Canadian films often have a hard time finding an audience theatrically. There are many reasons why, none the least of which is the fact that they are often given less-to-no promotion and released in only a handful of theaters for what is usually only one or two weeks before disappearing to the shelves of your local video store. A couple years back, one such film that didn't hit it off on the big screen but quickly found its way to being a cult favorite on video and DVD is director Michael Dowse's FUBAR, which details the life of two heavy metal head bangers and the serious struggle that one has with testicular cancer. Now, director Michael Dowse returns to the big screen with another music-themed entry, It's All Gone Pete Tong, about a popular club deejay and recording superstar who battles a pretty severe coke addiction and the fact that he's going deaf. I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Michael on the phone from Toronto to talk about the film.
Mark McLeod: Good afternoon, man. Thanks for taking the time to chat with me.
Micheal Dowse: Not a problem man, shoot!
MM: Where did you get the title It's All Gone Pete Tong from?
MD: The title actually came from the producers and it was one of the first things they had. It's a cockney rhyming slang for "it's all gone wrong". You know they say like "china plate mate" or "skin and blister sister". They have all these rhymes over there. It was created to sort of describe how sort of opulent the deejay lifestyle has become by a couple DJs, Pete Tong included, and I think sort of a friend of Pete Tong's came up with it as sort of a way to show how wrong it got -- as DJs went from making 200 quid a night playing in London in the mid-90s to making ten thousand pounds a night playing the techno rave scene.
MM: Who was the inspiration for the character of Frankie Wilde?
MD: A couple different sources. There's a big nod to Lebowski with the robe. There's a few sort of film characters I looked at, like Emmitt Ray from Sweet and Lowdown, the Woody Allen film. The actual mix of the DJs was Larry Lavan, a sort of DJ's DJ who was into just being the best DJ ever, and then I looked at Paul Oakenfold in terms of how he sort of branded himself in the mid 90s as a superstar DJ and the photographs that this guy has of himself with sort of that ego-gone-wild look. Also, Paul was influential in the recording studio as well with Primal Scream being massive during that time period. Then the last guy would be Brandon Block, who is world-renown for his ability to party.
MM: The film has some really funny dialogue. Especially the Frankie and Max characters. Was all this pre-written or did you allow for some improvisation?
MD: I allowed for a lot of improv. It's a real nice mix and as a writer and director, I sort of look for guys that will take what I've written and push it to another level. So it's a real mix -- some are my lines, some are their lines, and some are morphs of the two, you know. It's the best way to work, to mine that comedy out of your actors and the script.
MM: How did you come up with the idea of portraying Frankie's drug habit as a badger?
MD: I think the badger for me, well it's actually a fairy coke badger. I was actually writing another script with a couple friends and when you write with three people, you get vetoed on a lot of things and one of those was a badger. So I went home and decided to put it in my own script because I thought it was funny. For me, I just wanted to find some sort of great visual representation of how hard his drug habit was and how much of an influence it was on him, but it's better to play this as a comedy than to do it seriously. It's very clear that cocaine is a bad drug and it ruins your life, so I thought comedy would be a more effective way of playing that.
MM: Now like FUBAR, this film deals a lot with music. Are you a big music fan, and if so, what's currently in your CD player?
MD: I'm a huge music fan. Blue Cheer is the band I'm currently playing. They were the Hell's Angels house band for years and the first guys to stack Marshalls -- sort of a big old psychedelic fuzz rock. And actually, the original music for when the coke badger appears was all Blue Cheer.
MM: The film has what could be said as some potentially offensive material towards people with disabilities. But at the same time, shows deaf people in a positive light. What have their opinions been on the film?
MD: They've really liked it. I've had a few Q&As in my travels during the last six months where I thought, "oh God, this is it, some deaf person gets up in the crowd and I'm like -- oh f**k!" but they really respond to it. I think they and handicapped people appreciate getting the piss taken out of them as much as anybody. It's a very sort of equalizing thing. I did a few interviews with deaf reporters and they loved it. Of course, it was a bit harder to understand what they were saying.
MM: The film has a much more polished look than your first feature. Is this just the case of a larger budget, or was there a deliberate choice to make it more visually pleasing?
MD: The short that I did was very much a film that was beautiful and very well made, and got all my film school shots in that I wanted. Looking back on that 13-minute film, it's really lacking any story or heart to it. So then when I went and did FUBAR, I threw all aesthetics out the window and I just wanted to make something that had performance and pace to it, and great characters and a great story. Then when I went to do Tong, I was trying to combine those two. You know, have a great story with a lot of heart, but also infuse it with a lot more cinema.
MM: The mockumentary genre is kind of a tough one to do well. Either you're going to go too over the top or become not funny enough. What do you think some of the benefits are of working within that genre?
MD: I think the benefit of it is that it's very low-budget. So I think a lot of people do it as their first film because they don't really have a choice, because you can get away with a lot more justifying how bad it looks. Personally, I don't really want to work in it and make another documentary because I think the genre has been abused to death.
MM: What was it like making the film in Spain?
MD: It was nuts, crazy, a once-in-a-lifetime experience. I mean, I was the 30-year-old director with a 50-person crew behind me looking at me and asking what's next? It was so much fun. I swore I'd never want to go back to the island, but I can't wait to go back.
MM: How has the reception been from DJs, both in pre-production and now that the finished film is being released?
MD: I think they were a little hesitant in prep. You know, they don't know what the thing is, but we got Pete Tong involved very early on and once he saw the dailies he definitely got on board. Once you get one guy on board, the rest of them sort of fall into place. They are a very competitive lot.
MM: With the DJs you talked to, when you were making the picture, is going deaf a real concern for them?
MD: Yeah, a lot of them have this problem. A lot of them have tenditis and I think it's not only a problem for DJs but for musicians as well. It's funny -- the cover of MixMag, which did a great feature on the film last month and within it they sat down 10 DJs to review the film, and they all talked about buying a proper set of earplugs because it is all their worst nightmare.
MM: Lastly, are there any big plans for the DVD release?
MD: We shot a ton of footage, so we have a ton of stuff for the DVD release. It'll be a great DVD and absolutely packed with stuff we shot that didn't make it into the cut. Paul and I will probably do an audio commentary, and we are trying to get Mike involved, but our schedules are all over the place.
MM: Well that really covers everything I had. Thanks, Mike, for taking time to talk with me today.
MD: Thanks bud. Have a great day.
MM: You too. Bye now.
Special thanks to Michael Dowse, Dana Fields, and Owen Cameron at Odeon Films for putting this all together. It's All Gone Pete Tong is now playing in Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal from Odeon Films and will open in select cities on June 24th.
Mark McLeod has always loved film. In addition to his roles with ShowbizMonkeys.com, Mark also works on many film promotion projects in Vancouver, BC, through his company, Mark McLeod PR.