Toronto's opening night pic sets the national obsession to song

Open season | Buyers playing waiting game reap rewards | Shift in pic coin gooses Canadian biz | Pickup scene | Bell Lightbox rings future of fest | Toronto honcho muses on cinema | ‘Score’ celebrates all thing Canadian |
Toronto Intl. Film Festival

Opening Gala film “Score: A Hockey Musical” (the title says it all, eh?) probably sounds like exotic cinema to many attendees. But Canada is a nation where regular-season NHL games are TV ratings winners, and reality show “Battle of the Blades,” which pairs pro ice-dancers with retired NHL stickmen, was a hit. So the concept of a coming-of-age comedy with 19 original songs and plenty of on-ice action hit former rink rat and music fan Michael McGowan like a full body check.

“It was one of those ideas people would chuckle at but didn’t have a clue how it could be done,” recalls the Toronto writer-director, who skipped the usual development funding process, penning the “Score” screenplay and song lyrics in record time as a breather from another (now completed) script and shooting a couple of “demos” to show financers how the concept would work. “It was impossible for them to say no.”

The domestic box office success of McGowan’s “One Week” helped secure pic’s C$5.2 million ($4.9 million) budget quickly, and serendipitous connections helped recruit Olivia Newton-John to play a New Age mom whose homeschooled son (Noah Reid) scores life lessons after becoming an overnight success.

“I was freaking out about finding a lead who could sing, skate and act because he carries the movie — actors will tell you they can do everything,” the director laughs.

Turns out newcomer Reid, the first to audition, was the triple threat he was looking for.

With a script tailor-made for cameos, McGowan fills his roster with Canuck musical, media and sports luminaries, and the frames with hometown landmarks.

“The Canadian industry is subsidized by taxpayers so I do feel a moral responsibility to tell our stories,” says McGowan. “I think this is an unabashedly Canadian film, but I hope viewers will find that the particular reveals the universal.”

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