INTERVIEW: Bruce McDonald (part 1!)

So after a brutal week of moving to new digs, having both our computers simultaneously + spontaneously combust on us, and working out this Hard Core Logo thing that we’ve already yapped to death about (Eye Weekly even interviewed us, how this seems like a good idea to anyone outside of my little brother, let alone a couple hundred little brothers is still beyond me), it’s nigh time to let the man himself take over. Dames and gents, director of Hard Core Logo and just the right # of Degrassi episodes (amongst other things), Mr. Bruce McDonald!

(this isn’t a 3-parter for suspense reasons, more just due to sheer exhaustion. Enjoy!)

JBdotcom: So let’s cut to the chase: Why is HCL the best Canadian film ever made?
BRUCE McDONALD: Ah, it’s always nice to hear that phrase. You know, I think every once in a while all the forces come together and they’re just right. Right time, right place, right guys, just everything kind of works. Partly the architecture of it — the Dirty Beatles, the working class Spinal Tap — maybe the architecture of the characters, they’re very archetypal. It’s just a great love story between these two guys, a deep friendship, and there’s a great chemistry between Callum [Keith Rennie] and Hugh [Dillon]. Just a great natural off-screen chemistry. They had this really intense curiosity, a mutual respect for each other coming from the different worlds -– music and film. So it was [author Michael] Turner’s design and the chemistry of these guys, going downriver to the heart of darkness. There’s something fundamental about the journey, it goes back to whatever Tom Sawyer/Huck Finn, Conrad –- not to get lofty -– but a lot of people over the years have been very generous.

How has it held up in your mind over the last 10+ years?
I haven’t really seen it since we’ve made it but I’ve had a lot of chats about it and I’m still good friends with Hugh and Callum and Michael Turner and Noel [Baker, the screenwriter]. The people that made it are all still pretty tight. Of all the films I’ve made I think this one has gotten the most response -– and longest lasting. It’s a nice discovery for people. They feel like they own this film in a way because it hasn’t been shoved down their throats. People carry it around with them and they’re excited to share their experiences with it when they see me. These are guys like people we know. A lot of movies I’ve seen about musicians -– especially rock musicians –- they’re either parodies or they’re painted as idiots or lovable oafs, where these guys really gave the characters and the world they’re in a great sense of stakes and reality. I’m very proud of it. It’s a very fine unexpected bonus having been part of this film.

Did you anticipate it developing the cult status that it has?
Not really. But it’s nice to know you’ve made something that’s going to last and age well. There’s so much stuff out there that it’s a miracle to even get it out there, nevermind have it take hold. It’s funny, these 12-year-old neighbours of ours are big Billy Talent fans and they’re huge Hard Core Logo fans. They’re 12! It’s their favourite movie! I just love that. I mean, when it came out it only lasted a couple of weeks in the theatre, got pretty good notices, but I never expected to be having this exciting phone conversation about this event coming up shortly. That to me is a great bonus of having made that film, that it still continues to resonate for people, still continues to be seen and discussed or referred to. Whether it’s this band naming themselves after Billy Tallent or it’s somebody I know doing a stage version of it.

Wait, really?
Oh yeah, it’s a musical. This guy from Edmonton. They also have the English rights to The Black Rider, the Tom Waits project. They’ve been touring that all over the UK, Canada, and America. This is their next project.

The movie has distro in the States now through Quentin Tarantino. How did that come about?
We were trying to shop it around and couldn’t get anybody interested. We went everywhere. And then at the very end of our year long slog through screening rooms, we went to Austin specifically because we knew Tarantino was going to be there. Our cameraman hunted him down at this house party and he came to see it the next night. It made a huge difference for awareness and respect. Suddenly it’s, “oh, Quentin loves this film, maybe it IS cool!” Made a huge difference back home. He was, god bless him, just a film fan and loved it. He was in a place at the time where he could do whatever he wanted, so I always had a great respect for him. He’s true to his roots, an independent filmmaker that tries to turn people on to films he loves. We put him on the Canadian release and the American release and its probably drawn a lot of people that probably wouldn’t have otherwise explored that route.

Do you think it’s weird that the Canadian star system needs an American name to legitimize itself? Or is that just the nature of being in a smaller country next to big papa?
Yeah, that’s just the way it goes. You hear the same stories out of Germany and England, no respect until another place gives the hearty embrace. Then the hometown crowd is all, “Oh, maybe your guy is alright!” That outside validation always makes a big difference.

You mentioned the love story between Joe Dick and Billy Tallent as one of the things that really makes the movie work, and we were actually joking earlier about how you single-handedly managed to foreshadow the sort of Judd Apatow bromantic comedy boom. What was it like bringing that to the forefront? It’s a punk rock movie, but it’s the relationship that keeps you.
Pulling that out was really the result of those two guys hitting it off personally. It sort of intensified and coloured everything in the script. If they hadn’t had that chemistry it would have been alright but I think that’s what people get about it. Romances are very powerful things. Traditionally, Canadian independent films have been more about alienation, broken down farms and just fucking bummer trips. You know, “fucked, this is just fucked, I’m all by myself and I woke up by myself…” so just this idea of connecting with another person in an intense way is really kind of inspiring and life affirming. The end result for poor Joe is just a very romantic way out too. Let’s just go big.


Posted on August 8, 2008 by | Old Stuff | 7 Comments »| Tags: ,

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