Blab August 2001

Blab August 2001
I forgot to tell you about the little music video I shot about a month or so ago, for the up-and-coming glamour band called Cheerleader. That's with an umlaut, although I'm not sure where it goes. You'll have to excuse the lack of names in the account that follows: I'm not very good with faces, but I never remember a name.

I met the band in question through Sasha, the ravishing sexpert who writes a weekly column for Toronto weekly Eye magazine. (It would be terribly gauche to mention that I got her the gig, so I won't.) I caught their act at the Bovine Sex Club one liquor-ridden night, and Sasha magnanimously deigned to introduce me to the boys, four hot Italian lads from the suburbs who had just recently started to live and play downtown. With their shag haircuts, angular faces and wiry frames, not to mention their thrashing guitars and lyrics almost exclusively about teenage girls, I was immediately transported back to the days of ‘70s rock'n'roll. When I spoke to them they seemed remarkably down to earth and attitude free, so when talk of a video emerged I was totally keen on the idea, despite the fact that the only had a self-produced five song CD under their studded belts. A Videofact application quickly ensued.

I decided to shoot the video up at my parent's farm where I was born and raised, largely because I hardly ever get a chance to get up there anymore, so it would be a good excuse to visit them. Mark Hesselink, a big-shot music video producer who got his start producing some of the Rusty videos I directed many moons ago, consented to produce this modest little enterprise (with the kind participation of Janni at Revolver) even though its budget wouldn't cover the call-girl tab for the videos he works on now. I convinced him it would be good for his karma, plus he liked the boys in the band and was eager to meet Ron and Dot, the people responsible for the production of me.

So it was that on a freezing day in May, our small cast and crew gets into convoy formation and heads up north towards Bruce township, which is in Bruce county, which is where Bruce was born, not five miles from the Bruce Nuclear Power Development Station, where he once toiled away as a summer student employee. (If you drive up there, you will at one point come across a large banner across the highway which reads, "Welcome To Bruce." It's kind of scary.) You're probably unaware that my last name is Bruce, which means that somehow I am deeply woven into the very historical fabric of the Scottish/Canadian experience. In fact, my ancestry can be traced back directly to Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland. Somewhere there are a whole lot of Scotsmen rolling in their graves.

Just north of Bramladesh we descend upon a truck-stop café called Flapjacks for breakfast, ordering heaping helpings of farm fresh eggs, Canadian bacon, and pancakes. Mark and I and our Director of Photography, Adam Marsden, and a few members of the crew, some of whom are working strictly on a volunteer basis, finish first and continue driving north, with the band lagging behind us. Through several cell phone transmissions we discover that the police have other plans for the boys: having spotted their wild rock'n'roll haircuts and surly demeanours, they've pulled them over and informed them that they fit the description of some despicable criminals wanted for some heinous crimes in the vicinity. This incident sets the tone for the rest of the day's shoot, which will be plagued by unforeseen delays and near catastrophes. In other words, a typical LaBruce shoot.
After a three-hour drive we arrive at the farm where little LaBruce was raised in a pumpkin patch. My parents, in their late 60s, are largely retired from farming now, although they still both work practically full-time, my father roofing houses (back-breaking work that I used to help him with after I refused to return to the nuclear power station), my mother cleaning houses (for the local gentry), and both of them together catering various affairs both large and small in the township. They have, in fact, been hired to cater our little video shoot, which means that Mom has been baking her famous apple and rhubarb, pecan, and cherry pies all morning. If you knew how wholesome my upbringing was, you'd probably wonder how evil grew in me.

The narrative of the video involves a teenage girl who picks up a young man hitchhiking and, after making out with him, takes him back to the farm to meet the grandparents, played by Ron and Dot. For the girl, I've cast a hot 18-year-old aspiring model; Steve, a straight Ryan Phillipe type who I met through some evil queens, is playing the boy. The two of them have absolutely no chemistry whatsoever; in fact, later on, when they have to play tonsil hockey in the car, the girl will feel compelled to open her door, lean out, gag and spit. Steve takes it all very good-naturedly. Apparently he's usually quite the Casanova, so his ego can take it.

It's time for one of the first minor catastrophes of the day. Mark has had the muscle car that the girl is to drive, a black GTO, towed all the way up to the farm so as not to put too much mileage on it, but when we try to start it up, nothing happens. The guy who's towed it says that it's a problem with the starter, which has to be replaced. My dad, who is always good in a crisis, volunteers to accompany him to the nearest town 13 miles away to buy a new starter. Meanwhile, Adam and I drive around in another car with the band to shoot some of their performance of the song, which is about a 17-year-old nymphomaniac or something.
We're using my parent's house as the production headquarters, and it's weird to see a rock'n'roll band and a film crew in that context, interacting with Ma and Pa. Of course my mother pulls out the old photo albums and tells stories about how adorable I was as a baby with my orange ringlets and red ringworm. Fortunately I'm too preoccupied with the next little disaster to take much notice. It seems that the cube van with all the heavy equipment in it has gotten stuck in the mud. Because the crew is so small, everyone is enlisted to try to extract it, which eats away a little more of our dwindling daylight. By the time the camera is mounted on the hood of the car to shoot the hitchhiking scenes, we only have a couple of hours to essay almost all the narrative material, and I'm beginning to think the whole shoot is a bust. Oh well, I can always go back to roofing houses with Dad.
While we're shooting the girl driving as the boy kisses her, with me and Adam stuffed in the backseat on the floor so as not to be in the shot, she loses sight of the road and swerves into the lane of oncoming traffic, a truck almost smashing into the 16mm camera which is mounted on the driver's side door. Mike, one of the best key grips in the business, shakes his head and surreptitiously checks out the girl's caboose while telling us how close we came to destroying that very expensive piece of equipment. As the sun sinks toward the horizon, we do manage to cover about a quarter of the shot list, and with the extra material I've been capturing with my mini-DV camera, I'm sure I'll be able to piece something together. I always do.

In the evening we shoot some material inside the house, then break for a very meat and potatoes dinner courtesy of Ron and Dot, which everyone eats while sitting around watching the hockey game. It doesn't get much more Canadian than this. The only thing left after that is the band performance, which is to take place in front of car headlights against the backdrop of the barn.

Unfortunately some key piece of equipment has gone missing, which takes a couple of hours to locate, everyone hunting with flashlights. Then Adam has to patch into the old fuse box in the basement of the house to spark up the lighting for the scene, but the power keeps cutting out. Finally, after many more hours, with the band standing around in the freezing cold wrapped in sound blankets, we capture a couple of performances of the song and are able to call it a night. The crew, which has been working for next to nothing as a favour to Mark, has been amazingly patient considering the number of disasters we've encountered. Particularly philosophical has been one Rich Green, the camera assistant who's helped keep everyone's spirits up with his droll humour. He is, after all, the fellow whose girlfriend is reluctant to have a kid with him because he wants to call him Soylent.
Ron and Dot loved the Cheerleader boys, and Dot even shared recipes with some of the crew members. Against all odds, the video turned out pretty good, and has been getting some airplay on MuchMusic. The band informs me that a girl in Modesto, California saw it and invited them to perform at her high school graduation. That's about the highest accolade I can think of.