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One of the most pleasant surprises of this year’s Toronto InternationalFilm Festival has to be Aaron Schneider’s debut feature Get Low.

One of the most pleasant surprises of this year’s Toronto International Film Festival has to be Aaron Schneider’s debut feature Get Low. The small, but surprisingly powerful, movie tells the supposedly true story of an elderly hermit who returns to town for the first time in decades to plan a party for his own funeral. Despite being made by a first-time director, the film stars major American actors like Robert Duvall, Sissy Spacek, and Bill Murray. The project was a labour of love for everyone involved, who have been developing it for eight years.

“You kind of loose count after the first four to five years,” joked producer Dean Zanuck at the film’s press conference. “I think the script was first sent to me in 2001. I was really taken by it and that’s where the journey began. Every film is a struggle, but this was particularly difficult.”

The movie may not have attracted much money, but it did attract some big names early on, including Robert Duvall, who has been with the film since the beginning. “Aaron Schneider came to visit me at my home in Virginia and I was interested, but then there was a big hiatus,” said Duvall. “I didn’t know if it was ever going to happen, but they came back a few years later and I couldn’t resist.”

Perhaps more elusive than collecting the money was getting Bill Murray to co-star in the project. The filmmakers always had him in mind for the role of a struggling funeral home director, but like everyone who has ever worked with the legendary comedian, they had a difficult time tracking him down.

“Bill Murray came on at the last minute,” revealed Zanuk. “We knew he’d be perfect, but he doesn’t read scripts and he doesn’t have an agent. He has a 1-800 number that you call if you want to tell him about what you’re doing, and he monitors it every now and then. He called back and asked for a script, but his lawyer said, ‘Don’t get too excited, he’s asked for scripts before, he’s even given producers notes only to never respond.’ We were never sure if he’d actually do the movie until he showed up on the set.”

Characteristically, Bill Murray was absent from the press conference, even though he had announced plans to attend.

• Get Low screens at today at 2 p.m. at the Ryerson Theatre.

 
 
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