Sunday, January 17, 2010

Ryan Arnold on Skidlove

Ryan Arnold synopsizes Skidlove as the following:
Skidlove-as in dark, gritty, infested with lies-is about a artist who meets a young woman (Paige) at a party. She quickly becomes his girlfriend in spite of the mystery that surrounds her. How does she make her living? What is she hiding in her bedroom? And why won’t she let anyone in? The love struck painter tries everything in his power to understand what she refuses to acknowledge. This film is an unsettling look at the beginning and the end of an “anti-romance” between two twenty-something hipsters living in Toronto. Through images, some of them graphic bordering on gory, we discover the “secret garden” of Paige’s boss and clients of his small business. With its B-movie aesthetic, fragmented story line and experimentation with the use of natural light, Skidlove paints a grim urban portrait, the sordid flipside of a story that could have been happily-ever-after.
For more information about the film check out the website ( and there the press kit offers director notes which provides interesting insight pertaining to trust in relationships, perverts and style within Skidlove and good quality stills from the film which I have interlaced within this interview.

Since the completion of the Skidlove it has premiered at the Nouveau Cinema Film Festival in Montreal and at the 2009 Whistler Film Festival, where the Borsos Competition Jury awarded Jayme Keith with a Special Jury Prize for her central performance in the film. I wrote a review of the film after seeing it in Montreal, which can be found here, as well Skidlove made it into my ten best film list of 2009.

The following is a question and answer exchange I had with Ryan about his film Skidlove.

David Davidson: What were the neighborhoods and areas you were filming in? I am thinking in particular of the scenes by the train tracks, the park, the downtown streets, and the biking scenes. These shots are all visually captivating: The train tracks had a very discomforting feeling towards them; the dead squirrel lying on them in the beginning of the film is an unsettling use of foreshadowing, the park scene where you confront Jayme Keith remind me of the personal confessionals in the cinema of Andrei Tarkosvky, and the shots of the downtown streets made me feel like I was actually there.

Ryan Arnold: We shot the film in west Toronto proper, specifically Parkdale, Roncesvalles Village, High Park and the Junction. There’s an abundance of tracks throughout this whole corridor. I like train tracks, just hanging out getting drunk on them is a pretty decent party in itself for my tastes, which we do in the film. I don’t find them discomforting myself as most of the time they’re very still, save the obvious example. I would say the discomfort comes from the fact that they can’t just stop on a dime, and quite often they can sneak up on you despite their size and noise when immediately beside you. Maybe that’s what I was thinking. Who knows? They’ve got an ominous presence, are a product of industrial revolution that have persevered and will hopefully continue to do so in the face of modern methods. We’ll continue to invent new ways of travel and shipping (see; general space travel/back to the future films) but the train will never die – at least not for a while I don’t think. At least I hope not. I like to think trains and ocean tankers are two really tight drinking buddies. I can’t wait to shred on an oil tanker.

I’ve never seen a Tarkovsky film, but I’m aware of his work. I’ll have to really take a look at some of his films before I answer that question with the respect it deserves. That being said, I’m flattered and I think the goal was to put the viewer there but still have a slight veneer to it all. I always like to sense some level of whimsicality.

David Davidson: How much of your own experiences did you want to bring to the film? I remember in the film Rennie (played by Ryan Arnold) tells Jayme you are from the other side of the country, and you are from Vancouver right?

Ryan Arnold: I don’t know if one can truly control how much they let out. There is always going to be, and always should be a certain amount of personal heartache involved for a good strong connection with the audience. They need to feel the humanity to ultimately connect. That’s what’s important and that’s what hopefully made its way in. Aside from the moment you mentioned regarding coming from the other side of the country, and some drinking on the tracks, the film is fiction. It is a fiction that I chose to create and ultimately live in briefly, only to return to the dregs of reality. I think that’s all filmmaking is to me. A level of escapism to places that, are not necessarily happier or sadder than my own existence, but rather just more interesting. I don’t think I’ll use filmmaking to vent my anger or frustration with my real life relationships but rather explore things that are far more interesting than my own life. As a viewer of film, I’m not sure what it does for me. Most of the time it just makes me anxious.

David Davidson: The film had a lot to say about relationships and corruption, what are feelings about these issues living in Toronto today?

Ryan Arnold: I don’t believe there can be complete trust or complete honesty in any situation. I do not feel that it is possible to completely trust someone or to be completely honest with anyone but oneself. That doesn’t mean however, that an effort cannot be made, and relationships are in fact opportunities to explore how close you can get to being completely honest and trustworthy with someone you deeply care for. I wanted to trek that ground through this film, along the way revealing how important it is to strive for a mutual understanding of one another because the consequences can be quite devastating. This can be applied to any relationship in any city in the world. No city is more romantic than another. No city is more dangerous than another city – when it comes to relationships and emotions. Warfare in cities is another story, and I don’t feel like talking about warfare right now.

David Davidson: I really liked the extra attention to detail and how you had the paintings in the background to accentuate the story development. That is something I would have liked to have seen more of, something like the ending of Andrei Tarkovsky’s Andrei Rublev (1966) where there are many panning close-ups of the medieval Russian icon painters work. It looked like a lot of time and effort went into the paintings, you painted them right? Can you tell me about your experiences with painting?

Ryan Arnold: Again, I know of the film but I have never seen it. Yes, a lot of time does go into painting. Like filmmaking there is no immediacy to it. It is long, drawn out and tedious. As a result, the process is very difficult to capture on film. Thankfully, I knew the style in which I was going to be cutting the film and I was able to jump through the process and show the progression spread over 3 shots or set-ups intercut with the other side of the story. Another effort to put the viewer in there with the character was to have all the paintings done on polyurethane plastic so that we could shoot through it. I think it worked in some cases but I wouldn’t advise working with poly and paint, particularly if you’re a beginner. I enjoyed it but time was of the essence and had the ‘shooting through poly’ not been the desired effect I wouldn’t work with it again. Poor blending, poor adhesion, poor pockets and too much liquor required to deal with it all. Plus everything had to be on a large scale, which just added so much more time on top of it. However, it did pay off and I’m glad I went through it. The images and the sheer size help connect Rennie in his efforts to piece the story together, all the while providing some level of foreshadowing. Interestingly, I had planned on having a load of close-ups of the pieces toward the end of the picture, but we couldn’t get the right light cast across them because of the reflective nature of the poly. It’s nice to know it might have worked though.

David Davidson: How was working so close with the cameraman? It must have been very intimate as many of the shots were very personal and up close.

Ryan Arnold: Chris (DOP) and I fell into a very casual, mutual working relationship. We eased into it over a couple months all the while working on the script. I was horribly lucky to have met Chris, as we both have a very similar sensibility for what we want and how to get it. Furthermore, I knew we weren’t going to shoot conventionally with a structured 30 day shoot. We didn’t have the budget, but more importantly we couldn’t get the light we wanted all day, every day for 30 days straight. As a result, we shot very organically, just chasing the dying light around the west end until it was dark. Chris is great at taking anyone’s ideas, in this case mine, and making them 100 times better, which was very lucky for me again. He did this all in addition to providing a slew of his own ideas. That’s not to say there weren’t arguments between us because there were, but the good times out weighed the bad. Regarding the camera being in close, I’ll have to admit it was never in close at all. The camera was never very close to either model in the frame because we long-lensed the majority of the film to get a more interesting depth of field. We started to devise a way of shooting and communicating over distances, sometimes very great ones to get the look and feel we wanted. It took longer, but it looks so much better.

David Davidson: How was being both the star and director of the film? What role did you like the most?

Ryan Arnold: Quite simply, I much prefer directing to acting, though there can be moments of fulfillment from acting. In this case, it wasn’t always the plan to act, however with the amount of time that would be required of another actor and the budgetary constraints upon us it just made sense to me after a while. I knew I could do it so I did it. I would do it again, but hopefully in a smaller supporting capacity. So far as appearing in other projects conceived by other people, I’d love to try it out and see what happens to get a different perspective. I appeared in Chris’s film that we shot last spring and it was very rewarding.

David Davidson: My friend Matthew Curran who I was with at the movie had a question he wanted me to ask you, so I am going to do it. How long did it take you to grow the beard?

Ryan Arnold: Would that be the first, second or third time I grew the beard?

David Davidson: Thanks again for corresponding. It was great to hear your thoughts on Skidlove.

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