GETTING DOWN IN ROLLER TOWN
GETTING DOWN IN ROLLERTOWN:
Picnicface’s Scott Vrooman and Andrew Bush talk about the appeal of the rollerdisco genre as the setting for the comedy troupe’s first feature film
Interview by Kier-La Janisse
The Halifax-based comedy troupe Picnicface was being hailed as the next ‘Kids in the Hall’ when their comedy network show – the result of their internet-based sketch comedy, particularly their 2007 ‘Power Thirst’ video that now has over 25 million views on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qRuNxHqwazs) – was surprisingly cancelled after one season, prompting an internet campaign to find the show a new home (more details on their website http://www.picnicface.com). But prior to that bit of disheartening news, the troupe – consisting of Scott Vrooman, Andrew Bush, Mark Little, Cheryl Hann (who also made headlines recently in her bid to win a contest to send a civilian to the moon), Evany Rosen, Bill Wood, Brian Eldon Macquarrie and Kyle Dooley – was living it up on the set of the anachronistic comedy Roller Town, a feature co-written by Picnicface’s Mark Little and Andrew Bush, and directed by Bush.
Roller Town is set amidst the heyday of the rollerdisco boom of the 70s, and features enough glitter, rainbows and feathered hair to set your eyes on fire. The plot trajectory is a familiar one – an evil capitalist and a corrupt politician want to run a popular youth pastime out of town in order to replace it with a soulless money-making venture (in this case, arcade games!) and a plucky group of champions must take on the establishment to restore true FUN to the brainwashed youth – but spun through Picnicface’s refreshing absurdist comedy prism.
Vrooman and Bush (the latter of whom will be present at Fantasia) spoke to Spectacular Optical about the appeal of the rollerdisco genre and Picnicface’s place in the Canadian genre film landscape.
The film kind of inadvertently falls into one of my favourite subgenres – the “saving the clubhouse” subgenre that was a staple of the 80s (Breakin’, Joysticks, The Zoo Gang etc) – the type of film where a corrupt businessman/politician wants to shut a place down and the regulars have to rally to keep in going and we all learn a lesson about cultural diversity and the importance of rocking out etc – what was it that drew you to this subgenre, and what do you think made it so popular in the 1980s?
Scott Vrooman: We were initially attracted to the sub-sub-genre of roller disco movies. There were basically three: Roller Boogie, Skatetown USA and Xanadu (the title Roller Town was a combination of those first two titles). Then when doing research we opened that up to all thelate-70′s/early-80′s dance movies targeted at teens. I think the reason they were popular had to do with their sense of fun, which iswhat also attracted us to it. The films usually didn’t take themselves too seriously, but when they did they became a lot funnier from our point of view looking back.
Andrew Bush: In regards to directing, I took a lot of my visual cues from this subgenre roller-disco but I was also heavily influenced by the comedies of the early 80s as well. What I loved about these kinds of films, and I’m adding Caddyshack and Meatballs to the mix here, is that when you watched them you always had the feeling that they were flying by the seat of their pants. Which is kinda how Roller Town was made. Sometimes we didn’t even have enough money for the pants. We were just flying by the seat. Whatever that is.
There’s also the theme of the ‘rich girl slumming it’, which you also see in Breakin, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun, Dirty Dancing etc – but you didn’t use Cheryl Hann or Evany Rosen, the Picnicface women, to play the lead. What made you realize that Kayla Lorette was perfect for this part?
SV: You’re spot on with those film references, they were all big influences on Roller Town. Kayla was in Halifax doing That’s So Weird and came to do improv at one of our shows. Beyond her extraordinary individual talent, Mark and her had a great chemistry, so we decided to do some juggling with the roles to get her in the film.
Why disco, and why rollerskating? Do you have fond memories of either, or do you find both pastimes to be just obvious targets to mine for humour?
SV: We hadn’t seen it explored in comedy before, we were attracted to the aesthetic, the lights, the movement, the heightened performances. It just seemed ideal for a silly comedy. When Andy, Mark and I first sat down and watched Roller Boogie together the jokes just started to flow.
AB: We also wanted to pick a very specific genre to narrow the tone of the film. Keeping it all disco themed lent itself to some pretty awesome visuals and helped shape some of the jokes we wrote.
Tell me about the songwriting – the rather believable disco songs in the film are credited to the film’s three writers – do you have backgrounds in songwriting? Can you give me a breakdown of what the songwriting process was like? I have never written a song with someone but I always picture it being like Warren Beatty and Dustin Hoffman in Ishtar.
SV: I think “Horse and Boogie” is Andy’s and the rest are Mark’s. If I was credited with having any hand in writing those it was a mistake. Mark has a special gift for improvising silly songs, and anyone who watches our television show will see/hear lots of them. I think he composed most of those songs in one evening, he’s a force. Cheryl and Mark also did a series of fantastic raps for fans as part of our fundraising efforts for the film. Andy definitely has a knack for composition and Evany has a great singing voice.
AB: A few days before we were supposed to shoot the Boobaloos, Mark sang the songs into his laptop with a Casio keyboard providing the beat. It was this track we used for lip syncing. After it was shot we then had to re-record everything (music plus vocals) to match picture. I’ve never heard of anyone doing it that way and there’s a reason for that: it’s reallly hard. In the end though, Mark wrote some great songs and Rich Aucion provided some amazing music to accompany him.
It’s interesting that Canada is kind of a buzz country right now for over the top, politically incorrect humour and exploitation cinema – where do you think Picnicface fits in between things like Kids in the Hall and this new explosion of Canadian exploitation? Why do you think we’re seeing this high energy revival right now, after decades of being seen as a country whose cinema is generally so apologetic?
SV: There can definitely be an element of horror in what Picnicface and KITH have done, and there are elements of comedy in the exploitation genre. Anyone who has watched Hobo With a Shotgun in a theatre will hear a lot of laughs. Both horror and comedy are about surprising people. I think the concentration of some high energy stuff is due to luck. It’ll wax and wane in the years to come.
You don’t think there’s something happening culturally that’s causing Canada to be making more ballsy films these days? You really think it’s just luck or coincidence?
SV: There is more of a niche market developing for smaller films, and I guess this trend is part of that. Bursts of talent in given areas were more what I was thinking of as the lucky thing. In any case I do think any accolades are well deserved.
AB: Personally, I think Canada is the perfect country to produce these high- energy genre films. Typically, a Canadian film has a fraction of the budget compared to an American one, thus going after a niche market seems like the obvious choice. The movies that inspired Hobo with a Shotgun and Roller Town were, for the most part, low budget features themselves. You don’t need 80 million dollars to make Roller Town. For the record, however, I would not be averse to having 80 million dollars for my next movie.
What is the latest on the Picnicface TV show? Is the campaign to find a new network making any headway?
SV: We have some nibbles but can’t report anything beyond that yet. It’s not dead yet, and the show of fan support has definitely helped our cause.
ROLLER TOWN screens on July 29 at 9:20pm in the Hall Theatre. More information on the film event page HERE.