"How do you win at dancing?" That question is explored in detail in Leap 4 Your Life, a mockumentary that tells its story through the corruption, rivalry, sexual confusion, eating disorders and toxic mother/daughter relationships that colour an annual dance contest.
The tight pliés and loose morals at the centre of the tale were conceived by the North Vancouver mother/daughter writing team of Barbara and Taylor Hill.
Despite acting in a number of high profile projects in her teens — including the horror film The Exorcism of Emily Rose — work for Taylor dried up during her early 20s.
"I was just finishing my university degree and I hadn't worked for awhile in the acting world," she says. "I was having a bad day one day and then my mom told me I should just write... We came up with the characters that day."
While earning a degree in psychology and fine arts from Simon Fraser University, Taylor ventured into her own past for screenwriting inspiration.
A veteran of hip hop, jazz, and ballet programs at the North Shore Academy of Dance, Taylor recalled the dance school archetypes that seem to haunt every studio.
"There's always the star dancer, there's always the one who's trying, there's always the quirky one like me who loves to dance — "But isn't very good," Barbara finishes.
The troupe also features a token sexually-ambiguous guy.
"I'm the 'male dancer,'" a character named Matt says early in the film. "I don't know why I put that in quotation marks."
Sitting side by side in a local coffee shop, Barbara is content to let her daughter answer the questions; a far cry from the mothers in the movie who at times seem like the suburban equivalent of animals that eat their young.
Taylor is nearly unrecognizable in the movie as Molly, a geyser of misguided enthusiasm whose interpretive dance solo seems influenced by Curly from the Three Stooges.
When discussing writing the script, it's apparent that Taylor and Molly are bonded by unfettered exuberance.
"It flowed so quickly. Some days I could write 20 pages easily. I felt like I knew the characters and I knew exactly what the story was, so it came really fast. But I just locked myself with my computer and if I couldn't sleep I'd wake up in the middle of the night and write it all down," she says.
On the rare occasions when she was stuck, Taylor says the roadblock was usually traversed through conversation.
"If that ever happened my mom and I would just talk it out. We'd talk about the characters just like they were friends," she says.
Almost every role was written with one of Taylor's friends or relatives in mind, all of whom said 'yes,' the actress reports.
But even with director Gary Hawes on board, an established filmmaker who has worked as a unit director on X2, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and The Fantastic Four, as well as crafting numerous short films, there still wasn't a budget for the quirky dance comedy.
"It was a wink and a smile for everything," Taylor says. "The whole cast and crew volunteered their time."
Some cast members even donated to the movie through a crowdfunding platform to help fund the production.
"We used our house to film, all of our neighbour's houses," Taylor says. "We even used [North Vancouver’s] Kay Meek Theatre."
For Taylor, deciding to move ahead with the movie was an easy choice. "It was like either get a car and move out, or make a movie, so let's make a movie."
Leap 4 Your Life screens Oct. 10, 2 p.m. at Pacific Cinémathèque as part of the Vancouver International Film Festival. More detail at viff.org.
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