Lonely Wolf International
Film Festival 2022
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, eccentric bedroom musician Tommy Doss is invited to lunch by the connection-starved Lucy, who is taken by his enigmatic personality and homemade tapes.
Hello King, it’s great to get to talk with you, how have you been keeping after everything that’s been happening?
Pretty great! I’ve mostly been busy juggling projects, but right now I’m looking forward to the warmer weather. And live concerts and events. Remember those?
How have you managed to stay positive and busy?
Mostly by finding ways to keep myself busy and occupied!
You have won multiple awards for Tapeboy, what do you think it is about your film that has connected with audiences so much?
You know, you’d have to ask the audience. I’d like to think it’s because it takes a scenario that’s super overdone, the “meet cute”, and it ends up being so nonchalant, awkward and real, and mixing that with something so avant garde and experimental. That was sort of the goal, to balance that, so I guess people like sweetness in small doses, while doing it in a way that wouldn’t insult the intelligence of whoever is watching.
Tapeboy was a Finalist in several categories at Lonely Wolf, what has it meant to you to get this type of response to your film?
Pretty great! Unfortunately I haven’t got the chance to witness a full audience seeing it at a theatre, but I’m happy people are enjoying it.
How important are festivals like Lonely Wolf in championing and supporting indie filmmakers?
I’d first heard about Lonely Wolf from Tapeboy’s director of photography, Conor Forrest, who had a film there last year. I always remembered the festival and intended to, but never got the chance to, submit Tapeboy there until I heard from its CEO Adrian Perez. I really loved Adrian’s enthusiasm and his eagerness he showed towards myself, and towards filmmakers all over the world, so it was a no-brainer to enter Tapeboy. The great thing about Lonely Wolf and other festivals is to see what’s out there, and how filmmakers are still innovating. I’m still excited to see everything else that’s out at the fest.
Can you tell me how Tapeboy came about, what inspired this film?
I had this image in my head back in May 2020 of a guy who worked at a record store, walking down the Danforth in Toronto, listening to a Walkman, holding a box of tapes. That was sort of the starting point, at that time I thought in my head he would be someone that does lo-fi remixes or mashups, maybe this vaporwavey kind of guy. Over the next few months, the story began to take shape with this guy with tapes meeting this girl who wasn’t happy, and that the two of them would go on this pseudo-date. Of course, Danforth changed to Kensington once we got the okay from the great Paradise Bound Records to film there. Buy your records there if you’re in Toronto.
The idea of the guy with tapes came from Daniel Johnston, who by all accounts was an absolute genius. I didn’t want to base the character of Tommy too much on Daniel, but a lot comes from him and his story. I gave The Devil and Daniel Johnston a watch that summer, and they went into how Daniel used to give his homemade tapes to customers for free when he worked at McDonalds. I had all these songs I’d done playing around on GarageBand, so it became a tribute to bedroom musicians, and music that goes beyond the bounds like Animal Collective or Smile-era Brian Wilson, with Tommy purported to have done these songs that play over the B footage in the basement.
The feel of the film took shape once I saw Frank again probably 10 times, and Major Organ and the Adding Machine. Go see it. It was done by the great folks in the Elephant 6 collective, like Neutral Milk Hotel and The Olivia Tremor Control, it’s fantastic, and on YouTube. Giving Tommy the last name Doss was my way of honouring the late OTC founder Bill Doss, who had a hand in some of my favourite music, and we got clearance to use music by another OTC member, John Kiran Fernandes, so getting some sort of Elephant 6 approval is something I’m chuffed about. At one point I was thinking of having five co-existing sections of the film that would go back and forth, but eventually it was whittled down to two: the main section, and the B footage in the basement we filmed on Super 8.
What was the biggest challenges you faced making Tapeboy?
Filming during a time in the pandemic when nobody was vaccinated, and another lockdown was looming, definitely. To film the scenes at Paradise Bound Records, we were only allowed five people indoors at all times, so it was a pre-planned game of musical chairs of cast and crew switching from record store, to cold outdoors, to warm car. I think two weeks after we filmed, Ontario began to prepare another lockdown, so it’s great we made it in time, and nobody got sick of course. We also had to move a few of the outdoor scenes to another day to avoid being rained on, which unfortunately had to be done the day before.
I’d just graduated from film school, and it was my first time directing, writing or producing on a non-school basis. I had money saved up from my old job at the school paper, so I was able to sort of get the ball rolling, before I brought on the rest of the team, and brought on Krishna Kolanupaka as the co-producer and production manager. Key crew members left midway during pre-production, Tommy went through three different actors, and Cardinal went through two, so there were bumps on the road before the finished product.
When working on a film like Tapeboy how close did you like to keep to your screenplay, did you give yourself much flexibility?
There were changes in the structure and order of some of the scenes from when I started. It blew my mind looking back at the original draft, since it was the same story, but with the slightest differences. Back when the story was supposed to be at the Danforth, I wrote the restaurant they eat at as Burrito House near Pape Station, which for years was my favourite burrito haunt. Of course, when I looked it up it had closed for good months earlier, so once the location changed to Kensington, burritos became Ozzy’s Burgers. Which meant changing the Simpsons reference, which was supposed to be “where’s my burrito! Where’s my burrito!” to “I feel like chicken tonight”.
I’m pretty open to actors being free to play around with lines, as long as it doesn’t go off track from the story, or detract from the intention of the dialogue. So the week before we shoot, I meet all three of our great actors for the first time that isn’t a Zoom call, and we’re sitting in a circle at Bellevue Square Park, going through the script. Tom Lute, who plays Cardinal the record store owner, sort of became the den mother of the actors, and in one of their unofficial practice reads, he’d thought up an idea to have Tommy and Lucy share their favourite bands and musicians, back and forth. We tried it there, with all of us throwing out names, and that ended up being what happens in the final film.
Looking back is there anything you would do differently on this film?
Honestly, not really. It doesn’t do much to dwell on what could have been.
Have you aways had a passion for filmmaking?
I was raised on classic films, so there was always a filmmaking appreciation growing up. My parents would show us things like Midnight Cowboy or a few of Hitchcock’s films, and my dad would make a point to show Airplane and The Naked Gun, or The Three Stooges and Monty Python when I was growing up, so you could say I got an early education. I’ve always loved screenwriting, and I used to write scripts for fun as a kid, so that’s never left me.
Way before Vine was a thing, my brother and I would borrow my dad’s Motorola flip phone which allowed videos up to 10-12 seconds to be made, so we would make the dumbest and greatest short videos which are all definitely long gone by now. There was one where I filmed a box of Rice Krispies and shouted “Snap, Crackle, and…” before punching the box down, so you can imagine the level of comedy the rest of them had. Real high-brow humour. And then in high school, I had a Comm Tech class, and that ended up being the first time I got to make films at a sort of serious level.
What would you say has been the most valuable lesson you’ve taken from making Tapeboy?
Budget. Especially for post-production.
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer anyone thinking about making their first short film?
Set a date and do it. I’ve had conversations with friends about this, where Shakespeare would have his actors learn lines, and then perform within a week, and if you live in a big city, there’s thousands of people looking to get their feet wet, actors, cinematographers, really anyone.
I remember talking to a former prof who’s in the industry while I was preparing Tapeboy, and this was when I was in the process of recasting, and I was telling him about this. And he told me, “everyone is replaceable. Even if you get Brad Pitt and he drops out, there’s always another option.” It won’t be the same film, no, but there’s always another option. If people drop out, or don’t want to do it, or don’t work out, find people that want to.
"I didn’t want the final film to be too saccharine sweet, and I didn’t want it to be too experimental and too all over the place, and I wanted the songs you hear to be long enough to appreciate and be unconventional."
What these will you explore with future films?
I have a short film in the works about rejection, and the life not lived. I think a lot of people can get stuck on one rejection and have it sit with them for the rest of their life, and end up settling for something beneath them, and it gets internalised as “what they deserve.” But it goes back to what I said about there always being another option, and it always never being too late.
You have two projects in post-production can you tell me a little bit about these?
Those were done over the winter as a way to do small-scale shoots, and to keep busy and not get rusty. Seven Minutes in Heaven was written while I was in film school, and even though I don’t see it as my best script, it was easy to film in a day, and hopefully can be seen soon. Deluxe Lounge VI is a vaporwave/retro model shoot I did with Olha Stepanova, with a neon/liminal space feel, that should also be out soon.
I also have a documentary I’ve been filming off and on produced by Toyin Ishola, on artist Phil Richards and his large-scale art installation Grand Illusion that used to be at the Toronto Eaton Centre. I wouldn’t be surprised if it ends up being my favourite film I’ve done, and it should hopefully be out by the end of the year.
And finally, what would you like audiences to take away from Tapeboy?
My goal was for audiences to walk out not really to be sure how to process what they just saw. I didn’t want the final film to be too saccharine sweet, and I didn’t want it to be too experimental and too all over the place, and I wanted the songs you hear to be long enough to appreciate and be unconventional.
I wanted something that highlighted how important connection was, especially during a time when everyone was isolated for months and person to person connection was reduced to Zoom. The song that plays over the ending and credits, “Autumn”, sort of highlights that. “A person/to make it all worth/to discover the earth/for one to be complete.”