“I want them to hate me in the right way.”

June 16, 2008

We had the privilege of interviewing Guy Maddin, director or BRAND UPON THE BRAIN and MY WINNIPEG and one of the most interesting minds in the film world. He talked about everything from his neediness as a narrator, to what it means to be Canadian, to how he feels about blindingly hot underwear models. Check it out below.

Guy Maddin

Why do you like to do the live performer/orchestra thingâ?¦Why include live elements?

BRAND UPON THE BRAIN was the first time I did it and I kind of liked the transformation going on inside of me. I have all these state supported films and artists, so [normally]you feel like a filmmaker, with all the bad connotations that word has, and you feel like youâ??re making film for yourself – self-absorbed, selective, for a small audience. But when you introduce the live element, all of a sudden you feel like a showman and you really do want to make a connection with an audience. You really feel it when itâ??s live, because you donâ??t want any of the live performers to die on stage, so you really do become a showman that gives a shit. You just really care a lot, and at the end of the show the beer tastes unbelievable because youâ??re so relieved that you got through it, and then the adrenaline is there for the next time and usually I just finish a movie and watch it once or twice at the most and then file it away, but live shows, I was going nuts, I was watching them every night because each one is a different narrator and each one is a little different, itâ??s like a real experiment and experience to see the tiny differences, because the narrator plays such a small role, but makes a huge impact to set the tone for the whole thing -so itâ??s this big experience to me.

But I also just realized that there was far more or fewer empathy, I guess because they were scared something might happen, or desired that something might go wrongâ?¦ maybe a certain part of everyone wanted something to go wrongâ?¦everyone sort of wants to see someone fall flat on their face- I donâ??t know, this kind of weird suspense you get from watching someone live.

How do you pick your performers?

That was a weird process, because I’m not exactly a household name, it wasnâ??t like I just chose my favorite list and they all said yes.

You do have a following thoughâ?¦

Yeah, and that started to feel good and that really expanded it a lot and then I became good friends with a lot of the narrators. With MY WINNIPEG, I always knew it was going to be small, and the Toronto Film Festival was going to play it for sure, because they always play my movies. But I just kind of thought that after BRAND UPON THE BRAIN, they would maybe just slop this in some quiet place. I knew it was kind of a distant relative to a travelogue, and Iâ??d seen some travelogues as a kid with live narration and I thought, â??This really has to be narrated liveâ?, at least for some sort of flippant, retro reason, but I didnâ??t want to do itâ?¦.

But you did it in Toronto, right?

Yeah, and I did it in Sydney a couple nights ago, so Iâ??m a little bit deliriousâ?¦ it was fun, because you tend to do it in big movie palaces- film festivals always set nice places aside. I did it at the Village East, at Tribeca, but once again, I think that people who might have normally attempted to walk out, might just be scared youâ??ll see them walking out, and go â??Wait a minute!â? So people tend to stay to the end, and if you stay to the end, you might end up liking it more. So Yeah, I keep the cowards in their seats! And usually when youâ??re vacillating about whether to stay or not, if you see other people leaving, youâ??ll just go too. I know, because Iâ??ve studied the patterns of walkouts early in my career, when I had high walkout ratios all the time

How do you do thatâ?¦ like observational studies?

Yeah, I would go to my own movies, and I would notice, â??Hey no oneâ??s walking out of this oneâ?, then all of a sudden one person would get up and leave and then you give courage to about 10 other people too and you go â??Oh manâ?â?¦

So just one ballsy person can ruin the whole night.

Yeah exactlyâ?¦so if I can just feel the energy in the room just dipping a little bit, and Iâ??m no actor, but if I can just feel that, you can actually change your performance. In acting youâ??re told not to do that, not to play to the audience, I know that for a fact. But not me, Iâ??ll always be a big slut up there! If I can feel audience engagement sort of sagging a bit, I try harder, so it might stink of desperation after a while, but at least it gives me a chance to control it a little bit, and I find that even though I wrote the lines myself, I can re-interpret them a bit. Or that I actually finally understood what the hell I wrote, like it will come to me, Iâ??ll go, â??Wait a minute, this is what I meant!â?, and Iâ??ll actually say it that way and it makes a big difference. You can just hear it somehow, itâ??s kind of crazy. I donâ??t mean to sound like an actor, I kind of pity actors and their needinessâ?¦ but boy have I become a needy person when Iâ??m narrating,

Like you just want the audience to love you?

Yeah, and then I need some sort of reinforcement after that it was okay.

Do you think the neediness is because so many of your films are autobiographical, like MY WINNIPEG even has a main character named Guy Maddinâ?¦

Yeah probably, although I donâ??t need them to approve of me as a person, I know Iâ??m pretty reprehensible! So I just want them to hate me in the right way.

Hate you for the reasons you hate you.

Yeah exactly. Just sort of get on board the self-loathing train.

Do you feel like making autobiographical films helps you understand your life a little bit better?

It has a little bit, but itâ??s also turned elements of my life into so much footage that needs to be edited that I kind of get a little sick of it. Itâ??s kind of like a therapy, like aversion therapy. I just donâ??t feel like thinking about that part of my life anymore. Itâ??s like Iâ??ve just done it already. Then I have to talk about it and do screenings of it. So Iâ??m happy not to talk about my childhood anymore, because Iâ??ve made a couple movies about it, and I think Iâ??ve buried my mother finally -if not literally, at least â??filmicallyâ?. So, Iâ??ve moved on. Yeah it helps.

People are calling MY WINNIPEG maybe your most Canadian filmâ?¦and I read that youâ??ve said things like maybe you donâ??t want something to be too Canadianâ?¦ so what does that mean?

Yeah, it probably can mean many thingsâ?¦probably when I first started using that term, when I first began, I probably just didnâ??t want it to be bad! I just didnâ??t want it to be full of sincere performances that are falling short of the mark, you know, so I was probably hedging my bets with irony and stuff, stylizations. Now it might mean most honest or most regionally specific -Iâ??m not sure. Or maybe it captures the spirit of Canadian identity, whatever the hell that is, but thereâ??s some kind of self-loathing and self-deprecation, self-erasing qualities in most Canadians – hello look at me- so I donâ??t know. Canadians define themselves as â??not Americanâ? â?? they canâ??t define themselves because theyâ??re too similar, virtually identical, so they just go, â??Well weâ??re not Americanâ?.

Do you find the audiences are different?

Theyâ??re identical. Exactly the same TV shows and moviesâ?¦ we donâ??t watch Canadian films.

What do you watch? Like if youâ??re in your house.

Iâ??m a little bit different because I watch older cinema and stuff, but I do go out on a Friday night to a premiere of a Will Ferrell movie, Iâ??m just a regular moviegoer. Iâ??ll also go to some indie stuff and some European stuff – the best of the film festivals, plus just mainstream crap…and I canâ??t wait for BATMAN to come out.

Do you have any particular directors or actors – or maybe you pity actors – but directors or filmmakers or anyone in the business that you really admire?

I really like Paul Thomas Anderson a lot, I really enjoyed THERE WILL BE BLOOD. Also Wes Andersonâ?¦some experimental filmmakers in Austriaâ?¦Martin Arnold, Mattias Mueller. And Iâ??ll check out any Will Ferrell or Jack Black movie, no matter how good or bad. There are too many to name really, but itâ??s not that bizarre a profile. It would be like a hipsterâ??s MySpace list of favorite movies and directors.

Are you working on anything now?

Yeah but I just donâ??t have that obsessive compulsion to make it. So I think Iâ??m going to spend the summer daydreaming. Iâ??m going to be coming to the end of a long road. I made a couple of movies back to back and Iâ??ve been promoting them, so Iâ??m looking forward to going to the summer cottage and reading from books. Itâ??s where most of my ideas come from, little lateral thoughts that step out of the pages.

But I do have a couple of projects. Iâ??m collaborating with Kazuo Ishiguro, a British Pulitzer Prize winner on a feature script. Iâ??m making a ballet version of SVENGALI, and Iâ??m making an internet interactive â??choose your own adventureâ? narrative, so that will be fun. For that, Iâ??m working with a Pulitzer Prize winning poet, John Ashbury. I wanted to have that made for his 80th birthday, but I didnâ??t quite get my act together, so itâ??s going to have to be for his 82nd birthday or something like that. Iâ??m not sure which one Iâ??ll make first.

Oh and I also got a commission to make a low budget feature from the Wexner Center in Ohio. The Wexner guy is the guy behind Abercrombie and Fitch and Victoriaâ??s Secret underwear.

About him, or with him?

I think whatever I want, so I might just make a big underwear melodrama or something like thatâ?¦.I cant wait to shoot it.

It should be a fun casting callâ?¦

Yeah those fantastic peopleâ?¦you just donâ??t even care what gender they are after a certain point, theyâ??re that prettyâ?¦just find out when you take their clothes off, like â??I cant tell what gender that is but letâ??s just strip it down now and find out!â?