Interview with Director Michael Dowse and Writer Elan Mastai of The F Word starring Daniel Radcliffe

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KP: First off, I just want to say, awesome film. I really enjoyed it. It’s been one of my favourite indie films of the year so far.

MD: Wow. Thank you so much

KP: I’m going to start off by asking you both one on one questions and if you want to answer together, you totally can.

EM: We really like finishing off each other’s sentences so… (laughter)

KP: How cute! (laughter) So, for you Michael, your last few films; Fu-bar, Goon and It’s all Gone Pete Tong. This film seemed like a bit of departure from your earlier work. Why was this film an important story for you to tell?

MD: I really wanted to tell a story that was totally different from Goon. Goon was visceral in a good way in trying to help the genre. I was really attracted to this script and it gave me the opportunity to make something a little bit more mature, a bit more quieter.

I was able to flex my muscles a bit more as a director. Rely less on editing and more on performance and I also love the genre. It was a chance to do something in a genre that I adore and have been very reliant.

There have been more bad films than great films in this genre and if you can nail it then you have a film that people enjoy and this gave me that chance to do that.

 

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(Playwright T.J Dawes)

 

 KP: This script was originally adapted from the stage play Toothpaste and Cigars, written by local playwright TJ Dawes right?

EM: Yes. TJ Dawes and Michael Rinaldi wrote the play that it is based on. It was a one act fringe play and I actually saw it for the first time in a bar on Granville street.

I don’t think the bar exists anymore but it was a couple stores down from The Templeton diner. The play was just Daniel (Radcliffe) and Zoe’s (Kazan) characters and most of it was just what we are doing right now, sitting around a table and talking.

I really connected with the voice, the sensibility and liked the questions it was asking about friendship and love and the messy in betweens, the grey zones between those black and whites. Like Mike, I have been writing a lot of different genres, horror movies, kids movies, thrillers, sports movies.

I love romantic comedies and I felt like I was really ready to write something that had my comic sensibility and also go through some of the questions I had in my own life about love and friendship, men and women.

So the play gave me a great springboard to be able to do that. I sort of felt like my voice and the playwright’s synced up very nicely but because it was just a one act, it gave me a lot of freedom as a writer to also explore the world and make it bigger and add more characters and kind of flesh it out.

 

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KP: What was the process like going from that play to what became the film script. Were there entire scenes from the play that went into it? or was it all just an inspiration to write from?

EM: When you see that opening sequence at the party. If you can imagine essentially the rest of the play being like that. So we used that as our springboard to tell a larger story but we still respect the tone and the sensibility of the play.

KP: Have TJ Dawes and Michael seen it yet?

EM: Yes! They saw it and they are in the movie actually. They played extras in a bar scene. They came to visit the set when we were in toronto and they were great.

 

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KP: I also really liked the artwork in this film. There are a few scenes where pictures and drawings literally float off the page and dance around the screen. Was that in the script already? Or was that a directing choice?

MD: There was another version of it using a different technique and then I saw this light map technology and that became a different way of writing it into the film. I liked the idea of projecting it and putting her work into the film.

It’s this illustrator, Evan B. Harris who was based in Toronto. He’s great and the production designer brought him to my attention. He had to pre draw everything he did before production so it was a hard deadline to meet and get ready before hand.

EM: I wrote Zoe’s character being an animator, so that idea of her animations would be incorporated into the movie but you still have to figure out what it will look like.

That’s the difference between a writer and a director, Mike had to actually figure out what it would look like and I just wrote ANIMATION! PUT IN MOVIE! (laughter)

I love Evan’s art and it gives the film a kind of whimsical feel but it’s also important to the story that she is good at her job. She’s very talented and you can sometimes see that in movies where they say she’s a talented person and you see her “work” and say to yourself, she’s not that talented.

MD: We wanted to lightly pepper her artwork through out the movie and have it feel like that the images you are seeing are coming from inside her head.

 

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KP: This film has a stellar cast. Amazing lead and supporting actors/actresses. So how did that process come about? Did they all get the script and jump on board right away? did they seek you out or did you seek them out?

MD: Well, you have to get your quote, un-quote “Movie Star” in order to get the movie made. I liked Daniel, I thought he was hungry to do something different. I thought he would fit nicely into Wallace without being the typical, leading man in a romantic comedy and that it would fit nice into that part.

We were just lucky to get him, he read the script and then ten days later I’m meeting with him and then two weeks later he’s on the project. Once we had Daniel it was kind of a snowball effect with casting.

We loved Zoe’s work in the film she starred and wrote, Ruby Sparks. We had a talk afterwards, she read the script and wanted to be on board. People like Adam Driver and the rest of cast started to join us once we had our two main leads.

Mackenzie Davies and Megan Park, who were two canadian actresses, they were the great discoveries in this movie.

KP: Mackenzie especially. She really shines through.

MD: Megan was killing me as well, she’s so funny and was probably the hardest part to cast, you have to find somebody who works with Zoe without outshining her but is also funny. Megan originally auditioned for a much smaller part as one of Zoe’s co-workers and was so funny that we thought that she should come in and read for a much bigger role.

 

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KP: Was there any rehearsal before the film? Were they able to get to know each other before shooting?

MD: Just a little bit, we did a bit of rehearsal but I’m not very into it. We just had a coupe meetings just to go over the script a little bit but nothing crazy.

KP: That’s funny because on the screen it really does feel like they have known each other for awhile.

MD: We made sure that during the film they had the time to improvise and have those moments and we scheduled it so that they weren’t thrown into the deep end right away and have time to warm up to each other.

EM: And that’s a really important part of the process that you don’t really get to think about until you get into movie making.

You don’t shoot scenes in the correct order or sequence but it becomes very important in how you plan it out. It can help build those relationships and Mike did a great job of creating a hyper professional and focused but also casual and fun environment for everyone on set.

MD: We had scheduled that final epic diner scene where Daniel confronts Zoe after coming back from Ireland for day 4 but it wound up becoming the first scene that we shot.

What was great about that though was we got to shoot it and then afterwards we were able to shoot the first diner scene where they are just talking and being very light with each other.

So once we shot that very dramatic scene, all pressure was off them and that scene was amazing because they could now relax and just be friends.

EM: I feel like we could of done a whole movie with just the outtakes of just them cause they were goofing around on the diner table and it would of been just as hilarious

 

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KP: All those poop jokes in the film…was that you Elan? Or were they all improvised scenes? (laughter)

EM: Well, all the jokes you liked were written and all the ones you didn’t like were improvised (laughter) I am a connoisseur of really well crafted poop joke but once you open the flood gates (no pun intended) everyone likes to jump into the pool!

KP: I tried to count how many were in the film!

EM: There were a lot that were written down and a few that just evoked the chemistry of the characters

MD: Even in the ADR room, deep into post we were trying to stir away from the poop jokes. 

KP: Adam Driver’s joke about eating poop and once that becomes poop, it is so toxic that if you eat it again, you will die, had me rolling on the floor! Was that one written?!

EM: Oh yeah, that was me. That was a personal favourite of mine *high five* Part of it also is…look I’ll give you the serious answer to that. You want to create, in the sense of humour, a tone.

Part of it is this sort of like, these are two characters who are building a really wonderful friendship and they are also trying at various stages of the movie, with varying levels of success to try and have it not spill out into anything more and to keep it as friends so theres a certain kind of adolescent to that.

You do make different jokes with your friends were anything sexual or romantic is off the table. So I wanted to evoke a little bit of that, like an adolescent friendship with a little but of humour where the things they joke about are the thing you would joke about with your friends in high school. So we try to say something about the characters with these jokes.

 

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KP: Watching Daniel Radcliffe in this film, I felt like he gave one of the most subtle performances he’s probably ever done. Very low key and very natural. Was that something that he brought to it or did you work with him on that aspect?

MD: No, not at all. I mean he’s a very good actor. He’s a very good actor and can do so many different things.

You see him go on to make so many different films, that he’ll continue to work. For me it was about being as honest as possible and this being a contemporary role for him, he got to play a version of himself.

He loved that experience and got to infuse that with his own sense of humour and mannerisms, just being himself and thats where the honesty and the sincerity of the performance comes from.

Much of my job comes with having a massive bullshit meter, I spend 80% of my time saying less, less, you know what I mean? Although I didn’t have to do this that much with this cast.

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KP: So the film is based in Toronto. Watching the film the city felt like a character in it’s own right. It was a nice backdrop to the story without seeming like making it a big deal that it was a city in Canada. Was it important to you to showcase a city from your hometown? Was the original play based in Toronto as well?

EM: The original draft of the play was actually based in Vancouver and I’m from Vancouver so most of these experiences that I had were inspired by events happening in this city. But I moved to Toronto also for a girl, now my wife.

So as I was writing it, we were able to re-write it to be in Toronto where I live and and actually where a lot of the scenes were written were in those specific locations. So that was a really great opportunity.

To me, as filmmakers, we’re making movies for the whole world. I’m not self conscious about setting them in Canada, I mean Canada is a vibrant, energetic, multi-cultural country.

I think that old school thing of having every setting seem like old town U.S.A is so passe. Wether it’s the olympics in Vancouver or Rob Ford in Toronto, Canada has had it’s time on the world stage. So we not hiding it, we’re not making a big deal about it. It just is.

MD: I think it’s a bit of a ghetto mentality, cause we were worried about it a little bit because it does limit the number of people who can relate to the movie but a lot of Americans have told me that it’s great, and that they love Toronto. They actually liked that it was a fresh setting.

EM: The world doesn’t necessarily need another romantic comedy set in Manhattan. So we were able to shoot the city fresh, with fresh eyes and allowed us to find the romance and warmth of the city which allows us to break a bit of new ground.

 

I just have to note that sitting with these two was a great treat. I am so excited for all of you to see this film and can’t wait to see where these amazingly talent guys go next in their careers!

 

The F Word opens August 22nd *Today!* in theatres across Vancouver.

 

 

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Kevin Parr is a Production Manager, Bartender and Pop-Culture Enthusiast 24/7. He loves collecting comic books, reading the latest movie news gossip and sparking passionate nerdy debates.
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