Two old friends reconnect in an unexpected encounter.
Hi Finn thank you for talking to TNC, how are you holding up during these very strange times?
I’ve been fine. Canada took Covid seriously, and BC as well. We had family friends who had contracted the virus and some of their relatives passed away, so as a family we were vigilant. I am now working on Stranger Things again and it honestly feels like the safest place on the planet right now. I’m incredibly fortunate.
Has this time offered you any new creative inspiration?
I was inside a lot due to different travel-related quarantines so I wrote songs and scripts and stayed connected with the friends I collaborate with. I finished a final draft of a script with my writing partner (Billy Bryk, who plays Billy in Night Shifts), and we have a great producer and cast attached and are going to financiers in January. Billy and I are directing that one as well as acting in the ensemble. I also wrote another script with another friend; it’s another ensemble and it's almost complete and I’m directing that one as well. Also with my bandmate Malcolm Craig, during the quarter we recorded almost two albums-worth of demos for The Aubreys. We are trying to arrange a formal recording in Chicago next spring but I am shooting from January to August so I have to find some breaks in the schedule.
You won Best Director for Night Shifts at the Atlanta ShortsFest did you imagine you would get such an incredible response to your film?
Most people responded well to the first viewing and I knew that it was at least competent, but to be nominated or even win an award was a great surprise. Knowing how many great shorts there are out there that don’t even get screened, I was really happy.
What does it mean to be part of Barcelona Short Film Festival's amazing lineup of short films?
Barcelona is one of my favourite cities in the world. I have been there twice, once on a family vacation after the last season of Stranger Things wrapped, and once for work with Pull & Bear. To have something that I created be associated with the arts in the city and more broadly in Catalunya, is a great honour. If Covid and my work schedule cooperated, I would definitely be there to see all of the film's screen in person.
How much did your experience co-writing and co-directing Spendtime Palace: Sonora prepare you for writing and directing Night Shifts?
With Spendtime, I had my friend Josh Ovalle in support but, because of my schedule, I was not involved in some of the nuts and bolts of pre-production. I also had massive amounts of anxiety on the first day we shot. After that, though, I was fine, and we made something that was not only successful for what it was but also gave me the confidence to do something on my own, from the ground up.
"We were shooting centrally, I mean a lot of people could simply walk to the set."
Can you tell me a little bit about Night Shifts, what was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
On the Ghostbusters set I was able to chat with Jason Reitman a lot about filmmaking in general, and about shorts in particular. Something that set had in common with Stranger Things and IT was that as big as they are, they feel like indie sets. There is a lot of camaraderie and Jason, like the Duffers and Shawn Levy, and the Muschiettis (who really came up in Barcelona, by the way), they are all incredibly generous with their time and advice. They are all like big brothers (and sister Barbara!). With Jason I was discussing an idea for a short and before I even finished he said, “why don’t you come up with something less complicated - just do two people in a room? Because if you can make that interesting then the next, more complicated steps will be that much easier.” The other advice was to keep it short - and I agree that if you are going to make a 15 minute drama, you might as well make a feature if you can.
What were the biggest challenges you faced making Night Shifts?
Well I was fortunate to have people want to work with me without really having to ask, and the team came together very quickly. Faith Sparrow-Crawford is a childhood friend and she jumped in to produce right away, and she brought in two others (Maja Aro and Adam Maruniak) who had a lot of experience in film and TV in Vancouver. My dad, who has a legal background, but is also a writer and with me on all my sets, also offered to help produce. Actually, he didn’t - I made him!
We shot on a Saturday and almost the entire crew was working on shows during the week so, because they were giving up a day of rest, I wanted to pay everyone a decent amount, ideally their usual rate. The actors were all union, so obviously one challenge overall was financial, but we met that through crowdfunding, and people were very generous. From all over the world. Also the producers and some of my oldest friends, including two that I have known since literally before I was born, refused to take any payment for their work on the film, even though they were on sets until early Saturday morning and then showed up a few minutes after they went to bed. Maja had a baby during pre-production and never missed a beat! She is absolutely incredible and we had the baby on set. And Faith’s mom Johnna cooked for free - amazing food for all of us.
The location was tricky, in that it was on a busy corner in the middle of Vancouver. Again, they would expect to make a lot of money on a Saturday, so we had to pay them accordingly because they had to completely shut down for 15 hours. Given copyright and licensing issues, we had to be careful with logos and brands and we also had to alter the lighting. We could have shot somewhere that was much less expensive but I did not want the crew to have to travel far on their day off. We were shooting centrally, I mean a lot of people could simply walk to the set. My high school, St. Pats, let us park in their lot down the street for anyone with a vehicle. Another big challenge was getting a visa for Artoun, who is a US citizen. In Canada, the big commercial productions get fee waivers but, for some reason, indies do not.
I think this is a huge gap in the Canadian film policy and it is holding the industry back. There is no question it costs Indies in ways that diminish what ends up on screen. But anyway! My dad had to put together applications and a business case and although it was successful, he confessed that until he saw Artoun come through customs at the airport on the day before we shot, he was never sure that they would actually let him through. If they hadn’t, it would have been a disaster. One third of our cast a no go? Seriously...
Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently on this film?
I would have had one more large dude working security outside because while we were shooting the opening, a random guy burst in straight off the street, holding something that looked like a gun. It turned out to be made out of bed springs, but he pointed it at Artoun - who was in the middle of a take, then pointing at Billy with his fake gun. Artoun reacts instinctively, so we suddenly have this standoff with two people pointing fake guns at each other. It was completely insane - and then the guy just took off! After that, it took a bit for everyone to get back their composure, but honestly by then we were fine.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking and would you like to continue directing?
YES, YES, YES and YES.
Where do you feel most at home in front or behind the camera?
All in, I have only been behind the camera for a few days in total. Thanks to all the people who have supported me during the past few years that I have been in front of the camera, and especially on this short, where no one made me feel my age. I honestly feel just as much at home behind the camera as I do in front. Shawn Levy and the Duffers always let me come sit with them when I was finished my work day and tutoring, and Stranger Things is probably the best film school on earth. Thanks to them and others on other sets, I am honestly just as confident now in either spot, either in front or behind.
"We had fun making it and I hope people have fun watching it."
Before you started filming Night Shifts did any fellow director offer you any invaluable advice?
I mentioned what Jason said specifically and what the others have helped with in general, but maybe the best advice came from Jeremy Schaulin-Rioux, who edited this short and who has directed about four or five other projects I have been involved with (and is set to direct a feature I am attached to based on a literary novel by Kirk Lynn called Rules for Werewolves). Maybe more than any other set I have been on, Jeremy’s sets have been the closest analogy to a rock show, where you have that give and take between the band and its members and, above all, between the band and the crowd. And where, even more importantly, you have so much fun. So Jeremy’s advice was to make sure we did have fun, and we did. I want to keep having this kind of fun for the rest of my life, just making movies and music with my friends and family.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from Night Shifts?
Above all I hope they are entertained in the moment. We had fun making it and I hope people have fun watching it. If it resonates beyond that though, so much the better. I know that some people have afterwards thought about people from their pasts and people they have not seen since high school, and if it leaves the audience with some fond remembrance or a little more empathy than what they had going in, I am probably happy to see that even more.