Jason Shipley has a friend who's got a cabin in New Brunswick. Two springs back, that friend, Pierre Huard, told Shipley of a film idea he had about two men who go on a fishing trip---with bloody results. Huard wanted to act and direct; Shipley told him he should pick one. And the actor, as actors will, chose to stand before the camera.
"I knew that we had no money, no resources, it was a complete lark, just something to do for fun," says Shipley over a beer in his home near Chocolate Lake. "I decided rather than go off and write it and then have to supply everything, why don't I just stay here and write to what's here? So I settled down with a two-four of beer and a big bottle of Jack Daniels and my dog for two weeks, and I just kind of stumbled around the property looking at what was there. 'Oh look, there's a shovel, I wonder what you could do with a shovel. Oh, there's an ATV, and there's an old rifle.'"
And thus Shipley's directorial debut, Blood Shed, was conjured from the essence of his surroundings. The 15-minute gore romp---there's chopping, face-splitting, chainsawing and knife-fucking---was shot in a weekend in Coles Island, New Brunswick ("a place that's literally in the middle of fucking nowhere," says Shipley---i.e. near Sussex). Shipley, a veteran first assistant director (Trailer Park Boys, Poor Boy's Game, Treevenge, Halo), recruited a tiny crew from the local film scene to go back to the cabin later that summer.
"Everybody just worked for free, it was all volunteer," he says. "Any of the money that was required for some of the special props and food and a generator and all that stuff just came out of my pocket."
Blood Shed is about two brothers played by Huard and Dennis Poirier, on a booze- and cocaine-fueled weekend in the woods that takes a multiple-murderous turn. It was important to Shipley, a New Brunswick native, to set the film in the province and have the actors speak partially in French.
"I think that there's a cardinal error that a lot of first-time or young filmmakers make, and it's that because the majority of our TV and movies comes from the States, they think it's gotta be set in the States," he says. "They always try to make their movie and say, 'Oh this is set in New York. Or this is set in Los Angeles. Or this is set in Ohio.' And I hate that. They always fail because of it. The most successful low-budget movies that I remember were set where they were shot, you know? If this was the one and only movie that I ever directed, I wanted to be sure to be true to the region."
Blood Shed's world premiere came courtesy of Fredericton's Silver Wave Film Festival last November. "I swear to god it was like a rock concert---the crowd went nuts," says Shipley. "Screaming, reacting, yelling at the screen, huge cheers---the gross-out sections got huge WOAAAAAAHs. The reactions were above and beyond what I could've ever expected, but all I could've hoped for."
The film has been on a roll since then, screening at festivals in Cleveland, Boston, Calgary and Portugal, with events in Chicago, Vancouver, South Africa and Spain lined up for the next few months, and over a dozen decisions pending. In the meantime, Shipley is working on another 15-minute project as well as a feature-length script for Blood Shed. The progress of that film, and what he's able to do, depends on budget and funding, but Shipley takes his cues from guys who know how to work within extreme restraints.
"The big directors that I've always loved are directors like Sam Raimi and Peter Jackson and Tobe Hooper, Wes Craven---guys that knew 'OK, this is what you do when you have no money: you take a bunch of people, you go into the woods, you take a lot of cheap effects and you make it visually interesting and then you'll hold their attention,'" he says. "And then people won't notice---or at least they'll forgive you---the fact that you didn't have any money."