It's late and hot on a holiday afternoon. While the rest of the city lounges on patios and passes out beer over barbecue grills, the crew of Jay Dahl's feature debut The Harton Interviews are about halfway into their Canada Day. These people---about two dozen in total, including cast and extras---willnot see the fireworks. At the moment, they are spreading garbage across four lawns at the end of a tiny cul-de-sac off Purcells Cove Road.
A quick walk-through reveals a patio table-top, a papasan chair, a copy of Toad the Wet Sprocket's Dulcinea, a vacuum cleaner, a tire and the black-and-yellow paperback copy of Introduction to Politics by Geoffrey Ponton and Peter Gill. Each house's garage has a Roman numeral scrawled on it.
Right now the biggest problem the crew faces is that this set is on a hill and the wind is stronger here than in the city. Garbage is blowing all over the place, which is a continuity problem---and also a problem for the dozens of houses lined down tothe main road that are not involved in the production.
The crew scatters, dutifully picking up errant newspaper and plastic bags.
It's the penultimate day of shooting, and the scene being filmed is set deep into the script, which follows a documentary crew at a university that discovers monsters have begun to take over the world in the formof doppelgangers.
"This, I believe, is the apocalypse," says Guy Germain, the Halifax actor playing Jeff, one of the film's leads.
Special effects coordinator Henry Townsend sits inside the passenger seat of one of the scene's key set pieces, a white Volvo that's been driven into a lamppost. He's gingerly applying fake blood---a mixture of molasses, food colouring and water---to the smashed-up windshield, with very careful fingers.
"He has such a cool job," breathes a neighbourhood pre-teen who's crashed the set with her friends.
"This is one-eighth of a page," says Dahl, eyeing the monitor parked in the back of an SUV, "of our 128-page script."
Two weeks later, the shoot has wrapped on time---it was 20 days long and cost a few hundred thousand dollars, all told---and Dahl is in his Halifax home, fresh back from a shoot in Moncton and on a break from editing another project.
"It doesn't feel like a feature to me at all," he says, of the film, noting that the same "band of underpaid drinking buddies" that helped with his shorts, including Backjumping and Time Farter, comprised the bulk of the crew for The Harton Interviews. "It's a lot like a short film, in that it's a very simple idea, and it's like a really long short film, primarily because of the budget. It's just night and day when you shoot something for CBC or that the unions are signatories to. You just throw money at a problem: Someone's mowing the lawn, go give them 50 bucks."
The film's low budget was a choice, he adds. "I had an option of going, 'OK, I've got this idea. I can take two years and get it financed correctly and get myself $5 million. Or I could access exactly enough money that I could get in six months.' And I knew I could convince everybody that I could make something good with that amount of money, in that spirit of 'I need to shoot now.'"
Dahl's touchstone references for The Harton Interviews are docu-dramas like Paul Greengrass' United 93 and Daniel Myrick and Eduardo Sánchez's The Blair Witch Project---films that aimed to put the viewer right into the worlds being depicted. The Harton Interviewswas shot POV-style.
Back on set, at the top of a paved lane leading to the cul-de-sac's farthest driveways, a doll's arm sticks out of an overturned stroller. "Is that baby gonna be there? Cause I can put some blood on it," says Townsend.
"Pour half a litre of blood on the ground and put the arm in it," Dahl instructs, shaking his head in disgust, with a touch of glee. "A little bit of blood on the arm."
"The challenge for me for this is we're trying to be as realistic as possible and be a real horror film," Dahl says, now. "Blair Witch---those actors were really scared. They literally put them in the forest and scared the shit out of them."
The Harton Interviews is aiming for a 2009 release. Check out Backjumping and more Dahl shorts at jaydahl.com.