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Interview with Things To Do's Theodore Bezaire and Mike Stasko

Interview by Mario Bernengo, January 13, 2007

Bottle Rocket is the only film that I'll admit to stealing from”

Mike Stasko also admits to quoting Bottle Rocket all the time “just 'cause it's awesome”, and the Frat Pack classic Zoolander. The co-writer and star of the Canadian indie gem Things To Do is in Chicago this weekend along with the director and co-writer Theodore Bezaire to attend the US premiere of their first feature. We e-mailed them a bunch of questions, pressed them for a scoop on Mike's co-star Daniel Wilson and his cousins, Owen and Luke, and exhorted them for an opinion on the Frat Pack. They were gracious enough to write us back anyway. We ended up getting an insight into the reality of two young and very talented independent filmmakers… and a scoop on Daniel Wilson. And an opinion on the Frat Pack. And the best reason yet why you should never rely on a more famous relative to promote your movie. A hint: the reason's brother just came out with the sixth installment about a certain Stallion. And no, it ain't Butterscotch.

Congratulations on seeing your first feature open in the US! What time is it in Chicago, and where exactly are you right now?

Mike: Thanks for the congrats. It is 12:49 pm here in Chicago as I write this, but time will change at a constant rate as I write this, so there's no telling…yup, see, it just turned 12:50 pm.

How was the US premiere? Nervous or chill? Anything funny or noteworthy happen (besides the fact that your first feature opened in the US!)?

Theodore: I think the premiere here in Chicago went really well. I was a bit nervous leading up to it but when I saw that people were actually coming into the theater I calmed down a bit.

M: Noteworthy…a few people thought I was actually famous, that was funny.

Your film is playing in Chicago and in Portland, Oregon. Firstly, how have the Chicago screenings been so far? How has the crowd been, the turnout…?

T: The screenings have been great in Chicago. At both of the screenings yesterday we had the theater over half filled, so I think that's pretty good.

Any word yet how it's going in Portland?

M: We haven't heard anything about Portland yet, all of our efforts have been in Chicago. I'm sure the distributors will tell us something at some point.

OK, let's recap a little. The two of you go back and while, right?

T: Mike and I have known each other since high school. So that's going back more than ten years. I was more into film back then and Mike was more into theater. Then we also went to University together where we studied Communications and we also made a few short films while there.

M: I think it's been thirteen years. Ted has always looked up to me.

And you've both been friends with co-star Daniel Wilson for quite some time. Daniel is, of course, the cousin of Andrew, Owen and Luke, and Daniel's father is Joe Wilson, who has appeared in movies like Wedding Crashers and You, Me and Dupree. Tell us, if you will, how you met Daniel, what that was like, your impression of him, and how the three of you decided to make a movie together.

M: We met Daniel at film school at Sheridan College, up near Toronto. When he walked in to the room on the first day I pointed him out to Ted and Eric Schiller (the director of photography), and said hey, it's Dignan (Bottle Rocket being my favorite comedy). Then we had to do the old thing when you go around and say your name and your favorite film. He said Daniel Wilson, and Bottle Rocket. We thought this was pretty weird. And then of course I talked to him after and found out the connection. The four of us became good friends, and Daniel would crash at our house some nights when his house seemed too far of a trip. We all worked on each other's projects, Daniel as an editor and actor for me, me as an actor and Eric as a cameraman for Daniel, and every other combination. So we did a lot of short films together, wearing different hats, so when Ted and I wrote Things To Do, Daniel was in our minds for Mac. He was the first one cast, even before me playing Adam.

I think most of the avid users of our site are familiar with the story in Things To Do by now. But would you mind summing up the movie for those who don't know what it's about?

T: It's about a twenty-five year old guy named Adam who experiences a traumatic event at his work and this acts as a catalyst for him to start evaluating his so-called life path. So he decides to go live with his parents for the summer and try and figure things out. While he's there he meets up with an old acquaintance from high school who is this free-spirited kind of guy and together the two of them complete a list of things that Adam always wanted to do when he was a kid.

How did you come up with the themes, the characters, and the story?

T: The basic idea started when I was working a job in Toronto that I really, really hated. I was making short films and trying to get film stuff going, but that wasn't really paying the bills so I had to take on this horrible job. After a while, I just kind of had this breaking point and decided to quit so I could focus more on what I wanted to be doing. The plan was to move back home with my parents for the summer and figure out how I was going to make the film thing happen then move back up to Toronto in September. While I was back home I would keep on running into old friends from school and more times than not they would talk about how much they hated their job or how unhappy they were. I thought that this could be an interest place to start. So I started to develop a really rough story line and in the fall I approached Mike with the idea and asked him if he would like to co-write the script with me.

When did you start outlining the script and how long did it take to complete?

M: We had an outline done by December 2004. Then this turned into a treatment, and then I think our very first rough draft was done on March 31st of 2005. We then worked on that script, doing rewrites and trying to make it better until the beginning of July, right before we started shooting.

How did you go about it, practically? Do you already have a writing-partner routine down?

M: We had worked on short scripts beforehand, but this was our first feature. The outline was done together, but a lot of the writing was done in separation, as I was living in New York and Ted was in Toronto. We would meet up in person about once a month for a few days to hash out things, but for the most part we would divide up scenes, take turns writing them, switching scenes, correcting each other's stuff and so on.

What was the shoot like?

T: The shoot went relatively well. We were really lucky with the weather and there really weren't any major mishaps that slowed us down. We didn't have a huge budget so we had to rely on our crew to pull things together with creativity and hard work. We really lucked out with the crew, they were fantastic, like Antonio, our production designer, would be working nonstop to make things happen, or Stef Molnar, our costume designer, who could always whip something together at the last minute if we needed it. The entire crew was great and I can't name them all now.

M: We shot in my hometown where my parents still live. All the crew was housed at this mansion we rented out, the cast was housed at a nearby Bed and Breakfast for the days they came down for. But because Daniel was the only other actor that was needed for the length of the shoot, he stayed at my parents' house with me, which was only a mile away from the production set. We had 12 to 16 hour days, so we weren't too social at night, except for one night that stands out when Daniel showed me his gambling expertise at the Casino. I later showed him up in Stockholm at the Casino there, while suffering temporary blindness, nonetheless.

I have to congratulate you on the cast, pretty much everyone nails their part, and Mike and Daniel are of course great together. Was that process difficult, finding the right actors and settling on a cast? Is everyone an actor by trade?

M: Thanks.

T: I was happy with the casting process. I think that the fact that Daniel and Mike were friends beforehand really did help with their onscreen friendship. Their relationship comes across pretty genuine. Some of the actors were professionals, but for a lot of the smaller roles, we ended up using friends and family.

Things To Do has played a few festivals, notably Slamdance and Stockholm, and I believe – correct me if I'm wrong here – it was in theaters in Canada, and it's now available on DVD there. In general, how has the movie been received? How was the domestic run?

M: It's been doing well in Canada. No one gives us exact figures, just statements like “It's in the top 3 of other DVDs released…that day”. They like to keep us in the dark when it comes to money returns, but I really don't care too much about that end, I just want it all to lead to me being able to make another film.

T: Ya, I've heard some good stories about the DVD rental. I've heard a couple times about people going in and trying to rent it but all of the copies are out, so that's pretty cool, people are actually seeing the film.

Your movie has been compared to indie hits and/or cult classics like Garden State, Office Space and Napoleon Dynamite. In its review, our site compared it to Owen and Luke's debut film, Bottle Rocket. Which of these – or other movies – do you feel yours belongs with? Or do you not like it when your movie is immediately pegged as a “such and such” type of film?

M: As much as you like to say that your film can't be compared to anything else, it obviously can be, and it's an important tool while trying to market your film to the right audience. Out of the films you mentioned, I love being compared to Bottle Rocket the most, as it is my favorite comedy and it's the only film that I'll admit to stealing from.

T: I think it is kind of a compliment to be compared to certain films, especially if you like those films, but you also want your film to stand on its own. I think Things To Do does pull from other sources, but at the end of the day it is its own thing.

Let's talk numbers. How did you finance the movie, and how much did it cost to make, all in all?

M: Our other partner Gerry is the best guy to talk to this about, but he doesn't even like to talk about it. Everything totaled, we're talking under 500K.

And how is business? Do you think it'll break even? Will you see a couple of bones come your way? Or will you not get a cent for your efforts?

M: Projections from all sources of income, we should break even in about three years, we hope. But the great thing about indie film is that along with our investors, the three of us (Gerry, Ted and I) all have a percent in the film, so we could see returns in the distant future. Thus far though, the three of us haven't taken a salary on the film, so our personal income is zero, so far…I hope.

On your website you state you have a slate of three feature films in development. Sounds like exciting times for The Dotfilm Company. Anything you want to tell us about? What's the tentative schedule for 2007?

T: Well, Mike and I are currently working on another comedy script, and if all goes well we could be shooting again in late summer. We also have a handful of less developed ideas that we're working on and we'll see where those go.

M: Ya, the script Ted and I have been working on has kept us occupied everyday for 13 months now, so it better turn out to be a good movie, otherwise we have just gone insane. I also have another feature film that I'll be shooting, this is my thesis to complete my MFA at Columbia University.

This is after all a site dedicated to the so-called Frat Pack, of which Owen and Luke are considered members, so forgive us if we sneak in a couple of questions about Daniel's cousins. Have you guys ever met any of the Wilson brothers and, if so, what were they like, what happened…?

M: We haven't met them in person, no. To tell you the truth, we became friends with Daniel long before we knew how close he was with his cousins. When I'm around him, it really never crosses my mind, he's just a friend/colleague. I do quote Bottle Rocket all the time though, just ‘cause it's awesome, so he may find that weird, but I doubt it. He's way more calm and introverted then he may appear as Mac in the film, unless he's drunk, then he's a pervert.

Ha, ha! But it's never crossed your mind to shamelessly “use” Daniel's more famous cousins to give your movie a little push?

T: The main reason we chose Daniel for the part of Mac was 1. He was perfect for the role, and 2. He is a good friend of ours. His family ties didn't play a part in our decision making, and we would rather stand up on our own rather than relying on someone else who really doesn't have anything to do with the film.

M: I agree. It would also seem weird to bill someone as the cousin of someone who is famous. Also, Frank Stallone.

Good point! How do you view this phenomenon that fans and media refer to as The Frat Pack? Have their movies influenced you in any way?

M: Well, it makes sense, and this kind of associations have obviously been done before (Rat, Brat). Ya, they are obviously funny guys, and they surround themselves with funny people. I personally prefer titles like Bottle Rocket over the really broad stuff, but I'm still making Zoolander references all the time.

Are there any specific people out there that you would really like to collaborate with in the future? Or is that something you don't think about, do you rather focus on producing your own movies independently?

M: I mean, ya, the guys in and around the Frat Pack would be great to work with, but I really don't think about specific people. I just like to write stories, and then when it's time to cast, you figure out who. Again, I'm just at the beginning of my career, so there's no telling who I'll have a chance to work with.

Finally, what's next for Things To Do? Will the run continue in Chicago and Portland, will it be released in more cities…?

T: We'll see how things go here in Chicago and Portland. There is a slight chance of it expanding to a few other cities. We'll probably know about that in the next few weeks or so. The DVD is scheduled to be released in May 2007 and we are really excited about that. It should include some pretty cool extras like a commentary and a behind the scenes featurette.

Good luck with that, and your careers! Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, we really appreciate it, and we hope to see a lot more of you in the future!