An enigmatic Canadian director who has been making movies for nearly three decades, Allan Moyle has earned himself a reputation for films that combine great soundtracks with young casts and topical subject matter. Following Pump Up the Volume and Empire Records in the 90s, Moyle’s output became associated with TV movies and obscure titles relegated to the bottom shelves of video shops. His new film Weirdsville is a confident return to form that deftly mixes such outrageous conceits as inept Satanists, a vertically challenged historical re-enactment society who travel around in a limousine, and a lifestyle guru with a 12-inch icicle sticking out of his head. Perhaps incredulous that such a film might prove popular with an audience, the director started the interview by asking Alex Fitch to defend his movie…
Allan Moyle: What kind of a freak are you that you would respond to a movie like that?
Alex Fitch: Well, the stoner comedy genre seems overcrowded but at the same time it feels like you’ve brought a fresh voice to it…
AM: I haven’t. The writer did.
AF: You and the writer then, because there were some very visually memorable scenes in it, which you can’t entirely attribute to the script.
AM: A lot of them are in the script. I’m arguing for the script to go onto the DVD, so if it does develop into some kind of cult movie – I think that’s its destiny, I can’t see it having a wide release – people will want to compare the script with the movie and that’ll be fascinating because it’s mostly the script…
AF: That’s atypical for movie-writing because most directors want the screenplay to be so barren of description that they can put their own stamp on it.
AM: Well, I love a script that’s half-way directed, because I am not that aggressive a director and I need all the help I can get! Anyway, if you know my movies, they’re not very visual – they have some charm, they have good casting usually and some heart, but visually they’re not that exciting, thus far. Here’s a movie – for example – where there’s a scene where Scott Speedman skates towards the car. He’s actually skating – ’cause we didn’t have snow – on asphalt, on roller skates, but it’s night and you can’t quite see he’s wearing skates. We couldn’t afford to do the process we did in the opening titles where we cut out his skates and put in bare feet. So it could have been a nightmare, but luckily the audience suspend their disbelief and I think it’s a deeply mythic scene, as scripted. Now, did the writer have that perfect song? No. I contributed to finding the song. I never studied film theory, so I don’t know the terminology, ‘the gaze’, all that stuff. I’m all about casting actors who are so perfect for the role that all I have to do is turn the camera on.
AF: But you’ve been making films for the best part of thirty years. So you must feel that you’ve picked up some visual techniques along the way.
AM: It’s not the first thing that comes to mind! I’m interested in psychic phenomena, I’m interested in things that are happening invisibly beneath the surface. I’m deeply into the person who’s alone and an outsider and reaching out to be more than himself or herself. I’m into all those things. I feel that we got the poetic side of the thing down, as a team – the writer, the director of photography and the producer gave us enough time to execute it. I’m not being disingenuous… The movie feels so right for Edinburgh and Raindance because the so-called ‘indie’ festivals are no longer indie. Sundance and Toronto have been hijacked by the studios, the sponsors and the cult of the star. So it’s kind of depressing and even a movie with semi-stars like ours isn’t strong enough to compete in Sundance anymore. I’m not bullshitting you – it’s a huge relief to have the movie understood somewhere. Pump Up the Volume was more understood in France than it was in America. It played for months in France – they sent me over three times. The French title of the movie was: Y a-t-il une vie aprÃÂ¨s le lycée?, which means ‘Is there life after high school?’, which is so much smarter than ‘Pump up the volume, pump up the volume!’. In fact, I didn’t want that title. The title I wanted was ‘Talk Hard’, which was at least slightly poetic, but (producer) Bob Shaye had heard the song ‘Pump Up the Volume’, which was a hit, but it was a hit six months earlier! I said: ‘Bob, we can’t have a song advertising our movie that’s from six months ago, ’cause we won’t be cool!’ – and he’s fifty! I don’t know… All I’m saying is that the French got it. The Americans didn’t get it.
AF: Music seems very important in creating the mood and the feel of your movies. In contrast to what you said about Bob Shaye wanting to include a song that was six months out of date, with Weirdsville were you trying to find songs that had not yet become popular and had the chance to become the next big thing – at least among the indie crowd?
AM: It costs $2,500 to purchase a song and I know from experience that I like to score with songs. We ended up with no money to buy songs. Luckily, Canada – especially Toronto and Montreal – is in some kind of music renaissance, so the soundtrack sounds like a real soundtrack, doesn’t it? But in fact we didn’t pay for any of those songs.
AF: Because the bands were happy to have publicity from the film?
AM: Exactly, they get publishing. They’re what I call dollar cues. In fact more like a thousand dollars, ’cause it costs that for the legal fees. We paid only a thousand bucks per cue. Maybe I should make that a secret! I’m certainly not proud of it, because I would like to be able to buy – for example – music from an obscure Montreal band we helped to discover called Arcade Fire, but we can’t afford to because they went from being ten grand to twenty five grand. Maybe we could have offered them five grand, but suddenly they took off, and it’s a shame because we had a temp score with Arcade Fire and a bunch of other songs. I’m not complaining – I’m just saying it’s serendipitous that this movie seemed to have some luck attached to it. It could have been a disaster – the whole dwarves and Satanists thing could have been horrible.
AF: It works really well…
AM: But can you see how horrible it could have been?
Weirdsville is released on 16 November.