My interview with Bruce McDonald appeared in WE this week. It was such a great time! Hope everyone enjoys it.
Bruce McDonald dives into Pontypool
It's 9:15 a.m. when Canadian filmmaker Bruce McDonald (Hard Core Logo, The Tracey Fragments) ambles in to a downtown café. He has a friendly smile underneath his sandy-grey beard, and his trademark Stetson-style hat (this time in black) and jeans make him look like a cross between a cowboy and a biker. He exudes a certain tough-guy cool — something one would expect from a man who has a reputation for making movies that typically feature sex, drugs, and/or rock ’n’ roll in varying combinations.
It’s the 49-year-old director’s second interview of the morning promoting the fantastic new thriller, Pontypool, his first foray into the blood-and-guts horror genre. Based on Tony Burgess’s 1998 novel Pontypool Changes Everything, it centres on a crusty, opinionated morning-show radio host, Grant Mazzy (played by the delightfully grizzled Stephen McHattie), who’s been exiled to the titular small town, broadcasting with his producer and assistant from a church basement. Suddenly, reports start pouring in that some kind of plague is taking over the town, turning people into zombies, and being spread through the English language.
Hard Core Logo, The Tracey Fragments, and now Pontypool — they’re all adaptations from books. Do you have an inclination toward reading something and then wanting to translate those images in your head?
McDonald: Maybe I read a little more than the normal guy. It’s a kick, you know — the heavy lifting is done, in a way. With a book, you don’t just crack it off in a couple months; it’s often years of work and thought... Not all books make great movies, but I do get a satisfaction in passing the torch. I have a great respect for writers — maybe because I wanted to be a writer myself. It also puts you in the unique position of being a one-man “Yay, CanCon!” advocate. And it’s a fairly exuberant “Yay!” because we have some fairly world-class writers. There’s something nice about when you discover there are these gods standing in your backyard.
What was your first reaction to reading Pontypool Changes Everything? Did you immediately want to turn it into something you could texturize?
Well, the book is a strange and mysterious beast; it’s a collage of a lot of different moments organized around the idea of a language virus. That was the thing that really grabbed me. I loved the playfulness of it, and I could see the real terror. Imagine something as familiar as your language turning against you. It reminded me of Hitchcock’s The Birds — something so ordinary, as opposed to the high concept of something from outer space.
There’s a lot to analyze in this film.
That’s why it’s such a good movie to see when you’re high. (laughs)
Almost the entire movie takes place in this underground radio station, in a church basement, and the characters have no visual proof of what’s transpiring outside at first.
Almost like Dr. Strangelove. That’s the whole thing: It was a bit of experiment, in that we thought we could maybe raise the stakes by making our audience cling to our characters. They don’t have the privilege of seeing the director’s cut outside. Just the fact that we stay there with the characters hopefully creates that same sense of unease and, like, What-the-fuck’s-going-on-out-there? feeling.
When you screened it for everyone, did it achieve what you wanted it to?
Making a movie’s kind of an act of will or an act of mass hypnosis, and you’re totally prepared to do it... and you’re like, “Okay, I know I can do this with four actors in a room with my sister’s camera.” So, that was my first imagining of the movie. All the other stuff that happened — the fact that we got Steve McHattie, this great location to shoot it in, that it was photographed so handsomely, that we could afford projectile vomit — we were like, “Holy shit, this is kind of a dream come true.” My original vision was so lame compared to what was actually done by the gang who arrived to do it.