Interview: Daniel Perlmutter

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Despite winning a contest that ensured his idea for a film would at least be fully developed into a feature, filmmaker and writer Daniel Perlmutter still knows just how lengthy a road it is to actually complete the process.

Talking on the phone on his day off leading into the final two days of production (which wrapped early this past Friday morning sometimes around  three in the morning) on his feature Big News from Grand Rock, Perlmutter has been looking back on the four year process it’s been to make the film since he won the Telefilm Canada sponsored Pitch This competition at TIFF in 2009. Pitching his idea of a feature in only several minutes to a room full of industry bigwigs (originally titled Fit to Print), Perlmutter’s story of a struggling newspaper reporter who begins ripping off the plots of films from the 80s for eye catching headlines took home the big cash award that year.

But as with anything involving film and large pooling together of resources, nothing happened overnight or really exactly as one would always expect. Casting, schedules, locations, and often the most well rounded and nobelest of intentions go out the window at a moment’s notice.

Dork Shelf caught up with Perlmutter to talk about his film’s lengthy gestation period, why his film is a throwback to the same kinds of stories his main character is trying to make newsworthy, reuniting with one of his Pitch This mentors for his leading man, and how time flies once the film starts rolling.

Dork Shelf: There might be a bit of a misconception that some people outside of the film business might have when it comes to winning a contest like Pitch This and actually making the film, as evidenced by your journey here. I think sometimes people will see you won a competition and think the very next day you get cut a cheque and you immediately go into casting. What has the journey been like for you over the past couple of years until this point?

DANIEL PERLMUTTERDaniel Perlmutter: Well, I had kind of a first draft of the script ready for about five years now, so I had that for while and eventually I got it set up with some producers in Toronto at Markham Street Films, and the work on that draft of the script from that point on took a bit more time. At that point we took it to the Comedy Lab at the Canadian Film Centre, which was great, because for a project that was kind of under the microscope and taking some time to develop because that allowed us to sort of start to figure out how we were going to pay for this whole thing and start building some relationships with people who might be able to make that happen.

But really most of that time was really about getting the most amount of feedback on the script as possible from a lot of great people, and that was only when I think I truly figured out what I wanted this movie to be and what I thought the tone should ultimately be.

And then from there once it all got up and running it all became seasonal and scheduling concerns. You start bringing in all these different agencies that handle different things that can only be done at certain times and not at others. So at that point was when a lot of other factors really started to come into play. But I still think that it was great that I had as much time with the script as I did because it just continually improved to a point where it made the larger aspects of the production a bit easier to deal with when that came along.

DS: One of the things that I find interesting is that there’s a tendency when someone writes a comedy, there’s a tendency to create timely jokes, but you seem to have crafted a premise based entirely on one man recycling classic jokes he just hopes no one has heard of. Do you think taking the burden of needing to stay away from more modernized pop culture references might have helped your process and kept things a bit more grounded in the long haul?

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DP: Yeah, definitely. There’s no really no contemporary references in the film, so there was never a worry about that. But there are tricks to get the tone just right when it comes to this kind of comedy, and i think one of the things – I wouldn’t say I struggled with it – that I kind of questioned a lot was that there are a lot of these R-rated American comedies now, and even though this is a story about adults it has almost a kind of family feel to it in comparison. There’s no real sex or violence to be found in this movie. It’s kind of a throwback that’s kind of separated from a lot of comedies that are out there right now.

DS: It sounds like you’re kind of going back to the kinds of stories your main character is ripping off from his news stories. The kind of adult comedy that might have only been Rated-R for language at worst.

DP: Yeah, exactly. The kinds of movies where there might be one swear word and that would have been enough to get an adult rating. (laughs) I mean, the kind of movies that we’re referencing here also aren’t always the ones you would really remember right away, too. They are kind of the ones that you might only half remember or that you think you might have remembered a scene from them or something about it. That’s a lot of what he’s really trying to gain inspiration from and kind of rip off.

DS: You teamed up with Ennis Esmer for this as your lead, and watching how you guys interacted during the Pitch This sessions, he seems like the kind of guy who would very easily be able to sell the role of someone who could easily sell someone on repackaged materials with a straight face. He has that sort of gift to him to deliver that kind of humour. Was that what you saw in him?

DP: Yeah, and with him, he was someone who came on sort of as a mentor to the project at first, but he was also really involved for a long time and at various points in the process. But I think at first I never really pictured him as the lead. I initially thought of him playing probably some sort of secondary character. He was just so funny that I wanted to keep working with him when it was time to shoot, but it wasn’t until we were getting really close to casting the thing that he had one thing that was really important, which was the ability to play without necessarily needing to get laughter, because he has such a ludicrous story that he has to still be grounded and likeable. I saw all that in the character and also in him, and he’s in every scene of this movie, I think, and he’s just fantastic.

DS: Now that you’re making the film and you’re getting ready to wrap soon, are you surprised now that it really goes by a lot faster once you’re actually shooting compared to how long you worked on the film prior to that?

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DP: (laughs) Yeah, because if you looked at a timeline of the production the part where we were working on even getting to this point would be so exponentially longer than the shooting that the shoot would look like a tiny tail at the end of that. But in that little bit of time, you’re constantly worried that you’re going to run out of time or that the schedule won’t work out or you worry about the weather, but those are things you learn to deal with, especially with the amount of work that was put into it already. But being in the middle of it has been kind of endless, especially since you spent so much time and money on it already.

DS: Are you excited to move onto the next challenge of the process and start to see how the film is going to be assembled? Is it a relief to get to the point where you’ll have a new set of challenges?

DP: Yeah! I actually love editing, and I’m probably most excited now to get together with my editor and lock ourselves in a room and figure out the mystery of how to put all these little pieces together into the greater story. But I’ll definitely feel a bit more relief because this is a climax to the whole process. Plus, with regard to the shoot, it is starting to get kind of cold out and we have a couple of nights left to go when we actually shoot the climax of the film. (laughs) If I get through that right now, I’ll be happy.

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