- Ashphalt Watches is based on actual events, although co-creator Shayne Ehman calls truth “a slippery word.”
Seth Scriver went to NSCAD in the late '90s. When asked what degree he graduated with he asks for clarification: "You mean, what was my thing?"
"It was a Bachelor of Fine Art, Interdisciplinary---that's like a Bachelor of Fuck-All of Everything."
Now he works construction. But when he gets together with Shayne Ehman, which isn't too often---Scriver lives in Toronto, Ehman in Thunder Bay---they sequester themselves away, lock the doors and windows, put up the Do-Not-Disturb signs and animate their asses off in mad, seething sessions.
That's how they created their magnum opus Asphalt Watches over more than seven years of sporadic intensity. It's a sprawling, expressionist hand-drawn Flash animation about a guy named Skeleton Hat and his buddy, Bucktooth Cloud, who travel from Chilliwack to points east. It's broadly psychedelic, full of peculiar visual and aural asides, strange characters and musical digressions.
While the work of Marcel Duchamp, Hieronymus Bosch and Peter Breugel are influences, the film fits solidly in amongst a scene of Canadian doodlers---including artists Marc Bell, Amy Lockhart and Mark Connery. Scriver calls that group pretty inspiring, along with anything considered DIY folk art. Though none of that explains the repeating motif of hamburgers. Or a ditties about boiled hotdogs and blue helmets.
The film was inspired by a road trip Scriver and Ehman took in 2000, from Vancouver to Toronto. Watching a trippy retelling of the cross-country experience, you can't help but wonder what herbs or fungi might have been consumed while on the road. "It was an insane time," says Scriver. "Believe it or not, not many drugs were done. But we tried to capture the essence of what it was like. We kind of lost our minds."
The animators claim everything depicted is based on actual events and people. "It's a slippery word, the truth," says Ehman. "Especially with drawing. You gotta create the world within reason---you use all kinds of tricks, metaphors, symbols and whatnot. There's nothing normal about reality, when you really get into it. It's an ocean of weirdness."
At one point, a twisted, Wendy's hamburgers-loving Santa Claus picks up the two hitchhikers. And later, when something terrible happens with him, our heroes read about it in a newspaper.
"I didn't believe in Santa Claus until that trip," insists Scriver. "For years after I was constantly keeping my eyes open for him, thinking he might show up and go completely nuts. He told us not to tell anyone about him."
And what about all the hamburgers? "They're symbolic of lots of different things, but the true meaning is not fully known to either of us," says Scriver, enigmatically. "But one of the obvious things is it's a road food. We were eating them non-stop, because it was all we could get."
Would the animators advocate for audiences to perhaps enjoy consciousness-altering substances while seeing Asphalt Watches?
"Lots of people wonder about that," says Scriver. "I wouldn't want anyone to feel pressured into it. And the film is crazy enough you'll get hypnotized anyway. You won't even have to take drugs if you don't want to.
"But whatever you're comfortable with, I support that," he adds. "And then let us know."
Ehman isn't afraid to go off message. His feeling is if you can get through the first 30 minutes, you'll probably love Asphalt Watches. "That's probably not a great way to sell your film," he says. "But, yeah, that's the way I feel."
Halifax Independent Filmmakers Festival
June 6-10, hiff.ca
Neptune Studio Theatre, 1593 Argyle Street
Sunday, June 8 at 9pm, $10/$7