When I tell you that Jason Lapeyre’s children’s war fable I Declare War was my second favourite film of this year’s Fantastic Fest, it sounds like a backhanded compliment. That is, until I tell you that he also directed my favourite, the tense, violent crime thriller Cold Blooded. Immensely talented and impressively prolific – in addition to the two fiction films, he’s also got a documentary making the festival circuit – the 39 year old writer/director from Canada has come out of nowhere in 2012, and is certainly worth keeping an eye on in the future.
In the wake of Fantastic Fest, Lapeyre was generous enough to take the time during his current shoot (that’s film number four, for those of you counting at home) to answer some questions for Moviedex via email. Check out our spoiler free discussion, below.
Moviedex: This year you’ve gone from essentially no major credits to suddenly three feature films. Moreover, all three have experienced a great deal of success, with Cold Blooded picking up the Best Canadian Film Award at the Fantastia Film Festival in Montreal, and I Declare War winning the Audience Award just a few months later at Fantastic Fest. Can you talk a little bit about your experiences and travels over the past twelve months?
Jason Lapeyre: I’ve been screenwriting and directing short films and music videos for about ten years now, but yes, all my feature films were sort of triggered one right after another in a 12-month period, for various reasons. It’s been an intense ride! But very rewarding as well, as you can imagine. Basically, I had been preparing to shoot my documentary Faceless for about a year when Cold Blooded was financed and we shot it in December of 2010. Immediately after that I resumed my plans to shoot Faceless and shot it in February of 2011. Then I was approached by the producers of I Declare War to make that film in July, just four months later. And in fact, I actually made ANOTHER film before I Declare War started – I produced the short film The Captured Bird, directed by Jovanka Vuckovic and Executive Produced by Guillermo del Toro, which has now played in almost 40 festivals and won Best Short Film in a couple of them. So yeah… that was a busy year.
Where did the ideas for Cold Blooded and I Declare War originate?
Totally different stories. I wrote I Declare War ten years ago because I wanted to tell an honest story about what it feels like to be 12. I also thought it was a cool idea, something I’d want to see myself – a kids’ war game shot like a war movie. I wanted the kids to swear, I wanted the violence to be intense and real, and I wanted the guns to be real. I wanted to push it all the way.
Cold Blooded was the result of being approached by a producer in Toronto, Tim Merkel, who told me he had access to a hospital and needed a script that took place entirely inside that hospital. I looked through my story file and combined a few ideas and gave him two choices – I could do either a zombie movie or a crime movie. He asked me which one I’d rather do. I’m a huge horror buff, but my first love has always been crime – so there it was. With the help of the film’s other producer, Leah Jaunzems, we got the film financed and we were shooting about a year later.
Tonally, Cold Blooded and I Declare War are quite different. Is there a style or a genre that you prefer working in, or do you like to mix it up?
Genres are for critics, not for filmmakers, but as a fan I do love genre. I wrote for a horror magazine (Rue Morgue) for years, I love crime movies, I grew up in the Star Wars era, I’m very inspired by film noir… so I do love the idea of telling stories in a way that’s been refined and established over the decades. But at the same time, the primary thing for me is just to tell a good story. The film I’m directing now is a John-Hughes-esque teen angst movie, and I’m having just as good a time with that as I did with my other films.
What films (or other pieces of art/literature/videogames) were of particular influence to you while writing and shooting Cold Blooded and I Declare War.
Oh, man… there isn’t enough time in the world for me to answer this question. I love this quote: “Don’t ask me who’s influenced me. A lion is made up of the lambs he’s digested, and I’ve been reading all my life” – Giorgos Seferis.
How did the collaboration with your I Declare War co-director Robert Wilson come about, and how did you find co-directing as opposed to doing it solo?
It was very organic. We were both on the same page about how I Declare War should be made so we just shared the responsibility. There was no division of labour between camera and actors or anything. Two brains instead of one.
How did you go about finding the child actors for I Declare War, and what was it like directing them?
They were cast, like any other group of actors, by a casting director in Toronto named Stephanie Gorin. We were originally going to cast a wide net and try and find non-actors, which would have taken a long time, but when Stephanie read the script she stopped us and said she had these kids ready and waiting to go. And she was right. Some of the kids – Michael Friend in particular – came in and froze our blood with their audition. We basically cast them on the spot. I guess there’s a deep pool of young talent in the Toronto acting community.
Is there much of yourself in any of the characters in I Declare War?
Ohhhh yeah. Every single one of them.
There’s a pretty horrific act of violence perpetrated against the lead character of Cold Blooded that I found particularly chilling and effective. Without giving away in your answer exactly what the incident is, could you tell me whether that act of violence was always in script, and why you chose to have the film follow that path?
That was the very first thing I thought of for the story. It was the act that the entire story was built around. It was something I had never really seen before in a movie (although since making the film of course people have pointed out other examples of it) and I wanted to make it work. Plus I just thought it would be a totally fucking crazy thing to happen to a character.
Both films feature what I found to be refreshingly non-passive and well rounded female characters. Is this something that’s important to you in your writing?
Yes, definitely. I was raised by a very strong mother and have two very strong sisters. I’ve always admired male writers who can write complex, realistic women — Elmore Leonard, Ingmar Bergman, David O. Russell.
Where are the films heading next, in terms of the festival circuit? Do either Cold Blooded or I Declare War have distribution, in Canada, the US or outside of North America?
Not sure! Both are trying to secure distribution after the amazing one-two-three punch of Fantasia, TIFF and Fantastic Fest, and we’ll see if there are any other festivals to come after that.
Can you tell me a little bit about your documentary, Faceless? What it is about, and where can it be seen?
Faceless is a feature documentary about an inpatient psychiatry unit in downtown Toronto. I was given an amazing opportunity to be an “artist-in-residence” at the psych unit for a year, during which I would teach patients about filmmaking and make short films with them. At the end of the year, I was given permission by the hospital to make a film about the unit. The primary goal of the film is to fight the stigma of mental illness and show that most of the stereotypes – violent behaviour from patients, insensitive nurses, etc. – aren’t true. The film is just finishing its festival run with a screening at the Costa Rica International Documentary Festival in November and then it will be available worldwide through Journeyman Films.
What other projects do you have coming up in the future?
A whole bunch of stuff on the horizon, but I’m one of those people that doesn’t like to talk about stuff before it’s finished. Sorry! Right now, though, I’m currently directing a TV movie for Lifetime called Restless Virgins. Despite the questionable title, it’s actually a fantastic script written by Andy Cochrane that really reminds me of the best teen angst movies – The Breakfast Club, Say Anything, Dead Poets Society. It’s about a sex scandal at a prep school in Boston.
What more can you tell us about yourself?
I was an army brat growing up, so I lived all over Canada, as well as Pakistan, India and Germany. I don’t have a home town, which is both frustrating and kind of liberating. I was born in 1973. I studied film at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, and then did a Masters in Film at York University in Toronto. I paid the bills for a long time by writing scripts for DTV movies that patronized children. I lived in Japan for a year, where I wrote I Declare War while teaching English. I was a regular contributor for years to the magazines Rue Morgue (where I wrote about film with Jovanka Vuckovic as my Editor) and Wax Poetics (where I wrote about music). I’m married and I have a daughter. My favourite kind of music is gangster rap. I’m addicted to Adidas sneakers.
Thumbnail photo credit: Sophie Giraud