If there's a throughline that runs through Canadian director Bruce McDonald's filmography, it's movies about music (2010's Trigger and This Movie is Broken), small-town horror (2008's Pontypool and 2015's Hellions) and life on the road (Highway 61, Roadkill and Hard Core Logo).
McDonald returns to the latter with his latest movie, Weirdos — a black and white coming-of-age drama set in 1970s Nova Scotia about a teenage couple who hit the open road accompanied by (for one of them) the ghost of not-dead-yet Andy Warhol and make some realizations about their relationship, families and lives.
McDonald sat down with Exclaim! during the 2016 Toronto International Film Festival to talk hitchhiking, the struggle to bring Daniel MacIvor's story — loosely based on his own life growing up in Nova Scotia — to the silver screen, and why he hopes the colour version never sees the light of day.
Government cuts to Nova Scotia's film tax credit imperilled Weirdos.
In the spring of 2015, the Nova Scotia government announced it was substantially cutting the province's film tax credit.
"It was like the roof caved in. We were there prepping and scouting, and one day the announcement came in," McDonald says. "I saw people in tears. I saw people raging. One minute you have 300 grand and the next minute you don't."
But, rather than jump ship and movie the production to Ontario, like many companies would over the coming months, McDonald and his crew decided to stick it out.
"We said, 'Fuck it. You know, we've gone this far, we're going to do it, we'll figure out the rest later,'" he says. "I was very impressed by the community in Nova Scotia and how they rallied behind us to make this happen in the face of this tsunami of shit."
McDonald had some epic hitchhiking adventures as a teenager.
Weirdos, with its story of persecution, mental illness and isolation, is by no means a light movie. But where it does feel effortless is in its two main leads, Kit (Dylan Authors) and Alice (Julia Sarah Stone), picking up and easily hitchhiking across the Canadian landscape.
"I've always liked the road movie, I've always liked the journey as a story," McDonald says, "And it's difficult to say no when it's Daniel [MacIvor], when it's a summer road trip up through Nova Scotia to Cape Breton."
Part of that has to do with his own experiences traversing Canada's open roads.
"Pierre Trudeau would literally make statements like, 'Young people should hitchhike across the country,'" he says, even recalling one time when he "found a whole bag of mescaline" while hitchhiking through the East coast and over to Maine. "It was a very normal thing to do. Even your parents, you'd say, 'I'm going to hitchhike to Ottawa,' and they'd be like, 'Okay, call me when you get there.'"
There's a colour version that McDonald hopes to never see or be seen by the public.
"There's an investor in the film and contractually you're obligated to supply them with a colour copy. Whether they end up showing it or not, we'll see — I don't really want to see it at all," he says, adding that the film was always meant to be seen in black and white and edited accordingly. "One day I'm sure I may come across it in Tokyo one night while watching TV in a hotel room."
Weirdos starts a limited run of engagements in six Canadian theatres on March 17. Check out the list of dates and venues here.