Q&A: ASPHALT WATCHES

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Leslie Supnet interviews Seth Scriver and Shayne Ehman about their bizarro flash-animated road movie

Asphalt Watches is a Flash-animated feature-length film by visual artists/filmmakers Shayne Ehman and Seth Scriver, based on true events they experienced on a hitchhiking trip in the year 2000.  Eight years in the making, the film follows Bucktooth Cloud and Skeleton Hat as they embark on a hilarious and frightening road trip, encountering strange and happenings you could only find along the Canadian highway – a psychotic real Santa Claus from Calgary, a small town beauty contest in Regina, and out-of-control hosers – all set to head-bopping beats.

Asphalt_WatchesfilmmakersBorn in Athabasca, Alberta and now living in Thunder Bay, Ontario, Shayne Ehman’s artistic practice spans 15 years that include animation, painting, poetry, zines, large-scale installation, drawing, songwriting and film sound. Sketching from life and dream, his artwork explores themes of form sympathy and consciousness, meditation and magic of intention and visualization for healing, and deep spark mutation semantics. Recently, he has had ‘painted poetry’ published in The Last Vispo, an anthology of visual poetry published by Fantagraphics (2012). His sculptural works have been shown in Krakow, Poland and at M+B Gallery in Los Angeles.

Seth Scriver was born and raised in Toronto, where he currently resides. His artistic practice includes drawings, airbrush paintings, comics and sculpture, all of which explore compelling characters and real-life stories. His book Stooge Pile (2010), published by Drawn & Quarterly, was nominated for a Doug Wright “Pigskin Peters” Award, awarded to the best experimental and non-narrative works in Canadian comics. His short solo animations have been exhibited at Images Festival (Toronto), Impakt Festival (Utretcht) and Flashkino (Berlin). Seth Scriver is represented by Katharine Mulherin Gallery in Toronto.

Making its world premiere at TIFF 2013, Asphalt Watches garnered critical success and took home the ‘Best Canadian First Feature Film’ award, being the first animated feature length film in the festival’s history to do so. Shayne and Seth discuss their 8 year journey of filmmaking and friendship.
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LS: Asphalt Watches recounts your hitchhiking journey from Chillliwack, BC to Toronto in 2000. What made you choose animation to retell the story?

Shayne: Animation is a good combo of expressive forms. Story telling, drawing, and making music. It’s all art. Aside from some of the diagetic locations recordings, it’s all a strange wrangling and rendering of ideas. Animation comes from the brain.

Seth: Well we both draw and it seemed like an obvious choice, being able to add voices, music, movement, it’s very satisfying when it’s done. I also remember watching 20 seconds of a Gary Panter’s Pink Donkey animation right before leaving on our trip and it stuck in my brain, to make an animation. We were actually trying to make a zine of the trip when we got to Toronto and never finished it.

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LS: How much of the story is true vs. fictionalized / mythologized?

Shayne: Considering the transient nature of reality, I feel that the ‘truth’ is a slippery notion to begin with. There is always going to be a certain degree of failure in any translation of an original truth. A song written on piano and then played back on a violin in duet with a cracking Korg is going to have a different flavour than the original. But is is still the same song, I guess. It feels great to be finished the movie and to step away and really see it as its own thing – a sovereign hybrid of our recollections.

We made the movie based on the journals and sketches that we made while we were on the road. The sequence of events is accurate. Those are real experiences. Maybe that’s why they seem so strange.

Often, in animation, peripheral information and memories of an experience are condensed and ‘caricatured’ into metaphors. It may seem very real and ‘true’ to the people creating the animation, but in this way the story also becomes fictionalized and mythologized by the viewers as they interpret those metaphors.

Seth: It’s all true, it’s a boiled down version of both our solidified memories of the trip, we waited 6 years until we started working on the animation and had each been retelling the stories to friends and whatnot on either side of the country, we had to combine each of our memories to make one story which was an amazing way to work. When we were done we felt like it was very much true to how it happened and to the feeling of the trip.

Actual storyboards:

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LS: There are some really dope jams in the film. Did you know you wanted to make a musical when you started or did it come about during the animation process? Who created the songs?

Shayne: The music is just a natural expression. We did realize that our story was becoming a musical as we got rolling but I don’t think we started with that as a clear intention.

The music helps to define scenes and also makes editing and cutting much easier. Also, our movie has a lot of blinking in it and a lot of those blinks are laid on drum noises.

Seth: Shayne is definitely more of a musician, laying the slamming beats and beautiful jams. But yes we did not plan on making it a musical it just slowly happened that way, it’s very funny that it did, it seems like making songs can really help explain situations.

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LS: Asphalt Watches feels very Canadian, not only because of the landscape, or the explicit references to Tim Hortons, but because of the characters you meet. Were you self-consciously making nationalist cinema?

Shayne: I think that good storytelling works on many levels at once… personal, societal and universal at the same time. The nationalistic elements are just anchors to our locations. I like to work backwards in scale starting out with ideas on a universal level and eventually situating in the personal.

Seth: We do realize that certain things are very Canadian in our film but mainly when we are applying for Canada Council grants though, we usually really go for it then. But really it just happens that our story took place in Canada, I feel this could have happened anywhere and I wouldn’t want to exclude people from other countries from identifying with it or things from it.

LS: Being somewhat regionalist myself, was there a reason you didn’t stop in Winnipeg?

Shayne: It wasn’t entirely up to us at the time. Our driver, Gangrenous Khan, stopped for a second along the perimeter but ended up driving right around Winnipeg.

Seth: We did stop in Winnipeg! But only for a second, we were actually trying to avoid all major centres cause it’s way more hassle to hop or hitch outta big towns. When we did stop though, Gangrenous had just picked us up and told us he was only going to Winnipeg and stopped, went inside a store and checked us out from inside the store, peeking out the window. He eventually warmed up to us and slowly drove us to North Bay. We ended up boiling that part of the film out. Sorry, Winnipeg is rad!

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LS: What are your favourite road trip films?

Shayne: Garth and Gord and Fiona and Alice is an ultra slamming film. It’s the SCTV parody of Goin Down the Road.  Extremely classic. Actually, Seth and I often reference it while in Toronto, yelling “Let’s go to Yonge Street!!!” while ripping around the city. Another banger is Easy Rider. Wild at Heart rules too.

Seth: Homer’s Odyssey was pretty banging, Mad Max, El Topo, A Boy and his Dog just popped in my head. Star Trek rules. Time Bandits was good when I was a kid, unsure if it’s withstood the test of time. Willow was pretty sweet. And Garth and Gord, “To Yonge Street!”

LS: Animation can be a very lonely, difficult process. Did you find tag teaming help with the dark side of animation?

Shayne: Yes, most definitely. Once we start chiseling away at a scene we are always looking for ways to make it funnier and more meaningful… talking it over and adding to each others work. While working on Asphalt, we were always in the same studio.

Seth: Yes it was very fun almost all of the time, sometimes we would go mad from working so much and hanging out in miniature studios but that was pretty fun too in retrospect.

LS: Can you discuss some of the characters in the film that are homages to your friends’ artistic styles?

Shayne: Oh yeah, there’s tons of shout outs to our friends in the movie. In that part when Santa is popping out of the limousine sunroof at the parade in Calgary, Mark Connery’s ‘Rudy’ cat is in there, a little Owen Plummer guy in there… a Keith Jones cat from ‘Catland Empire’,  a squished Amy Lockhart egglicker in there [ed. note: check out our interview with Amy Lockhart HERE]. There’s tons of homages in the movie… There’s a Jeffro Halladay ‘Bangmaster Generals Warning’ on Santas green death smoke pack, a Jeffro license plate, a Jeffro ‘Bizarre Styles’ CB card (with the Eel on there too)… There’s a Nikky Woolsey ‘Golden Banana’ and Zoe Gordini ‘Nothing is Simple’ embroidery in Aunt Linda’s living room. There’s a Terry Piercey ‘Pubic Hair Wig’ poster at the gas station. A Sandy P. Flip flop CB card… the list goes on and on… Crappy Blue Beard… Belly Wot…

Seth: There’s a very sweet scene of friends making weird cartoons and doing super inspiring things that would constantly come up and around and we wanted to prop them, cause in reality we made it for our friends and wanted to put em in there.

LS: Can you discuss/elaborate on the psychotic Santa Claus character? Have you tried to track him down, or bumped into any of the strangers you met on your trip?

Seth: Santa took us on as his disciples, and we were supposed to meet him again, so we’ve been keeping our eyes peeled ever since. Quite often we think that we’ve spotted him, but surprisingly there’s quite a lot of fat white guys with beards wearing jogging pants around.

Shayne – Yeah, he was pretty confident about who he was. During the ride, he said “I have many names… Santa Claus, Kris Kringle, the God of Saturnalia, and Platinum Moonlight.” I read the words ‘Platinum Moonlight’ on a pay stub in the trunk of his car when we were getting our bags… and for a long time we thought that that was his real name. But then, some years after the trip, we researched the name ‘Platinum Moonlight’ and found that it’s a strange, small events company situated in an industrial zoned area of Calgary. You know, Birthday Santas , and Balloons, Clowns… that type of thing…

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LS: The representations of yourselves – Bucktooth Cloud and Skeleton Hat – there can be a lot of changes (or not) in one’s life over seven to eight years. Did the characterizations of yourselves in the film change at all during the making of the film?

Seth: Well like they, say your body regenerates all its cells completely every seven years, except for your brain cells, so I’d say yes, except their brains.

Shayne: Exactly! Plus, becoming a dad during those years is quite a personal transformation… shattered ego consciousness shakedown to sympathy for all things.

Seth: Our characters did change a lot over the course of the movie, in the beginning they don’t really have any dialog and are more of witnesses of the events happening, then they slowly developed more expression and dialog by the end. The whole movie starts out quite simple and (hopefully) draws you in while slowly becoming more detailed and complex, a nice and easy progression.

Shayne: Yes, by the end of the movie, each nostril hair had its own layer!

LS: Future projects – are you working on anything film-wise together again or separately? Something animated or live-action?

Seth: We are working on another animated feature called Ed’s Pile!

Shayne: Yes, we have a loose plan to travel time instead of space… We will explore the entropy of an architecture. Many things happen as a house becomes a pile… Ed’s Pile!

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Official Website: http://www.asphaltwatches.ca/

ASPHALT WATCHES premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival and plays next at the 16th Annual SF Indie Film Festival (Feb 6-20, 2014), programmed in part by Spectacular Optical’s Editor-in-Chief, Kier-La Janisse. Check out the trailer below!

About the author:

Leslie Supnet is a Toronto-based artist, originally from Winnipeg, MB. Her moving image and illustration work draws from lived experience - foregrounding the everyday and its dark undercurrents with sincerity and moments of sad humour. Her works have screened at various festivals, cinemas and microcinemas near and far.

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