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#TIFF14: Jordan Canning, Peter Mooney and Steve Cochrane on We Were Wolves

September 8, 2014

By John Corrado

Steve Cochrane, Jordan Canning and Peter Mooney

Steve Cochrane, Jordan Canning and Peter Mooney

Aside from all the star studded premieres and awards season hopefuls that now make up the bulk of TIFF, the festival still offers some great discoveries, and this year one of those films is the very good little Canadian drama We Were Wolves, which is premiering tomorrow night.

This is a film that I genuinely really liked, and when I sat down with director Jordan Canning and actors Peter Mooney and Steve Cochrane, the driving forces behind the film, I walked away with an even deeper appreciation for what they created.

I immediately sensed their enthusiasm to talk candidly about the project, even on a Saturday afternoon when they were doing interviews at a restaurant lounge instead of watching movies, and it’s always great to see artists so passionate about their work.  We also chatted a bit about what films we’ve been seeing, giving me a chance to recommend Nightcrawler, which Jordan Canning told me she can’t wait to see, prompting her to tell me how much she loved Xavier Dolan’s “really emotional” Mommy.  “It’s amazing that he’s just 25,” I remarked, and she absolutely agreed.

As I listen back to my recording and write this transcript, I hope the chemistry that they have together isn’t lost in translation.  The three of them have a very easygoing rapport in real life that made for a delightful interview, freely jumping off each other’s points and adding to the overall conversational feel of the piece below.  Enjoy!

First of all, I enjoyed the film, and congratulations on making it to TIFF.  I really like the central metaphor of the title We Were Wolves.  Can you tell me a little bit about the inspiration behind that?

Steve: There’s a scene in the dining room where I’m talking about when we played that game, where I’m telling Linda Boyd’s character, and for two weeks we just kept going, what’s going to be the title of the film?  Because originally it was just Stony Lake.

Jordan: Yeah, we were calling it Stony Lake Movie.

Steve: Which was where we were filming.  And then I’m outside and I’m smoking, but suddenly there was a line in it that was perfect.  “We were perfect, we were wolves,” that’s what it said.  So then I circled that and we ended up taking it out of the monologue and putting it aside, and I showed it to Jordan and she was like, “yeah, that’s pretty good.”  And I showed it to Peter, and he was like “that’s pretty good.”  But does it seem like “werewolves?  Like We Werewolves?”

Jordan: Mostly I said that.  “Is it like little werewolves?  Wee Werewolves?”

Steve: But it’s true.  It’s like that moment, when he’s telling the story, we see what’s at stake in the whole movie.  This beautiful piece of the past where they were perfect, they were brothers.

Jordan: And they were connected in spirit.

Steve: And they were connected.  And they were raised by a raging alcoholic, you know what I mean?  So it sort of just jumped off the page that day when I was looking over the line.

And it’s one of the most moving scenes in the film.

Jordan: Yeah, the dinner scene?  I know.  I was crying when we were shooting it, and I texted my editor as soon as we finished the first wide master.  I texted Jon (Jonathan Eagan) and said “I just shot my favourite scene that I’ve ever filmed.”  I love it so much.

Peter: Yeah, that wide shot in the room?

Jordan: That happened out of serendipity.  When the boys got up and went into separate rooms, we realized we were wide enough.  We had never done the whole thing through, and when they’re just staring at each other with this huge wall between them.

Steve: And I’m dancing with Linda and we’ve just got a huge space in between them.

Jordan: And also I think there’s a lot with the wolves metaphor too.  There’s a lot of imagery around that, like the animalistic thing, like being raised by a pack of wolves.  Like the hierarchy and a pack.

Peter: The idea of the feral kids running around.

Jordan: And then the major alpha who’s just the ghost of the dad.

How long was the production process, from writing the screenplay, to assembling the cast and actually shooting the film?

Peter: Probably the shortest in the history of film.

Jordan: Yeah, I think we started, Steve and I met in late July.

Steve: We met late July, we had a shooting draft by September.

Jordan: We definitely had a shooting draft by September, because I started shooting Space Riders in September.

Steve: Oh, that’s right, so we had it way before that.

Jordan: We must have been a month and a half of writing, and then reworking it, and we had a read through.

Steve: And we worked it everyday, so we kept rewriting it and rewriting it.  Peter had lots of notes.

Peter: I came with a binder.  “Nick should be taller!”

Jordan: And then we were shooting in October.  So August to the end of October.

Steve: We made a movie in four months, from writing the script.

Jordan: The post was a little longer, for a variety of reasons, but I think we all agreed because we made this kind of just on a tiny little budget, we need to give this the proper post production.

Steve: Well thankfully I was working on Lost Girl at the time, writing that show, and my boss Jay Firestone came in and gave us free colour correct, he paid for it luckily out of his own account, with Deluxe.

Jordan: All of our sound.

Steve: With Urban Post, he gave us all of our sound editing, all of our mastering, all of that stuff.  He did that for free.

Jordan: It was enormous.  Steve announced it at our craft dinner and it changed the whole thing.  Because otherwise we would have had to cobble it together.

Steve: He was an angel, he really was.  He really was.

And it just looks so beautiful.

Jordan: Well, Sam Pryse-Phillips, our DP.  I mean, we had a tiny crew.  A crew of amazing folks obviously, but Sam…

Steve: He made miracles happen.

Jordan: We had a focus puller and we had Dave (David Newman), who was doing everything, he did the camera and lighting among other things, and for a little while we had a gaffer, who had to leave halfway through it.  So what you see on screen is almost a one man job.  He’s an amazing DP.  And with not much to work with, either.

Steve: No.  We shot the entire night scene with one 88.  That’s all we had.

Peter: And luckily help from an actual full moon, which really set up the clear night, because otherwise that would have been really tough.

Jordan: It was bright enough to light up the tree line in the background.

Steve: When the rain finally stopped.

Jordan: When the rain finally stopped…

Peter: Yeah, then it was good.

Jordan: We filmed the scene.

And also obviously the setting, Kawartha Lakes, is just amazing.

Peter: It’s gorgeous.

Jordan: So beautiful.

Now this is a question for Peter and Steve.  You have some really good and very believable interactions in the film as brothers.  How long did it take to develop that chemistry?

Steve: We only met at the read through.

Peter: We met at the table read for the first time, but then during the whole process of filming, we were sleeping in bunk beds and we got one of the locations in exchange for chores, so we’d go out and be sharing pipes and chopping wood and working for this.  So it really felt like the whole dynamic.

Steve: We began a wood chopping competition.  Totally brothers lifestyle.  We’d be out there and he’d have a pile this big, and I’d wake up and be like “I’ll chop all the wood!  I’ll make it even bigger!”

Peter: If we had stayed there for much longer it would have been a treeless island.  So it bled into the real dynamic of making the movie, which I think really informed the relationship that you see on screen, because we were in a way living it.

Steve: And we both had brothers, so I think those roles were very, we kind of decided pretty quick and kind of fell into those roles pretty easily.  So it’s hard after you read that script and know what you’re in for, it’s hard not to just sort of fall into that dynamic and just rib each other as much as possible.  It was just fun to be in a movie like that, and we kind of had chemistry right away.

Jordan: You really did.

The entire film is very much built around scenes with two or three characters.  Was there any improvising on set, or did you stick to the script?

Jordan: There was a lot of profanity improvised.

Peter: We peppered in a few of those.  It’s funny, I was just saying in the last one, that there’s a a lot of that, it feels really loose.  But that just sort of speaks to how organic the writing is.  Some of my favourite bits are just exactly what they were on the page.

Jordan: I don’t think we improvised that much.

Steve: No, not really, I mean the only improvisation came from the fact that we didn’t really know our lines, sometimes?

Jordan: You guys knew your lines.  I think one scene, for example, the scene with you and Linda on the stairs where you guys are sharing a joint, feels to me, you know we shot it in one take because it worked so beautifully just as a oner, to me feels very improvised.  But it isn’t.  That is verbatim to what we wrote.

Peter: What is on the page.

Steve: We did five or six other takes where we went on and you let us improv.  But we didn’t have to use any of those.  We just stuck to the script.

Peter: That’s true.  We would often improvise.  We would let the camera roll for a long time after the scene, and then some bits of that made it into the movie.

Jordan: Yeah, like that great line, which I’m so grateful for whoever came up with it, I don’t know if you preplanned it, but that great line at the end when you’re in the boat after you’ve swam across, about “you know there’s five life jackets in there?”

Steve: Oh yeah, that’s Peter.

Jordan: Then “why couldn’t I have a sister.”  Those were improvised, and they button the scene perfectly.  Yeah, I love that.

There are some really nice song choices in the film.  How did you choose the music?

Jordan: Well, Peter was pretty instrumental in that.  He got access, he knows David Hayman.

Peter: Yeah, he’s an encyclopedia of music knowledge who knows so much about music, and he does such great stuff on Rookie Blue.  But even before David, Jordan sent out an email saying send us the songs that make you think of this movie, and we got a bunch together, so even once we went to David and started working with him, we had a couple.

Jordan: So I think there’s only six songs in the whole film.  Peter suggested the Barr Brothers song, which we ended up getting.

Steve: Did we use the Bahamas?

Jordan: Yeah, the Bahamas, Nick Everett.  But then there’s three Elijah Ocean songs, and Elijah is an old friend of mine who I taught at summer camp with in Maine, when we were little.  Not little, we were in our twenties, but he has since become quite a prolific and amazing singer-songwriter, and I knew early on there was going to be the song that they danced to, and I thought we would need way more.  So I got in touch with Elijah, even when we were writing the script, and said would you be open to us using your songs, and then of course he let us.  So I’m just so happy we have three of his in there, because he’s going to be a superstar.

And also the songs give it a nice sort of Big Chill vibe.

Peter: Great.  Wow, thank you.

You’re welcome.

Jordan: Oh my god!  Oh my god, that’s beautiful.

Yeah, and what advice would you give to other emerging filmmakers or actors?

Jordan: Make it.

Steve: Yeah, just make it.  Just put the pen to paper, or your fingers to the keys, every single day, treat it like a job.  That’s what I have to do with my writing.  I get up at four o’clock every day and write.  I have like three hours before I get my kids to school.  There’s no romance in sitting back and waiting for it to happen, you just gotta be yourself, that’s when it all happens.  Don’t get wrapped up in the lifestyle either, just make it your life.

Jordan: And also work with what you have and what you have access to, like we knew we could shoot at this cottage, I knew I wanted to work with you guys, and I knew we could work with Linda.  Like write for people that are talented and you want to work with, write for places you have full access to, and you can build a story around those things.

Steve: Jordan’s sort of idea of making the film this way, with that cottage because she knew she had it, with friends, that’s why it was affordable.  That’s why it was possible.  It’s very easy to write whatever you want, but there’s something really interesting and something beautiful about that.  And it sort of helps you as a writer too, if you’re trying to write something smaller, in a smaller way, and using what’s there.  It’s a really interesting thing.

Jordan: And so much came out of what we had.  Knowing the cottage, knowing that there was this weird upstairs little kind of loft that was already kind of like a hoarders paradise.  So that inspired the characters a lot more.

And the production and set design of those scenes looked so believable.

Jordan: Yeah, and I mean a lot of it was there already.  I knew that going into writing the script.  We hoarded it up a lot more, but there was a jam-packed space up there.  There’s so much character there.  You never see the dad, but you see that room, and you’re like I know something about this man.

Peter: There’s so much to be gained from those perameters.  Those are actually pretty strict limitations.  We’re going to put ourselves in a very tight geographical area, with very few of us, with no distractions, it’s only going to be a handful of us talking to each other, with stuff.

Jordan: We can’t go home.

Peter: And we’re not going to change the stuff, we’re not going to build another cottage, and then we’re going to use the cottage as it is.  There’s something so liberating about working within those, the story started to grow very organically from early on.  Which as we were talking about is why I think it went so quickly, from idea to script, to on the screen.

And now you’re at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Jordan: Yeah, less than a year later.

Steve: That’s right, we didn’t start shooting until October.

What’s next for all of you.  Any upcoming projects you can talk about?

Peter: I work on a show called Rookie Blue, on Global and ABC, and we’re filming our big, giant fifth season that’s airing in two parts.  So we’re filming the second part of that right now.

Steve: I’m just writing, man.  I’m just writing, writing, writing.  I’m taking time off, I just finished my contract on Lost Girl, so I’m writing something for myself.

Jordan: And we’re going to write something together.

Steve: Yeah, that’s right.

Jordan: I’m going to get my hook back in there.  I’ve got a bunch of features that are different.  I’ve got kind of like low budget, medium budget, big budget, so probably the low budget will go first.  So I’ll probably do a couple of those.

Best of luck with the premiere, and thank you for taking the time to talk to me today.

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