EXCLUSIVE: Michael Dowse Talks Fubar: Balls to the Wall
Deaner and Terry are back in this hilarious new sequel, on Blu-ray and DVD April 19th
One of the funniest Canadian movies of last year is finally making its way to the States, as Fubar: Balls to the Wall gets released on Blu-ray and DVD this Tuesday, April 19th. Following the further adventures of Terry (David Lawrence) and Deaner (Paul Spence), two head bangers who managed to get jobs and finally pay their own rent, director Michael Dowse (Take Me Home Tonight) has crafted a superb follow-up to the 2002 cult hit Fubar that will actually make you care deeply about these two wayward, lovable dipshits.
We recently caught up with Michael to chat with him about the movie. Here is our conversation.
A lot of us comedy fans living in the States have not seen the original Fubar. How did you go about constructing a story for Balls to the Wall that was quite assessable to those of us who didn't yet know Deaner and Terry, yet was still a complete feast for longtime followers of the Fubar mythos?
Michael Dowse: We wanted to make sure that this film could be self-encapsulated. There are references to what has happened in the first film right at the top of the movie. There is definitely a nod for fans of the first one, where you can make that connection between 1 and 2. But we made sure the story could stand on its own, and narratively, it doesn't rely on anything that happened in that first one. It was basically about to guys heading up North to find jobs. The characters stay pretty much the same. We were pretty conscious of that when we were writing. But when I say 'writing', we only had a treatment. We don't have scripted dialogue. So, it's kind of a happy accident with some of the lines that do come out.
There wasn't a script for this? That is quite amazing, as it has a pretty solid arc and throughline, and it is one of the more well-rounded comedies I've seen in recent years. Everything comes full circle at the end, and it is all tied up perfectly.
Michael Dowse: It is scripted in terms of the story. Our script looks like a forty page treatment. There is no dialogue. We do have a production crew, who plan out all of the shots, and all of that jazz. They have to find locations. We know where each scene needs to go narratively. From A to B. But how the actors get there? That is what we do: We have fun! We shoot on two cameras, and we improvise everything.
The great thing about this second film is that the audience really does come to care about Terry and Deaner, and even Tron on some level. You took two complete dipshits and made them enduring. How did you insure that these guys wouldn't resonate as pure caricatures, but would instead become real people by the end of the movie?
Michael Dowse: Everyone asks about that. Its not like we had a plan, or that we tried to pre-approve things that would build empathy for the characters. I think it's partly the fact that they are funny. And people like funny characters. You start to care about them because they make you laugh. There are a few things...Dean has a family to support. And Terry is your basic lonely guy. When he starts to fall in love, you begin to appreciate that aspect of him a little bit more. First and foremost, it's these two guys. And their friendship. You feel like you are inside this friendship, which is very tight in real life. So, I think that leaks through to the film. People do actually give a shit about them.
One of the most interesting characters here is Wade, the guy who is with Trixie. The guy who has custody of Deaner's kids. Dean and Wade have this fascinating relationship that isn't quite what you'd expect between a step-dad and a real dad who is missing his kids.
Michael Dowse: God, where did Wade come out of? We basically wanted to explore a modern Christmas with bangers. We were also thinking about where these characters would be years later. The logical conclusion is that Trixie would have grown past this phase. She would be in another relationship. We thought, what would be the worst...Well, not the worst kind of relationship, but the most typical kind of relationship. Where a girl ends up nesting with a quote/unquote nice guy. That is where Wade came out of. We wanted this guy that was boring, normal. He had a regular job. He was everything that Deaner wasn't. He was the offset of Deaner in many ways. We wanted that relationship to be layered with passive-aggressive tension between the two of them. That is where that came out of. Its also a nod to Dave Ware and Paul Spence, who played those two characters. How they funneled that into the relationship.
The scene between Paul and Dave, where Deaner says he already bought the hockey equipment, is a brilliant moment between those two. Its just stellar acting, and looking at the DVD case, you wouldn't expect a moment like that to be found in this type of comedy. You're just not expecting that type of emotion in what looks to be a goofy, party movie. I hope that's not rude to say I made those assumptions looking at the poster before I saw the movie...
Michael Dowse: No, not at all. I take that as a compliment. I try to make films that are funny, first and foremost. But I also try to make movies that have a heart to them. You get to travel into deeper depths when the characters give you a passport into that.
I had no idea there was a first film when I watched this sequel. I want to know, was Trixie different in that first film? Did she look more like Deaner and Terry? Because here, she is very pretty, and almost Church Sunday in her dress style. Watching Balls to the Wall, I was like, 'How did these two ever hook up in the past?' Watching the sequel on its own, that relationship seems crazy. Which works on a whole lot of different levels.
Michael Dowse: Yeah, she looked more like Deaner and Terry. She was only half-in this relationship with Dean. She already had a couple of kids. In this one, we wanted to show that she had grown up. Cementing the fact that these guys have seen time pass them by a little bit. That they really are locked in their adolescence.
Have fans of the original been shocked to see Trixie like this?
Michael Dowse: (Laughs) We were trying to be really conscious of the fact that people like you hadn't seen the first one, or weren't even aware of the first one. And we wanted to make fans of the first one happy. So, we wanted to bridge this, while making it believable about where she was in her station in life.
Is the first movie available on DVD in the states? Here, they have removed the 2 from the cover. That's one of the reasons I didn't even know this was a sequel.
Michael Dowse: The first movie is available on DVD. The rights are tied up with On Demand, and with other things. Its complicated, but we are trying to sort it out right now. It should be available on iTunes, and things like that. But its not! We are trying to get it up on iTunes right now. So that more people can see it. You can get it on Amazon.
Are you guys planning on more Fubar films? Where does this go from here? From what I understand, Terry and Deaner tour sometimes?
Michael Dowse: They do tour, but not a lot. We might make another one. We're not in a rush. We weren't in a rush to make the second one. This took us a long time. We all have our own things going on. We might get together and do another one. We've talked about heading to Europe, where we can do more ambush stuff, because no one knows who these guys are. Even in the States, we can get away with more stuff. The problem is, we can't shoot anything else in Canada in terms of the fake documentary-style. Everyone there knows who these guys are.
You actually shot a pretty funny sequence in Edmonton, right?
Michael Dowse: Yes, inside the West Edmonton Mall. That is a little bit of a cheat there. In West Ed, we had some extras with us, that we surrounded our characters with, so that we could actually use the footage. In that particular instance, those were all extras we knew. We had permission to shoot inside that mall. We couldn't do this like the first one, where we rushed in and ambushed locations. We had to do everything by the book, and they gave us permission to do that. Which was great. Growing up in Alberta, going to West Edmonton Mall was the Mecca. It was a huge treat as a kid. It's the second biggest mall in the world now. Its something you look forward to as a kid living in Alberta. So we were excited to get that location.
I want to know more about Tron. We're introduced to him in Balls to the Wall as this crazy madman who rips a house in half with a chainsaw, and in a drunken stupor offers Terry and Dean jobs up North. But when they come to do the job, Tron is a cautious, hardworking good guy who is overtly concerned about what his coworkers will think of him...
Michael Dowse: In the first one, he is set up as the neutered former banger in a relationship. He was once the party leader, and he was in charge of what they were doing every weekend. He gets whipped into a relationship, and he is a shell of his former self. In this second one, we wanted to see what that party leader was actually like. He was a wielder in the first one, so it made sense to have him move up North, and for him to be making a lot of money doing that. We thought that would be a funny idea. A: Let's see this party leader as he once was. B: Lets see him with a lot of disposable income. We get to give him the truck, and all of this other crap. Tron represents the darkside of what happens up in Fort McMurray, where there is a lot of money and prosperity in these boomtowns. There are also these people that are victims, or rather the scar tissue of this area. The drug addicts, and the people who fall prey to working hard hours, and taking a crack hit to survive it. That is one of the big things that happens up there. With Tron, we didn't just want to see his party abilities, we also wanted to show the dark side of these boomtowns in Northern Alberta.
The Trailer Park Boys only recently began airing on DirecTv, and people here in the States are only now starting to become aware of them, ten years after the fact. Are you concerned that some folks might view this as a knock-off of that without ever having seen it? Because the marketing push looks and feels similar, but the two properties couldn't be more different.
Michael Dowse: No! I think we have always existed in parallel universes with the Trailer Park Boys. We made the first film around the same time as they started the TV show. There was no copycatting. We were always doing our own shit. I think fans of Trailer Park Boys are fans of Fubar. And vice versa. I think that is a great thing, if it translates to more people seeing this. They are similar and different completely. Its like two different people telling jokes, you know?
Are you ever shocked at how long it takes for some of this Canadian humor to hit here in the states?
Michael Dowse: Yeah. I guess it's slightly frustrating. But it is hitting there, so that is a good thing. That's better than it never hitting in the States at all. I think its great that people are starting to appreciate it a little more, because there are some great movies getting made up here.
Its got to be weird when you make a movie in 2002, and people don't see it for another ten years...
Michael Dowse: (Laughs) It's a trip down memory lane. This year at SXSW, we screened Fubar 1 and 2 together. I hadn't seen 1 in, fuck, maybe five or six years. It was interesting to see 1 again, and then watch 2. These are two very different movies. Obviously, you have the same characters and some of the same themes, but the two movies are made very differently. 1 was made for twenty thousand dollars. It doesn't look too good. With the second one, we tried to throw away the idea of it beings a mockumentary. Not really throw it away. We used it to get into the story, and we used interviews as narration. But what we learned doing the first one is that you can break the rules a little bit. You don't need to adhere fast and tight to any sort of documentary rules. You don't need to justify where the camera is, or motivate the filmmaker's presence. People will now just accept a hand-held camera as gospel. It has been done to death. Someone recently wrote a treatise condemning handheld camera work. But we figured that you can have it both ways. You can play with the dramatic structuring, which you maybe couldn't do with a pure, fake documentary. But you can still have all of the advantages of shooting it loose and fast.
You are currently shooting Goon now, right?
Michael Dowse: I am in the last three weeks of post on that one, yeah.
Can you give us a little hint as to what we can expect from that movie?
Michael Dowse: It's a fantastic movie. I am very excited about it. It's basically about a small town American bouncer who gets discovered at a hockey game as a pugilist. As a fighter. He helps a last place hokey team get into the playoffs. Its my Raging Bull on Ice. It is quite violent. It's very funny. Seann William Scott gives an amazing performance in it. Liev Schreiber is in it, he's great. We also got Alison Pill, Jay Baruchel, and Eugene Levy. That's a great cast. I really love the movie. It is hyper-violent and hyper-funny.
When did you guys shoot this?
Michael Dowse: It was in November and December of last year. It is based on this guy who was a Goon in the East Coast hockey league. A little bit in the NHL. I think he was a mall cop and a former boxer from a Boston suburb. He got invited in and started being a Goon in these hockey leagues. But this is a very loose adaptation, based on the novel called Goon.
Was it weird for you to see Kevin Smith start up a similar project around the same time, which was also supposed to star Seann William Scott?
Michael Dowse: Yeah, that was a little strange to hear that. I am happy that Seann is in my film. That is for sure. I don't think he is doing that other one. I think Kevin Smith has cast his film. But, yeah, we'll see. I love my film! I am not sure what Kevin is going to do with his film. Just know that my film is fucking awesome. It'll happen!
When are going to see Goon?
Michael Dowse: I'm not quite sure. We are just now putting the finishing touches on the edit right now. I think we will premiere it at TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) this year, if everything goes right. Then it can come out anytime after that. I think it transcends any sort of hockey movie. It's much more of a sports comedy.