Film

The skits just keep on coming

The Morrison Project is a triumph of no-budget comic filmmaking

The fresh-faced cinemanauts of Blacklisted Productions don’t expect
everyone to love their new film, The Morrison Project. But, like a certain
brand of Canadian beer, they expect the people who like it, will like it a
lot. “It’s not for everybody,” explains producer Bree
Dreger. “We didn’t want to make a movie for everybody, so I guess
it is more of a cult-type movie. There will be big fans and some people just
won’t appreciate it, and we’re prepared for that.”
“Its playing at the Princess,” adds
director/writer/animator/actor Riley Beach, “so you expect
‘different’ movies to play there. While we want to do things for
ourselves, this is aimed at an audience…. It’s just not a huge
audience.” If making an esoteric movie was their goal, they’ve
succeeded. The Morrison Project is odd—often willfully so. It pulls no
punches in its pursuit of a very particular brand of humour, and will likely
elicit reactions ranging from shock and confusion to laughter and even
possibly disgust. It’s a surreal journey that presents itself as a tale
spun by the “greatest grandpa in the world,” Earnest Ol’
Pete. But that’s really just a skeleton for a Monty Python/Mr.
Show-style collection of sketches examining such unlikely subjects as a
modest serial killer, a man’s paranoid defense of his suburban home, an
attempt to grow the world’s greatest grandfather and a post-apocalyptic
trio trying to repopulate the earth’s plant life. “We decided to
make it a bunch of short movies,” Beach says, “or try to make it
so it could be sectioned off into pieces and sent in parts, if need be, to
festivals. So we could have a multipurpose movie that could debut in Edmonton
and be broken up and fired off and make as much use of it as we could.”
The various segments all employ the same core performers, all of whom play
multiple roles. And if you’ve seen any locally-produced comedy films
over the last couple of years, you’ll be familiar with their faces;
they’re all part of the Draft Six, whose résumé includes
such titles as The Sonic Brooms, Purple Gas and Turnbuckle. “Instead of
trying to find 50 different people,” Dreger says, “we talked to
[Draft Sixer Kevin Gillese], who approached his friends and they asked to
take it on as a group and play various parts and we were game for that. They
also had experiences with Turnbuckle and Sonic Brooms and putting on
premieres and with grants so they ended up helping us in more ways than just
acting.” Hang on here—shouldn’t those be the kind of skills
these recent NAIT graduates should have gotten from the radio and television
program where they met? “NAIT is a really news-oriented program and
they’re constantly trying to make it better,” Dreger says,
“because when we left we didn’t feel prepared enough for the
producer role. I didn’t know enough about grants or producing or these
areas. But I’m happy to say that they are starting to offer
more.” Dreger adds that she and fellow Blacklisted member Justin
Lachance are happily enrolled in the school’s new 16-month Producers
Emergence Program, which is designed to help radio and television graduates
or those with some industry experience prep pitches for broadcasters.
“NAIT gives you a good base program so that you learn everything you
can [about] technical [matters] and writing and stuff,” Lachance says,
“but if you want to perfect it and really get it down then you have to
go out and do it. That’s how the industry works. As filmmakers you have
to do these lower-budget films to get bigger funds from the government to
show you have credibility and skills. If you are emerging, though, this is
the best way to get into the loop.” And The Morrison Project was
certainly a low-budget affair. Like all local productions seem to be, the
film was made possible more through the goodwill and hard work of altruistic
friends than the presence of deep-pocketed investors (although a $10,000
Alberta Foundation for the Arts grant to cover hard costs like costumes and
equipment definitely came in handy). Locations were supplied by friends of
the production team and no one got paid. The lack of funds forced the group
to be creative, especially when it came time to promote the film—they
came up with ideas like distributing trading cards (collect all four!) and
importing a troupe of breakdancing grandpas to perform at the premiere.
Working against the Morrison Project team is the fact that Alberta is not
exactly known as a filmmaking hot spot, but right now they have no plans to
seek out greener (and warmer) pastures. “There’s a lot of talent
here and we could definitely keep working here for a while,” says
Lachance. “I think that Edmonton has a potential for greatness and that
everyone who comes to see this will be helping out. I think if we keep on
making movies then maybe we’ll get a buzz and the money will come
back.” V The Morrison Project Directed by Riley Beach • Written by
Riley Beach and Nathan Fleishauer • Starring Kevin Gillese, Ian Rowe,
Josh Dean, Chris Connelly, Jana O’Connor and William Minsky •
Opens Fri, Apr 30

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