As one of the core members of the Canadian sketch troupe Picnicface, director Andrew Bush was used to making films with the same core group of people over and over again. But those films were for online audiences and episodes of their far too short lived Comedy Network show. Making the leap to the big screen this weekend with Roller Town – a send up of 70s rollerskating and disco flicks – posed numerous obvious challenges for the Halifax native… like having to come up with a second act, learning to shoot on the fly, and trying to get it all done in a limited amount of time while not making it seem like one elongated sketch.
Joining a group of familiar faces like Mark Little and Scott Vrooman (both of whom co-wrote with Bush) is actress Kayla Lorette as the token love interest, classically trained roller skater and goody-two-shoes daughter of the mayor that the town’s biggest rink rat falls for amid a back drop of potential tyranny brought on by the forced inclusion of video games onto their beloved dance floor.
Just before heading up to introduce and conduct a Q&A for their film in Toronto, Bush and Lorette sat down with us (somewhat appropriately for the film) in a mall food court to talk about the making of the film, learning how to skate, and crafting the film’s undeniably catch fake disco tracks.
(Interviewer’s note: The interview technically started after we all laughed and joked for about ten minutes and after a lengthy discussion about actor Glen Matthews who appears in a small role in the film. Glen made sure that I talked about his role in the film and to “Really emphasize my impact, plz.” It was cut by the editor due to irrelevancy. Also because I didn’t record that part. Also because I’m the editor.)
Dork Shelf: Why the 70s and why roller rinks? How did this come about?
Andrew Bush: We would do a live show every week in Halifax, and one of the weeks we were doing a ridiculous clip week, and I asked my friend Jason Eisner, who directed Hobo With a Shotgun, if he had any crazy clips or anything I should show. He sent me a link to this trailer called Roller Boogie, starring Linda Blair from The Exorcist as a 17 year old sexpot, and I watched it and I went, “This is incredible. I have to see this entire film now.” So I watched the film and thought it was just amazing. One night at a bar, me and Scott and Mark were sitting around and talking about how there was this swath of movies that came out in the late 70s and early 80s that no one’s really touched on. There’s a gold mine of comedy potential. So we watched it and we thought we could make a movie out of it.
DS: Furthering that point, what other films did you research to get the tone of Roller Town just right?
AB: I watched A LOT, and not just roller disco movies. I watched so many movies and some of them were just unwatchable, but you get these gold little moments. There was a movie called Disco Godfather, which in our movie ended up becoming Disco Dogfather. I showed the actors these movies and said “Do this! This is what we want!” Some of these are pretty one note characters.
DS: I seriously just got that you called that character Disco Dogfather because he’s always slinging hot dogs into the crowd.
AB: (laughs) Oh yeah? That’s why the movie works so well. It’s layered. You need to see it several times. (laughs) Those DEEP jokes.
So that’s where we got most of our jokes. We watched one movie with a weird ending that I hope it will eventually be seen just like 2001 as being generally confusing, but generations down the road they’ll say they totally get the ending and now it makes sense to them. The ending of Roller Town is basically based on a movie called The Apple…
DS: Oh God…
AB: You’ve seen it? LITERALLY, there is one point where God literally comes down in a convertable and he’s literally God in the machine. He’s a literal deus ex machina. So we based the end on that experience. That movie was so amazing.
DS: You guys tend to work on sketches that don’t necessarily have a point or even a punchline, which is part of this sort of new breed of comedy…
AB: (laughs riotously) No jokes! There’s one I’m writing right now that’s just a bowl of meat for 40 minutes.
DS: (laughs) …and if no one gets it you can just say it’s art!
AB: (faking snobbery) IT’S THE NEW COMEDY. YOU JUST DON’T GET IT.
The thing is that we do actually have a really elaborate structure to each sketch that we do. I don’t think there’s any sketch that we’ve done – and I don’t mean to sound snobby or anything – where we’ve said “it’s funny because it’s funny.” If people don’t think it’s funny maybe it’s because we just didn’t do a good job. There’s certainly a lot of sketches where our idea of what was funny did not translate. But, like, everything in the film in terms of what works and what doesn’t – and I don’t even think every joke even hits for me personally… I mean, I don’t want to kill my own film, but…
DS: If it doesn’t work for you it will work for other people.
AB: Exactly. There was a guy who just mentioned one bit where there’s a flashback where Leo’s father gets shot and it’s in black and white, and it just keeps repeating him getting shot over and over again, and I thought it was funny, but it’s played in theatres to silence sometimes, and this guy came up to me and he said “Man, I just love that bit where the guy gets shot over and over again.” Then I was, like, “Yeah! I did it for this guy!”
DS: A lot of 70s filmmaking, too, never necessarily had to “go” anywhere. I mean, The Apple is a perfect example of that.
AB: Yeah, but at the same time, that’s a BAD movie. (laughs) We were trying to make a good film, but it’s hard since you have all these terrible films… well, arguably terrible… that you’re trying to mine from while simultaneously trying to make something that has a bit of a structure, and we wanted to make sure that there was a heart to it. Kayla did a great job as the love interest and I wanted to make that a huge part of this. That was our goal on top of being funny and ridiculous, of course.
DS: Kayla, you’re playing what I like to refer to as “the Ben Stiller role” in which you constantly have to find yourself getting embarrassed in various ways for laughs.
Kayla Lorette: (laughs) Just kind of pushed around and getting upset, yeah.
DS: Do you have a really favourite moment from all of yours in the film?
KL: I really loved getting chopped in the neck. (laughs)
AB: Oh, man, that was so great. You took a great chop, man.
KL: I’m so used to playing the “What’s going on?” kind of character, but just getting to be in a film where I get chopped in the neck by the man you’re supposed to be into is great.
AB: But you did such a good job, because that’s such a fine line to walk, and I think some actresses wouldn’t be able to do that because Leo really throughout the movie does kind of abuse her.
KL: I do think that we kind of got into some troubled territory because when we got into filming there were so many scenes of him just being awful to my character that we would be joking and being so abusive that when we did the scene we always asked if that was too much. Was it bleeding in?
AB: We have to find that fine line. That was always the thing. You have to find where it’s funny, but also the part where there seems to be a reason for you to be with him.
DS: There’s even the scene where he pretty much forces your character to sing a song about his dead parents.
KL: That day was the most intense day. The dead parent song was beautiful. Is that still in it?
AB: Yeah, it’s back in it. I was out and now it’s back again. I originally showed the movie in a longer cut at a film festival and we started cutting things based on audience reactions. I love that moments.
KL: That was one of those great discovery moments between me and Mark where we just said “Let’s go with this.” That was great.
DS: Speaking of the songs in the movie, one of the one’s you guys wrote got stuck in my head last night after watching the movie…
AB: Oh, no. I know which one.
DS: Yup. I think you know the one I’m talking about. But you guys kind of captured the essence of these disposable disco tracks that sort of all sound the same.
AB: Yeah! That’s essentially what happened because we did it so messed up. Mark wrote those songs, and I wrote one called “Horse and Boogie” that never got in. (laughs) I thought it was great!
KL: You showed such restraint in cutting it out.
AB: I showed such restraint in cutting out my own song. But essentially those songs were just done over a Casio beat, and usually you record the song and then you record the video. Well, we didn’t do that. We recorded the video and then we had to record a song over it. It was so difficult.
KL: I was literally there one night with Mark was in his kitchen writing the sad song in the film, “No Laughing Matter,” and I was just watching him try desperately to figure out how many “Ha, ha, ha’s” he could fit into the chorus. It was beautiful.
DS: So aside from the songwriting process what were some of the other big challenges with getting this movie made?
AB: Oh, man, there were so many big challenges. We shot in 17 days…
KL: And I’m surprised you made it through it.
AB: I lost 20 pounds directing. I thought I looked svelte for a minute, but I really just looked gross. There were so many days where I was just panicking, but I thought it was so cool that no one knew the crazy stuff that was going on in my head. And everyone was, like, “Are you okay? You need to eat some granola.”
KL: We were just making fun of you behind your back, really. Your pain brought us together!
AB: (laughs) Oh great! Excellent!
DS: I imagine another challenge and something you maybe had to abandon was trying to get these guys to actually skate.
KL: Actually, Mark was great!
AB: Mark put his roller skates on as soon as he found out we had funding, and he wasn’t great at the beginning, but by the end he could do everything. I was blown away. Kayla…
AB: Not so much.
KL: I went in thinking, “Oh hey! A new skill!” Then I just kinda stopped.
AB: (laughs) There was one scene where she kind of had to beautifully skate in slow motion…
KL: That was a nightmare. The awkward, gangly person that I am, it’s like, why do I have to do this elegantly?
AB: But I think it looked great!
KL: You cut around the issue really well!
AB: (laughs) Yeah, I cut around it well. She was just a monster.