EXCLUSIVE: Director Bruce McDonald Talks Influences, Pop Culture, the Canadian Film Scene, Music and His New Film, ‘Weirdos’
[Published at Awards Circuit] 2017 Berlin International Film Festival: Director Bruce McDonald has been one of the most prominent indie voices in Canadian cinema for the past three decades. He is known for his love for pop culture and aptitude for cheekiness in his films. His filmography spans far and wide, covering a plethora of diverse genres and themes. Bruce and I had a chance to sit down and talk about his new film, “Weirdos,” which premiered at the Berlin International Film Festival. The Kingston, Ontario native covers topics ranging from the filmmakers who have inspired his work, to his frequent screenwriting and acting collaborators, the level of ease in making a film in Canada due to government grants for the arts, Canada’s historical “little brother” relationship with the U.S., the important but often forgotten genres of Italian Neo-Realism and Italian Giallo in film, music’s influence on his career and the importance of film preservation.
(Bruce is discussing the last time he was in Berlin, shooting an old TV series as he explains the plot to me.)
Bruce: It was about these people that fooled around and blew up planets. It’s kind of goofy, but fun! [We did it] with some co-productions, they shot a couple of months in Berlin.
Awards Circuit: Where can I find that?
Bruce: Uh, I don’t know if you really want to see that; it’s one of those things. It’s just – life is short. It was more the experience of being here and, you know, getting up at 4:00 O’clock in the afternoon for breakfast like after the shooting stopped. We stayed on for about a month and it’s like getting up at 4:00 for breakfast and staying up till 6:00 O’clock. It’s like we did that for a month, it’s insane.
Awards Circuit: It’s kind of what my schedule’s been like, you know, just –
Bruce: Especially coming from North America right? That’s when you – you are wide awake at 3:00 a.m.
Awards Circuit: Exactly, you know, it’s a nine hour difference ahead.
Bruce: And what made you want to come to Berlin?
Awards Circuit: Well, for one, I love film festivals. I went to Sundance last year and I’ve gone to San Francisco international film festival for four years in a row now. I love covering these events and just watching films and so Berlin had some great films. Once the program was released – it kind of kept you in suspense about like which films [would be screening] and the whole marketing process, but once I saw the list, I was like, ‘I got to go,’ you know? Too many movies I can’t miss. And too many directors and actors that I’m very fond of, I wanna check out their work. Not to mention, Berlin, how often do you get to come to Berlin, you know? So, I’m a huge fan of “Pontypool.”
Bruce: Oh, great. That’s awesome.
Awards Circuit: Yeah. I thought it was one of the most innovative and genre bending horror films I’ve seen in recent memory.
Bruce: Oh, great, well, thank you!
Awards Circuit: Yeah, absolutely! With Weirdos, I was amazed at how you were able to transition [from] a fast pace movie like that into a quieter film with a slower pace like this. [They are] completely different films, yet, the wit obviously is still there and your characteristic as a director. How were you able to transition with ease between –
Bruce: [Clears throat] It’s, you know, it’s the script. I work with different writers. “Pontypool” was written by Tony Burgess. I spent a lot of time with them in developing and stuff, but I don’t – I don’t do the heavy lifting where I’m sitting down and actually, you know, doing what you guys do (points to me), which is the hardest work there is I think, is the writing. And so, you know, you try to – “Weirdos” is written by a guy Danny MacIvor, who is a playwright and he just sort of listened to the project. You know, you kind of go, ‘Okay, what are you all about? How should you feel or how – how should we dress you up, you know? Sporty Spice or Scary Spice?’ (laughs) And then it’s a different team, you know, it helps when there is a different team. You know, so like the Weirdos crew was all new people to me. I was the guy that was the new guy, so a lot of first timers. So, you know, you just – and then you know also time and money dictate style in a huge way, right? You know you always wanna have all of it but you never do. You just – you kind of use what you got and then the style – you don’t let it completely determine it, but it determines more than you – it determines a lot. So it’s trying to – It’s like stepping into the land of reality. I think it was American general, general George Patton once said, “Never go to war with what you want, go to war with what you got or you lose your country.” I love that sort of like –
Awards Circuit: It’s a great quote.
Bruce: You know what I mean? There was a guy in Toronto shooting a movie this year, Alexander Payne, who’s a, I don’t know if he’s from California, famous director.
Awards Circuit: Yeah, yeah! “Sideways,” “The descendants…”
Bruce: “Nebraska,” which was actually weirdly inspiring for our film because they were like, ‘Hey, they are black and white.’ Anyway, he was in town, and I knew his casting guy and he said, ‘Yeah, we’re doing a hundred million dollar movie, but we are about 20 short.’ So it never fucking changes, you know?
Awards Circuit: And this was shot on what, like roughly [a] 1.3 million budget?
Bruce: It’s like 750 [thousand] or something. I mean, I would’ve liked to have that, should have been that, but yeah, so you know, I guess probably in the press it’s probably – I don’t know. The producer’s always telling me, “Don’t say it’s too low because…”
Awards Circuit: Well I think it plays to your advantage.
Bruce: I think so, right? It’s about 750, 800, like real money and then you could sort of theoretically say, ‘Well, you know, somebody deferred this or they deferred that,’ but it’s not real money, it’s just imaginary, imaginary land.
Awards Circuit: Was the black and white something that was written in the script, or something that you decided to add in later?
Bruce: We decided later, me and the writer, and I was trying to, you know – it’s like partly because it’s period, not that the ‘70s was black and white, but it does help you take you back in time. And then the other things like, ‘okay, we are making a low budget Canadian movie with no real big movie stars,’ and I think about when we decided the black and white – I think partly it was like, ‘Okay, how do we stand out a little bit?’ Like clearly, you know, it’s an art house movie, so it’s for a very certain audience. So, in a way it was kind of cool, let’s not worry too much about selling to everybody or planning to everybody, it’s like let’s be proud of our arthouse status. You know, black and white is a very simple way to sort of cut through. I think that’s, you know, when I was bringing up Nebraska, it was kind of like, ‘Oh yeah, I didn’t know why it was in black and white when I looked at it.’ There was no real reason other than, you know, it’s a Robert Frankie kind of photography, you know what I mean? You go, ‘Oh, its just sort of fucking beautiful,’ and it just really stayed with me. It was about a year before I had a reshot, but I’d seen the film. So I don’t know, maybe that had some effect.
Awards Circuit: And the mid-western landscape in “Nebraska,” it’s kind of similar to the Canadian East Coast landscape, or at least it seemed to me. They’re both road trips.
Bruce: A lot of open spaces and it’s not a lot of, you know, cities and people. It’s sort of like they are both road trips. And then in Germany you’ve got the Vin Wender’s road films like “Alice of the Cities” and “Kings of the Road” and all those first films are black and white for I don’t know what reason, I’ve never read about it. But I think it’s just some people will be like, ‘this is cool.’
Awards Circuit: But it’s so crisp, too, compared to other black and white films. And I also thought what was amazing was that when I was watching it, I would forget that I was watching a black and white movie. I was like, ‘Wait,’ I had to remind myself, ‘Oh yeah, this is black and white,’ but it didn’t seem like it was because everything else surrounding the film was colorful. The performances, the ambient noise in the background; the way you captured the sound of the wildlife and the nature, the crickets. It really it and as well as the, soundtrack. You got to tell me about the soundtrack! I mean, I know you are a huge fan of music and pop culture, right? So did you have an idea of what the soundtrack would be like [before production]?
Bruce: A little bit ,we thought like – okay, so we kept thinking, ‘Huh, summer of ’76, what’s going on?’ So, basically the plan – the sort of plan that we stuck to was like, ‘Okay, America’s on TV and Canada’s on the radio,’ sort of thing, so you know it’s like AM pop summer songs. So it was like – so we just kind of tried to pick things that you would hear on a car radio in the summer time. And that was, for the most part, kind of Canadian pop songs, which is a fairly new idea back then. Like it was – there was some kind of ruling where in the early ‘70s. because you know, it’s Canada, so [it was] dominated by American culture, that the rule. The federal fucking communications bureau said, ‘Okay, we are going to have them say on the radio, there has to be at least whatever, 40% or something like that, of related music,’ right? That kind of created this kind of – a little explosion of these pop bands, probably some you’ve heard of, some you’ve never heard, of but yeah, it was like super fun. My editor, who’s like 28, was just like – this is all new to him. It was super fun. You wish you could have a lot more – ‘can we make the movie longer so there can be more music?’
Awards Circuit: Yeah, exactly. And it’s predominantly Canadian pop music, but it kind of sounded reminiscent of American folk songs, somewhat.
Bruce: Absolutely, yeah. We all share the very similar traditions right? Of, you know, folk music like Maurine McLaughlin has a song at the end. He’s one of the new Dylans or the new John Prime or any of those guys, right? So there’s a very shared tradition, it’s just that they happen to grow up in Canada, somewhere in Ontario. It’s that folk rock thing of the ‘70s, right? That sort of folk rock thing.
Award Circuit: So the TV in the background was something I noticed as well. Obviously, the weekend covers the American Bi-Sentential, celebrating 200 years of independence. But at the same time, it creates a contrasting tone of this sentiment and the bitterness towards America. It’s like any other country that’s founded on colonialism. It’s got a haunted past and we can’t avoid that, you have to acknowledge it, and the thing is, history continues to repeat itself, like the Vietnam War. We thought we were beyond that and then we went to Vietnam, it was disaster. And I think the character of Molly Parkers’ character Laura, her landlord; he saw the effects firsthand in the Vietnam War. And he expressed to Kit and Alice – he said, ‘It’s not your country, so why are you celebrating?’ Right? And this is kind of a theme, I think, throughout the film, and more of an undertone, but it really – it stood out to me. So was it something you were going after to kind of carry that contrast of a multitude of views, trying to cover all views of the war, the post war mentality?
Bruce: Yeah, a little bit. It’s like, you know, when you look back in to the past you want it, not all of it to be like, ‘Oh, things were better then,’ you know, because that’s always the instinct. To say, ‘Oh, things were a simpler time, it’s a better time,’ because you are not carrying as much information as the way you are in the present, where you are just reading the news and you are going, ‘Oh wow, that’s fucking crazy,’ right? So we love the little current of like, ‘Oh, this is a big celebration, our neighbors next door are having this big birthday party, it’s amazing and everybody’s excited,’ yet the flip side of that is that there’s like, ‘Well, there’s this guy from Cambodia,’ you know, he’s like, ‘Oh, that was not his experience,’ you know?
It’s kind of like there’s collateral damage. The woman that enters hipster art zone, is sort of somehow also – there’s glamour to that. There’s also kind of a bit of sadness and fallout, you know, that sort of delicate line that our main character has to sort of reckon with a little bit, you know, from the glamour of, ‘Oh, she knows Andy [Warhol], she’s an artist and stuff.’ Well artists are kind of special people in the sense that they you know – there’s a fine line between a bit of madness and a bit of creativeness.
Awards Circuit: Yeah, sanity and art.
Bruce: Well, it’s kind of, you know – you just want it to kind of have it on the edge, if you didn’t want to – we want to keep his story as simple as we could.. And it’s fun, and Canadians have this sort of inferiority complex anyway with America, right, because it’s like living next door to the cool kids and you are like, ‘Hmm, I want to be like those guys.’ And like you said, even the music, there is – the music is – it’s a shared music and there’s an aspirational element to be like this new Canadians acts. Well, they are aspiring to be like The Lovin’ Spoonful or Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, or whatever they wanna hear. So to not acknowledge it at all is sort of almost dishonest as an opinion on many things. You’ve got to somehow – yeah just sort of say that you are a bit jealous, but also you could offer a little critique, too, if you are cheeky enough, right? So that’s –
Awards Circuit: Yeah, and speaking of being cheeky, cheekiness is something that – a tone has always been in all your [films], it’s always something that I’ve enjoyed. And it’s wonderful that you’ve been able to keep that throughout all your films, you know, [that] kind of a tongue-in-cheek undertone. What I thought was one of the most interesting characters was Kit’s subconscious, the Andy Warhol character. His own sort of imagination of what Andy Warhol would be like. And that character, the moment he entered the screen, I was cracking up. He’s got this energy to him and this sort of, almost like aloofness, but unique moments of truth that he sets throughout the film. And I think that’s an important character. In your own words, what do you think the significance of the Andy Warhol character represents?
Bruce: I would say he is – he was one of the last things that was sort of added to the script because I was saying to the writers, ‘Hey now, we need a little – I don’t know. We need something. A little icing on the top,’ or something. Anyway, so he brought Andy Warhol because that was the book that he [Kit] was always, in the script, he was always packing in his suitcase. So to me, you know, he’s representative of, you know, the aspiration of this small town kid is just like, ‘I want to hang out with the cool kids down the block or in New York City.’ You know, as a kid for me, growing up in the suburbs of Toronto, or [screenwriter] Daniel [MacIver] growing up in Nova Scotia, we had few things – few references that you kind of understood that was cool. Like it might be an album that you fucking loved, or it might be like Interview Magazine. You had kind of a small window on this world, but you knew that you had to get there somehow. So yeah, I think for him it was like, ‘this is the world I’m going to,’ you know? ‘I want to go to this world somehow.’ And you know little about it, so I like the idea that it just sort of appears in this sort of – it’s like a spirit animal. Or like if you were a native person, you would be like, ‘This is your guide to take you to the – you know, your special spirit animal. It will help you.’ And it was just funny. We didn’t really know if it would work, you know, but then we found this guy and he was great. He just seems to step in at the right times and it’s always kind of odd what he says. So yeah, it’s, I guess, its our main character’s aspirational – you know, it’s the guy he wants to be, you know? ‘I want to be that guy. I want to be cool like you,’ you know? ‘I don’t wanna be some fucking farmer, all right? I wanna live in a… fucking silver factory with my superstar friends and make movies and write shit and make… it’s like, come on, right?
Awards Circuit: Part of me wanted [Kit] to say, “Fuck the life I lived before with my father and my grandma,’ because, you know, it was a bit of a regressive living situation in Kit’s mind. But by the end, we see the humanity in Dave. He starts out seemingly as a one dimensional character, but evolves into a multidimensional character, and I think that’s one of the most satisfying parts of the film; there’s obviously Kit and Alice’s transformation and their self-discovery, but also Dave’s, you know, gravitating towards acceptance and realizing, ‘Sorry. I didn’t realize the words I’m saying actually had meaning and could affect people.’
Bruce: Yeah and hurt people and not only hurt them but drive them to action, right? So, yeah, that was sort of the unexpected – I think for me and I think audiences have responded really well to that. That it’s as much about these parents, these older figures and and how they – or it’s like how to make a family, or a family can be many things.. But yeah, I just love that he comes around, and so the weight is not as much on his shoulders because traditionally, it would be like, okay this kid wrestling with being gay or whatever. It’s like, I really need to beat him up and kick the shit out of him. But it was interesting because it’s as much about the people around him, it’s as much about how Dave sees his son and how he comes around and how the grandmother has a kind of accepting welcoming way to try to balance it all out. And how the girlfriend – it’s like, okay, her whole dynamic changes, so they go from – they go from wanting to be boyfriend and girlfriend to having – to having to become, sort of, best friends. You know what I mean? So you know that they’ll just continue to be friends but in a different sort of way. So it’s interesting for girls to see it like, ‘Oh, I could be sort of friends with a guy, whether they are gay or straight or bi whatever, but I can – it doesn’t always have to lead to like boyfriend girlfriend. It can be friend, you know?’ So I think even for young women to watch this is nice, you know? It gives you a few more options in your – you know, your dynamic or how you choose to relate to people.
Awards Circuit: Yeah, yeah. The moment their relationship turns from romantic to plutonic is really when their friendship blossoms, and it takes it to a deeper level and they connect more. I mean at first, obviously, Alice is, you know, offended that he lied to her, but then she understands.
Bruce: Yeah, and then she sees the mother and the pain. You know when she fucking does the little thing at the end, when he’s in the kitchen, it tells you, man, you’re like – she [Alice] sees it, you know? She sees – like you said, her – it becomes stronger; their friendship sort of blossoms, yeah. And it’s a beautiful thing to see when actors like the guy that played the dad, Allan Hawko, you know, he’s known in Canada for doing this cop show. He’s a cop and he was a friend of the writer and so he said, ‘Oh, I’ll come and be the dad.’ When he did his breakdown scene, it was just like fucking – we were just like stunned that he just lunged for it.
Awards Circuit: I was not expecting that, I really was not.
Bruce: And just like, you know – you’re a beautiful guy, man. You chose to go there, you know?
Awards Circuit: Yeah! And Molly Parker – her performance is one of, if not my favorite performance in the film.
Bruce: She’s amazing, she’s so good.
Awards Circuit: She’s incredible. The way she captures whatever mental illness she may be dealing with. I mean, it’s not explicitly said but what sort of demons is she battling?
Bruce: It’s probably what we would call now to be manic depressive or something like that.
Awards Circuit: Or bipolar, I guess they used to use the terms interchangeably.
Bruce: Bipolar, yeah absolutely, yeah. And back then they didn’t have a name for that, they just thought you were fucked up and they would treat it with all kinds of electric shock all kinds of weird things. So yeah, you know, we don’t wanna – but I think that’s probably the best name for it, yeah. It was a not understood thing and people didn’t really know how to – we were not equipped to – and never mind the husbands and their family but their doctors too didn’t – it was probably something that was still a new thing I guess, right?
Awards Circuit: Absolutely.
Bruce: But yeah, she certainly did her homework, you know, and we had – Daniel and I have a relationship with Molly. We worked with her on a bunch of stuff, so she was the first person we thought of when the script was being written. When she arrived, we didn’t have a huge window because she’s a busy actress, so we kind of worked around her, but she arrived with – said, ‘Hey, Bruce, I brought a couple of outfits that I think maybe, you know, this character might wear,’ and she had researched into the bipolar stuff and these little ticks and patterns that people would do..
It was just a wonderful thing to see how excited she was and at the end she says, ‘You know, I haven’t had this much fun in like, I can’t tell you when.’ And she’s so happy because often she’s – you know, the character she plays are tighter, a little bit tighter and a little bit more controlled. Whereas this, she got to go the flip side and she was a bit – after the first day, she was a bit, ‘This is too much. This is too much. I think this is too much. I know, it’s just sometimes too much.’ I go, “It’s just enough. It’s good.”
Awards Circuit: And it certainly allowed her more range, to showcase her true range. Basically, every actor showcases a multitude of emotions, it’s refreshing. They are all multidimensional, you know, which is difficult. Some of the films I’ve seen recently focus on one character and make that character multidimensional while the secondary and tertiary characters are just background and plot points. It’s nice to see characters that are fully developed.
Bruce: I think that’s Daniel’s playwriting experience, too, and writing as an actor – he’s an actor as well. I think that’s one of the things that gives him great talent is that, you know, actors – they have a sixth sense of what’s a good scene or what’s a good – they understand, ‘Oh, it’s emotional, it’s got some death. It’s got a little bit of contradiction or ambiguity,’ right? So there’s a lot to play if your director allows you to explore, you know, and do it right.
Awards Circuit: Right. So, Pontypool was written by Tony Burgess as in, “A Clockwork Orange?”
Bruce: No, no, no.
Awards Circuit: Okay. I was gonna say…
Bruce: I know it’s funny. I always forget that. He’s Tony. Tony’s a wild man.
Awards Circuit: What else has he written?
Bruce: Oh my god, he’s written – he started out as a sort of novelist. He wrote a series of horror novels and he’s written some other ones that are just fucked up and hilarious. And he lives up north of Toronto; an hour and a half, two hours north. And he ran into these guys that make these super low-budget horror movies. So they made like three or four of them. They are like super cheap. Like I will spend a lot of time with Tony. He’s not a mechanic, he’s a kind of stylist and he kind of just gets his stuff and I go, ‘Wow, this is a great first pass Tony.’ Then it takes us two years to kind of get it, so the engine turns over when you turn the key on, right? Whereas these guys, they were just like – the budgets were super low and whatever Tony wrote, they’d just shoot it. They had one called “Hell Mouth,” one called “Septic Man,” one called – like just nut, bat-shit crazy films, like really crazy.
Awards Circuit: Like absurdist horror films.
Bruce: Sort of, and they sort of worked sometimes but they sort of – you know, I’ve seen two of them. I think I’ve seen them all now [actually] and they sort of like, for me, they are sort of fascinating because I know Tony, but outside of that, you are like, ‘This is very – you know, it’s weirdly entertaining,’ you know? Some people detest them, some people love them, and Tony doesn’t really care. He’s just like, ‘Oh, you know, it’s just what I do and they seem to like it, so…’ Anyway, so I continued to work with Tony, I continued to work with Daniel, I continued to work with a few other writers; Patrick Whistler and, who else…other people you wouldn’t know, but it’s most of what I do is when I direct television shows, you know, as a director for hire, which is super fun. That’s the money. Some of the money from that I, you know, feed my little writer family. And, you know, it’s fun when you kind of say like Tony or Daniel that you just get repeat business. You are like, ‘Hey man, we like working together,’ it’s hilarious to hang out and you know, off we go.
Awards Circuit: Yeah, totally. The professional relationship is way better when you are friends offscreen.
Bruce: You just really want to work with people that you like to hang out with, sort of. That’s why we like – you know, Molly’s become like that, so we love Molly and it’s exciting to watch her do so well on her own, you know – being in all these cool shows. We are really proud of her, you know?
Awards Circuit: Yes, it’s so incredible. So are you a horror movie fan in general?
Bruce: You know, I grew up watching – I know a lot of people who are much more – [have] much deeper knowledge in horror. Like there’s a guy in our neighborhood who runs a program at the Toronto Festival called… it’s the Midnight Madness series, which is very popular. His name’s Colin Geddes, and his program’s in the local cinema. Like that guy knows horror. So me, you know, I think the movie that got me into movies was “Night of the Living Dead.” That was the kind of the touchstone because it was like a movie – I’d never seen a movie like that before. There were no movie stars in it, it looked like it was sort of in – it was in black and white and it was sort of a clunkiness – it looked like it wasn’t slick material. It was sort of punk rock, in a sense. It looked like it was made by people that sort of half-knew what they were doing, and yet that was what made it more terrifying. It seemed almost like a documentary or something. Like there was a deep commitment to all the people making that movie. And that just somehow gave us the permission to think, ‘Oh, we could maybe do that too. You know, you’d go to see “Dirty Harry” or “The French Connection” and back in the day, you’d be like, ‘I don’t know how these even get made. I don’t know where they come from but they are super cool,’ and you can never imagine doing that yourself. But when we saw “Night of the Living Dead,” we were like, ‘Let’s do that.’ Actually, that started us off on our, you know, high school Super 8 zombie adventure. I love people that – I love zombie movies. I still love zombie movies and horror movies. I don’t – you probably have seen many, many more than me, but like, last year, what was, kind of a spooky one? “It Follows,” I thought that was really cool.
Awards Circuit: Body Horror films. Those are kind of what zombie films have evolved to [as a sub-genre], in a way. And speaking of “Night of the Living Dead,” George A. Romero is a genius. That film was way ahead of its time. And it took inspiration from the Giallo genre of Italian directors, you know? The prominent voice being Dario Argento with “Suspira,” “Deep Red,” “Phantom of The Opera,” and stuff like that, and the vibrant colors. But fact of the matter is, those movies, however beautiful they are to look at, and they are brilliant films, but they are fucked up. Right? They are incredibly messed up and gory, but I think George A. Romero took inspiration [as career progressed] definitely from that, and vice-versa.
Bruce: From that, he knew those films, right, yeah, yeah, interesting. I didn’t – I didn’t discover those films ’til way later, and I was stunned watching those like totally – yeah crazy, it didn’t make any sense but they were amazing. Thrilling, right?
Awards Circuit: Yeah, did you hear they are re-making “Suspira?”
Bruce: I heard a rumor of that yeah, yeah, and I hope – and it’s hard because and then you want to kind of to a control that or determine it and this idea of consensus, which is somehow beating the fucking crazy out of film nowadays, everything has to kind of make sense. And what was great about those films is they – you know, they didn’t fucking make any sense. Tony is especially, you know, he’s very up on that. You ever heard of a guy named Coffin Joe? You ever heard of “Coffin Joe?” It was a Brazilian, I think, or Argentinean, Brazilian horror series in the ‘70s that were these – it’s about this guy Coffin Joe, and he kind of was this weird sort of deathy guy, and there was like weird sex sort of soft-core porn. Super violent, crazy shit, you know? In its South America land, it was like Coffin Joe – he would have been our Freddy [Krueger] or something like that. Anyway, so you come across these strange little pockets, and you hope that if they are remaking “Suspiria,” that they’ll – I don’t know if Dario Argento is doing it or he gets somebody that would be a good disciple of him, you know?
Awards Circuit: Exactly. I believe it started out as David Gordon Green being attached to the project. But now it’s –
Bruce: Oh yeah, he’s a pretty amazing director.
Awards Circuit: He’s a great director. But now it’s Luca Guadagnino, he has a film debuting with Armie Hammer [“Call Me By Your Name”] this festival. He’s an Italian director who’s attached to the project now. I think it’s in post-production, so I’m hoping he can do it justice and capture sort of that sense of –
Bruce: Because the horror audiences are very well-informed and they are very smart, you know?
Awards Circuit: Yeah.
Bruce: Like they fucking know their shit and if you – yeah. I mean they are very open I think. They are pretty open-minded but they also have a lot of opinions and they have a lot of deep knowledge of what has come before it.
Awards Circuit: Exactly, and speaking on the sort of industry narrative that’s shifted, we’ve got the big studios that don’t allow you to make the exact film you want to make. But with a film like “Weirdos,” like you said, it doesn’t have to appeal to anyone; you can make it however you want. You and Daniel made it your own. You said, ‘Oh, we are not feeling the pressure from the studio to make it this way, make it this way, to appeal to so and so.’ So, I think that’s nice, but there’s also – have you noticed that it’s less and less possible to make films like Weirdos or do you find it’s – ?
Bruce: Yeah it’s tough man; it’s a fucking bitch, right? Because, you know, it’s not sort of movie’s movies. I mean they used to say in the sev – what do they say? ‘In the ‘70s, movies were for adults and TV was for kids.’ And now it’s like they say, ‘TV is for adults and movies are for kids,’ you know, in a certain way, in terms of like the big tentpole action movies. There’s still all kinds of cool independent cinema just like what drew you to Berlin. You are like, “Wow, what’s going on?” So, it’s, I mean – it’s always been a struggle I guess, but Canada’s very, you know, supportive of their arts, and it has to be sitting beside the giant filmmaking, you know, pinball machine of this world. I feel very lucky to be – you know, get support. It’s not every film but you know, this one was supported by the arts funding thing in Nova Scotia. And, you know, it’s important because you’re either on the map or you are invisible, you know? I’m kind of curious and just say, ‘Hey, I’m going to be in Berlin. Let me show Nova Scotia to a bunch of Europeans,’ you know? I mean, ‘Where is this land, do you know? It looks so pretty.’ So it’s good, and in a way it makes sense, it’s like, well, it’s good for Nova Scotia because some people go, ‘Huh, maybe we can get there one day.’ It’s like looking your [California’s] beautiful coastlines, it’s been shot and documented so well, it’s become mythic, you know? Everybody wants to go and do that drive, you know, that coastal highway drive, because you’ve seen it in movies, you’ve read about it in Henry Miller books. You’ve heard about it in, you know, all the great San Francisco bands and you know all that stuff. You mythologize that land, and that’s what [the] arts do. So, you know, I’m from Canada, and it’s my home, and you are making movies everywhere but it’s like part of me feels like, ‘Huh, I know a lot of stories about this place that absolutely, are just known by the people in that town or the people that live there.’ Some are just dumbass stories, but some are stories that might travel.
Awards Circuit: Yeah, worth being told. I mean, it’s certainly been the first time I’ve really seen the Nova Scotia landscape, it’s beautiful and great to see. It makes me wanna see more of it, which is I think, really what – [you] couldn’t ask for much more out of it, though, right? Draw people to that setting.
Bruce: Yeah, and it’s like, oddly, we always look back to the American cinema of the ‘70s, that’s what we look at. When they left the big studios and there was a lot of independent production and, you know, you look at those crime films from back then like “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” or “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie.” Clearly, films made with a lot of money but there is a real freewheeling spirit to them, and there’s that golden time from the late ‘60s to the early ’70s.
Awards Circuit: Kind of like the counter-culture [films].
Bruce: Absolutely, right? Those were the films we looked to. I love big, giant studio films as much as the next person, but as the maker of films, you can’t look to those as inspiration, you just look to them – it’s like, ‘Wow, that’s amazing.’ We look to, you know, those films, we look to the Europeans like the German New Wave cinema, French New Wave, Italian Neo-Realism, the Iranian dudes, you know? You look to people that make like – to [Ingmar] Bergman who would make films with 17 people on a small budget, or even Woody Allen, to a certain degree. It’s like, all those films are kind of below a certain budget, everybody works for scale, he does one a year, like he’s fucking – like he’s amazing. [His] films are big in ideas and [he gets] the best actors in the world, but somehow people, you know – like ‘I want to be in a Woody movie,’ because he just makes films about his neighborhood and about his, you know -it’s a tough game to make an independent film, but it’s like there are all models out there, you know?
Awards Circuit: Yeah, and I absolutely see the Italian Neo-Realism movement in literature and film in “Weirdos.” I see channeling of that in your film now that you’ve mentioned it. You know films like “Roma, Città Aperta,” “Ladri di Biciclette.” You know, Roberto Rossellini, Vittorio De Sica, and eventually [Federico] Fellini. Those films were so unique and so ahead of their time because they used real actors that provided a sense of realism that had yet to be seen in the film industry, where Hollywood, it was the golden era. It was escapism.
Bruce: Musicals, bible epics, all that stuff, right?
Awards Circuit: Yeah, so I mean it’s great, it’s great to see that coming back to the screen, and I’ve seen that in a few other films at this festival, too. So I feel like – I’m hoping that’s a trend that continues.
Bruce: Well, it’s important to educate people too, you as a writer, to be able to turn – you’ll be amazed at how many people don’t know those films. I think if you’re a cinephile, or you are, even then – even like film students, you know, we went to lots of different schools while I’ll go back or just talk to young kids that are like 15, 16; they have Netflix and they have that stuff now but they don’t necessarily have even like the old video store. We’d be able to go and see, ‘Oh, there’s the Rossellini section, or there’s the De Sica section,’ you know, and you just stumble upon it. Or the guy would say, ‘Hey man, you should see, you know, “The Leopard” or you should see these movies.’ So it’s, you know – so somebody that can make those connections as a writer can go – and people say, if they happen to like “Weirdos,” they are like, ‘Oh, this is a tradition there.’ You’d point them in a few directions and who knows, you know, and suddenly things get a lot more interesting for your reader, you know?
Awards Circuit: Absolutely, and, you know, it’s important, film preservation in general but yeah of course. What’s next for you? Any projects coming up?
Bruce: We are just sort of – it’s the time now of the script harvest. So I’ve got my four things, and we are just kind of – this is the testing of the waters time. We haven’t totally picked it yet but there’s good, cool shit coming. Daniel’s working away on the next one, Tony’s working away on something. Also, it’s like fill-up time, get inspired time. Give me a couple of things that you’ve seen here, that you’ve thought, ‘Oh, that was kind of cool.’ Have you seen a couple of things that have been kind of like, ‘Wow, that was surprising?’
Awards Circuit: Yeah, so “Final Portrait.” It’s a Stanley Tucci film.
Bruce: I love him.
Awards Circuit: He’s more so known as an actor, but he’s directed five or six films. “Big Night” in 1996, absolutely a great film, and I think this really picks up right where it left off.
Bruce: What’s it called? “Final Portrait?”
Awards Circuit: Yeah, “Final Portrait.” It’s about the famous painter and sculptor Alberto Giacometti, and it’s about James Lore, the art critic who spends 18 days posing for him for a portrait, and he ends up writing his biography. And the film’s based on that biography; the 18 days they spent together. It’s an incredible film. I would recommend seeing that. I’d recommend seeing “DISCREET.” It’s a film by Travis Mathews, who’s a young and up and coming director. He also sort of is channeling that realism that is so sorely missed of late, but it’s a film that, again, not for everyone but is fantastic. So, it’s also a film about sort of dealing with inner-demons and self-discovery, in a sense. Let me think of one more if I can…Oh, “Vaya!” It’s a South African film from Johannesburg, and it’s from a director called Akin Omotoso. He’s mostly known as an actor; he’s appeared in films like “Blood Diamond,” but he’s got a great voice. And he provides a glimpse into Johannesburg that’s never been portrayed in film before, so it’s cool. So those would be my three recommendations.
Bruce: Well ,thank you so much. That’s amazing, helps me a lot because I mean sometimes you are like, ‘Wow, it’s a lot to have you choose.’
Awards Circuit: Sure, yeah. And you know, of course the nerd in me is looking forward to “Logan.”
Bruce: Absolutely, yes! And “[T2] Trainspotting,” the second one, I want to see that.
Awards Circuit: Yes and I would recommend “[T2] Trainspotting.” I saw that. It’s amazing.