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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 05.18.10] Canada news interview comedy

The other day I had the chance to check out April Mullen and Tim Doiron's great Canadian comedy GravyTrain (review), a film that has cult classic material written all over it. That film is out on DVD today and I was lucky enough to chat up April and Tim on the process of making this film, what it's like to make movies in Canada and what they have up their sleeves for the future.

Read the full interview after the break.

We're speaking today with April Mullen and Tim Doiron, the director, writer and stars of GravyTrain. Thank you for taking the time to speak with me.

April Mullen: Hello.

Tim Doiron: No problem.

Before we start talking about your new movie GravyTrain, how did you two meet and start working together?

AM: We actually met way back when in Ryerson, we were both taking acting in theatre. We met there. We were a class of only 32 people and basically, when that happens, you get really close with everybody and then we did a clown skit in our second year, it was a comedy sketch, and Tim and I were on the same page. From thereon in we started working together.

What turned your attention from acting to writing and directing?

TD: Well, when we got out of school, when we graduated from Ryerson, we were gung ho. “Yeah, we're going to be acting now forever, it's going to be great” and it sort of unfortunately coincided with the writers' strike, the actors' strike, you remember when every single form of entertainment industry thing went on strike? We were involved in that just as we were coming out. We were like “Wow, there is not nearly as much work as we thought there would be!”

When we were at Ryerson, they were really big into creating your own work so those two things acted as a catalyst and we realized that we just had to start making our own stuff and make things happen for ourselves.

With Rock, Paper, Scissors: The Way of the Tosser, which is a fun little film by the way...

AM: Thank you.

TD: Thanks.

You both wrote and directed, you co-directed that, what changed with GravyTrain that April, you ended up in the director's chair?

TD: [Laugh]

AM: When we were moving into a bigger film, we just knew that it would be easier if we each sort of took a hold of something and really focused on it. Tim was working on the writing a lot more so he did the script, and I was involved with the whole script process but Tim wrote the script and I was doing the shot lists and getting ready you know, all the stuff that entails directing. Just to make it a lot easier. But of course when you're acting and directing you have... you know Tim was standing by and was at the monitor too. We still very much work together creatively but... it just works a lot better.

TD: We also got lucky because it's one of those fortuitous relationships where April just happens to be a phenomenal director and she's really passionate about it and she's just fantastic.

AM: And Tim gets his writing so...

TD: So it works well.

You mention working both in front and behind the camera. How does that vary from your experiences as simply actors?

TD: Oh jeez. It's 100% different I'd say. April?

AM: Definitely. Well, it's like a whirlwind. We only had 15 days to shoot GravyTrain so with a schedule like that you're constantly just running from scene to scene and just trying to get your days in to make a film in such a short amount of time because [you have] tight budgets and tight time lines. It's like running around like a chicken with your head cut off. You're moving on adrenaline and you're just so full of passion that you just get the film done. But it's actually really intense.

TD: Another great difference as well is the fact that when you are doing a lot of the stuff yourself, it's a really interesting process to be able to be involved with the creative – the entire creative scope of the project . From beginning to end you're there. You develop a much different relationship with the project where, when you're acting in something your sort of get called up, you do your acting and you leave and you might go for promotions when they're promoting the film so you miss out on a lot of different stuff that now we get to be a part of.

Where did the idea for GravyTrain come from?

TD: The idea for GravyTrain. Actually, I had a dream one night, strange enough, about a funny cop movie that involved a weird filmmaker guy. It actually started right there. I told April about it and we thought that it would be sort of fun to do an homage film so we said OK let's create the world of Gypsy Creek and it grew, and we worked together, the characters came to life and here we are.

You say the characters came to life. You have some great supporting actors in your cast. Tim Meadows, Colin Mochrie... how did you get these guys?

AM: With Tim Meadows, we wrote the role with him in mind. I'd worked with him on my very first acting gig. He was always so nice and so funny and we were huge fans of his anyways that we wrote it very much in his sense of humour, in his style. So we knew he'd really like it if we could get it into his hands to read. Then we just called his agent, called his manager. We worked really hard at getting the script to him. Once he read the script he was on board. It was definitely up his alley. And the same sort of thing with Colin Mochrie.

TD: Yeah. I've been watching him [Colin] since “Whose line is it anyways.” I'm a big fan of that show and when were writing the script we thought that Colin would be really great for the role if we could ever get him. We wrote with him in mind and again we got the script in his hands, he came on board and just happened to be the nicest man you could ever meet.

AM: I think that if you dream it, they will come.

One of the things I really love about your films is that they have a very distinct look. Is that intentional or a case of your personal sensibilities seeping onto the camera?

AM: People have been asking us that. Where have we gotten our influences from and is it this or is it that. I think Tim and I just naturally have this flow and we're really obsessed with visuals. Like when ideas come to us we think in images first. We thought of costumes, what people would be wearing, the colours the rooms were, that comes first with the seeds of the idea. By thinking in pictures... I think that's just purely our personalities coming through. That's just us.

Like as Holly in Rock, Paper Scissors I was wearing leg warmers before anyone wore leg warmers and that was just me. [Laugh] I think the same goes for GravyTrain. We have obsessions with old paintings, yellows and oranges and all of that stuff. I think it is our sort of own unique twist on a fresh look for Canadian cinema. I think that's just sort of our stamp.

You mention Canadian cinema. You're both working within the industry and you're also producers. It's difficult enough being an indie filmmaker but is it more difficult in Canada?

TD: You know, this is a very loaded question. It's very layered. It's extremely difficult. That's the easy answer. No matter how hard you're working there's a lot of confinements for independent filmmakers. A lack of support overall from the general public for an independent filmmaker in Canada. It is difficult. But the good thing is that we are trying to change that and it seems that there is a silver lining coming up in the near future. It seems that there are more people getting on board with independent cinema. Sort of like what happened in the Canadian music industry seven or eight years ago. People are starting to become more aware of it now. I don't know if you want to add anything to that April?

AM: I think also that because we're such a young country and a young film industry, there's a lot of room to grow. When we started with Rock, Paper, Scissors we were there with empty hands and just a film. We didn't know where to go from there. But people are really receptive and open to anything new that's thrown at them. We went across the country, dressed in costume, playing rock, paper, scissors with people on the street, and we were in universities and showing them the film... We were doing this completely grass roots approach that hadn't really been done before. People really jumped on board and I think... I think everyone's looking for something new and they're waiting for something refreshing to happen. If you do have the energy and the ideas to do something new, people will respond. That's what we're trying to do.

It is very hard. We're not going to lie. It's not easy but...

TD: We think steps are happening in the right direction and hopefully there is an audience out there that is excited about new, up and coming, Canadian films and if we keep supporting that, I think something can happen in the coming years.

What do you have coming up next?

TD: We're writing right now. All we can say at this point is that it's going to be a comedy and that we're aiming to shoot next spring.

No more?

TD: That's all we can say right now. Maybe email us in a couple of months and maybe we'll be able to let the cat out of the bag.

You mention that you're writing right now. What is that process like for you. Do you write together or apart...

AM: Ideas together and then Tim goes off.

TD: We'll come up with something and then we'll be like “That's pretty good” then I'll go off and I'll do some writing and I'll bring back a draft or character sketch or whatever to April and she'll go over it and be like “Well, that's sort of good” and “that might not be as good.” And I'll go back and start writing again. That's really good too because April has a very fantastic ability to look at the overall structure of a piece and be able to tell what is going to work and what isn't going to work so when I'm doing my writing I know I can bring it back to April and she'll be able to say “this is OK. Tone it down here and bring it up there.” It's a good partnership.

April, you were on set with David Cronenberg and you've been on a number of other film sets – have you had the opportunity to watch how other filmmakers work?

AM: I did. As soon as I started working on set, on any type of set, from a very young age, when everybody went off to their trailers or went and rehearsed their lines or went to the craft track, I was always behind the monitor. I never left set. I loved to be on set and I watched everything from what the prop people were doing, what sound guys were doing and sitting right behind the director looking over his shoulder. I was right there, sort of like a fly, an invisible fly and I was absorbing like a sponge everything through the film process. I just love watching actors work and directors work; the energy on set and how things come together. Through the years, especially David Cronenberg and Lisa Cholodenko who did a lot of films and did a Showtime feature, and I definitely took a lot from everyone I've worked with in the past.

Is there anyone in particular that you really admire?

AM: This is hard. I really look up to people who do things from the beginning to end, the whole overall process, like Woody Allen where they're writing, directing and creating their own work and sometimes even in their own work. David Lynch, The Coen Brothers, PT Anderson, Tim Burton – anybody like that I find inspiring and I find that their work is a bunch of chapters to their life and the end of each section of their lives is a film. It's really amazing to watch those people and how their filmmaking changes. I'm a huge fan of that.

Are you on the track now that you will only write and direct your own material or would you consider writing and directing for others?

TD: Oooo. Very interesting!

AM: We've been asked these things and also been approached by other projects. Right now I think we just want to stay strong and do our third film for sure and then from there make some bigger decision. We'll definitely both act in other people's projects, we both love acting in anybody's projects, but we're not sure yet about the writing and directing. So far we've said no but that doesn't mean no forever. That just means we're focused on our third project and then from there we'll see.

Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it. Best of luck with GravyTrain which is out on DVD on May 18th.

TD: Very exciting! Thank you so much.

AM: May the train be with you.

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