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Marina Antunes [Film Festival 07.29.11] Canada movie news interview

I've been sharing my love for Jacob Tierney's Good Neighbours (review) since I saw the film at the Whistler Film Festival late last year.

The film is opening in limited release in the US tomorrow (list of theatres here) and earlier this week I had the opportunity to speak with Jacob about the film, mixing comedy into unlikely genres, distribution and his upcoming project.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with me today about Good Neighbours which, by the way, is a fabulous little film.


Marina: I thought we could start by finding out a little bit more of how you became involved with film. I know you come from a film background, your father is a producer and you'e been an actor for eons. So how did you get involved in acting because you've been acting from a very young age...

Jacob: I started when I was six. There isn't really a story except that I guess I'd expressed an interest in it and my father at the time was teaching film and working as a publicist had back in those days in Montreal they were making a lot of tax shelter films and there was only one major English casting director and I auditioned for her once and once I got a job she just kept bringing me in. And that was really how it started.

And how did you make the jump from being an actor, something you still do a lot of, to directing?

By writing. I just started writing scripts and just realized that I wanted to make them.

So was it something you always had in the back of your mind when you started acting?

Not when I started, I'm pretty sure I didn't have anything in the back of my mind at that point... I was always a kid that wrote doe. I would always write plays; I'd write short stories and books. I was always writing something. I think that it was just natural that eventually I'd write a script because it was what I read the most.

I'm curious if you prefer one to the other because you still do quite a bit of acting. Do you prefer being in front of the camera or behind it?

I don't do that much acting. I try to do as little as possible. I definitely prefer directing to acting.

You still appear in quite a few films though. I know you recently worked with your dad on his directorial debut...

I did. I did.

And how was that for you?

Oh it was great. It was terrific. It was his first film as a director and he put together a terrific, terrific cast and we had a ball making it.

It looks very funny.

I think it's going to tickle people.

You have a really great working relationship with your actors and you've worked with them on a number of films. Emily Hampshire has appeared in all of your films and two films with Jay Baruchel. How did you meet them and what is it that keeps you coming back to them?

I've known both of those people for a long, long time. Emily and I acted together in a lot of films, Jay and I grew up in the same neighbourhood so that was the way I met them. I think that they're great. I just think they're very talented. They're the people that inspire me, that make me want to write parts. I wish there was some kind of alchemy to it but there isn't. I just enjoy working with them.

I'm a firm believer... I don't work with people I don't like. I don't care how talented they are... if we don't get along I don't want to work with them. Making a movie is stressful enough. You don't need to add assholes to the mix. And so they happen to be that I really like and get along with well and I think they're really, really, really talented. It seems kind of obvious to me; well why wouldn't I keep working with them?

On to Good Neighbours. This is a script that you developed form a novel. How long have you been sitting on this project? Has it had a long gestation period?

I read the book for the first when I was in the tenth grade so it's definitely something I've been thinking about for a long time. A long time.

So what what is that prompted you to get the ball rolling on this project?

It was that I had the opportunity to do it. My father came to me and said can you make a winter movie and can you write it quickly because he had money to spend on a film and he had to spend it or it was going to be taken away. I said I can if you're interested in doing this we can do this. And so it all came together very quickly. But I think the only reason it was able to come together so quickly was because I'd been living with this book for so many years.

You were so intimately familiar with it that it was easier than starting on something from scratch...

I'd read it so many times... it was a story that really captured my imagination.

What was it about it that captured your imagination?

I think it was Louise. I mean it comes out of a genre I love. I love mysteries, I love noir, I love black comedies... I love that stuff but it was the opportunity to tell a story with a female protagonist in a genre that doesn’t generally have female protagonists and watch her do really interesting things and make choices that women don't really make in movies like that. That was what really excited me. Any time you're working with a genre I think you have to do something a bit different otherwise it's just doing the same thing and you don't want to do the same thing again or a movie that's already been made before. So having Louise at the front of it is what really appealed to me.

She's not your typical character either. She's fairly quirky.

Yup. That's what appealed to me, that's what's interesting me. This isn't the type of character you see very often.

Did you always have this cast in mind?

Yup. For the four main actors... I wrote those parts specifically for them.

I'm really curious about how Scott [Speedman] came on board because this really goes against the types of characters he usually plays.

Scott again was someone that I knew, someone I was friends with and I feel sort of the same way you just said. Scott has a very particular screen persona and the Scott that I know is actually a very funny, very smart, very sharp guy. That really appealed to me, to be able to let him to be kind of funny and mean but also to put an actor as physical as Scott in a wheel chair, I thought, would be really cool.

One of the other things that's really interesting are the cats. There are a lot of cats in this movie.

Aren't there?

So what's the deal with the cats? Were they in the novel?

Oh believe me, I would not have added that. No, it's a huge part of the book and a huge part of the plot. I had no choice.

And how was it working with that many cats?


I'm assuming you're being sarcastic there.

You're assuming correctly. You know it was fine. We got everything we needed. There were definitely days where I was like “Oh my god. What am I doing. Why did I decide to do this? What a terrible idea.” But then other times they do little amazing things that you're like “Oh my god that's so good!” I think that of all the animals to work with they're especially difficult. They're not really trainable.

They sort of just do their own thing.

That's why they're less pets and more roommates right? If you've had a cat you kind of know that he does what he wants to when he wants to and that's the end of the story. Not like a dog who depends on you for everything.

You've made all of your films in Canada and worked primarily in Canada. Do you feel the pressure or the need to make the jump to Hollywood or are you're happy in the place you're at now?

It's not about need. I think I'm a naturally restless person and I want to do different things. Over the last few years I've been given this opportunity to make these movies exactly the way I want to and in the city I want to make them in and that's something I'm very grateful for. I'm very happy to have spent the last few years making these two movies. My next movie is set in Montreal as well which I think we're making next year so we'll see. I'm definitely interested in all kinds of opportunities and exploring. I travel a lot, I love the world so I would definitely be open to making stuff in other countries and in other systems too.

You just mentioned something about a new film coming next year. Can you tell us anything more about that?

It's based on a book by Doris Lessing titled “The Good Terrorist.” Hopefully we'll be doing that next year.

Now this is the second novel that you've adapted...

Actually the third. My first film was an adaptation of “Oliver Twist.” It's not a technical adaptation but it's definitely inspired by “Oliver Twist.” I read a lot. Books really inspire me. I think I get my primary source of inspiration from novels or from reading rather than movies.

Your tastes are vary varied. The Trotsky was a comedy with dramatic elements but the rest of your films seem to be much more dramatic with a bit of comedy thrown into the mix.

For sure. The Trotsky is also, by far, the sunniest movie I think I'm ever going to make. My first film is super depressing, my second film is super bright and I feel like Good Neighbours is those two things thrown into a blender. There's a lot of humour but it's quite dark.

Different things appeal to me. I'll definitely make another comedy. Probably a straight up comedy as well but hopefully it will be a bit different too.

The aspects of comedy that you infuse into your films... it's really interesting because the thriller genre isn't one well known for mixing in comedic elements but it works really well in Good Neighbours. It's refreshing to see something so different. Is it a conscious effort on your part to lighten up the mood or is it something that just comes naturally to you?

I think it probably comes naturally but when I think of classic noir I think of black comedies. All of those classic Hitchcock movies are really funny. They're mean and they're funny; he had a malicious sense of humour, and I love that about his films. I love watching movies like that. I love black comedies. I love a chuckle in the middle of a terrifying scene. That really appeals to me. I wanted to make a movie that I'd want to go and see and infusing it with black comedy was something that made it appealing to me.

Is it difficult to find the balance between what works as far as the comedy is concerned, in a darker film, and what doesn't work?

I think you just have to trust your instincts. There are tons of reasons not to do something, always, and there are tons of reasons to do it. Ultimately you have to believe in your own impulses and trust... for me I just trust what my instincts are telling me to do and then to just execute it the best way that I can.

You've worked with some really talented actors and now you have this new project coming up. If you could assemble your dream cast, who would you love to work with?

Tons. Tons. I love actors. I'm constantly in awe of them. There are literally dozens of people.

Come on, a few names.

Ooo. I don't know. Daniel Day-Lewis. Daniel Day-Lewis... wouldn't that be something? I really don't even know where to begin. Meryl Streep. Vanessa Redgrave is one of my favourite actors. Cate Blanchett. I'm a huge Denzel Washington fan. I don't know if I could ever get Denzel Washington to be in one of my movies but I love him so much. Kevin Kline. I was just talking about him this morning. I love Kevin Kline. Really tons of actors.

What are your influences? You've talked about books but I'm curious if there are any directors that you look up to and inspire you.

Oh for sure. People like Stephen Frears, Danny Boyle, Jonathan Demme, I love directors that do different things actually. I love directors who don't feel the need to put themselves forward but put the movie forward. They want their movies to be as interesting, engaging and different as they can be. If I could have a career like Stephen Frears, boy would I be a happy guy. Truly.

I love the Whistler Film Festival which is where I saw your film and you did a Q&A afterward which was a lot of fun. Do you like festivals?

I love festivals. It's a lot of fun. Whistler is a particularly fun one for me because the guy that runs it is a really dear friend of mine Stacey Donen. Part of the fun thing about getting to make movies is that once they're done, because they're pretty hard work, is getting to go all over the world and see beautiful and amazing places. It's great. I get to interact with other filmmakers and with audiences that you might not ordinarily get to meet. It's super cool. I love that stuff.

The other part of the question is if you think festivals are integral to getting Canadian film out and seen. Truth of the matter is that there isn't a huge distribution system for Canadian film...

I don't actually think they are. I think ultimately they're something distributors use to not distribute your movie because there's a film festival in basically every city in Canada. In terms of internationally, for sure but in terms of our domestic distribution situation I'm not convinced how helpful it is because distributors are not inclined to release our movies anyways.

With The Trotsky I went all over the world and it was so cool to watch different audiences react to that film. This one is a bit different. Because of the kind of movie The Trotsky was... to go to Tokyo and to see how crowds in Tokyo reacted to it... it was really cool for me.

It seems that Good Neighbours is being embraced a bit more widely. I'm wondering if it may have something to do with the fact that it's a genre picture?

Maybe? You know, that's always a mystery to me. Who the hell knows. I don't know how things work or why but yeah, it's definitely gotten a very good critical response which has been great.

And how has the response been in the US because there's quite a bit of Canadian history and Quebec history infused into the film.

So far so good!

Thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. Good luck with Good Neighbours, I know it's coming up for release in the US fairly quickly.

Yeah, it opens Friday.

Good that. And I look forward to hearing more about your next film.

Thanks very much.

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agentorange (10 years ago) Reply

Great interview. Can't wait to catch this one. And here's hoping Jacob stays in Canada.

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