Your upcoming film Lowlife - in a few words, what is it
It's a surrealistic mystery, following a lost musician and her
symbiotic relationship with a living drug.
Slugs as living drugs - now how did you come up
Well it was kind of inspired by that Bufo toad
licking thing - the use of toad secretions as a hallucinogenic. I wanted
to explore that idea of a living drug on a more mutual level, giving the part of
the drug a greater role.
I also was really taken by an article on tulips.
Their theory being that certain flowers have made themselves attractive to
the human species, so that we would become enchanted by them, cultivate
them, and spread their seed. So we tried to incorporate a bit of that
Your personal take on drugs as such - and
also on "drug movies"?
I can be a bit of a
delusional escapist. Maybe that's why I'm so drawn to music and film… I
think everyone has their own ways of escaping reality and that can be
As a filmmaker, the drug movie genre is a great way to tell a
story and have flexibility to allow surreal and otherworldly elements.
Drugs play a great character too. They can play the role of a friend,
lover, and nemesis all at once.
How would you describe
your directorial approach to your subject at hand?
I knew we had limitations equipment-wise, a cast of non-actors, no crew.
The focus really had to be on what we DID have--some great performers, interesting, abstract
concepts, dreamy locations and low budget charm. It
was filmed with this in mind. The story was pretty dark and cryptic and
was shot mostly in black and white to help complement that tone. Fairly
classic, static shots and lots of dramatic film noir lighting. I used a
single hand camera throughout the whole production, and I wanted the shots
to feel close. I'd be getting right in the thick of it with the actors,
for the most part. The film is really less about addiction and more about
companionship. It almost focuses more on the drug and its feelings rather
than the user's. So a good part of it is seen through the drugs
perspective. And it is a drug movie, so there were a couple visual effect
ideas I wanted to try out, but I didn't want it to be the only purpose of
the surreal content of Lowlife, this question might sound a tad
odd, but was any of the film based on your or your cowriter Darcy Spidle's
personal experiences? And other sources of inspiration?
is an unusual character in real life and has some pretty wild stories for
sure, but this film was purely fictional. Really, we were trying to make
it as unreal as possible. Maybe a bio pic in the future tho…
read somewhere that Lowlife was originally going to be a short
called Mantrap. What can you tell us about your initial project,
it's evolution into a feature-length script, and also your collaboration
with cowriter Darcy Spidle?
I've been a fan of Darcy's
writing for years. He has a Burroughs-like, scuzzy, poetic way with words.
I had been talking to him about wanting to do a short film with him and
the lead actress, Kate Hartigan. I figured we could do a good 10 minute
short with no crew and no money. I think the idea of Mantrap may have
spawned from some recent controversy over a bad coyote cull in our area.
The story was about an addict who left society to quit drugs and live like
an animal in the deep woods. He steals from traps to survive and
eventually becomes trapped himself. Then the story just seemed to get
bigger. Elements and details changed until an entirely different story
began to form. With the addition of the slugs the whole thing got a lot
stranger, and before we knew it, it was a lot longer. Some elements are
definitely still there… and I may end up impaling Darcy in a man sized
trap before we're finished, who knows?
Darcy Spidle also plays the
role of Asa in Lowlife. What can you tell us about him as an actor,
and what made him perfect for the role?
Darcy's an old
friend, a great guy and a passionate performer. I first started working
with him on sketches and skit ideas when he was the self destructive front
man for the punk band The Hold. For this film I was hoping to
tap into some of that nihilistic punk persona. The production really had
to rely on capturing those magic, performance art moments. He was able to
nail a couple scenes in one take.
A few words
about Katie Hartigan, who plays Elle in Lowlife, and how did you
One of my early memories of Kate was her teaching
me how to eat june bugs. I really loved her fearless attitude toward
disgusting acts. I thought she would be great in the same way Darcy would
be great--they weren't afraid to get their hands dirty or covered in
slime. For this film it had to be all or nothing and she went beyond that.
She also had a neat way of getting in character. She would tell us all
these sad little stories just before we shot a scene to make herself cry a
little... seemed to work.
A few words about the rest of your cast and
For the most part, it was a very small team, mainly
my wife Nancy on sound, Paul Hammond on lights and electrical, and myself
on a camera. So for each of us, we were doing 10 jobs. It was really great
for some of the sticky, tight scenes, but some of the bigger productions
we could have used a few more souls. But everyone who was involved did an
amazing job and it went surprisingly well.
What can you tell us about the shoot as such, the
on-set atmosphere, outdoor shoots in an unforgiving spring, and the trials
and tribulations of low-to-no budget filmmaking as such?
lot of the shooting was done in the early spring due to some deadlines. So
a lot of the out door, summer scenes were really quite cold and
uncomfortable, especially in the water and mud. Everything we used for the
production was borrowed from friends. The booms, dollies, props and
costumes were all built with whatever we had or we were able to get. There
was a lot of duct tape involved. We kind of had all of this in mind when
we were writing the screenplay, so I think we were able to pull everything
off okay. We shot the whole thing on the weekends between January to May
and the week days were spent solidifying scripts, locations and making
props. It was a pretty loose atmosphere on set. We were all friends and
all the shoot days would usually end in a party of some sort usually
involving homemade pizza.
think a key element of Lowlife is its locations. So what can you
tell us about the Nova Scotian landscapes you use, and how did you find
Darcy, Nancy and I each had recently moved to coastal
communities outside the city. I grew up on the Ocean and I've always had a
connection with it. Between the Ocean rumble, wind and fog, there's a
certain dreaminess here. When writing Lowlife, Darcy and I were really
inspired by our new surroundings and it wasn't hard to find some really
neat looking locations. The area Nancy and I moved to is fairy vacant and
close to a provincial park, so we were able to have lots of privacy
shooting the exterior stuff without any interruptions. The landscape is
just beautiful here. Rugged, weathered, green turf, wind sculpted fir
trees. A lot of moss and granite boulders. Lots to work with.
The $64-question of course: When and where will Lowlife
be released, tentatively?
We're going to shoot for the fall
film festival circuit and then later try doing a Canadian tour to
galleries and small theatres. A couple years ago I went to see Crispin
Glover's What Is It? - I was really inspired by how he refused
to release it on DVD and just toured it around like a show. I've been
touring in bands half of my life so it feels natural to do the same with
this. So far we've had a lot of people offering to screen it in different
areas, and I'd love to hear from more, especially outside of Canada. As
for a hard copy, we'll have to wait and see. I think we'll release it in a
few ways. We just want as many people to see it as possible.
Let's go all the way back to
the beginning of your career: What got you into filmmaking in the first
place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?
got started by making videos for my bands with cheap digital cameras. I
would cut them on whatever editing software I could get my hands on. When
our band was finished recording and releasing a record, it was a great way
to keep momentum and still be creative. I have no formal training, just
read a lot and studied my favourite films. Still use a lot of cheap
Directors who inspire you?
pretty well love everything by Cronenburg, Lynch, Polanski… Big fan of
Kubrick, Hitchcock. Travonofski and Lars Von Trier are doing great things.
Am a sucker for 80's horror and scifi films and non-CGI visual effects.
Also it's always very inspiring to have such great talent around you,
local heros Mike Clattenburg and Jason Eisner are doing some amazing stuff
Feeling lucky ?
any of my partnershops yourself
for more, better results ?
The links below
will take you
A couple off the top of my head... Repulsion,
Dawn Of The Dead,
Naked Lunch, Buffallo '66, Eraserhead, The Fly,
Eyes Without A Face, Enemy Mine, The Thing, Benji the
... and of course, films you really
Ha, I really get sick of some of the Hollywood
trends that keep recycling the same humanure. And please no more films
that use the teal/orange color scheme.
Your/your film's website, Facebook, whatever
Anything else you are dying to mention and I have
only forgotten to ask?
Just like to say, we're getting
closer to completing this film but have tapped out our bank accounts. We
just set up an indiegogo page. If anyone feels like helping us finish it,
we appreciate every penny!
Also if anyone's interested in screening the film in their area, let us
Thanks a lot.
Thanks for the interview!