Interview: Siblings director David Weaver

Filed under: Interviews

My opinion on interviews is widely known. I enjoy doing them occasionally, but am not the biggest fan of all the work that goes into preparing for them. Often, you have to talk to a publicist and the back and forth starts, trying to find a time that works for everyone involved. Then you have to see the movie and write the questions, and then after the interview is all done you have to spend a great amount of time sifting through the material in hopes of finding enough usable information to make an interesting and informative read. So, given all that work that goes into it, more often than not I'd rather just not do the interview.

However, that being said, when the right project comes along, I throw myself into it at full speed. During the press screenings for this past year's Vancouver International Film Festival, I happened upon a film by the name of Siblings, a sort of dark comedy with murder, laughter, and a good helping of Christmas cheer. As luck would have it, I knew the publicist and asked her to set me up with an interview. She did and I found myself across from one of the smartest Canadian filmmakers I've come across in some time, David Weaver. The only problem was the film was without a distributor and there was no idea when or if it would be released. So, imagine my surprise when a few months later it showed up on the TVA Films release schedule. Knowing I wanted to full-out support the film this time around, I asked fellow contributor and fan of the film, Candice Coughlin, if she wanted to share in the experience. Here's the resulting conversation.

Candice Coughlin: First off, we were wondering if you could take a moment to describe your film?

David Weaver: You know, in all this time nobody has asked that question. I guess I would say it's a feel good film about killing your parents. What we set out to make, at least, was a rollicking black comedy that told the truth about the crazy families that people live in these days. And you know, we had some fun along the way with what I think are some of the more intelligently-depicted teenage characters than is usually the case.

Mark McLeod: You knew the question had to be asked, because the family in the film is so screwed up. Is your family that screwed up and do you really want to kill your parents? Well, without really killing them?

DW: Yeah, you know, every artist lives out their fantasy in their work, right? I actually get along great with my parents, and my test when I first read Jackie's draft of the script as to whether it was really as good as I thought, was that I gave it to my mother and had her read it. When she came back to me and said, 'oh yeah, this is really funny stuff', then I knew it. If a film about killing one's parents isn't going to offend my mother, then I thought we stood a chance with everybody else. So no, I have a great relationship with them and they're totally supportive of my filmmaking. You know, everyone knows you have your issues with your folks, but they love the movie and they understand it's coming from a place of love.

MM: You so want to kill them, right?

DW: I'd love to kill them actually. (laughing)

CC: Now with all the kids, there's a lot of feelings that they're dealing with. Are any of those feelings actually parallel to things you actually dealt with growing up?

DW: Sure. I mean, a bunch of different things. One of the reasons I wanted to do the movie was that I identified with two characters particularly strongly. The two that I really identified with were Joe and Danielle. So with Joe, I was very much like that guy when I was in my late teens. I loved movies, and I tried to do the right thing, and I was enthralled by the world of adults that I was being sucked into, and so I was trying to figure it out. I was a very earnest young man. Let's put it that way. I completely understand where Joe is at and how he tries to take care of the others and in some respects he tries to take care of them even when they don't need taking care of. So definitely, I felt those emotions very closely. I really get along with Alex Campbell. He's a really smart young guy too, and he's a bit like Joe in the movie. So that was something that I had a really strong identification with. The same with Samantha -- years before that, when I was her age, when I was 8 or 9. I was a complete freakish little kid and I had glasses not unlike those crazy glasses. In fact, I had an eye patch for a year because I had a lazy eye. In those days, the way they used to correct a lazy eye, which was an eye that drifted, was they'd make you wear an eye patch over your good eye. So you could spend all your time walking into things and not being able to see things clearly. So I was a pretty strange eight-year-old and I had a little bit of a speech impediment, so people couldn't understand what I was saying. I didn't have the easiest childhood from that perspective. So the phrase, 'I'm not retarded, I just wear glasses' really hit home. The moment I read it, I started to weep. Very deep connection to the characters.

MM: Come on, we all know you had some Margret-like experiences as well.

DW: Margret was more of a fantasy. I'll tell you that for me, I don't think the real Margret would have let me anywhere near her. But no, I think Margret is a projection of Jackie, and she'll kill me for saying this, but I remember a meeting we had where they were talking about that and someone said, 'Do you think Margret is maybe a bit too sexually aggressive?' and Jackie was like -- 'NO! Why? Is there something wrong with that? Women like sex. Are you commenting on things?' And the people on the other side were like, 'No, it's okay, moving on.' Jackie wasn't taking any interference with that character.

CC: Now did you always want to be a filmmaker or was that something you sort of gradually stumbled upon?

DW: No, I always wanted to be, going back to really the age of Samantha's character. I mean, she's 10 now, and I think that's when I first got the idea of being a filmmaker. The real reason is that my parents were in the arts, my dad was a radio producer for the CBC for years and years and he was a real movie fan and loved all sorts of foreign films, too. So he started taking me to movies when I was a kid, and so as a result I had an idea of what a filmmaker does at a far too impressionable age. I've just always connected with films all through when I was a teenager, and before that I loved movies. I was skipping school to go see movies in the afternoon. It's been my life's ambition. I really never deviated from it.

CC: Can you recall the first idea you had for a screenplay or a film when you were younger?

DW: I don't know. I made a lot of films in high school. Back in those days, there wasn't really video, so I made a lot of Super8 films. And I don't know, we just seemed to always be making them. There wasn't sort of one original one. I'd totally forgotten this but now that you mention it, I made a film that was a drama about killing my parents. (Everyone breaks out into hysterical laughter.) So clearly that idea was there from the very beginning.

CC: And it stuck with you?

DW: It stuck with me. That was one of the earliest movies. That one was much more ponderous then Siblings. At least I've acquired a sense of humour.

MM: There's a potential bonus feature for the DVD right there.

DW: I don't even know where that movie would be now. We'll have to see if I can find it.

MM: The casting for the film is really good. How did you go about getting the cast? Did you try out some kids with other different kids and try and cast the film that way?

DW: There wasn't a huge amount of that. It was more a case of with the kids, they came in and auditioned and they were so singularly who they were and right for the part. We just assumed they would work together. We did get them together before we started shooting because we didn't have any rehearsal time. You know, it was great, because Samantha was crawling all over Alex and very quickly Alex and Sarah Gadon formed a sort of bitchy brother/sister relationship where they just made fun of each other constantly. People ask me stuff like that, but it wasn't difficult to find the kids. Samantha had done one or two television commercials, one of which was a Captain Crunch commercial and of course there's the scene where she's eating breakfast with Tom McCamus with the Captain Crunch cereal box. It's like it's a theme in her career. Then there was Andrew Chalmers, who had already done quite a bit and been a lead in a television movie, so he came in and was very polished as a performer and took direction very well. With Sarah and Alex, it was more a case of calling them back once or twice, but really it was just to make sure we were right about how strong they were as performers who were definitely going to carry the movie. It was actually surprisingly easygoing and fairly straight-forward. In all of the cases with the older actors, we just offered people the parts -- we thought that there's no way on earth that Sonia Smits will agree to this, but we'll offer it to her anyway. Then, much to our surprise, she was totally into it.

MM: So the screenplay is hilariously funny. Where did you find Jackie May and where has she been hiding all this time?

DW: I had known Jackie slightly for years. We'd sort of run into each other at kitchen parties and that sort of thing, but I didn't know her really well. Just by chance, I went out and had lunch with a friend of mine who is a mutual acquaintance of ours and I asked what Jackie had been up to. So this friend of ours said she wrote this screenplay about a bunch of kids who kill their parents. I thought she meant it was a drama, and so for that reason I wasn't interested. I thought about the Mendendez Brothers or whoever those guys are in California and that it was very movie-of-the-week, but the person I was having lunch with said, 'No, no... it's a comedy.' I just couldn't imagine how someone could make a comedy out of that material. So that really intrigued me, so I bugged my friend to give me Jackie's phone number and then I called her and we went and had some beers and she brought the script. I started to read it on the way home and on the first page Grandpa drops dead and I just knew I was going to love this script.

MM: Straight to the killing.

DW: Exactly. So I had read it by the time Jackie got home, and I was calling her saying I want to do it. She couldn't believe I had read it that quickly.

CC: Films such as Siblings and Bad Santa seem to be really, really popular with audience members. I kind of have two questions. I was wondering first, why do you think they are so popular, and second, do you think we all want things to train wreck themselves during the holidays?

DW: (laughing) I think to answer the second part first, I think the holidays impose feelings of happiness and joyfulness or something like that. I think that everybody by the end of the holidays, if they hear Joy to the World one more time, feels as though they are probably going to kill themselves. I think almost everybody, even if you really love the holidays and get into them, can recognize that they can be too much. So I believe these films are just sort of the natural reaction to that. On the other hand, the thing too is that movies like these work because they say that like the great American short story writer Raymond Carver said, 'Good art says what everyone's thinking but no one is saying'. I often think of that line, because that's what movies, when they are good, should do. They should say the things that you have in the back of your head but are too polite to say out loud. You can just look around you and see all of the mixed-up, crazy families that kids are in these days and all of the crazy stuff that goes on. I think the film says that, what's supposedly forbidden, and that's the family unit is a crazy, crazy thing today in the 21st century. For me, I think people laugh because the movie does what they've been thinking.

CC: It does instill a sense of comfort in people to know that it's okay to have a messed up family.

DW: Yeah totally. I would never say the film has a message. I would say that what underlies the movie is the idea that the family you get by blood is not always the family you deserve. Sometimes you have to go out and make your own family and you deserve a family. Just because none of the kids are related to one another, or barely related, they are a family. That's the thing, so even though the parents are there and they're evil, the kids are still totally a family and they love each other and stick together like families do when times get tough. You have to carry all those bodies around all the time. I just think that's what the message of the film is. Sometimes in our society, which is so polarized between right and left, and now I'm really getting on a soapbox. You know, sometimes there's too strict a definition of what a family is, and I think the message of the film -- if there is one -- is that you can make your own family and the one that you deserve.

CC: With the film, there's so many moments that are absolutely the easiest thing to laugh at, but underlying, the topics at hand are very sensitive. I was wondering as a director and going into this, what was the biggest challenge for you tackling this subject matter?

DW: I think you're right. It was exactly maintaining that balance. See, it was funny, because we got a review during the film festival here in Toronto where they said that the film doesn't work -- it should be more cartoonish. It was interesting because I never wanted that for the movie. I wanted it to be funny and at some points sad and a little bit painful. I think you should feel that there are real stakes for these kids. That they really are struggling to make things work in their lives. So that was the thing, to not let the film get maudlin, because there were these four loveable kids that didn't have parents that were treating them right. By the same token, to have that seriousness underlie the humour as well, so that even though you're laughing one moment, then the next moment you might be going, 'Oh my God, that's so sad'. I thought that was the challenge of the movie to have both. I really thought of all those great black comedies like Dr. Strangelove, Harold and Maude, and any of those movies where they are very much black comedies and they make you laugh hysterically but there are really serious issues under them. In a funny way, I think you think more -- at least for me -- about those issues if you're laughing at them. If you think of it, there's no more serious film than Dr. Strangelove because it takes totally serious the idea that we might be annihilated by nuclear weapons at any point. But really, when you look at that issue and concern, the only way to deal with it is to laugh. To me, that's the same thing with these kids.

CC: The one thing I think is really important that you brought attention to in the film is the one scene between Alex and Sarah where he says something along the lines of, 'it's not solving the problem if you become them'. I thought that was such a strong moment in the film because yeah, we're laughing, but there's that moment where kids could look at it and realize that yes, you can become your parents and when people are so angry that those things can surface.

DW: Yes absolutely, I'm really glad you brought that up. That moment is the reason I wanted to make the movie because as you get a little bit older, then you become your parents regardless of if you want to or not. You also have to learn to forgive yourself, and that's a big part of it, and the film. To be frank, Joe keeps f***ing up and as smart as he is, he's almost too smart. He's too smart for his own good. As smart as he is and as hard as he works, he just keeps screwing up over and over again. Margret is there and is saying to him that you have to be easier on yourself, guy -- life is tough and if you live by these really rigid rules, then you're just going to be miserable and you're not going to have Sarah Polley at the end.

(Laughs from everyone)

DW: So loosen up and do the best you can. That's the lesson, you have to learn when you're going from being a teenager to being a young adult. At the same time, everybody has that experience of doing something or having a moment where they are totally fine and they are doing what drove them crazy about their parents. My dad is a fairly neat person, and that always drove me nuts. Now I have my girlfriend straighten things up around the house. If your parents are monsters like in the movie, then you have to stop yourself from that, but they will always be inside you so what do you do? It's a constant battle.

MM: The last time we talked, the film hadn't been picked up by a distributor. What was the process like and why did it take such a long time to be picked up? Were the studios reluctant to pick up such a dark picture?

DW: It was one of these things where there were several companies interested in it. You know, we kind of had to choose who was the best to go with. It was a guy by the name of Yves Dion who was running Equinoxe at the time who felt the strongest, and clearly really loved the movie. Then what happened was that over Christmas he moved companies over to TVA. It was just an accident to that. We wanted to go with someone who really believed in the film. It was really just an accident that he happened to move from one company to another while we were in the middle of negotiations. The thing that complicates things a little bit for Canadian movies is the fact that there's only a few times during the year that you can really release them, because there are just really small windows in the exhibition calender where it's not the case that the screens are totally dominated by studio movies. That's just not true for Canadian films but also independent movies as well. So this release date is pretty much the earliest we could have gone after we had worked out our complications of what company was going to pick up the movie. In some ways, it was sort of a rush to get it into theaters, but it doesn't seem that way.

CC: Now Mark and I kind of want to impose a little bit -- we have a question to ask you because we are fans of your work and since we're wrapping this up I'm going to give Mark the opportunity to ask this question.

MM: Thanks, make me look like the bad guy. You can see how this work relationship is based.

At this point, I fudged things entirely and missed Candice's cue to ask David what was coming up next for him and instead went into some tirade about receiving a free copy of the film on DVD.

DW: Is that really the question?

CC: No, it wasn't actually (breaking down into laughter-induced tears). I wanted to impose and ask what your plans were for the future.

MM: That's it, I'm leaving.

DW: Even that doesn't seem like much of an imposition. It's practically killing me to try and get this movie on movie screens, but the first thing people ask is what's next. A vacation, I hope, or something. No, actually, I've written a draft of a script based on a short I did a few years ago called Moon Palace and that might be the next thing I try to do. I don't know, have you guys seen it?

MM: Yeah, it's on the Century Hotel DVD.

DW: Right. I made it as a short but over the last few years, it's just consistently had a really positive reaction, so a lot of people have asked me to make it into a feature. So I wrote a script and I just sort of had to stop working on that script to do promotion for the release of Siblings. I think that perhaps this week or next week I'll get back to writing that. I also have a draft of a script called Superheroes, which is a script about a little boy whose favorite superhero comes out of his favorite comic book and into real life, but has a very one-dimensional way of looking at things. That's another script that's finished, but it's a very expensive effects-laden type of movie, but I'm not sure if I can raise the money to do that movie in Canada or not. The last thing is a TV miniseries in development with CTV called Fallen Angels and it's about an escort service. There's about three or four things, and then Jackie and I are going to do another project together.

MM: Siblings 2?

DW: Yeah... more killing.

CC: They kill their neighbors?

DW: A friend of mine was like, 'they should travel across the country and knock off offending parents'. He thought that could be a TV show. No, we're going to do a movie, well I don't know if I should say it, about a woman who is very overweight and suddenly becomes thin and beautiful and starts to take revenge on everyone who had screwed up her life.

MM: Isn't that like the reverse of Shallow Hal, but with killing?

DW: Maybe it's a bit like that. It's much more like Kill Bill, really.

(everyone laughs)

CC: It reminds me of one of those weekday afternoon talk shows.

DW: It's a film about body image and self image. I think it's the sort of thing that Jackie has that razor sharp wit, and it'll be a really good thing for her to write. So there's a few things in the works.

MM: Well that about wraps it up.

DW: Yeah, they were great questions. It's fun to talk about the movie when the questions are good.

CC: Thanks David.

MM: Thank you.

Special thanks to David Weaver, as well as publicist Maria Papaioannoy at AmberLight Productions for setting up the interview. Additional thanks to Kate Perkins for setting up Mark's initial interview with David Weaver during the Vancouver International Film Festival. Siblings is now playing in Toronto and Vancouver, released by TVA Films.

Tags: Siblings, David Weaver, Canadian film, Sarah Polley, Nicholas Campbell

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Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.

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