To make the coming of age road trip tale Weirdos,, which premiered at TIFF and is nominated for six Canadian Screen Awards, iconic Canadian director Bruce McDonald worked with a superb team of Canadian artists, including a talented ensemble cast, beautiful black and white cinematography by Becky Parsons, and a script by McDonald's longtime and frequent collaborator Daniel MacIvor, the Canadian playwright, actor and screenwriter from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, where Weirdos takes place.
As the film's synopsis explains, Weirdos takes us back to 1976, as a 15-year old boy (played by Dylan Authors) flees his hometown with his sort-of girlfriend (Julia Sara Stone) to visit his estranged artist mother (Molly Parker) in nearby Sydney, who he fancies as a symbol of the glamourous life that awaits him—which may include parties with Andy Warhol, and fabulous shoes. Of course, all is not what it seems in terms of his eccentric mother, despite the family's good intentions and perpetual love. The story's naturalistic style is balanced with occasional appearances by a ghostly Warhol character, who hilariously dispenses philosophical advice to our quirky young hero.
Director Bruce McDonald, whose extensive directorial career includes television and film productions like Hard Core Logo (1996), The Tracey Fragments (2007), Trigger (2010) and the Broken Social Scene music film This Movie Is Broken (2010) to name but a few, talks collaboration, storytelling and trust.
You've collaborated with Molly Parker and Daniel MacIvor many times over the years. Does making a film with people you've worked with create an ease and different dynamic?
Yes, absolutely. It's always good to work with new people, but it's fun to work with friends... It's an enjoyable experience because you like each other, you have a history you share, you have trials and tribulations that you've been through, so you know each other's parameters, and you can challenge each other on that... It's sort of a dream that you have, people always talk about having an ensemble... People like Woody Allen have the same actors they work with over and over, and crew people they work with over and over. It's a hard business to do that in because it's such a freestyle jazz odyssey sometimes; everybody's got their own lives and their own paths, but you try as much as you can whenever a new project comes to come together again.
Yes, the ensemble. When you find people who understand you creatively, it's kind of like starting a band, there's chemistry between a particular group of people you can't find anywhere else.
You see it in television too, the same crew for years same show or a different show. A smart producer will want to keep that team. They work well together, there's a smoothness, an understanding, and those who don't play well with others have been weeded out. You try to create that sense of family in every situation, by the end of a production you're so well oiled you're just, like, 'Gosh, I want to jump right into another one.' It may be my frustration at not being a good enough musician to be in a band!
Maybe this is your 'band!' Speaking of which, please tell us about the film's soundtrack.
I'm very excited about the music in it, for the most part it's Canadian pop songs from that era, I'm quite thrilled and delighted that we got to showcase some of these songs. It really helps take people back to that place...
So how did this project come together? What was the moment when you said, 'Let's make this movie?'
The last movie Daniel and I did together, Trigger, I brought him the premise. I said, 'OK, here's the idea,' and he liked it and wrote it. So that was really fun and went well, so he came to me and said. 'I have an idea,' pitched me a couple of sentences, and I said, 'I like it!' He is a very prolific guy and a great collaborator. This comes from, kind of, his past. He grew up in the East Coast in the '70s. It's a semi-self portrait in a way. And me being the same age as him and being 15 years old in the '70s, I related to the story a lot, having hitchhiked, and done some of the things... It was a great collaboration.
Even viewers who grew up during a different era will still relate to the universality of age coming of age journey, you offer an appreciated sense of hope and light, even throughout difficult times.
I think for a coming of age story, Daniel did a great job of drawing the characters. There's a nice balance between the young kids coming of age and the older people; they were a big part of that story... your foundation you have to grapple and reckon with somehow. It's a trickier dance when you don't have good versus evil. In this case, everybody was kind of a good person. I'm a hopeful fellow, I think I'm an optimist for the most part, I like stories that shine a little bit of extra light.
What did you learn from making Weirdos?
I think in this one I learned to trust a little bit more in the script and in the performances, to be comfortable with simplicity. That was a good lesson for me. My editor Duff Smith, who was really instrumental in teaching me this, was like, 'We don't need visual gimmicks, simplicity is the best gimmick.' But in order to do that, you need to feel a great trust in the script. That it's working, that there's a clarity there, when you don't have that complete understanding or trust in the script you feel as if you have to add on. But sometimes the best thing is to stay out of the way. If the cast is right and the story is strong. It becomes less of a window about style and flash and more a way to feel closer to the characters and the world that you're in.
Photo credit: EyeSteelFilm
Weirdos screens March 11 at the Phi Centre.