Interview: Matthew Bauckman & Jaret Belliveau

No one really talks about this when they do interviews with people in a journalistic setting, but maybe about 25% of the subjects will tell you a story that’s strictly off the record. That happened when I interviewed Mathew Bauckman and Jaret Belliveau, the directors of the Canadian documentary Kung Fu Elliot, back when the film premiered at Hot Docs in April. When discussing their film’s subject they told me about a scene that couldn’t make it into the film for very obvious reasons.

And while I keep that story secret, it makes perfect sense. Kung Fu Elliot (which opens in Toronto this weekend, kicking off a Canadian tour) works best if the best parts of it remain completely unspoiled for any viewer. In fact, I purposefully cut the final third of our 45 minute talk because it would spoil the ending. The thing about their subject – Haligonian lowbudget filmmaker and martial arts aficionado Elliot Scott – is that he’s never who he appears to be. I have seen the movie. I have spoken to other people who know who Elliot Scott is. They can (sadly?) confirm that everything is true. But yet, I had to keep talking to them about what happens in the final third of the film, how it happened, and what has happened since the film ended. And trust me, you’ll want to know, too.

A hilariously complex look at filmmaking hubris, Bauckman and Belliveau follow Scott as he attempts to make his third DIY feature Blood Fight. Calling himself Canada’s answer to Jackie Chan, Scott has the drive, but not necessarily the knowhow to construct a competent feature film. He has a wealth of confidence, a loving girlfriend, and two loyal best friends and collaborators to back up his talk. But he’s also a massive liar, which leads the film ultimately to some pretty dark (but still somewhat comedic) places.

It’s the kind of film that neither director expected to make when they set out to capture what they thought would be an uplifting and silly look at the kind of spirit it takes to become a filmmaker, but they got a lot more than they bargained for. So here now is our talk about how Mathew and Jaret came to learn about Scott’s work, what makes Elliot such a magnetic personality, and how they gradually came to realize that the filmmaker behind They Killed My Cat and Ouija Board from Hell wasn’t exactly on the level.

And as a bonus, anyone who emails me a picture of their ticket stub or a proof of purchase that they’ve seen the film will get a response hopefully within a week that will include the final third of the interview where we talk about what actually happened. Except for that one story that was expressly off the record.  As a journalist, sometimes you have to protect your sources.

Dork Shelf: Before the movie was over, I had to pause it, call a friend in Halifax and ask if Elliot Scott was a real person. And, honestly, I was pretty shocked to confirm that absolutely none of this was made up. How did you guys find this guy?

Matthew BauckmanMatthew Bauckman: It really started when I was going to film school in Toronto. Both of us are originally from New Brunswick, and my parents are from New Brunswick, and my dad would send me articles that were about anything having to do with film happenings that were going on in New Brunswick. So it was really only a couple of articles on average a year. (laughs)

But he sent me two articles about Elliot Scott alone from a local newspaper. He was promoting his first movie, They Killed My Cat, and immediately I was, like, this is an amazing title. In the article he just seemed like a genuine, legit filmmaker who won awards and was making these fun kinds of karate movies on his own time and his own dime.

Then years went by, and I remembered the titles of his movies, and Jared and I started working together and we wanted to make a film together, and I just started thinking, “Oh, yeah, Elliot Scott. I wonder what’s the deal with that guy.” So I looked up a trailer for his movie, and immediately there was this disconnect between the quality of that trailer and how glowing this article was. I thought that was interesting enough in its own right to warrant at least going to visit him. At least, that’s how it started.

Jaret Belliveau: Then we watched They Killed My Cat. It’s a 90 minute movie that we had to watch over a two and a half hour period because we had to keep taking breaks. (laughs) There’s no intermission in the film, but if you want to make it through it, at some point you have to get up and take a walk around.

MB: And I’m not necessarily condoning this, but it really does help to be inebriated when you watch it.

DS: I believe it.

JB: And in terms of contacting him, we just sent him a message over Facebook. And he said, “Hey! Cool! I’m working on my new movie Blood Fight!”

MB: Which is his third feature film.

JB: And one of our favourite films is American Movie, so we just thought this was going to be our version of that. We thought it was going to be awesome! Let’s just go out and meet this guy and see what it’s all about.

Kung Fu Elliot - 1

DS: It’s kind of endearing that he could get that kind of press in such a small community. I’m pretty certain he never would have gotten that anywhere else had anyone seen the movie.

MB: I assure you that there was little to no fact checking that was done for that story. (laughs)

JB: This was the same town where some guy said they captured a ghost on film and they printed the story in that same paper.

MB: A guy took a picture with his camera, and the flash made it look like there was an outline of a person, and instead of saying “Guy’s camera screws up,” they printed a story about a ghost. I mean, Elliot had won the 8mm Vancouver Asian Martial Arts Film festival. So it sounds like a big deal. It was a very specific, hard to get into film festival.

JB: We just honestly thought he was just a really passionate exaggerator, but a real kind of underdog who was trying to do this thing against all odds. After meeting him, what really made us decide that we had a feature film was that he had this relationship with Linda, who was quite a bit older than him. Then Blake and Blair were there, as well, and there were just all these big dreamers who attached themselves to Elliot. We though there was definitely enough there to keep shooting. At that point, I don’t think we would have kept making the movie if it was just Elliot. I don’t think there would have been enough to make a feature film. Because Elliot does not internalize everything, he doesn’t speak his feelings.

MB: He doesn’t self analyze. He’s incapable of self-analysis.

JB: Absolutely, and you could not have made a feature film around that kind of person. When you put Elliot in the mix of other people’s dreams, you get an interesting mix and dynamic. All of these people are really pinning their hopes and dreams on Elliot, and they became more fascinating.

And we did catch on rather quickly that some things obviously weren’t on the level. But at the time we thought it was innocent. We thought, “What’s the big deal?”

MB: People lie to themselves all the time. This just seemed like an extreme example of that. He was just so happy making these B-movies and being a superstar in his own mind. Those were our initial thoughts, anyway.

JB: Plus, I mean, we were essentially making the same kind of movie. We had no funding. We made it with just the two of us, borrowed friends’ cameras, and borrowed money. In a sense, you have to be a bit crazy and a bit of a dreamer to make a feature film.

MB: You definitely have to be Elliot at some point.

DS: When you’re first dealing with someone as passionate and “visionary” as Elliot is, did he try to micromanage you guys and try to skew any aspect of your production to make him look better?

MB: Well, YEAH! (laughs) Everything Elliot says goes through a filter in his brain and comes out with him saying, “I’m amazing!” So, definitely. Initially, that was the hardest thing to deal with. Like I said, he doesn’t self-analyze, so what Elliot is saying about himself is exaggerated to the hundredth degree.

JB: It gets to a point where it has to be real to him. There’s no way if we say these things in real life that all of them are going to be true. How could you do that? How can you be so boldfaced?

MB: He would say things so boldly that you couldn’t deny them to his face. Obviously, we’re always questioning what we capture on camera and all that. But initially we knew there was something strange going on.

When we first started following him, he acted like he’d been waiting his entire life for someone to film him.

JB: From the first day. For hours.

MB: The first day, we’re following him around in downtown Halifax, and people are coming up to him and asking what was up, and he would say to them, “Oh, these guys are making a movie about my life.” And we would have to stop him and say, “Actually, we haven’t even talked about that yet.” We just showed up with a camera.

JB: But he was game! For us, that was great. It wasn’t that way with Linda, mind you. That took a lot of time, and it was over two years that we filmed. We took a large break between the first and second years, though, due to not owning out own cameras. (laughs) It took a lot of time for us to flesh things out a bit. And that gave us time to flesh out the stuff with Blair and these great theme songs that he does, and Blake’s method acting.

MB: I’ll tell you this one anecdote that isn’t in the movie, but it shows you what kind of a local legend Elliot was.

There was actually a second documentary crew that showed up and started shooting Elliot. They showed up for a few days and then they left.

JB: Really, they stopped around the time that Elliot went to China. We went with him, and they couldn’t. They kind of gave up. It was cool because we actually started including them in our movie. They were actually in the first cut of the film.

MB: They could have become characters, and we wanted to make them characters if they stuck around because we thought that would be awesome, but it didn’t happen.

JB: And it would have been so hilariously weird.

MB: But how weird is that for a second documentary crew to show up and start filming.

DS: I guess that’s the pull of a true artist.

Jaret BelliveauJB: I mean, I actually technically went to high school with Elliot. He went to Avery High School. I found out much later on that he did in fact go to high school with me for a year. And the ONLY thing I remember about the only two times I remember seeing him there, I remember like it was yesterday now. The man has this presence where you don’t forget him. He has this boyish look and this presence where you don’t forget him. He wore a trenchcoat. He was always dressed in European jeans, and he always wore these collared shirts, but he was 16 or 17. He has always been an interesting person.

One thing we found out, as well about him and one of the reasons why people ask us to make a second movie about him, is because his whole life has been about creating these stories about who he is. In high school he was allegedly part of a rock band that was famous in Japan, and when he walked around Moncton he would have groupies that followed him around. He would go down the streets and he would say girls would follow him around, so I guess he was only huge in Japan and Moncton.

It’s not like we knew that when we started filming. We only found out about that after, but this stuff that we have in the film isn’t the first life that he created for himself. It’s not the only world he’s created.

DS: It’s great that you got Linda to open up because she’s the actual grounding force of the movie. He’s trying to lie his way into making movies, and it’s astounding that she can put up with him as much as she does. At what point do you think she realized you wanted to make a serious movie about Elliot or do you think she ever did?

MB: I don’t know. It’s interesting. We were a presence in their life for so long. I can’t really speak for Linda.

JB: Well, we started this out thinking that Linda knew everything there was to know already about Elliot, and as we quickly found out, she didn’t. Sometimes Elliot would bring up these emails about certain things or produce a contract that he just had written up about a company wanting to buy They Killed My Cat. Linda would always be there with him reading this stuff, so for us I really felt like she was a part of this.

As we went through and she started opening up to us, and started liking us, and she knew we were there to just listen to her, we then started figuring things out together. I think that our questions helped her to come to her own realizations, or to ask Elliot questions after we were gone at night. She was very supportive. She would never answer a question she never knew the answer to. By us being there, it allowed her to start questioning things.

She loved him. She really did. And I think she wanted to be in love with him. As we say in the movie, she was involved in a marriage before that didn’t end happily. She had two kids that we couldn’t get ino because they wanted nothing to do with the movie. It wasn’t a great marriage, and Elliot seemed to love her and he was younger than her husband was. He was exciting, and she was someone who was so nervous that she doesn’t even like driving on the highway. She wouldn’t do anything, and in a sense, Elliot only brought her excitement.

For us, it was really about us allowing her to question a bit more and to be comfortable with that. Her only concern for the longest time was that Elliot might be cheating on her.

MB: To her, he could literally do anything else that he wanted, except that.

JB: She was really amazing to him in that respect.

MB: It was such a low bar that he had to clear, really.

DS: Because he lies so much, I think what works to your film’s advantage, is that he’s so pathological that he can’t deal with more than one person at a time. If he’s telling a lie to someone else, he really forgets you guys are there capturing the lie in progress. He gets overloaded because he caters whatever he lies about to anyone he’s talking to. Even his grander stories aren’t blanket lies that he tells to everyone as a sort of standard lie.

MB: Well, he’s an editor’s dream! (laughs) You can’t be wrong with this guy. There are no wrong decisions because everything coming out of his mouth is inherently wrong! He would tell all of these stories to different people, but he would always tweak them a bit to suit whomever he was talking to, so from an editing standpoint, he was great!

JB: But in terms of just trying to figure out what happened, and I hope this comes across even though some people don’t seem to get it, is that Elliot is definitely intelligent on some level. He’s very intelligent because he’s tailoring those stories to suit your needs because he knows things about you. He tries to know your interest and tailor that to what he thinks you want him to say. But he also thinks that people go through life like movies. He’s learned a lot of his social behaviours from watching karate and buddy cop movies.

MB: He doesn’t know how grown men are supposed to operate. That’s the funny thing about Elliot. He comes off as this goof sometimes, and people don’t understand his actual intelligence. He’s obsessed with kung fu movies, and he lives in this fantasy world, but he’s a very cunning guy.

JB: And he has memory problems! He’s a cunning guy with a memory problem. How could you keep all that straight? You have to be so goddamn intelligent to keep track of what he puts out there.

MB: You would have to lie awake at night when you go to bed and remember what you said to everyone throughout the day.

JB: But he’s also very manipulative, and I don’t know if that fully comes across either. Right down to the end of the movie, he passes blame to everyone. He manipulates people against each other. Linda and Blake don’t get along because Elliot lies to them and says one is to blame for whatever. They don’t get along because they have an ACTUAL problem. They don’t get along because of what Elliot has said about them to each other. Their understanding of each other is all filtered through Elliot. They would probably like each other if neither of them ever knew Elliot or they were connected by him. Elliot’s filter is all about how he can look good, not how other people look at each other.

 

Kung Fu Elliot 2

DS: How much of Blood Fight did you guys actually witness getting done while you were filming? Because it seems like he talks a lot and rarely does anything.

JB: Well, I think we got quite a bit. We filmed a lot of stuff that doesn’t make the movie, and we’ll have a lot of great extended features and things we can’t put in the film. Every time we came out, it was honestly because he was supposed to be filming a scene for Blood Fight.

MB: Blood Fight was the reason why we were down there, but at the same time this relationship between this eccentric man and this poor woman became the interest. Once we saw that, Blood Fight fell by the wayside.

JB: I would say that we witnessed about 16 scenes of Blood Fight. The scene that takes place inside the ring in the gym was great, but that was also where it got confusing because that was when the second documentary crew showed up. Then there was a second ring fight, and third one that we were at, so because of the second crew we forgot about going to the second ring fight.

He also shot the “Director’s Cut” of They Killed My Cat during the making of Blood Fight. He just filmed more footage.

MB: Apparently there were some loose plot threads. (laughs) Honestly,  have watched his movies several times now, and we’ve come to like them quite a bit, but there’s some issues with storytelling.

JB: And they aren’t linear, which is impressive. (laughs) It’s always full of flashbacks.

MB: He has a really interesting grasp on story arcs because it’s always way more complicated than what he’s doing needs to be. It’s very technical.

JB: But you also can’t hear half the dialogue in his movies. It’s crazy! I think people were just so confused to see us following him. I mean, our cameras weren’t fancy, but they were HD with a mic, and Elliot would be going around with whatever he had on him.

MB: And he just didn’t care about things like that. He never asked us to use his cameras or anything like that. Quality wasn’t really issue number one.

JB: Except for when we shot the monk scene. He was interested in how that turned out.

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