Edmonton-raised filmmakers find success in debut
By Aaron Taylor
EDMONTON — As the sold-out Garneau theatre became silent, Cooper Bibaud, 25, and Danny McDougall, 26, took to the stage to introduce something that had been three years in the making — the pair’s first feature film, Love/Hate.
“It was pretty disgusting, it was exhausting,” Bibaud said of the days leading up to the premiere. “It was extremely emotional. I was just feeling sick. Thinking about being on stage and introducing the movie. I’d almost break down in tears at random parts of the day. It was a big part of our lives for three years, so the whole thing was pretty emotional.”
And the two had a reason to be worried. The writer/director duo had spent $40,000 producing the feature, and they almost didn’t even get to show it.
“No one knows this,” McDougall said. “But the movie wasn’t even complete until five days before the premiere. We had sold out the movie. We were afraid we’d have to refund everyone’s tickets.”
Despite this, the premiere went off without a hitch. It was well-received by the audience and it garnered quite a bit of attention for Bibaud and McDougall. SuperChannel showed interest in the film and they are currently working on a distribution deal.
The night was like a dream for all involved. Bibaud’s father Gerry recounted the night with near delirious glee. “It couldn’t have been more than 20 minutes into the movie when all of a sudden it hit me… this was his movie!” he said.
Amazingly, the Bibaud and McDougall were able to break even on the project financially.
This is not something that is easy to do. In 2006, Global Market Insite reported that Hollywood studios as a whole lost $1.9 billion. And while the Canadian film industry’s model is more secure, generating $822 million in revenue in 2006, this model is created to help those who are a part of the Canadian film industry, not those who tackle productions independently.
That is why there is something so rare about Bibaud and McDougall. Huddled up in their apartments where they currently reside in Vancouver, they are doing what so few have the chance to do, live the dream of making money while making movies.
Now, their days are occupied by meetings with producers and interviewers, all so that they can get to work on their second feature film.
“It’s great out here right now,” Bibaud said from his apartment in Vancouver. “We’re looking at the mountains and the water right now.”
The vistas of Vancouver are long way from the Jasper Place high school drama room where the two met, and where their shared love for film was fostered.
Having an eclectic love for Wes Anderson, Larry David, Steven Spielberg and Kevin Smith, Bibaud and McDougall were armed with a gamut of inspiration that led them to occupy their free time after graduation writing plays and making short films.
“It was a good way to meet people,” Bibaud said of his earlier days making shorts. “You get your feet wet. It was really all we could do at the time.”
Before the romantic comedy Love/Hate, Bibaud and McDougall had a play at the Fringe festival as well as producing, writing and directing Life in Deathtown, a sci-fi comedy with a $100 budget.
Eventually though, making shorts just wasn’t enough. The two decided that they wanted to create something bigger.
“We just decided, ‘Would you ever go to a store and rent a short?’ ” McDougall said. “We thought about a web series, little episodic things, but really a feature is all we really wanted to do.”
So the two set out on the difficult task of making a full-length feature film, expanding their 30-minute run time and polishing it so that it would have appeal outside of just art-house movie-goers. Making it something that people would actually enjoy watching, something that has become a difficult for Canadian films in general to do.
“Canadians have this terrible habit of hating Canadian things and us putting local film out there really gives some validation,” said Maggie Hardy, a manager at the Metro Cinema (formerly the Garneau). “Local cinema really is what drives us. It’s so important to get that out there and to have a venue like ours in which to showcase it.”
So the two embarked on the difficult task of creating their debut feature. They had an idea of what they wanted to do and that idea was a sci-fi film. That one’s still in the bank the two joked. Then Love/Hate was born. Its a comedy that focuses on three couples at very different stages of their relationships.
Unlike some debut films, this film was not based on an idea that had been festering in the mind of either Bibaud or McDougall. Rather, the two had based the script on concepts and jokes they had come up with together while working at Toys R’ Us.
Once the script was done, the two set out on the difficult task of finding a cast and crew.
Most of these duties were picked up by friends and family, but for some key positions the two were able to snag some film school grads, something that was appreciated given the pair’s lack of formal training.
“If the script wasn’t so good I don’t think we would have had so many people who wanted to work on it,” McDougall said. “The script was Step 1.”
They dove in, and while their approach didn’t hurt them in the long run, there was a time when it seemed like just diving in might have cost them their dream.
“There were so many movie-ending moments,” McDougall said, reminiscing about the challenges the production team faced on the set of the ultra-low-budget film. “It was a struggle just to get granola bars to feed the crew,” Bibaud added
With this success, Bibaud and McDougall decided to relocate to Vancouver to pursue their careers in the film industry.
“Producers we’ve talked to in Vancouver are impressed with what we’ve done,” Bibaud said. “Apparently we had a lot of noteworthy successes that we were unaware of.”
Vancouver has been good for the duo. They were able to book an interview on Electric Playground, a show that covers TV, video games, comic books, gadgets and movies. More importantly both are fans of the show. They have also begun working on their second film.
“We are currently working on something that is different from Love/Hate,” McDougall said, unable to shed any more light on the plot or subject of their sophomore effort.
This time around though, their location will allow the two to be more creative with their script.
“Here you walk 10 minutes you have a mountain, another 10 you have an ocean, and another 10 you have a desert,” McDougall said, musing about the possible shooting locations that a city like Vancouver affords them. “We always write with shooting in mind, that’s probably why we haven’t written some grand sci-fi opera yet.”
Jokingly the two said that perhaps there should be a change of scenery for each new project.
“It almost feels like a new city for every film. We talk about going to Japan for our next one,” McDougall said.
With the expanding film industry in Edmonton, it may not be out of the question to speculate that they may some day return home. With producer Avi Federgreen (One Week, Score: A Hockey Musical) opening River Valley Films, Alberta has doubled its production capacities.
But regardless of where the pair end up, what is important to them is what is happening now: the fulfillment of a dream.