By now everyone should know just how tough it is to be an independent Canadian filmmaker, especially if you aren’t in Toronto or Montreal. There are an endless number of hoops to jump through and applying for grants isn’t always an option. Somehow Carl Bessai has managed to make consistently interesting films and has been able to enlist the talents of actual famous people like Sir Ian McKellen (Emile) and most recently Carrie-Anne Moss to star in his movies. With a shooting window of usually no more than a month, he works fast and hard and manages to raise the bar for himself each time. His latest effort Normal is a kind of single incident ripple effect film that involves a tragic car accident and the effect it has on the lives of three seemingly disparate characters. And there’s nudity. However, we mostly just talked about making movies, and he offered some advice to Ryan Reynolds.
ONLY: I just want to start by saying I really enjoyed your zombie movie Severed. I had a preview screening at my house.
CARL BESSAI: We had a lot of fun making that movie. I just wish it had gotten better distribution; it’s the kind of movie I think people would have gone to. But unfortunately I didn’t really own the movie, the production company did and they sold it, for some good money I think, to a DVD label.
ONLY: Well, Normal is getting a big screen release. Is that because of the success on the festival circuit?
CB: The whole cast issue gave it a kind of a lift. You put Carrie-Anne Moss and Kevin Zegers in the film…
ONLY: That is certainly one of the stand-out aspects of the film: the performance and the commitment you got from the actors. It was also nice to see Tygh Runyan in a challenging role.
CB: I had Tygh in mind from the beginning, but it was one of those things where we were always worried about who was going to be the big name so we could put this thing together. I think that there is a lot of talent just sitting here in Vancouver that gets a little bit overlooked, and more and more we are having to star cast to get things made.
ONLY: I’ve thought a lot about how, instead of making cheap Hollywood knock offs or b grade movies, if there were ever a sincere push to get a base of work done locally, there is enough talent and there are enough experienced crews here to develop a serious domestic scene.
CB: You know, this is part of a larger Canadian picture, but when you see films like Sarah Polley’s Away From Her get Golden Globes and Academy Award Nominations, it’s kind of redeeming because you sort of think “wait a minute, Canadians aren’t genetically incapable of making appealing films.” I mean, who would have thought that a serious drama about Alzheimer’s would have found its way in the market? It just shows you that audiences want a bit of a challenge; they want to feel something. I was thinking about an interview John Sayles gave on the CBC, and you know, the truth is that the really good roles are in independent film, and actors are starting to know that. More and more, I think it’s more common to find or to expect the great actors in the world to want to come out, and maybe even take a bit of a pay cut, but to do the challenging, interesting roles.
ONLY: Maybe do something with resonance, that will last.
CB: That’s the hope. Again I’m such a big fan of what Sarah Polley has done because here we have a small little movie that I’m sure people had doubts about, and looks what’s happening. Its success signals that if you make the right independent film, look at the accolades. And for an actor looking to solidify their career it’s a great statement. The movie industry thinks so much in terms of box office and money, it drives me crazy because, of course, that’s only part of the picture — how much gonzo box office your stupid blockbuster made. For example, a guy like Ryan Reynolds. A great actor, but this is a guy who should really do an independent film. He should just find a smart script and an interesting director and just do it. Even if it’s shitty money, because that’s what his career needs. He’s one of those actors who makes money and people know him and people like him but he’s never actually been in a really great film.
Normal opens February 8th @ 5th Avenue