Your new movie Montréal
Girls - in a few words, what is it about?
it's core, Montréal
really about the experience of being completely out of your
element and trying to get your bearings. In this particular
case, it's expressed within the classic
immigrant story; The proverbial fish-out-of water experience
as lived by the lead character, Ramy, a medical student coming
from a conservative background in the Middle East to Montreal,
a very cosmopolitan city. As he navigates through meeting new
people, specifically the titular "girls" Desiree and
Yaz, his world turns upside down, his original plans go out
the window, and his more bohemian instincts rise to the
were your sources of inspiration when writing Montréal
Girls, and is any of it based on personal experiences?
is a rich tradition in cinema of the so called "coming of
age" narrative. I grew up with the John Hughes movies in
the US which had a tendency to treat
young adulthood with a kind of candidness that revealed all
the trials and tribulations of being that age, warts and all.
There is also a long history of such films from the
international scene. Quebec, where this story takes place, has
produced a long line of award winning films with this kind of
narrative. Jean-Marc Valee's Crazy comes to mind along with so
many others. Recent work from Xavier Dolan, whose father
Manuel Tadros plays Uncle Hani in our movie, are particularly
inspiring for their boldness and creativity. As far as
personal experience, I would say this is more Patricia Chica's (our
director) experience than mine [Patricia Chica
interview - click here]. I grew up in Southern
California, so my experience was more about skateboards and
punk rock growing up. I did immigrate to the states with my
parents when I was very young, but they were supportive and
fairly liberal about my crazy artistic pursuits. Patricia, on
the other hand, had a coming-of-age experience much closer to
the lead character, Ramy. I think a lot of people have had that
experience of coming from a hardcore conservative background
and having to make difficult choices about how they want to
live the rest of their lives, for better or for worse.
can you tell us about your co-writer/director Patricia Chica, and what was
the writing process like?
Patricia is a very patient and dilligent collaborator, and
I consider our process on this to be MY coming of age as a
writer. She was instrumental in helping me build the
confidence to make bold leaps in my own career as a writer,
which gave me the runway to find and develop my
"voice". We talked about this idea from the very
beginning when all we had was a nifty title. We knew we wanted
to make a movie called Montréal
Girls. The question was what
was it going to be? In the end it's an amalgam of both her
cultural experience at that age and mine. The process of
developing the script was a very long rollercoaster ride,
fraught with tension at times, long stretches of non-activity
in others. It was also enormously challenging to try to get
this kind of story produced. A lot of producers and financiers
are looking for low-hanging fruit. Something they can sell
easily. That means dumbed-down and easily digestible. And a
Middle Eastern progatonist? Hah, good luck with that. We had
to put up our dukes and fight for the integrity of the movie,
and when you have very little resources, that can be a David
and Goliath kind of experience. But we found supportive
producers in Objectif
9's Samuel Gagnon and Bahija
Soussi-Gagnon, and further developed the story to bring it to
market. I stepped away at some point to go work on other
material for other producers, and Patricia took up the reins
alone and shaped the script into its final form. The end
result is a kind of shimmering document of all of our hard
work and sleepless nights chiseling at words on the page to
become the movie it is now.
with Patricia Chica
wasn't the first time you've worked with Patricia Chica [Patricia Chica
interview - click here] - so what can you
tell us about your previous collaborations, and how did you two first meet
We met in 2010 at the Worldfest Houston Film Festival. She
had a short film in competition called Day Before Yesterday
and I had one called Jesus Comes to Town. We kept running into
each other at film festivals, and eventually that turned into
talk of collaboration. We started talking about Montréal
Girls at the Oaxaca FilmFest in 2011, but a few years later,
Patricia asked me if I had a short horror script for the Women
in Film Blood Drive run by the Soska Sisters of American
Mary fame [Soska Sisters
interview - click here]. I had a short script I'd written as a teenager that I
thought I would do as a claymation piece back then but did
nothing with it. I blew the dust off of it and gave it to her,
and that turned into A
Tricky Treat, which did a healthy
festival run and can now be seen on CryptTV.
To what extent were you involved with the actual
shoot of Montréal
Girls, and what can you tell us about the experience?
I had no involvement in the shoot of Montréal
because it was shot right smack-dab in the middle of Covid,
when nobody was going anywhere and air travel was at a
stand-still. Patricia put together a crew and shot the movie
within something like a two week window that opened up in the
late summer during lockdown, when everyone thought the coast
was clear. Of course that wasn' t the case, and Montreal went
under lockdown again soon thereafter. She literally slipped
the production between the cracks and the movie was heavily
affected by Covid protocols and restrictions. I'm really in
awe of what she was able to put together under those
conditions, the extreme duress and uncertainty of 2020, when
the virus was raging and nobody knew what was going to happen.
It's a miracle that the movie was made, really, which is a
testament to her unwavering tenacity.
future projects you'd like to share?
I optioned a horror-comedy script called Curse of the Octopus to a company in Atlanta, Georgia called
Rumination Road. It will be produced by Chayah Masters and Prime-Time
Emmy winning production designer Aaron Osborne, who will also
direct the movie.
What got you into
the filmworld in the first place, and did you receive any formal training
on the subject?
I thought I wanted to become an animator for Walt Disney
Studios, but when I was 13 years old I saw A Clockwork Orange
for the first time. It was obviously horrifying. But with
subsequent viewings I began to see it as a dark comedy about
the futility of human systems that try to change our inherent
primal instincts and behaviors. In it I also discovered how a
director can impose their own personality on a story through a
film's aesthetics i.e. editing, camera movement, tone,
composition, and music choice. That, along with the Coen
Brothers' Raising Arizona and Martin Scorsese's contribution
to New York Stories, Life Lessons, represented a kind of grand
epiphany for me. I wanted to make films and be able to do what
these directors were doing. So I went to film school at
Chapman University in southern California and subsequently
embarked on a career in production.
Going through your filmography, it seems
you've worked in pretty much every position both in front of and behind
the camera. So what are some of the jobs you enjoy the most, what could
you do without?
I've worked on hundreds of movie and television sets in
many capacities. But the one position that really took was
working in the sound department. I became a sound mixer and
worked in the field for just about every company in media,
including National Geographic, History Channel, and
which allowed me to travel the world and go to places I
probably would never have gone to on my own. I've lived in
huts in the Amazon jungle, got picked apart by mosquitos in
the Yukon, climbed mountains in Ethiopia to see the source of
the Nile, and rode gondolas in Venice. It's been a wild ride
and has allowed me to finance my creative endeavors. In terms
of what I could do without, I'm sure I grumbled and groused
when I was up to my waist in anaconda infested swampwater in
the Peruvian jungle, but who doesn't complain about their job?
What can you tell us about your filmwork
prior to Montréal
Girls, in whatever position?
When I started out as a teenager, I was very interested in
stop-motion animation and hoped to have a career doing that
sort of thing, but around that time Jurassic Park came out
and all but wiped out practical effects in movies. Sure it's
done now and again, but it's a cottage industry. I went to
film school and became completely engrossed in live-action
filmmaking. I shot several projects on film, edited them,
composed music for them, and travelled to festivals with them.
The most notable one was a short film called Jesus Comes to
Town, written by a dear friend of mine James Seitz, who I went
to high school with. I thought he'd writen such a lovely and
clever little story that I ponied up my own money to shoot it
on film. We scored a Panavision camera package and shot it in
super 16mm with Hollywood actors Claudia Christian (Babylon
Eastin (Con Air, Killers of the Flower Moon) and Alex
Veadov (We Own the Night, The Equalizer). I directed it and produced it with my
colleague, Michael Silberman, cut it myself on Avid, and
composed some music for it. It went on to screen
internationally with 30 official selections and won 7 awards.
Silberman also hired me to direct a promo piece in 35mm for a
historic novel trilogy called The Exile. In both cases I had
to command a crew of over 45 people, and in the latter case,
manage some intensive green screen and digital matte painting
How would you
describe yourself as a writer?
I like writing stories about flawed characters who have to
overcome obstacles that they don't necessarily triumph over,
or maybe they do in a kind of darkly ironic way. Life is
messy, and that's the context for the sort of stuff I'm
interested in exploring.
filmmakers, whoever else who inspire you?
the work of classic Hollywood screenwriters like Ben Hecht,
Paddy Chayevsky, and Billy Wilder. I'm particularly attracted
to alot of the work that came out of the so-called New
Hollywood from writer/directors like Peter Bogdanovitch,
Sidney Lumet, and Hal Ashby. I think as a writer, I'd love to
do the kind of work those writer/directors did. My favorite
writer/director of all time is the Italian filmmaker Lina
Wertmuller, who just passed recently. She was the first-ever
woman to be nominated for a directing Oscar. What she does
with tone, politics, and comedy as well as drama is miraculous
to me. I can't think of any director who can do what she did
when she made her seminal work in the 70's. I'm just in awe of
her movies Seven Beauties, The Seduction of Mimi
and Swept Away. Let me see, Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing was a
head-splitting moment, and anything by Stanley Kubrick gives
me the tingles. Recent work by Damian Szifron (Wild Tales),
Ruben Ostlund (Force Majeure), and Panos Cosmatos (Mandy) are
also particularly inspiring. Anyway, I can go on and on with
the name-dropping cuz I live in Hollywood baby, that's what we
My favorite of all time is Nights of Cabiria by Federico
Fellini. Although his 8 1/2 is nipping at the heels of that
one. The above-named movies, of course. Dog Day Afternoon,
The Last Detail, Paper Moon, Wild Tales, Billy Wilder's
Herzog's Fitzcarraldo, Friedkin's The
Exorcist... I mean, the
list goes on and on and changes all the time, like with most
people, I imagine, who love movies. I'd be remiss if I didn't
mention Raiders of the Lost Ark. Who doesn't love that one?
John Hughes' Planes, Trains and Automobiles and Howard Hawk's
Twentieth Century are probably my favorite comedies of all
time. Coppola's Apocalypse Now, etc.
... and of course, films you really deplore?
Well, you can get into trouble these days mentioning a
disdain for certain "market product". There is an
army of fans ready to have you drawn and quartered. Without
naming names, I'll just say that movies that have to
dumb-down because they don't trust the audience's
intelligence in any way are the ones I find deplorable. I
dread a future where algorithms tell stories instead of
humans. But A.I. and the singularity are upon us.
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movie's website, social media, whatever else?
else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
I can talk about movies all day long, what a privilege. But
I'll put a cork in it and let you get on with your day.
for the interview!
Thanks for the opportunity!