Friday, October 8, 2010

An Unusual Brotherly Bond

In the recently completed independent comedy-drama The Pact, a pair of brothers recovering from bad break-ups (Aaron Toronto, Neil Brookshire) vow to swear off women for a year. What happens from there bears only a passing resemblance to what happened in real life when Toronto and his brother Matt, who directed the film, forged a similar agreement in the 1990's.

"We were attending college in Michigan," explains Aaron during an interview with FilmStew. "Matt was going to the University of Michigan and I was attending Kalamazoo College. He'd just broken up with his high school girlfriend and I had just broken up with an on again-off again girl I was seeing."

"We decided we'd had enough and said no smooching for the whole semester," he continues. "Matt lasted two weeks before he started dating Jordon, who is now his wife. I lasted nearly the whole semester until I started dating someone else. So the basic spark for the movie came from this pact we made, but we embellished it of course."

Aaron Toronto

There's an undeniable symmetry to the fact that Matt has now directed a film based on the failed pact that features the woman who broke it up for him, Jordan, as one of the female co-stars. She previously appeared in A Beam in Your Eye, one of two comedy shorts made by the Toronto brothers along with Even Felons Fall.

It's extremely rare these days to encounter a city that has not yet had a feature film shot on location, but that was the case this late summer with The Pact. When it begins hitting the festival circuit in 2011, its makers will be able to proudly proclaim it to be the first movie ever shot in Brookings, South Dakota.

"Some people we approached during the production were dumbfounded and confused that a movie could even be shot in a place like Brookings," Toronto recalls. "Then there was the time I called the local grocery store, Hyvee, to ask if they could donate food or other items. The woman I talked to turned out to be an actress also and got very excited. She ended up being a featured extra."

Jordon Toronto

Toronto hopes The Pact will do the burgeoning new genre of "bromantic comedies" proud. When asked which are some of his favorite bromances, he points to Bottle Rocket and Dumb and Dumber. The latter is a personal favorite partly because Toronto's extensive stage work has encompassed Jeff Daniels' Purple Rose Theater Company in Michigan. Toronto also had a small part in the 2002 vacuum cleaner salesman comedy starring Daniels, Super Sucker.

The name of the Toronto brothers' production company is Tarantula Entertainment, in honor of the word's etymological root of Taranta. Certainly, a slot at next year's Toronto International Film Festival would make semantic sense for The Pact, but Aaron says they also hope to target events in their hometown of Ann Arbor as well as, of course, any place that will have them in the Dakota's.

"We tried to keep the humor in the film very honest, and played everything as realistically as possible," says Toronto. "We wanted the humor to come from the very real pain the brothers may have been feeling at any given moment. So, there are certainly some very humorous moments, but also some very dramatically painful moments as well."

(l to r) Cinematographer Doug Lee, Matt Toronto

"I would add that we're still continuing to explore our humor palates as storytellers. If audiences find The Pact funny, we'd urge folks not to get too comfortable with our "style." We may do something entirely different on our next project."

To wit, on tap for 2011 is a feature film adaptation of Group, a theater musical written by Toronto that premiered at South Dakota State University in 2008. For his adaptation of the story of a therapy group of anxiety patients facilitated by Dr. Sonny Bloom, Toronto already has seed funding in the form of a grant from the South Dakota Arts Council.

[The Pact]


  1. We are anxiously awaiting the finished film. Just let Brookings know where and when, we will be there.

  2. Hi Sue:

    Yes, I imagine it's going to be quite the SD party in Brookings when this film has its official premiere.

  3. The Pact Rocks!! Can't wait.

  4. Sounds unique, ironic, and authentic- looking forward to the release.

  5. Matt let me know the film is now available via Amazon. More info here: