TRIGGER WARNINGS: gore, unhealthy relationships, sexual shame, internalized homophobia
I became acquainted with Pascale Potvin, Toronto writer and poet, within the greater online literary community we both inhabit. But as someone who has produced and performed in other mediums myself, I have been particularly excited about her work in film. After years of acting and creating her own short films, including collaborating with Canadian collective The Boys Club, Potvin set out to helm her first feature film, the forthcoming psychological horror “Baby Fever.” Co-directed by Potvin and Nupur Chitalia, the story follows wife and expectant mother Lila, played by Sara Caspian, her husband James, played by Mark Pettit, and the clique of mommies in bucolic Elk Creek. When a problem develops with the pregnancy, Lila’s troubles are only just beginning.
As editor in chief of Wrongdoing Magazine, Potvin was interested in sharing the latest about her cinematic endeavour with the readers, and granted me an interview to discuss her inspirations and the process of bringing “Baby Fever” to the screen.
My first impression of the trailer, besides loving it, was taking account of some of the pop culture touchstones that may have led to the concept… Rosemary’s Baby, Stepford Wives, The Omen… were these or any other works overt or subtle influences on either the original story and/ or screenplay, or on your direction?
Practically everyone who's commented on the teaser has brought up Rosemary’s Baby! I can’t say I’m surprised, though.
These works, especially that one, are definitely influences—and, without giving away too much, I hope they shape the audience's understanding of Baby Fever. I was eager to write in both overt and subtle references to iconic films, not just because I love them, but because they laid a nice foundation for us to play with.
I assume from some of the still images I saw on the film’s Twitter and Instagram accounts, and in the proof of concept short from a year ago, that you take a certain joy in poking the audience’s brain with disturbing images. Love it. Have you ever taken it so far that even you couldn’t look?
I personally haven’t gone so far that I couldn’t look, at least not while on set—shooting this feature in 7 days, I entered such a flow state which was hard to disturb. I think I found the perfect middle state between caring for Lila’s predicaments, and using that to direct Sara, while also not recoiling.
That being said, now that I’m at a healthy distance from that intense shoot… watching the footage is definitely disturbing. More than I anticipated for myself. Which, ultimately, is a good sign.
How was the experience of working with a co-director? Was this the manifestation of previous collaborations like Boys Club, or similar dynamics in other mediums? Or was this a new experiment for you, and how did it go? What were the benefits you immediately appreciated? What were the challenges? What had you anticipated that turned out differently? What do you want us to know about Nupur Chitalia and your regard for her?
Working with Nupur was a new experience for me just as was directing a feature film. She put so much into—and brought so much out of—the story, ever since the very beginning of pre-production.
Since she had more experience in talking to crew, and myself more comfortable with actors, it was also great to be able to split up and maximize our efficiency. Our visions were so aligned that I was completely comfortable doing this, and I do think it worked. I didn’t expect to butt heads at all, really, but considering the high-paced environment I suppose it was inevitable—and we moved on to a professional compromise each time.
My experience as an actor has been that no matter how much I love my director and co-stars, no matter how much fun I have inhabiting the character and living in the fictional universe, I can hit an emotional wall if doing an intense scene. I had a full on crying jag after a violent scene even though my character was the one inflicting the damage! Did you hit any similar bumps yourself or with your actors, and how did you navigate those? If not, do you attribute that to any particular precautions you or your actors take?
Yes—we had tried to design the schedule to make things easiest for Sara, our lead, but a few challenges had us having to recalibrate things. And so she would sometimes run out of tears. It was an emotionally exhausting role overall, but it helped to remind her that the character is also very emotionally exhausted. If anything, it might’ve added some realism.
Any anecdotes about moments of levity on the set, between takes perhaps? I’m imagining the moms group actresses particularly having a lot of fun portraying sinister forces. Or struggles with practical effects (even if they didn’t seem so funny at the time while you were working to get the scene finished!).
What stands out in my mind is a sequence in which we had one actor on the floor, surrounded by baked goods. It was such a great touch by our thoughtful art department, and overall it ended up being one of the funnest scenes to shoot (to clean up, not as much). Overall, any scene with all of the ‘moms’ was a lovely time—I really enjoyed the days that we had Zoe, Allisha, Esther, or Bethany on set.
What kind of conversations did you have with Sara Caspian about the character and her backstory? What did she bring out in her performance that surprised you or altered your perception of the character?
Sara was so committed and spent so much time—with Nupur and I and on her own—preparing for the role. We had a lot of conversation and rehearsal, but I think it all came down to sharing our own thesis about the character’s big want. Finding that in itself was our first step, of course; we had to do a lot of character work before we even brought Sara into the conversation.
That being said, of course she brought so much to the table and to her performance. We especially appreciated her perspective as an Iranian in Canada and how she let us know how to support it, and her, in the script and on set.
Musicians are often asked: what comes first, the melody or the lyrics? With that analogy in mind…your documentary Healthy Conversation dealt with mental health, as did the Can You Hear Me series. Baby Fever tackles trauma, PTSD, and gaslighting against women who experience it. And even your short film Beat has a parallel to Baby Fever in that it deals with a protagonist, what distinguishes them physically from the other characters, and how that informs their journey. Tell me more about what compels you to explore these topics. From your perspective, do themes inspire the stories you want to tell, or are you just stumbling into stories you want to tell that sometimes invoke these themes, or are they born together hand in hand?
I think that’s a question that a lot of us writers ask ourselves. I’m a person who kind of believes in Muses, only because I feel like the stories are always there waiting for me to find them. As I was mentioning earlier, I don’t truly discover theme or intention until after several revisions of the work.
Of course, I’ve always written about mental illness—even before I had any idea I was mentally ill—so in many cases, I think the Muse is just the subconscious.
Is Baby Fever horror, psychological thriller, or both? Or do you categorize one as a subset of another? How do you compare your intentions as a director to your intentions as a poet, novelist, and actress? (Particularly in how you want to impact your audience.)
I’d say it’s both, and that’s why we’ve classified it as a psychological horror. That’s really the genre I gravitate to most, I think because it can incite the strongest emotions in. person. To watch characters be pushed to their limits is a way to share something so (albeit terrifyingly) unique with one’s audience; and, ultimately, my aim is to connect with others in that way.
What excited you about shooting a feature as opposed to the shorts you have previously? What challenges did you overcome in going from short film to feature length? (Similar to my question about co-directing — anticipated or otherwise!)
Baby Fever was uncharted territory for me in so many ways. I don't think I can even compare a feature shot in 7 days to other shorts I shot over months.
I think the biggest challenge was being the Director, Writer and Executive Producer and ultimately in charge of so many people at the age of 24. I didn’t think I had it in me, but I was also so excited to prove myself wrong. And I did. Especially having all of these people around me, working toward the same goal I was—believing in the story, too—it made it one of the best weeks of my life.
And finally, without asking you for what the audience should take away after watching the film (because it feels like that could reveal spoilers), I’ll instead try asking: what big question(s) do you hope the audience asks themselves after watching the film?
“Oh my god, what the hell just happened?”
h. is a writer from Magical Higley AZ, by way of Phoenix and Los Angeles. He received an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University Los Angeles and a BA in English Literature from Arizona State University. His writing has appeared in Cultural Daily, Discover Pods, Drunk Monkeys, and Modest Proposal, and he serves as an editor for Meow Meow Pow Pow and Screenshot Lit. He shall overthrow the mighty and lay waste their temples, he shall redeem the despised and wreak vengeance in the name of the burned and the tortured. More of his work can be found at HubUnofficial.com.