The child actors all conducted themselves with an air of professionalism and had great insight on the nature of bullying. The director, Jason Jeffery, had a great rapport with the kids and parents. It was clear that an environment of trust and safety had been developed between them. It was interesting to see the kids on film bullying and being bullied, then as soon as Jason yelled “cut” the kids got to joke and laugh and be silly with each other. The crew and parents were standing nearby as they kids delved into their roles. The child actors featured in “Horace” are: Gellen Parraguez, Dylan Poyser, Samantha Wiltzen, James Parsons, and Atlas Pham. Their teacher is played by Michael Welsh.
I got to talking with Gellen Parraguez who played Horace and asked him what it was like to be bullied all day. His years of experience with performing in live theatre has given him plenty of practice with getting into and out of character. Gellen actually played a bully, Grover Dill, in A Christmas Story at St.Albert’s Arden Theatre which gave him insight for his role as Horace. Gellen and the main bully, played by Dylan Poser, actually know each other from outside this film which helped them both develop a relationship of trust for the shoot. Gellen commented on his own experience with being bullied for liking musical theatre and acknowledged how harsh kids can be. He shared with me how Jason had met the kids before the shoot and had worked on trust building and blocking which was very helpful. He said that being bullied in the real world is much worse than in a safe environment. I asked him if he had a message to anyone who is being bullied. His response was: “Remember that there are people who love you and you only need one person. You don’t need everyone; no one can steal your friends and family.”
Sara, played by Samantha Wiltzen, is a bystander to the bullying that is going on in the school yard. “Horace” is one of Samantha’s first films. Previously she has acted in a couple of music videos and commercials. Her character Sara wants to be with the cool kids, but doesn’t want to be mean. She represents the common child who gets caught in the middle: she doesn’t want Horace to get hurt, but she also doesn’t stick up for him. Sara is easily persuaded by the bully. I asked Samantha: “How did you prepare for this role?” She told me that to get the anger in her face she tried very hard to think of something that would make her angry. The key memory that helps her get into character is when one day she was online looking at gymnastics videos and she accidentally clicked on something she did not want to see. What she thought would be a cute cat video, was actually a video of a cat being set on fire. She loves animals and was really angry at the senseless brutality, but she uses that emotion to help her on set.
The screenplay writer, Melissa Trotter, said that she was inspired to write this story from her own childhood experiences with bullying and her son’s experiences with bullying as well. The word bullying gets thrown out a lot these days. Sometimes it is seen as an everyday thing that can’t necessarily be controlled. Melissa and Jason wanted to show through this film that bullying is a real issue and should not be taken lightly. Kids can take the extra mile to be hateful. The bullies in “Horace” are harsh, rough, and “in your face”. The goal was the project was to be realistic and show how childhood bullying really is. Bullying can be very damaging; the memory of being targeted and teased can remain into adulthood. “Horace” is meant to be hard to watch. Melissa's son was bullied for having trouble reading so this story is very close to home for her. Her own experience of being bullied fueled the raw emotion within the dialogue. Seeing adorable children spitting out hateful words with such vicious, spiteful intention was a jarring experience. Certainly this film will shock audiences and shine a light on just how terrible childhood bullying can be.