Published on April 12th, 2016 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: O. Corbin Saleken
Vancouver filmmaker O. Corbin Saleken has a lot to be excited about.
With a Golden Honu Award for Best Foreign Feature at the Big Island Film Festival for his film Patterson’s Wager, he’s eager to share the film with local audiences in just a few days at the Vancity Theatre.
O. Corbin Saleken gave us the lowdown on the film and his process in bringing it to life.
Can you start by telling us a little bit about you?
I am a Vancouver-based filmmaker whose primary goal is to make engaging, original stories. I love it when a movie surprises me, when it takes me somewhere I haven’t been before, so that’s the kind of experience I’m trying create for an audience.
How did you get started in the industry and who were some of your early inspirations?
I got my start making movies back in high school, using a VHS camera to make bad skits and horror movies with my brother. I eventually went to film school at UBC. After graduating, I just kept plugging away, making shorts and writing scripts, until eventually I decided to take the leap and make Patterson’s Wager, my first feature.
As far as early inspirations, I’m a kid of the eighties, so I was hugely inspired by filmmakers such as Steven Spielberg, John Carpenter, Robert Zemeckis, and James Cameron.
You’re the writer and director of Patterson’s Wager. What can you tell us about the film and how you got started with it?
Patterson’s Wager is a romantic comedy with a dash of fantasy. It’s about a man named Charles (played by Fred Ewanuick, from Corner Gas and Dan for Mayor) who discovers that he has the unpredictable ability to see two minutes into the future. The key word here is “unpredictable.” Charles can’t control his ability, nor does he know when it’s going to happen, which introduces a significant amount of uncertainty into both his life and the life of his girlfriend Audrey (played by Chelah Horsdal, from Hell on Wheels and, currently, The Man in the High Castle), to whom he wants to propose.
The impetus for the film was twofold. The concept came to me when I was thinking about useless superpowers, and how I could introduce a single fantastical element into an otherwise grounded story. I figured that being able to see a minute or so into the future wouldn’t really allow you to do anything spectacular, but it would be just enough to seriously complicate matters. I then used this conceit to explore particular themes in which I’ve always been interested, these being trust, faith, and the nature of belief.
What should audiences expect from the film?
Audiences who see Patterson’s Wager should expect to see an original story that they haven’t seen before. It’s a film that comes straight from my heart and mind, and its narrative journey is as unpredictable as are its main character’s “superpowers.” Audiences can also expect to have an engaging, thoughtful, heart-warming experience that leaves them feeling particularly good when they exit the theatre. At least, that’s my hope, and, judging from some of the comments I’ve received from audiences who’ve seen the film at festivals, it seems to be what a number of people have felt.
In your own personal experience, did the film change a lot from how you originally envisioned it during the writing process, or was it close to how you imagined it?
Honestly, the film turned out pretty much exactly as I envisioned it, to the point where many of the line readings were uncannily similar to what I’d imagined when I initially came up with the dialogue. This only happened because people just kept saying “yes” to me whenever I approached them about contributing to the project. This list of incredibly generous individuals includes the all-volunteer crew, the great cast, the people at William F. Whites and Sharpe Sound and Skylab, and everyone else who gave me access to a particular location, who loaned me or let me use a special prop, who carved me a special prop, and who sewed me a special costume.
What was the biggest challenge for you in making the film and how did you handle it?
The biggest challenge in making Patterson’s Wager was deciding to do it. I knew that I was going to have to self-fund the movie if I wanted it to get made, which would require a huge financial and time commitment on my part. I also knew that it would require access to a whole bunch of external resources, such as top-notch actors who’d have to be willing to work for next to nothing. Despite these limitations, I was also determined that I didn’t want to go ahead if it meant I would have to compromise my intentions in any way. If I couldn’t do it the right way, I didn’t want to do it all.
I handled this challenge by initially engaging three key people: my long-time friend and the movie’s eventual co-producer (and co-star) Alex Zahara, and the super talented cinematographers Nelson Talbot and Graham Talbot. Once these guys were onboard, I started adding more and more people to the roster, until eventually I’d gained enough forward momentum that I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to.
What advice would you have for other directors who want to direct their own screenplays?
To answer this, I shall quote a writing instructor I once had, who said that every writer’s problem is that they can’t see their screenplay’s biggest flaw. Now, I don’t necessarily believe that every screenplay has a big flaw, but when you’re directing your own script it’s certainly easier to overlook, or simply be oblivious to, some problems that might be there. For example, I will admit that there was one scene in Patterson’s Wager that I overwrote. It was an important monologue with which I, the writer, was a little too enamoured. Unfortunately, I, the director, hadn’t realized that I’d overwritten the scene, so we shot it the way it was written, which meant that it was eventually left to me, the editor, to fix it.
I guess, then, my advice is to be very critical of your own script, and make sure you ask for feedback from people you trust. More importantly, make sure that you listen to this feedback. If you truly understand the story you want to tell, you’ll be able to apply this feedback in ways that will make your project stronger.
What books and authors have been influential to you throughout your creative journey so far?
My two favourite authors, the ones who’ve had the biggest influence on the way I think about stories, are Jonathan Carroll and Neil Gaiman. Both of these writers have a knack for creating original narratives, ones that often mix the fantastical with the quotidian, which is something I also like to do. I’ve also been influenced by D.H. Lawrence, Iris Murdoch, Brian K. Vaughan, Alan Moore, and Roald Dahl. Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach and E.M. Forester’s A Passage to India are probably my two favourite books.
As for film-related books, I loved Hard Core Roadshow, which is about the making of what I consider to be the greatest Canadian film ever made, Hard Core Logo, as experienced by the movie’s screenwriter Noel Baker. Another great book on filmmaking, and just life in general, is Herzog on Herzog. During pre-production on Patterson’s Wager, I found Master Shots Vol 2: Shooting Great Dialogue Scenes to be particularly useful.
What other projects are you involved with at the moment?
My next project is probably going to be a short film that will also feature Fred Ewanuick. I’ve written a bunch of feature scripts, so I’m hoping that I can use Patterson’s Wager as a springboard to get one of them made. My dream project is called Peach Fest, it’s kind of the Canadian Dazed and Confused. I’ve got another one called The Dummy Factor, which is about a group of kids investigating a possible local connection to some child abductions. I’ve also got an unconventional ghost story that I wrote with my cousin Ben Rollo.
Where can we find out more about you and Patterson’s Wager?
Thanks to O. Corbin Saleken for speaking with us!
Patterson’s Wager will screen at the Vancity Theatre on April 17th as part of the Canadian Film Week series and on April 20th for Canadian Film Day.
Tickets are available through VIFF.org