Kirk Caouette – Hit ‘n Strum
Sitting in the busy Market Garden restaurant in Toronto’s Delta Chelsea hotel, I am awaiting the arrival of Kirk Caouette. Having read some rather indignant reviews of his recent film Hit ’n Strum, I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But when he walks over to me, I realize he’s really just a shy guy, and a passionate storyteller.
Caouette had spent most of his life on film sets as a stuntman and fight choreographer for blockbuster films such as X-men 3, Cat Woman and Underworld, to name a few. Caouette’s last film as a fight choreographer was Cat Woman. It was after the grueling 10-month shoot that he realized he was having doubts about the path he had chosen. It was not only a physically exhausting career but emotionally draining – one that was making him miserable.
So, the multifaceted Canuck pooled his creative talents and his own resources together to develop a film that few can or will ever do in their lifetime. “The script was written in a fury…I wrote the first song, which turned into the initial screenplay, that was written in about six days,” explained Caouette. He also wrote and composed the entire soundtrack to the film.
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“Authenticity was paramount. This meant that Kirk’s performance as Mike had to be grounded in total reality. A reality Kirk genuinely knew very little about. Over the course of nine months preceding principal photography, Kirk had quit his job, lost 25 pounds, stopped shaving and washing his hair. Soon, he was able to pass himself off as a homeless street musician – spending his days writing songs, performing for spare change, and going as far as sleeping in the streets,” commented Tony Wosk who is assisting in the film’s release.
The novice filmmaker’s credits include writer, director, actor, producer, song-writer, composer and financer.
“One cold February morning I was sitting in a Starbucks drinking my double tall Americano and I watched as a scruffy street musician sat down in front of the corporate owned coffee shop and started busking. I decided to go out on the patio, under the warmth of the heat lamps, and listen,” he pauses, “The man’s voice was mesmerizing – simply brilliant. His songs were all original. He played and played through numb fingers and frozen hands, but not one person even stopped to listen.
“No one heard him. He was literally invisible in a swarming sea of citizens. When the man got up and walked away penniless, I felt compelled to write his story.”
Hit ’n Strum is a realistic fairytale about a successful businesswoman, Stephanie (Michelle Harrison) who doesn’t see beyond her busy life until she is forced to, when she’s the driver in a hit-and-run to a homeless man, Mike (Kirk Caouette). Panicked, she peels away in her BMW from the scene of the crime, and takes with her the guilty conscience that eventually leads her to discover the wounded man is a talented street musician that plays outside her office. A person whom she saw everyday but never noticed.
Although the film is by no means perfect, it does offer the audience a beautiful Canadian backdrop with an endearing story. While the character’s growth in the film is minimal, the discovery of empathy for fellow human beings is not. “Most people who come to watch this film are very moved and very affected by this film — it stays with them,” said Caouette.
With little to no money for advertising and promotion, producer John Cassini brought in Tony Wosk to take the film to festivals and gain some much-needed exposure.
“Luckily, Bern Euler, founder and executive director for the Canadian Film Festival insisted on programming the film after his initial viewing,” said Wosk.
The Canadian Film Festival was a springboard for the little film that could. Hit ’n Strum won three awards in March 2012: Best Actor, Best Cinematographer and the Reel Indie award. The Shanghai and Goa film festivals soon followed.
“The audience on its first screening gave the film a standing ovation. The theatrical run has been surprisingly decent. It ran for five weeks in Vancouver and is just finishing up its first week in theatres in Toronto, which has been extended in for a second week,” Wosk said.
For a first time filmmaker, actor, director, and musician to be able to get his film out into the world — sacrificing his own dollars and cobbling together an incredible team who were behind his vision — is a remarkable accomplishment. “Sometimes I think writing a script is kind like writing a song, you might write 10 scripts before you write a good one, it’s kind of like an album, you’ll have 9 songs on an album and maybe one will be a hit.”
Caoutte continues to write and work on his screenplays. “I’m a surfer, I have a little cabin in Tofino. I surf and write and surf and write, I get really creative out there. It takes about two days and the frequency goes down and everything gets quiet so when I really want to get some work done that’s where I go,” he tells me.
Caouette says, it’s where he get’s barreled – it’s healthy, physically, mentally, spiritually – connecting with nature.
He begins filming Puncher’s Chance this spring – a film about a washed up MMA fighter.
Hit ‘n Strum is now playing in select Cineplex Theatres in Canada and the soundtrack is available on iTunes.