Interview: Moving Day Director Mike Clattenburg

The beer, chips, drugs, and pepperoni-fueled shenanigans of the Trailer Park Boys made the series’ stars permanent cult figures in Canada, while also establishing the career of another new national filmmaker. Mike Clattenburg created, co-wrote, and directed every episode of the greasy belly series and managed to segue from the unexpected success of that franchise into a comfortable directorial career. Last year Clattenburg released the pitch-black war dramedy Afghan Luke and now he returns with a more gentle creation in Moving Day. A sadsack comedy about a group of furniture movers portrayed by the likes of MAD TV’s Will Sasso and Chappelle Show’s Charlie Murphy, the film returns Clattenburg to the casual alcoholism and working-class hero vibe of his most famous creations, only this time with sweeter core than the gun-totting Ricky and company would ever allow.

With the film opening up in Canadian theaters this weekend, we got a chance to chat with Clattenburg about his latest film, bringing TV stars to Halifax, a possible return of The Trailer Park Boys, and the challenges of having a character chug 2L Pepsi bottles on the big screen.

Dork Shelf: So, where did the idea for a moving company comedy come from? Was that a crap job you worked at one point?

Mike Clattenburg: The idea came from a coffee table (laughs). Sometimes I find a location and I like to imagine what characters would be in that place. I was on Portland Street in Dartmouth and I drove into one of the last Main Street department stores. I walked in and the idea of buying a coffee table quickly left my mind and I started to think, “This is a movie set.” It’s this giant furniture store and it kind of looks like you’re walking back into time.

So I started to think about what kind of story could happen there. Then at the same time I did some moving, hired a company and was very struck by the guys who did it. They were very good movers and the first thing I noticed was them getting themselves psyched up before they start the job around quarter to nine. I watched them and you know, they’re under extreme physical stress and extreme mental stress. Physically they’re carrying sectionals upstairs and around corners and carrying tremendous weight in awkward situations. Mentally, it’s paid by the hour and usually the client is watching them and micromanaging everything they do. So if a mover is to trip or a couch hits the wall, it’s the end of the world for those guys. But if you’re helping a friend move and fall down the stairs, it’s no big deal. I just admired those guys and how they worked.

DS: Did you want to do something with a lighter tone after Afghan Luke? Moving Day felt a little more unabashedly warm hearted and positive than your previous work.

MC: Certainly Afghan Luke and Trailer Park Boys are a bit edgier. But yeah, my co-writer Mike O’Neil and I wanted to write something a bit more tender. We’re both inspired by films like Tender Mercies, and me personally The Straight Story. So, we thought we’d try that.

DS: How did you end up writing with Mike O’Neil since it’s his first script and he’s primarily been a musician before now?

MC: Mike did sound on Trailer Park Boys for many years and he and I are in a band together. Mike knows more about film than anyone I know. He’s got a great work ethic and he’s really funny. I really liked working with him. He took to it immediately, but I wouldn’t say he hasn’t done anything before. The guy has written a million songs and he likened writing the script to writing a song. It was a natural fit for him.

DS: Did you have a relationship with Will Sasso before or write it with him in mind?

MC: I wrote it with him in mind. Mike and I printed off a couple pictures of actors who we really wanted to work with to help us visualize the characters. So we printed off an 8X10 of Will and Charlie Murphy and put them on the wall while we were writing. I knew Will from Mad TV and also, he started out doing drama on Madison in Canada. He was just one of those guys who I always wanted to work with.

DS: Whose idea was it to constantly have him drinking 2L bottles of Pepsi?

MC: (Laughs) That was me. I actually did see a guy who was moving drinking 2L bottles. He rocked them all the time, man. Big Pepsis. I actually tried to get Pepsi cleared so we could have him drink it in the movie. But they were pretty sharp. They said, “What size is he drinking?” I was like, “2L” and they said, “Well, no.” They didn’t want that. Too much of their product at once.

DS: What was it like having Charlie Murphy around? He seems like a pretty intense personality.

MC: Well, I was pretty nervous. I didn’t have a chance to meet him before we started and then the next thing I knew, he was on the set. But he made us all feel really comfortable. He’s a machine gun storyteller. He just tells stories non-stop. So that put us all at ease very quickly. He’s a real deal, just wanted to do the work.

DS: Any particularly memorable stories?

MC: Well, he told me a wonderful New Jersey story about a group of guys who were robbing houses and the reason they got caught is because they had fur coats made for themselves with their names on the back. That attracted attention, surprisingly. So that was one of them. He had so many.

DS: It was great to see people like that play in your world. Has Trailer Park Boys played enough in the States that people like them are aware of it when you reach out? 

MC: I think with Will, he’s a fan. I don’t know that Charlie knew it that well. I don’t Victor Garber knew it that well either. Gabrielle Miller knew it. But because of Netflix, it’s almost as if Trailer Park Boys was just released down there. There are legions of fans down there now. It’s getting pretty crazy.

DS: Is that extending to the industry or is it more of an underground thing?

MC: Well, I normally go to Los Angeles during January and February now. They all know it down there and it’s opened a lot of doors. I’ve met a lot of interesting people down there and they certainly know it, especially the broadcasters. A lot of people are after the franchise rights to remake it, which I’m not very interested in. But I’ve met a lot of interesting cats and I’m developing stuff.

DS: Were you able to improvise as much with the Moving Day cast as you have in the past?

MC: Yeah, in particular Gabrielle Miller, her improv was always unexpected and really made me laugh. It was always narratively driven and almost all of it is in the movie. Charlie definitely improvised some stuff and Will as well. Victor liked to work with the script, but there was definitely a little bit of that flying around. I find that even the actors who like sticking to the script like Victor enjoy the improv as well because those new lines really helps get them in the moment even if they will be sticking with what’s written. It helps keep things honest and real in every take.

DS: I was curious what sort of creative involvement Barrie Dunn have in your projects? I noticed he’s been involved with everything you’ve done dating back to Trailer Park Boys.

MC: I love working with Barrie. He’s a good friend of mine. He gave me one of my first breaks in the entertainment world. He hired me to shoot a documentary for him called Bernie Goes To Hollywood. It’s about Bernard Robichaud who plays Cyrus on The Trailer Park Boys. I cast him out of that. But anyways, Barrie’s been a mentor of mine for many years. It was actually his idea to bring Trailer Park Boys to television.

DS: How important is mixing comedy with drama for you? That’s definitely something that goes through all of your work.

MC: Yeah, it’s tricky. I’m always after a realistic tone and go for that first even if there’s a great joke. If it pops the realism, I won’t go for it. I like things that are real and over the top at the same time. It’s tricky to find and something that I always try to be careful about.

DS: Do you have more ideas for films ready to go since you were able to get both Moving Day and Afghan Luke off the ground pretty quickly by Canadian standards?

MC: I have another film that I’ve been working on for a long time called Berserkers. It’s about a colony of garbage wearing savages who live off the coast of Nova Scotia who are starving and are forced to come into the community and attack the grocery store. (Laughs). I want to shoot it right here in Halifax and make the city a character. It’s a big one, I’m going to need about 70 extras. I’m hoping to shoot that next summer. But in the meantime there’s another thing that I’m hoping to pull together too. It’s about a drunk trailer park supervisor and some guys in the trailer park.

DS: Sounds familiar. So I guess the boys are coming back?

MC: We’re hoping to pull together another movie. There seems to be a lot of good will to make it. It’s not completely greenlit yet, but it looks good. I’ve been working on the script. What’s nice is that it comes after finally having a chance to get away from it, try some new things, and have some perspective. I’m really looking forward to going back to that world now.