Josh MacDonald was the fella that I first watched EVIL DEAD, EVILDEAD II, THE THING, THE EXORCIST, THE FLY, ALIENS & REANIMATOR (amongst hundreds of other films) with. We met on the first day of grade 7 (Junior High in Canada) and hit it off right away. Further on in the interview I detail the myriad of comics that the man introduced me to.
In the almost 3 decades that I’ve known writer and actor Josh MacDonald I’ve watched him accomplish many career milestones. From television appearances, scripts turned into short films, plays that he wrote travelling across North America and acting roles ranging from direct to video fodder all the way to working on James Cameron’s TITANIC for a few months with the Nova Scotia crew.
I’ve never interviewed a writer for this site and who better to start off with than an age-old friend. But first let’s dig into the trailer for the movie in question.
For the 27 years that we’ve known each other you’ve always been a writer. Be it short stories, scripts, plays or episodic television you’ve always been working on something. What drives you to keep at it?
It’s interesting that you define me as a writer, since— for most of our lives— you know that I was also pursuing a career as a performer, acting throughout university and then into the professional world. I’ve never trained in the same way as a writer, and maybe— arguably– that’s part of the thing that actually makes me one: I’ve spent my life being able to generate stories without killing myself to do so; it’s kind of the thing that’s always come naturally, like other people have an aptitude for— I don’t know– playing basketball.
I cannot play basketball— I have no game.
Josh pictured with actor Callum Keith Rennie on the set of FFMW
When you ask what drives me to keep at my writing, I wish I had a more “rags-to-riches” story to share— one where I kept plugging away in the face of adversity— but writing and performing have always paid my bills; I haven’t had a day job since college. The terrifying thing about a life in the arts, though, is that this “luxury” could stop at any time: there’s nothing to say I’m not working at Ultramar a month from now. But, so far, I’ve been able to keep the wolves at bay. As a writer, in particular, I’ve held onto the stubborn belief that if I can punch a piece of work out until I reach the words “the” and “end,” then I’ll be able to find some application for that piece somewhere in the world: a door will open for it, and its journey will continue. I love working in different mediums and different genres, and feel lucky that I’ve been able to do so: sometimes, though, it’s been suggested to me that my creative wanderlust isn’t as clever a Fortune 500 scheme as mono-fixating on one particular career goal, then pursuing it relentlessly. I guess I get distracted by the winding paths.
You were the one who exposed me to Watchmen, Dark Knight Returns, Groo the Wanderer, Frank Miller’s Hard Boiled, Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing. I lay 85% of the blame for of my infatuation with comics at your feet. Why haven’t you ever tackled the medium as a writer? You’ve done damn near everything else.
Ha! I also believe that I introduced you to the good doctor Hunter S. Thompson and to Lester Bangs over the years! Off the top of my head, you introduced me to Howard Chaykin’s American Flagg, to novels by Jim Thompson, James Ellroy, Andrew Vachss; you were the first one to send me movies by Chan-Wook Park— naw man, let’s forget following this particular winding path, it’ll get us both using up way too much cyberspace!
It’s a twofold answer to your question: one part practical, the other part sort of philosophical. Practical: the deadlines in (mainstream) comic-book writing terrify me; I’ve never been the world’s speediest writer, and pumping out scripts for multiple titles every thirty days seems nervous-breakdown-inducingly intense. Philosophical: my whole life, I’ve loved comic books and movies. I’m grateful to be able to work in the film industry, but— like anything you turn into your actual job— it can kinda kill your joy a bit; I can’t watch movies in the same way that I used to. So keeping my comic reading as a joy, as my escapism… I don’t mind that.
I’m in awe of what guys like Grant Morrison, Brian K Vaughn, Robert Kirkman and Joss Whedon can do, to name just a few— I just like to stand back and watch. It’s also fun to watch respected novelists reveal their love for the medium, lately, jumping in to create work: guys like Jonathan Letham, Michael Chabon, Ian Rankin, etc..
You’ve witnessed the filmed completion of 2 of your screenplays in 2010. That must have been an overwhelming experience after simultaneous multi-year processes. Is this an uncommon occurrence in the film industry?
It’s more a coincidence of timing than anything. I think most writers, producers, directors would tell you that the average development path for a feature film is a five-year trudge. My stage play HALO took about six years to come to screens as FAITH, FRAUD & MINIMUM WAGE, and THE CORRIDOR’s development took about four: the two projects converged during the festival season 2010. There was a point in the summer of 2008 where both projects were still fighting to get their green-lights, and it fell to me to convince the powers-that-be by working up two quick new drafts: I was two weeks out from delivering a second draft reinvention of THE CORRIDOR when a make-or-break, 72-hour polish of HALO was demanded of me: one that would either get the project its full-funding or get it completely shelved. For both projects, the producers’ timeline-schedules have checkpoints along 18 months of road, so you don’t want to miss a single one along the way or the project(s) might perish. That summer was a tough crunch-time — I worried I’d crash both scripts into each other and end up with neither getting made. I didn’t see a lot of sun July-August. After that, though, the convergence eased up for me personally— the projects’ timelines opened up from one another, and lots of other creative minds began to come into both to help carry the load(s).
Can you take us through the quick and dirty process of script to screen? And perhaps point out some differences between the 2 films’ journeys.
Writing FAITH, FRAUD & MINIMUM WAGE was a process of adapting my own work from another medium— my stage-play HALO. That’s an interesting assignment, because you’re trying to radically reinvent something while holding onto its essence. Live theatre and motion pictures seem awfully similar— they’re both story-telling vessels— but the former is a place for dialectic conversation, and the latter is a place where the story’s gotta move as pictures in action. Same thing, completely different– like turning a paper bag inside out.
THE CORRIDOR was a spec script— a horror story– written initially in my spare time away from HALO, as a way of off-gassing. HALO’s protagonist is a teenage girl and the movie is a comedy-drama which is generally brighter of tone (though not as bright as you might think— there’s a deep thread of melancholy in that story) while THE CORRIDOR is about five men whose experiences take them to some really horrific places. It was kind of a yin-yang process for me, working on them both. My Angels and Demons, as it were.
Finally, there was some irony in the fact that my “teen flick” was the one that ended up being directed by Canadian horror veteran George Mihalka (of the original MY BLOODY VALENTINE). HALO (released as FAITH, FRAUD & MINIMUM WAGE) was a quote-unquote larger budgeted Canadian movie, starring Martha MacIsaac (from SUPERBAD, LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT, GREEK), Callum Keith Rennie (HARD CORE LOGO, BATTLESTAR GALACTICA, CALIFORNICATION), Ricky Mabe (ZACH AND MIRI MAKE A PORNO, THE WILD HUNT, THE TROTSKY) and Andrew Bush (Picnicface, ROLLER TOWN) and, for me, was something of a “big machine”. The process of making THE CORRIDOR felt a bit more homemade: I optioned it to a horror-buff friend and emerging producer named Mike Masters (REEL ZOMBIES, SON OF THE SUNSHINE) who then brought the project to a Nova Scotian partner, Craig Cameron, and brought on director Evan Kelly. These guys are all approximately my own age, and— though we didn’t have the deepest of pockets— we were able to make our movie together, out “on the margins” of things. From the cast and crew onward, THE CORRIDOR felt a bit more D.I.Y., like I was making a movie with my friends over a couple of weekends.
Different experiences, these, but I wouldn’t trade one of them for the other, and I’m proud of both works in different ways.
How nerve-wracking was it to see both of your babies on the big screen last year?
I was too tired to feel a lot of nerves. Frankly— even if the movies get the shit kicked out of them by future critics or audiences— I feel a great deal of satisfaction in finally being able to “tie a knot in those balloons” and release them. It’s good to let them go.
I had the pleasure of reading The Corridor screenplay a few years ago. It instantly brought me back to that nostalgic feeling of Maritime winters and 1980’s horror novels (the good ones by Stephen King and Douglas Clegg). From watching the trailer it looks like they’ve nailed it. How do you feel about it?
That’s right–! You read THE CORRIDOR before I even optioned it!
I think everybody worked so hard on THE CORRIDOR— I’m really proud of them all. Evan’s interest was in deeply developing the character-study aspects of the script, and getting a quiet, contemplative mood out of the first reels of the picture— a New American realism sensibility (like David Gordon Green’s earlier movies, or Kelly Reichert’s). Starting from that honest place, I feel like THE CORRIDOR just gains and gains in intensity along its running time… I’m excited by the pressure cooker which builds up in that cabin in the woods. I think the awesome ensemble work of our five key actors– coupled with the work of Evan and everybody else, from production to post— really gives us a dimensional character piece that distinguishes itself against some of the cannon-fodder characterizations you find in lots of modern genre (and genre sequel) work. That being said, we also try to get our “Canucksploitation” on in the movie’s back half. Lastly, we try to reach for some enigmatic, sci-fi unknowables during the final reel (tipping our homage-hats to 2001, Solaris, Cube, etc)… Basically, from naturalistic beginning to extra-natural ending, we hope we take audiences on a pretty compelling “trip”…
It’s a fun time to be making movies in the Maritimes— I feel like we’re on the cusp of some new “pop entertainment” era here, with the stories we’re getting to tell. There’s been a lot of knockout movies made here over the years, but they were oftentimes in the (entirely valid) idiom of Don Shebib’s GOIN’ DOWN THE ROAD— movies overtly concerned with our regional identity. My current peer-group simply wants to entertain, as best they can, and they’re starting to make some crazy dents in the mass pop-culture. It started with Mike Clattenburg’s TRAILER PARK BOYS. I story-consulted on comedy troupe Picnicface’s ROLLER TOWN movie last year, and that’s gonna be amazingly funny. My friend Jay Dahl has made a verite-camerawork horror movie called THERE ARE MONSTERS, capitalizing off his insane number of YouTube hits with the short of the same name. Former local movie-reviewer Mark Palermo has made an alliance with Hollywood music-video director Joseph Kahn, and has fast-tracked his first horror-comedy feature screenplay into existence: keep your eye out for DISTURBANCE later this year (starring Josh Hutcherson and Dane Cook). I’m excited to watch FAITH, FRAUD & MINIMUM WAGE continue into its secondary markets, and I’m really hopeful that we’ll get THE CORRIDOR out into the larger world in the months ahead. Finally, my good friends Jason Eisener, Rob Cotterill and John Davies are already reaching stratospheric levels of success with their homegrown HOBO WITH A SHOTGUN. The movie is a towering piece of uber-entertainment: any exploitation fan is going to lose their shit over this one, and its amazing blend of sociopathic craziness and pure, happy cinema-love…. it’s the best time you’ll have in a movie theatre in a really long time, trust me.
For myself, I want to keep genre-hopping and exploring those side-paths. I have a kid’s urban adventure movie in development— sort of a Ferris-Bueller-meets-Run-Lola-Run, beeline-race movie— called OVER UNDER THROUGH. I’m also writing a horror-comedy about a particularly hellish night spent trapped in a demonically-overrun seafood restaurant, called THE TRAP: here I’m playing with “cheery” horror movies like Poltergeist, Gremlins and Ghostbusters, but then trying to contain my proceedings like in Die Hard or Walter Hill’s Trespass. Finally, I’m hoping to direct my first short later in the year, possibly with some help from Team Hobo and Team Corridor— a summer’s horror-chase exercise simply called GAME.
Or I might be working at Ultramar. Never can tell. Keeps me lean.
NOTES ON THE CORRIDOR
“It brought them all together… and then it tore them all apart
They’ve been the best of buddies for more than a decade, but now they’re changing– getting married, getting promoted, going bald, going insane. During a male-bonding weekend, they will discover a spectral corridor through the woods– an impossible hallway where none should be. It will lead these five men into fear, into betrayal, and into the biggest change of them all: by weekend’s finish… they’ll be dead.
TYLER CRAWLEY (31) needs his friends, now more than ever. Recovering from mental stress in the wake of his mom’s death, Tyler has been counting on a weekend with the guys to bring him back to normal. For Tyler’s sake his old buddies rally themselves, though the “glue” which keeps them together has weakened with the passing of recent years– a natural enough occurrence.
But with the introduction of a single unnatural occurance– the corridor itself– the knots in these male bonds will come loose with a terrifying speed. Both a fantastical passageway to somewhere and a passageway into the mind of the male animal, the corridor will lead Tyler and his friends to the very edge of sanity and beyond…
MacDonald positions the film as living somewhere between the character beats of Barry Levinson’s DINER and the trippy mind-bend of films like Ken Russell’s ALTERED STATES or Vincenzo Natali’s CUBE.”
NOTES ON FAITH, FRAUD & MINIMUM WAGE:
“Casey McMullen never knew what a miracle could do… until she built one.”
When the image of Jesus Christ seems to appear on the donut shop where she works, teenaged Casey’s life is forever changed. Yearning to escape from the hopeless, pious boondock which she calls home, Casey tries to “spin” this hoax into her own fortune, fame & farewell. If only her estranged father would notice: but that might take a real miracle…
Frustrated with her life, Casey McMullen (Martha MacIsaac) throws a coffee at the wall of the Krowne Donuts where she works… and the splash inadvertently comes to resemble an image of Jesus Christ. Overnight, Casey finds herself becoming the ring-master of a growing faith circus: the parking-lot teems in new customers, 24-7 news media arrive, and the chicken-shack next door cashes in with a “12 Piece Apostle Meal”. Casey’s hoax changes everything: for her strict, fundamental boss (Don Allison), her sweet, believing boyfriend (Ricky Mabe), her “Doubting Thomas” local priest (Andrew Bush), and, most importantly, for her Dad… Haunted by the aftermath of a family tragedy, Casey’s Dad (Callum Keith Rennie) is letting everything around him go: his mortgage payments, his business, everything. Casey’s hoax might be just the “divine intervention” which her Dad needs…but the results are not at all what she expected.
FAITH, FRAUD & MINIMUM WAGE is a modern pop parable: a story of The Father, The Daughter and The Holy Roast.
Further reading and resources:
Josh’s author page at Talon Books who have published two of his plays, HALO and WHEREVERVILLE in paperback.
The Facebook Page for THE CORRIDOR and official movie site
The Facebook Page for FAITH, FRAUD & MINIMUM WAGE and official movie page