a wonderful sense of dialogue and it’s one of those trade mysteries why she hasn’t been lured to Hollywood for the big payday yet. (Though she probably wouldn’t go-she loves smoking and hates driving.)

I could find absolutely no top-notch cinematographer who was available when we started prep. In desperation, we decided to call again on London-based DP Martin Fuhrer, who has worked with many top directors like John Schlesinger and Brian Gilbert. We had talked to him about Dead by Monday a few months before, so he knew the script, but he had been too expensive for our budget. Margrit called and asked whether he could take the next plane to Toronto and start working the next morning. Martin took a deep breath, coolly gave Margrit the number of his agent, packed his bags, hopped a plane and began work in Toronto the following day. As with our two stars, there was instant chemistry. It felt like we had known each other for a long time.

Curt Turinger - Dead by Monday
Writer-Director Curt Truninger behind the camera on Dead By Monday (2001).

We had worked on Dead by Monday for three years, but when we began our 25-day shoot there were still many uncertainties. Like not knowing how much we would be able to shoot in Niagra Falls. A film about suicide is not exactly something this honeymoon destination’s tourism people could market, so the scene where Julie and Alex jump into the water had to be shot at a different location. The water was almost freezing and the stunt guy playing Alex nearly drowned because he got sucked under by the layer of clothes he was wearing under his wet suit. The biggest blow came in post-production, when the stunt scenes were unusable and we had to do horrendously expensive CGI (many, many calls to European investors to solve this one).

After the battle of the shoot I was looking forward to the calm of the editing room. This was especially true because we hired Ron Sanders, who edited most of David Cronenberg’s movies. Margrit’s and my personal hero was Bill Mather, our sound supervisor, editor and consultant and brainy guy with taste. He is one of those people without whom no low-budget film would be accomplished. He worked day and night to get every detail right, no matter how much (or little) we could pay him. We also had world class color-timer Chris Hinton of Deluxe Toronto on our team, who gave us invaluable advice on everything regarding the print.

Regarding the music in Dead by Monday people often ask: How did you get Chumbawamba songs into the film? As we all know, music by groups who’ve sold millions of CDs is not within reach for an indie film. Before moving to EMI, Chumbawamba was with a small indie label. Margrit was able to negotiate a good deal with their old record label for their music, as the company still owned the rights. Doing a little research is one way to get a name act into the film. The wonderful score is by Mark Suozzo, who has scored all of Whit Stillman’s movies.

At AFM a young Miramax lad went to see our film. He left the screening after three minutes and 28 seconds. Caught outside in flagrante by Margrit, he commented dryly: “Dead by Monday is not for Miramax.”

So far, the film has played theatrically in Italy and Switzerland and will hit Norway this summer. Ironically, we still have not sold the film to Great Britain despite Helen being, as the English say, “bloody well-known.”

The high point so far was the packed screening at the Portland Festival of World Cinema (PFWC). Sitting beside flamboyant New York indie pioneer Lloyd Kaufman and his wife, Pat, the New York Film Commissioner, there was not one line in the movie with laugh potential that didn’t get a great reaction. At some points it felt like I had paid the audience. At the midnight party a woman came up to me and said: “I really like the subtlety of the humor in Dead by Monday. One day it will be a classic.” The film won Best Feature at the PFWC. Festival-wise, the last destination on the tour du monde is the Shanghai Film Festival and possibly the Avignon Festival. MM

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