An Interview with Cody Bown
By Rachel D’Sa
This film is part of the annual #mustseeBC filmmaker showcase presented by STORYHIVE, now open until September 28th. Visit mustseebc.viff.org/ for more details and to vote for Gregoire.Director, producer and film enthusiast Cody Bown, currently resides in Vancouver, having moved to the city in 2005 to pursue a career in film. His two most recent films, which have been a part of his tetralogy, relate back to his Wood Buffalo roots, having felt a deep connection to the Fort McMurray setting and his adolescent experiences. Bown is the contributor of notable domestic and internationally screened films, including Wool, Entertainment, Flash, and Homesick. Gregoire, the follow up to his last two films and another chapter in the nonlinear tetralogy, reflects Bown’s connection to his hometown. The film, which is Bown’s first feature film as a director, is set in Fort McMurray and authentically carries out the local theme throughout. Gregoire follows a group of young adults that have to make important life decisions that heavily affect those around them as well, in order to move past the points they find themselves stuck at. The drama gathers a proficient cast to perform in a film that will connect with any audience member that too finds themselves at a fork in the road.
Rachel D’Sa: In the film, the characters need to make life changing decisions in order to move on with their lives. Do you connect with a particular character most either due to their situation or how they deal with their predicament?
Cody Bown: I always put a little bit of me in each film and it extends into most of the characters as well. Those who really know me can figure it out. But almost the entire film is drawn from real life inspiration. I think the situations that the characters are put in are universal, it doesn’t matter where you’re from or who you are, you’re probablyat this situation at some point in your life. I think if you look all over, the way people make decisions, sometimes you scratch your head and wonder why that was the call they made, but to some people there is only one way to do something. It might not be the right way, but it’s THE way.
D’Sa: When did you first realize that in order to carry out the film to your satisfaction, everything needed to take place in Fort McMurray?
Bown: Right from the get go I decided that for this film authenticity was key for me. Why fake it? When I did my short Homesick, it was to pass for Fort McMurray and it so obviously wasn’t that I felt like I cheated the film doing it right. When I wrote the script, Iwas naming the locations “Weed Alley” or “ten foot” or “Comp”. Anyone who knows Fort McMurray knows these locations, and to me there was no way to replicate that in Vancouver. The film is set in Fort McMurray, so why not shoot the film in Fort McMurray. Even in our pickups we spent a lot of time looking properly for locations because it would stick out like a sore thumb if it were fake, or trying so hard to be something it wasn’t. I couldn’t have made this film anywhere else.
Once he finished film school in Vancouver, Bown decided to take a break from the industry in order to save up money to kick-start his career while paying off student loans. After his year-long homecoming at Wood Buffalo, he returned to Vancouver and began his first film.
D’Sa: Why make a tetralogy out of your films? What sets Gregoire apart from your other films?
Bown: The films order goes: Homesick, Gregoire, untitled new feature, and then Wool. I guess I’m pulling a little from Todd Solondz to continue a storyline. I think it’s more or less just a personal growth story I’m telling. There is a lot of me in all of these films. It’s nice to get it out. However, I very much look forward to breaking away from this narrative. I think the next feature in this story line will be leaps and bounds the best, but I don’t think it’ll be my next project.
D’Sa: What was it like trying to fund the film through Indiegogo? Did you run into any difficulties with budgeting?
Bown: We got only a small portion of our budget through Indiegogo. I have had success in the past with crowdfunding and thought I could give it another go. Regardless of whatever dollar amount I was going to raise- the movie was going to be made one way or another. I kind of don’t believe in the grant system right now, mainly because I don’t want some pencil pusher to decide if my film should be made or not. The beauty of filming in a town that doesn’t have strict film rules is that we got a lot of our stuff for free. People were just excited to see us making a movie. We ran out of days in Fort McMurray to shoot, so we had to do a couple pickups here in Vancouver. We burned through pretty much our entire post budget shooting three or four scenes and one rain out, so that was pretty frustrating.
With the film hitting so close to home, Bown decided it was best to move the project from his Vancouver setting to the original environment that inspired the work. Using real life elements, he prioritized hiring a local cast and crew, in order to create a film that was as close to his vision as possible.
D’Sa: What was the casting process like? Were you looking for anything in particular that connected the actors personally to the characters?
Bown: I initially gave Fort McMurray first opportunity to audition for the lead roles, and when it was apparent I needed to find different people for the roles, I did casting out of Vancouver through my casting team, Kris & Kara. They set up the first rounds of auditions while I was in Cannes for the festival, and sent me a link. I remember hearing Jared as a reader, reading for the role of Felix, and I couldn’t even pay attention to who was auditioning. I just kept thinking “this guy gets it”. He was pretty much guaranteed the role after hearing him as a reader, I didn’t know what he looked like or who he was, he just got it and that was important to me. Later I learned he’s a blue-collar guy, who gets that life and has worked that life. He gets it. Similarly to Morgan, there was something about her that stood out, she understood the character – and I later learned she was from Fort McMurray, so of course she understood what it was like to grow up there. We saw a ton of people come in who couldn’t bring something to the character – which was incredibly frustrating, but everyone who was cast in the film did things that were different from everyone else.
D’Sa: What was it like filming at your high school (Composite High School)? Did your own high school experience reflect the way you framed the setting?
Bown: Filming at Comp was cool. I approached them months ahead of the shoot and asked them to film there. The staff had turned around almost completely since I attended the school so I had no one to back me up or vouch for me – so I had to go through the school board and they were in the middle of trying to make a plan to recognize alumni. So, when you walk into our school there is a shrine to Chris Phillips who also went to our school – and I guess they wanted to do more of it so they were pretty keen on letting me film overnight. Thankfully they didn’t ask to read the script otherwise I might not have been allowed to film there, but they were really good sports and keen on something new happening for the school.
Having screened and won awards for his previous films in his town, Bown has continued to radiate gratitude towards his beloved city through his newest work. Filmed before the tragedy that hit Fort McMurray in May 2016, Gregoire has not only been an important and personal film to Bown, but also to his hometown.
D’Sa: What responses has the film been receiving in Fort McMurray? Throughout the filming process were you presented with any support?
Bown: When we first were up there, we did radio interviews and podcasts and otherwise built the hype, but we started that two years ago. Now that the film is done we’re getting a lot of love on social media, sharing the teaser, etc. People are into it and keep asking “when can we watch it in Fort McMurray?” When we were filming, we could pretty much go anywhere and ask, “can we film here?” and for the most part people were excited. We actually lost one of our first shooting locations (the boys’ house) maybe three days before filming. We scrambled to try and find a new location that held the sameweight, and through word of mouth a couple offered up their house to us. We went to the location at 10:00 p.m. the night before a 6:00 a.m. call time, and they welcomed us with open arms and let us do whatever we needed to do a good job. “Take down a couple walls if you need to”. We couldn’t have done it without Doyle and Elaine, they were so kind and generous towards us taking over their space for three days and completely changing around a handful of their rooms. They were one of the unfortunate many to have lost their home in the fire, so I imagine when they see the footage of their house it’ll be a pretty emotional time.
D’Sa: How did Fort McMurray help you realize your passion for filmmaking? How might it have changed had you grown up elsewhere?
Bown: Fort McMurray is a very inspiring place, to me anyway. The people, the locations, the feel. Everything. Truthfully, when I was younger I didn’t know what I wanted to be, I always enjoyed storytelling in one way or another. When I graduated high school I kind of realized that everyone else had been working toward something, and I hadn’t. I didn’t know what I was going to do and kind of had to backtrack a bit on my education – but I wasn’t planning on working out at the plants for the rest of my life… Unfortunately, my high school approach to school work didn’t fly in college and I was put on academic probation. I had to really think about a secondary plan about what I was going to do with my life. At the time, I worked at a video store and was cleaning the place and I stumbled on a film that I had seen years prior where I thought “I could do this”, and it sparked an interest in me to take my storytelling in a new direction, so that night I applied to film school, two weeks later got accepted, and one month after that moved to Vancouver.
I would say I had a taste for storytelling in Fort McMurray but refined it into filmmaking in Vancouver. When I graduated I was writing things that I didn’t really care about – I just didn’t know it at the time. I thought “oh this is a neat idea” without it really saying anything. Fast forward a few years when I made my first short, I got rejected from every festival but attended Palm Springs anyway just to see what it was all about, and the programmer at the time, Kathleen McInnes, was very kind to me and my situation and gave me a festival pass. I went in and sat in on seminars and this and that, and while there someone said, “surround yourself with like-minded people, and make things that matter to you”. That was my lightbulb moment to get on this storyline and tell the stories I’ve been telling.
Gregoire is premiering at the Vancouver International Film Festival as part of the SEA TO SKY program stream on Tuesday, October 3 and again Tuesday, October 10. Tickets available here.