On-screen sisters, real-life best friends drive the action on set of Little Orphans

From real-life best friends to on-screen sisters, the writer/star of the feature film Little Orphans bring together a team of women to bring the script to screen.

Writer/star of the feature film bring together a team of women to bring the script to screen

Rhiannon Morgan, Marthe Bernard and Emily Bridger are real-life best friends and on-screen sisters in the feature film Little Orphans, written by Bridger. (Facebook/Little Orphans)

Atop a metal ladder, with her feet hooked around the rungs for stability, the camera operator gets the height she needs for the perfect downward angle. 

But instead, she points the lens upward to the sky, pauses, and says, "Aaaaand … frame."

Below her, the director watches the monitor, the hood of her parka framing her face, and in a cloud of freezing breath, hollers, "Action!"

The camera slowly pans down to four actors ready to deliver their lines, standing in front of a house on Cochrane Street in downtown St. John's. 

A team of women are bringing the film Little Orphans to life. The screenplay was written by a woman and stars three women. The director, cinematographer and producers are also women. (Gary Locke/CBC)

It may seem like the typical mechanics of a movie shoot, but here, on the set of the film Little Orphans, something remarkable is happening. 

All the action behind, and in front of, the camera is being driven by women … a woman director, a woman cinematographer, three women stars, women producers and a woman writer/creator. 

Bridger wrote and stars in Little Orphans and brought together a team of women to bring the script to screen. (Gary Locke/CBC)

In an industry still dominated by men, both in Canada and abroad, that level of female representation is unusual.

Emily Bridger, the film's writer and star, says it wasn't by design, just a "happy unintentional thing." 

"It's a super-special thing to see. It's really rare, but it's nice to live here in Newfoundland, where it's so supportive of female filmmakers." 

'One step at a time' for women filmmakers

She says that support is primarily driven by the Women's Film Festival, which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. The festival is a sponsor of Little Orphans, along with Telefilm Canada, which awarded the project funding through its Talent to Watch program. 

Ruth Lawrence has directed short films and plays before, but Little Orphans marks her first foray into feature-length film. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Ruth Lawrence has directed short films, but this is the first feature-length work. She says the industry in this province encourages more women to slip into the director's chair.

"We do get lots of support here, but you know the statistics on women directors and producers are dismal, really. Even with women writers. So I feel like, one step at a time. We're starting to make some progress. 

Watch: Carolyn Stokes takes you to the set of Little Orphans

We just have to keep working and keep going up and never letting things backslide ... One day we'll get there. We will get to equity."

Little Orphans is about three sisters, played by Bridger, Marthe Bernard (Republic of Doyle) and Rhiannon Morgan. The sisters were abandoned by their mother at a young age. 

Bridger's character, named Gwen, is reluctantly returning to St. John's for her sister's wedding. She is confronted by complicated relationships and family drama.

But these three on-screen sisters are actually real-life best friends. 

Bridger has been sharing renditions of the script with Morgan and Bernard since it began as a play, created during a writing course Bridger did at Memorial University with playwright Robert Chafe.

'It's been really fun'

Bridger says she always envisioned her "two best buddies" playing the roles.

"I guess they've always just kind of been reading it and I think we always kind of thought we would do it. And Ruth liked that idea," said Bridger.

All three are also experiencing motherhood together. Bridger has two babies, while Morgan and Bernard have one child each.

"It's been, uh ... crazy," Bridger laughs, "but it's been really fun." 

Lawrence says it's unusual to have so many women driving a film production, but she feels the N.L. film industry provides a lot of support and encouragement for women in all roles. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Bridger says they are now at the halfway point in filming.

When it's finished, the editing begins; the final product should be complete before the year's end, which is a stipulation of the funding arrangement, and then Bridger hopes to join the film festival circuit.

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Carolyn Stokes


Carolyn Stokes is a reporter with CBC Newfoundland and Labrador, and frequently cohosts Here & Now.