Published on April 7th, 2017 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: Robert Cuffley
Canadian director Robert Cuffley has a history of making dark and edgy films like Walk All Over Me and Turning Paige. His newest film, Chokeslam, marks his first foray into comedy as it explores that story of a deli clerk’s reunion with his former high school girlfriend, who is now a pro wrestler.
As Chokeslam is now playing in select Canadian theatres, we spoke to Robert Cuffley to find out more about this project.
Can you start by telling us more about you and the film?
I am a Western Canadian Filmmaker, based in Calgary. I began making short films in junior high school and then, later in life, made music videos which gave me an outlet to explore drama. I would infuse as many of them as I could with storylines and this was very fulfilling for me at the time. A great way to get to know musicians as well. After that I travelled, made short films and did some documentary work, then in 2002, jumped into feature filmmaking with Turning Paige, starring Katharine Isabelle and Nicholas Campbell. The process of making this movie solidified the hold that film has over me.
Chokeslam is my fourth feature film. It is a comedy starting Amanda Crew (Silicon Valley), Chris Marquette, Mick Foley (WWE) and Michael Eklund. It has a very different tone from anything else I’ve made and it’s the first movie I’ve done that my kids can see. When most of what you’ve done has been exploring darker themes, it’s a pleasant feeling to do a comedy and make people laugh.
What was the most rewarding part of this filmmaking experience for you?
This was a very tough shoot. My toughest by a long shot. You’re only as good as the team around you and I was fortunate with Chokeslam as the cast and crew pulled together to make it work.
So the most rewarding experience is right about now…where I can finally show the film to people.
What was the biggest challenge that you faced in making the film and how did you overcome it?
Budget limitations would be the toughest aspect of Chokeslam. Having imagery in your head that I wasn’t willing to compromise or cheap out on despite financial restrictions. There’s no small way to do a wrestling sequence. You need a lot of extras, great wrestlers, multiple cameras and the most sought after luxury: time. Trying to juggle all that was trying. Luckily, Amanda Crew (who plays Sheena) had trained before arriving in Regina where we shot. And a variety of real-life wrestlers (Mick Foley, Lance Storm and Chelsea Green) were involved, lending their expertise to the process. In that sense, everyone coalesced otherwise I’d be at the bottom of some lagoon.
“Be curious about things and other people.”
What advice would you give to aspiring filmmakers?
Get out now. But seriously, endurance is the key. You will experience hurdle after hurdle, but like wrestling, it’s who is standing at the end who succeeds. Filmmaking is an exercise in joy and futility. Your job is to make it slightly more of the former than the latter. Secondly – keep learning. It doesn’t matter if you’ve made ten shorts or twelve feature films, you can always continue to learn, in prep, in production and in post production. Be receptive to it and acknowledge that you can’t be an expert in every field. Learn from others and hopefully they will learn from you as well. Lastly…be curious about things and other people. Ask people about themselves, their family, their jobs, their frustrations. The better you understand people, the better films you will make. This is an ongoing process that should never end.
From your standpoint, how would you describe the current state of the Canadian film industry?
Every festival I go to has panel session after panel session describing the gloom and doom of the Canadian Film Industry. I tend to be more optimistic. More Canadians than ever are making films. And their films are being seen by more and more people. I see far more people starting out than when I started out, a lot of that here in Calgary. The jump between your first and second feature tends to weed out a lot of filmmakers. But once you’ve made three, I figure you’re enough of a masochist to keep punishing yourself by making more.
What film-related books and authors have been influential in your creative journey?
What other projects are you involved with right now?
I am developing a series as well as three other features in varying genres. I am fortunate in that I love every one of them and don’t have to force myself to get excited about working on any of them. You need to juggle a lot in order to be able to duck and weave should something get held up. I could never stick to the same genre as some filmmakers do. I’m sure it’s nice to be known for something, but I like tackling something completely new each time around.
Where can people find out more about you and the film?
Chokeslam opens in Vancouver, Calgary, Regina and Toronto on April 7th. Despite the success of viewing platforms like iTunes and Netflix, any filmmaker would love you to see his/her work in a theatre setting. I’ve been very lucky to have had theatrical releases on all of my films, so go see this in a theatre. A film has its director’s POV written all over it, sometimes subtle, sometimes not. Ferocious (my last film before Chokeslam) displayed elements of the thriller genre that I love, where as Chokeslam comes very close to mirroring my sense of humour. Dry like Canada Dry. But with less ginger.
Thanks to Robert Cuffley for speaking with us!
You can see Chokeslam in select theatres in Vancouver, Calgary, Regina, and Toronto now.