Every now and again someone asks me, “How did you manage to get actress Ellen Page to narrate your film (Vanishing of the Bees)?”
I look at them and smile wide. I love sharing this magical story.
At some point in our filming, co-director George Langworthy and I made a conscious decision to find a ‘celebrity’ to narrate our documentary about the global bee disappearances known as Colony Collapse Disorder. We wanted to appeal to as wide of an audience as possible, which is one of the reasons we also grounded the film in science. We could have made a more esoteric film like Queen of the Sun, but we didn’t want to risk losing people. This movie appeals to “anyone who likes to eat.”
While the film had premiered in the United Kingdom in 2009, and had been narrated by actress Emelia Fox, we wanted a warmer voice that didn’t sound so BBC. Our executive producer James Erskine in the UK had been responsible for finding Ms. Fox.
After whittling 30 hours of footage into 87 minutes and then re-cutting our film for the United States, I set off to manifest a star. I had never done this before but I believed in our project and vision 200 percent. Fortunately as a journalist, I’d never had a problem cold-calling folks. I looked up their informaton on IMDB pro and went to work!
It would be challenging, but I believed that the the bees had our back.
During the four years it took to finish this film, I’d developed a little mantra. I would whisper “Please bees. please bees” whenever I needed a little help from the sisters. Honeybees are an ancient creatures and are predominently a female society. In a hive of about 50,000, 90 percent plus are sisters to each other and daughters of the queen.
We crafted a short list, which included actresses Maggie Gyllenhaal, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Cate Blanchett. We added Scarlett Johansson to the list when we found out she was talking to people about how the bees were dying. Her concern even prompted Samuel L. Jackson to buy the actress and her now ex-husband Ryan Reynolds a beehive as a wedding present.
I approached Scarlett’s people first and quickly found out that her manager was also from my home town of Montreal. I dropped off a copy of our UK version at his office on Sunset Blvd, a building I had coincidentally worked in for about six months when I was a writer for California Psychics, a website and psychic hot line, which was founded by the same fellows who had created the Dionne Warwick Psychic Friends Network.
We were overjoyed when we heard that Scarlett was interested in the project, but our glee quickly faded when we realized that our schedules didn’t sync up. Scarlett would be doing Broadway at the same time we needed to record.
George and I often brought out the silly in each other. Because of the bees, I’d developed an infatuation with striped clothing. I found myself buying striped dresses and teeshirts. And I’d noticed that more and more people were also wearing them. Later, I confirmed that indeed in the spring of 2010 stripes were all the mode.
I got into a habit of muttering ‘stripes’ out loud whenever I saw them on a person. George started doing it too.
It was a spring evening and I was with my roommates in Venice at a farm-to-table restaurant name Gjelina. We had been placed on the waiting list and after walking around the chic and shaby neighborhood of Abbot Kinney, we returned 40 minutes later whereupon I spotted Gwenyth Paltrow at the back of the restaurant.
“Stripes” I uttered to myself. She was wearing a striped black and white shirt.
I boldly introduced myself and Gwenyth genuinely asked about the status of the bees. As we chatted, I told her we were looking for a narrator. But when I sent notice to her peeps, I never heard back.
Next up was Maggie.
I remember biking the Santa Monica boardwalk by the beach when a lone bee flew alongside me for a few seconds. In faithless moments, a bee often buzzed my way to pay me a sweet visit. And when that happened, I always felt like the luckiest gal on the planet.
“Please bees. Please bees. Let us manifest someone who actually cares about you,” I uttered to myself.
Honeybees are creatures of endless delight and wonder. One single worker bee will only make a quarter of a teaspoon of honey during her six-week lifespan. Honeybees pollinate one in every three bites of the food we eat. And they work selflessly for the greater good of the hive.
I called Maggie’s people next. The manager seemed intrigued and said she would show the film to the actress, but only if it was an “exclusive offer.”
“Sure,” I responded, not really knowing what I was signing up for. Later George explained that from that point on, we could not offer the role to anyone else.
In the meanwhile, we had a screening in Topanga; afterwards a dear friend Peter Youngblood Hills asked if he could have a copy to share with a ‘friend.’ He failed to tell George and I that he was sharing the film with Leo DiCaprio who he’d met on the set of Beaches. Leo loved the film and shared it with his mother. And then weeks later, my bee prayers were answered.
While on the set of Inception, the assistant director apparently killed a honey bee, that had been buzzing around the craft service table. When Ellen Page heard about the murder, she wasn’t too pleased.
“What the hell are you doing? Don’t you know that our precious bees disappearing all over the globe?” (This is the gist of what she said in my own words.)
When Leo caught wind, he suggested Ellen meet Peter. “He was saving bees out of my pool last week,” he told her.
Peter and Ellen met and when he later shared the film with her, she was moved to tears and agreed to narrate.
I tell folks a honeybee gave up her life to bring us Ellen Page.
In the meanwhile, I had heard back from Maggie’s manager. She too was interested in our project. Talk about manifestation!
“Well, because of you said, we have to honor our proposal,” George informed me.
And perhaps if I had the opportunity to sit down with Maggie and look her in the eyes and get a sense of whether she was a sister bee at heart, I would have. But I didn’t have that privilege. She was in New York.
Despite the ‘exclusive offer’ the manager had insisted upon, I couldn’t overlook the bee magic that had just unfolded. What were the chances? I apologized to the agency and to Maggie. And soon, we were sharing lunch with Ellen at the Pain Quotidian.
Not only was Ellen a talented actress, she had gone through her own health journey, studied permaculture, and had read Michael Pollan. And like me she was Canadian.
The Bee In The Room
We directed Ellen Page on a sunny day in Los Angeles via the telephone. George came over to my place in Hollywood and we sat around my desk and put Ellen, who was in a recording studio in Halifax, on speaker phone. During the session, one single bee flew into my apartment and stood watch in the corner of the dining room. It was an amazing sight. At the end of the session, I cupped her in my hands and released her back into the wild, known as Hollywood.
The bees had listened.
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