Actor and filmmaker Pat Kiely is currently freezing his ass off in Montreal when he calls me up to chat about his second feature length effort behind the camera, the not-always-that-romantic comedy Three Night Stand (opening Saturday, February 1st at The Royal in Toronto), but he can take solace in knowing the pretty much everywhere else he calls today will likely be just as cold as he is. He’s also positively warming to talk to, full of enthusiasm, wit, and a healthy dose of egoless admissions about how hard it was to make his latest film in the first place.
With not a lot of time and money at his disposal, Kiely enlisted the help of actors Sam Huntington and Meaghan Rath – all three of whom know each other from working on the popular North American reboot of the UK series Being Human – to star as a couple looking forward to a relaxing getaway weekend in The Laurentians who find their already somewhat strained relationship taxed further when the owner of the ski resort (Emmanuelle Chrique) turns out to be the one lover whose memory he hasn’t been able to let go of. Add to the mix a young and pompous Quebecois actor (Aliocha Schneider) and his mother (Anne-Marie Cadieux), an overly concerned co-worker (Reagan Pasternak) and her sometimes painfully awkward husband (Jonathan Cherry), and the owner’s astoundingly douchy and recently separated from husband (Dan Beirne), and the stage is set for a comedy of manners and errors that’s as playful and silly as it can be cuttingly realistic to watch.
Based somewhat on his own personal experiences, Kiely – fresh from his film’s premiere at Slamdance earlier this month – talked to us about the time between making his first feature and getting around to this one, the advantages of working with great friends and collaborators, the downside to shooting in the dead of winter, and why he’s tired of audiences being fed the same old rom-com clichés over and over again.
Dork Shelf: You made a feature before this, and there was a bit of a gap between that film and this one. What did you really learn in the interim about yourself as an artist during that time between features?
Pat Kiely: I gotta be honest with you, it was a pretty tough period for me. It was really had to get this next one off the ground. I made the previous one (Who is KK Downey?) with the Kidnapper guys, and they’re sort of a comedy troupe that had already made sketches together, so in some ways it was a little easier to piece together the funds for the first film I did. Then I had another script that I could have worked on and a few scripts of my own that I wanted to work on, and honestly it was a pretty shitty four years trying to get this off the ground.
What was happening was that I had a bunch of things that were in various stages of development and none of them were going into production, and with this particular script I just decided to just go ahead and write something as painfully honest as I could, and I decided to just write something right from my heart. I was drawing from my own personal struggles, trials, tribulations, and those that my friends were going through, and that seemed to be what ended up connecting to other people that some of the other projects might have been missing. It was the first time I was writing something where I wasn’t thinking directly about the audience at all or who the movie was even for. I never saw it as a rom-com or a straight forward comedy. I just thought of it as a story that meant something to me. The most important thing I learned is that the best way to just get movies made is to just be honest.
DS: Were those difficulties in getting this one off the ground initially after struggling with other ideas something that factored into you hiring people that you were already familiar with to star in the film?
PK: Totally. Absolutely. I stopped thinking about what would happen if someone just dropped two million dollars into our laps and what Hollywood actor we could hire to be in it. I just knew that I was going to write these parts for people who were my friends and that I knew really well and just have a great working experience trying to come up with something we could all be proud of instead of trying to create something that would strike huge at the box office.
DS: And you’re giving everyone here a chance to stretch a bit and do a style of comedy that doesn’t get offered to actors very often unless its someone like Judd Apatow producing it, that kind of somewhat gleefully dirty and realistic kind of humour. What’s it like giving your friends a chance to be a little bit sillier than they can be at their day jobs and still get to work on something rewarding?
PK: I think they gave a real gift to me just by agreeing to take on these parts. I hope in some way that I gave something them back by offering them this ridiculous movie that they could be a part of. It certainly seems that way. The cast is happy and looks back on the journey as a good artistic experience.
DS: You have Sam and Meaghan in the lead roles, and they have already established a great working dynamic together as it is. They aren’t a couple in real life, but you can see how they can easily work off of each other to make it seem like they really are one. Was there ever any trepidation that people might see hiring these two actors that you work with a lot outside of this film as being a kind of shorthand to get the movie made?
PK: There wasn’t any real trepidation at all for me, because I am so close to Sam and Meaghan in real life and I see how they behave together. They have established a great chemistry together on screen thanks to Being Human, but it’s just as great of a chemistry that they have off camera. It’s almost like a real brother/sister relationship that they have. These guys love each other, and they’re constantly joking around and talking to each other and texting each other.
So for this I knew we didn’t have a budget to hire people where we would need to do two or three weeks of people building up a chemistry together that it was a great move to hire these two people who already have such a deep love for each other. I think what translated so well and worked for these parts so perfectly is that they aren’t actually attracted to each other in any kind of sexual manner or anything like that, so that worked because that friendship translated perfectly, but that lack of a real romantic spark and that feeling that this couple is missing comes through even more on screen with the two characters.
DS: Given the setting that you chose for the film, there’s an interesting kind of pro and con relationship. You set it in and around a ski resort, which means you only really need one setting, but you also have to shoot in the dead of winter in Quebec.
PK: (laughs) Shooting in the dead of winter was definitely harder. Shooting at the ski lodge was great because that place really felt like an escape from all our lives. It was like we were really able to tune out the world a little bit and focus on the product a lot more. I also, hopefully, think that it helped everyone on the cast and crew to bond a bit more.
But, man, shooting in the winter was a fucking MISSION. (laughs) Some days we would be outside shooting exteriors and the sun was going to be setting at 4:15 in the afternoon, so a full day for us would only be, like, from 8am to 4:30. There’s a scene where Sam and Emannuelle and Dan are all having an argument outside with these Ski-doos and it was four pages of nothing but dialogue that we had to end up shooting in only 80 minutes, so I ended up running around as fast as possible like a football coach towards the end of a big game. (laughs)
It was really difficult, and that doesn’t even begin to mention how cold it was. There was one day where it was -16 and it’s so difficult to try and act in that kind of weather. You can’t muster very much humour under those conditions. (laughs) Also, when we got up there, there was no snow, and I spent the whole first night we were there re-writing the script: changing the skiing to hiking, changing the ski-doos to and RV. And then that night there was a huge snowfall that kind of saved us, and on top of that… I don’t know… it was kind of like a freezing rain or something like that. There was a layer of ice frozen on top of the snow that ended up keeping it there, so someone was really looking out for us.
DS: You’ve said this film is based a lot on personal experience, but there’s also a distinct ensemble aspect to it, so when you say it has a lot of meaning to you is that specifically within the main characters or is this the kind of thing where you sprinkle a bit of your psyche across everyone in the film?
PK: I think it’s definitely the latter. There are definitely parts of me in Sam’s character and the journey that he’s going on. But then also with the actor son and his mother, there’s a lot there that I can relate to. There are part of me that definitely feel like I am a bit like the clown in the room and a bit underappreciated like Jonathan’s character. And honestly, the women in the film are in a personal way reflective of the women who have been a huge part of my life rather than directly parts of my own personality. There’s definitely a lot of hindsight that went into the creation of the screenplay.
For me, I think fantasy is a part of who we are. It’s not that we really grapple between fantasy and reality, but those fantasies are often what motivate us the most through life and drive us, but they can also ruin our lives. This is a man fixated and gripped by this fantasy of this ex-girlfriend and what he could be like if he ends up with her. I feel like going through this weekend is all about his fantasy meeting his reality. There’s some sort of imbalance with how he sees this fantasy factoring into his reality. I know that sounds kinda heady for a dumb comedy, but that was kind of what I discovered the movie was about after I wrote it.
DS: Without spoiling the film, I think a lot of people are going to be surprised at the ultimate directions the story takes leading up to the conclusion because it really gets to the heart of how complex the emotions are. What was it like sort of working towards your final conclusion and keeping things grounded and realistic?
PK: Yeah, that’s definitely hard to talk about without spoiling it, but I think I always just wanted to try to write something truthful and honest instead of giving the audience and ending that felt fabricated or false or something that’s trying to manipulate them into feeling good or happy. It could be looked at as a cynical ending, but I think in a lot of ways, the ending is a lot more uplifting because it’s a better case scenario for how things generally go in life. I feel like telling a story like that is more meaningful for me as a writer. I never knew how the movie was going to end while I was writing it, and I was finding out how these characters would react to certain situations as I was writing it, and that was where the ending came from. I always tend to get fed up at these big Hollywood movies that are always trying to tell you how you should feel, and these moments happens that are just untruthful and it ruins the whole experience. We need to give a lot more credit to audiences to know that they’re being manipulated or that they’re being served a story that’s pure bullshit.