INTERVIEW: Lowell Dean
‘WOLFCOP’ director Lowell Dean chats to The Dark Horse.
One of the films that I have had the most fun with this year is the Canadian horror comedy, ‘WolfCop’. Made with its tongue, firmly in its cheek, it is certainly a ridiculous concept, however, it is made with such confidence, love and accomplishment, that it has to be one of the best 80s low-budget flicks, this side of 2014; it certainly has the bearings of a cult-classic.
So, with my new-found admiration for all things howlingly-bonkers, I managed to track down Wolfcop’s Canadian writer and director, Lowell Dean for a chat about his much lauded second feature film and life as an up-and-coming, and a highly-regarded movie director and writer.
Well, let me begin by stating, what I think is the tag line of the year: “Here comes the fuzz!”- It’s just so perfectly apt, it’s great. Did you come up with this line yourself?
No, I did not actually. The original line for the movie was, “Dirty Harry, but only hairier”, which I really liked, but for legal reasons, it just couldn’t happen. We actually put out a contest to get a new tagline on our Facebook page and Twitter, and I believe one of our actors James Whittingham is the one who came up with the line, if I am not mistaken, which is kind of cool.
The film came out about a month ago in the U.K. and I know you have been doing a few film circuits, promotional tours and festivals, would you say you are nearly at the end of the road for promoting Wolfcop?
I actually think we are more like in the middle of it; we’ve still got a lot to do and we finished the film about a year ago, and it came out in June in Canada but in limited theatrical release, so we have still got a long way to go. I believe it was the UK which was the first country in Europe to get Wolfcop on blu-ray and DVD, and I believe it’s coming out in Germany in a week, and it’s a pretty slow roll-out, and we’ve yet to have any big release in the States yet, so I believe our next big push will be promoting it in the United States.
Could you please provide a brief outline and setting of the film please, Lowell?
Sure. Wolfcop is a story about a small town cop who is just the worse cop you could ever meet- he’s bad at his job, he’s lazy, and he’s a drunk. One night, when acting out of character, he actually follows up on a disturbance call in the woods and he blacks out and the results of that is that some kind of bizarre, strange occult thing has happened to him, and when the full moon comes out, he becomes a werewolf. But unlike the typical werewolf, which is just normally a mindless killing machine often, he somehow ends up becoming super cop because of these weird new powers and he goes off with his claws and his gun and goes off and fights crime in a messed up way.
I thought the film was great- I had such good fun with it. Could you tell me how you came up with the idea for the film?
Sure yes. Frankly, I just wanted to make an independent film- I just kind of looked at the resources I had around me and the sort of skills set, and then thought of what kind of films people want to see. And just having come off a horror film, 13 Eerie, I learnt a few lessons and had a really good time working in the world of horror, but I just wanted to do something a little more comedic. I was just thinking of the movies I loved and the films that inspired me, like The Evil Dead, and I want to make something really messed-up but true to those 80s B-movie horror films. So, the film is quite unique in the sense that it was the first film to be selected from a group of 60 film concepts from the Cinecoup Accelerator Programme.
Could you tell me a little about this programme and your experience with it?
Yes, Cinecoup is a model that is basically created to finance independent low budget films. It is unique because it actually puts the audience first, that is, financiers ask the film makers to create a concept trailer of their ideas first, for which they then post it online and you then engage with fans online, and people on social media, along with industry professionals. And so basically, over three months, you are trying to prove your project. So, basically, I and 90 other teams across Canada put concept trailers forward online. We had to, each week, create a new video on a different aspect of Wolfcop and why we thought Wolfcop was the film that should be selected and get made. And at the end of 3 months of hustling, we got lucky and our film was selected.
What do you think sold the film to the fans online and the film board?
I think it’s a couple of things. The name is so simple and it gets your attention, and it has the synopsis within the title. We had a really strong international feel, more than most of the other teams in the competition, before the films was even made. During our three months of promoting it, we were covering a lot of film sites like Fangoria and Aint it Cool News, talking about our concept trailer. We were finding write-ups about our concept trailer in like Japan and they had Japanese blogs talking about it, so it was very clear that our idea had potential and that there was an interest to grow this universe.
I think it’s a great process, as you are putting it out there for the fans to promote it for you and get the backing for it.
Yes, I am very grateful for this experience.
Do you think this could be a new model for the future?
For sure, I think a lot of producers will be looking for pre-existing properties, or there might be more of an onus on the filmmaker to prove that people want to see their feature, yer know, take a chance on me- put your money where your mouth is.
Now, back to the film. What I found special about it was the interplay between the main characters, more specifically; Wolfcop, played by Leo FaFard and Willie, played by Jonathan Cherry- their scenes together are just brilliant. They work so well together, I could have watched them for hours.
Yer, I really loved those two together- they are definitely an odd couple- such good fun. Whereas Leo’s character is so serious in nature, Willie, just plays off him so well, like a mad-cap Doc Brown.
I thought the casting of Leo was inspired, as you couldn’t have got a more suitable person to play Wolfcop, with his portrayal and the way he looks.
Well, the role of Wolfcop was actually written for Leo, as I have known him for a long time, as he is a guy in our community and a good local actor, and actually a crew worker also. I just knew what he is capable of. Before we even knew about Cinecoup, we were kind of determined to make this film no matter what, in what ever means possible. Leo was so good going under the make up process, as he could just sleep through it- which is amazing, as it is such a difficult process to go through- especially with all that make up on. To go through all those hours of putting the make-up on, and then taking it off, must have been a real chore. But, he was just so good at both sides of the coin- being both Leo and Wolfcop through the filming process.
Were a lot of the crew from your local area? Friends, family, associates?
Yes, definitely, it is a very small film community. Basically, everyone who worked on the film either worked with us before or they were films students looking for experience, or even just friends and family.
I think what works so well in the film, is that it has such a great sense of humour, which I think is missing from a lot of modern horror films. Do you think the film would have worked as well if it was taken in a much more serious tone?
No, I think it always needed to have some humour- how much humour was the only real discussion that we were trying to figure out during the Cinecoup days. I think if you go back and even watch our concept trailer we made, you can see that we were trying to have some humour within the violence. Like, we have Wolfcop shooting behind his back- like why does a werewolf even need a gun? No, I definitely think humour was important. And for me, it’s just more of a comment on a lot of genre films and superhero films, and just films in general. I just feel that nowadays, the look of the film is so de-saturated and there is not enough colour. It’s more about being cool, than being fun and awesome. And for us, we wanted to throw back to a time when it wasn’t all about walking in slow motion and trying to be cool, but more about just being crazy and about a high concept and having fun.
Like all classic werewolf films, the make-up of the wolfman and the transformation are some of the key aspects which the audience come away reflecting upon. How did this process go with the design team? Was it difficult?
No, I wouldn’t say the transformation scenes were difficult, but I think that is also because the make-up/practical effects artist Emersen Ziffle and I are really good friends, and before I even had a script, we planned out the transformation scenes. So, for a long time, Emersen and I had long discussed what we would do if we were going to do a werewolf movie- it was a cooperative collaboration. The only thing with transformation is that unlike any regular dialogue scene, it took a lot of time- that was the only downside, but it was extremely rewarding, as for just one second shot, it could take up to 30 minutes to set up.
With the modern approach to special effects being CGI enhanced, would have you gone down that route if you had the chance, or would have just stuck to the traditional, hands-on make-up approach?
Well, it really depends on the project, moreover, what you have at your disposal. I happen to be really lucky enough and be good friends with a really talented practical affects artist. With knowing what I had at my disposal for the making of this film, I knew the DNA of this film was to be an 80s throwback, so it seemed right to have the likes of Emersen work on this project. Maybe, if one of my friends was a super talented VFX artist, and I lived in a big city, then maybe Wolfcop would have been a futurist city cop feature. It just felt right for this movie, especially on a lower budget, you just have to work with what you’ve got, and what you trust.
I’ve got to admit, I think Wolfcop has such a sweet ride, I think the combination of Wolfcop’s speedy criminal-chasing mobile unit, and take-no-shit attitude, is the perfect blend of total badassery! Was the idea of having a Wolfcop car at the start of the story design or during production?
It was, towards the later parts of the script. Like in the early parts of the script, there was no Wolfcruiser- I had spitballed the idea with one of the executive producers and he was in love with the idea of the Wolfcruiser- he said don’t hold back, put in the film, don’t wait for the sequel. So, we really pushed for it in the movie, and so the art designer, Justin Ludwig came up with some cool ideas, such as spinning the lights on the top around, so they look like a Mohawk and the ‘W’ sign on the front of the cruiser. Well actually, Leo Fafard, the main actor, is a welder and he is the one who welded the signs on the hood. It was definitely a collaborative process!
But Wolfcop is not just a criminal ass-kicking machine is he? He’s quite the ladies’ man too, hey?
That was one of the two scenes created before there was even a movie. I was picturing the werewolf sex scene and the first transformation scene. I said to myself, as long as I had these two scenes in the movie, I think it might work out.
So, you made your first feature film, 13 Eerie just prior to Wolfcop, right? Did you learn a lot from your first feature film? Moreover, what did you learn on your first feature that assisted you in the production of Wolfcop?
Definitely. 13 Eerie was a very hard experience for me. It was not originally my film to direct and I got the opportunity towards the last minute, and I would say even just weeks before production. I wasn’t necessary thrown in, because I had been doing a lot of storyboarding on the film, but I hadn’t been mentally prepared to make a film. I think I have been baptised in blood by making that film because it is one thing to make a lot of short films, like I have done, but it’s a whole different experience to make a feature. It takes a different kind of stamina and thought process, and I was mentored through it and I learnt a lot. A lot of those lessons for sure carried over into Wolfcop, in terms of, how seriously take certain things, what battles to fight, and what things to let go, and how much effort to put in certain moments.
So, you said just then that you were mentored through that process. Who was this person?
I was heavily mentored by Roger Christian, who did some work on Star Wars, Alien and he’s been directing films for a long time too- he is best known for directing Battlefield Earth, and he was an executive producer on 13 Eerie, and had been developing it long before I got involved and he was a great mentor to me. He taught me a lot of lessons- the fights and battles you have, but also about thinking in the moment, as when you are a director, you are asked an overwhelming amount of questions which is something that you can just never prepare yourself for, even on a short film, you plan a few things, but on a feature film you may get 500 questions in a day and you need to have an answer- you can’t just say ah let me think about that for half an hour- you have to be decisive and firm, even if it’s not always the right answer- you need to give people direction.
Now, I thought the film was great Lowell, but I got really annoyed at the end of the film, not because I was angry, but that I was upset because the film had finished and that there was no more Wolfcop to be entertained by. Will we be seeing the man with the fur and badge again in the near future?
Yes, that’s definitely the plan. I am working on the script for Wolfcop 2 as we speak. I truly believe the producers are working as hard as they can to get us shooting next year. I have a lot more I want to do with this character- I feel like we are just getting warmed up, and as you know with a smaller budget film, the script for the first film had more action but the reality of our budget made me cut some of them from the film. My goal for Wolfcop 2 is to have more action, have a more worthy physical enemy and more crazy bizarre things.
Would you keep the same context for the film, or would you venture into another part of the world?
Now, the story for two. A lot of it was born out of the story for one. If people enjoyed the first one, then they will enjoy this one, as they are well connected. Wolfcop is still part of the Woodhaven town, so, he’s not going to NY just yet!
So, away from Wolfcop. Do you have any other ideas or projects for the future? Would you maybe go down other genre routes?
I would never say never to anything with film, if the story was good and something that I can have a personal connection to. For me, right now, I really love horror and horror comedy- that’s where I am gravitating to. I’ve written a couple other feature-length scripts that are kind of in that mould. I am already thinking about flexing my muscles with other genres.
Do you find it is more difficult for horror film directors these days, along with other genre directors too, to come up with original ideas and material, or do you think there is still a lot to explore and be creative with, within the horror genre?
I think there are always opportunities. I think that maybe many ideas have been done at this point, so the room for originality is slim. For me, originality is a fresh spin on something. As of itself, Wolfcop is not really an original thing at all, but I was so shocked to find that it hadn’t really been done. Merging two visual genres for Wolfcop created the opportunity to be original. Thinking outside the box and creating modern hybrids can be a way for some.
Wolfcop is out now on blu-ray, DVD and for download.