Photo by Craig Brown
Comedian, actor, and writer, Bob Kerr is currently a writer on CBC's award-winning This Hour Has 22 Minutes which earned him a Gemini nomination. He was a founding member of the 12-man sketch troupe The Sketchersons which earned three consecutive nominations for the Canadian Comedy Award. He has written for Cream of Comedy (Comedy Network), a segment for CBC Newsworld Live (CBC), Comedy Inc. (CTV), Nikki Payne's Funtime Show! (Comedy Network Special), and Hotbox (Comedy Network). Bob also co-wrote and performed in the short film, The Funeral, which screened at the Sundance Film Festival and CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival in 2008. In 2011, Bob participated in the CFC/Telefilm Comedy Lab for a horror-comedy feature film script that he co-wrote entitled The House They Screamed In. You can follow Bob on Twitter.
RUSTY TALK WITH BOB KERR
Kathryn Mockler: What is your first memory of writing creatively?
Bob Kerr: As a fan of Letterman, I would write my own Top Ten Lists and read them to my fellow kids at the back of the bus. I also wrote stories that were a direct inspiration of movies I was into. I wrote a story that was about a baseball team that was trapped within a (Jurassic Park-type) jungle and the star pitcher was bitten by a "gypsy hamster" that turned him into a (Pet Sematary 2-style) zombie. Really dumb.
KM: When did you first start writing for film/TV and how did you get into it?
BK: I was a member of a comedy troupe called The Sketchersons, and we did a weekly show called Sunday Night Live which heavily borrowed from the format of Saturday Night Live. I had done the Weekend Update part of the show for a large part of the time. Producers who saw the show asked me to submit things. My first writing gig was a for a late-night talk show pilot that didn't go anywhere and that was followed by my first trial run at This Hour Has 22 Minutes.
KM: Was there a writer or filmmaker that had a big impact on you?
BK: It was mainly performers, actually. David Letterman and Conan O'Brien were big influences. They do what they want to do. And a lot of it's really weird, and I like weird things.
KM: How does the writing room work for This Hour Has 22 Minutes?
BK: Early in the week, we pitch sketches and spend the whole day and night writing them. After the table read, sketches are picked and then the following days are focused more on copy jokes (a.k.a. news jokes...y'know, the set-up-punch stuff) and things called ledes, which is writing jokes around actual news footage. We sometimes pair up on sketches, but there's a lot of independent writing. My favourite days are writing copy jokes because we have table reads of those jokes amongst the writers and we have a couple laughs. Sometimes even more.
KM: For someone looking to get into TV or comedy writing, a writing room—especially a comedy room—can seem intimidating. Do you have any advice for how to get over feeling like an idiot if your joke fails or no one likes your ideas in the room?
BK: Trust me, I know what it's like to feel like an idiot. I've had plenty of stuff bomb in the room. An important thing to remember is that you're in good company; everybody bombs. Bombing is a very key part of the writing process. Because you learn from it. Mainly what works and what doesn't. So ultimately, don't dwell on feeling like an idiot. Because you will miss the bomb lesson. It's not about you! Get over yourself! Move on! (I feel like I'm talking to myself now.)
KM: What is your writing process like for your other projects—other collaborations or solo projects?
BK: Typical; go to coffee shop, order an Americano and stare at my computer screen. Collaborations can be fun if you're doing it with the right person. Someone that you feel comfortable bouncing ideas with.
KM: What is the biggest difference between writing for film and writing for TV?
BK: You spend way more time with a film script than a TV script. There's pros and cons to both. With TV, you don't have all the time in the world to make "the perfect script", so there's not much time for rewrites. You are also forced to write a lot and quickly and that kind of pressure is good. I think you get better stuff from that. Plus, there's a whole writing room that will punch up your ho-hum material. Again, it's not about you.
KM: When getting notes from producers/story editors/show runners—what do you do when you get a note that you don't like or don't agree with on your script?
BK: Well, there's two ways to go about it. You either don't make the change and pray they don't notice (which they usually do), or you talk it out with said note-giver. That being said, pick your battles. One thing I've learned in TV is that I can't be too precious with anything I write. With 22, there's not a lot of time, because I'm most likely onto something else. Plus, it's hard to feel precious about something I've worked on for a couple of hours the night before as opposed to something I've been working on for weeks or months.
KM: Do you have any advice for someone aspiring to write for television? What is the best way to break in?
BK: I don't know what the best way is. I only know my way. I was tenacious and I wrote a lot of stuff. I was out there performing with a great troupe every week on top of doing stand-up and I was getting myself seen. It's a lot of work to get a job. There's also the standard advice: Write spec scripts, get an agent, write more spec scripts.
KM: What are you working on now?
BK: I'm going to be returning to Halifax for the 20th season of This Hour Has 22 Minutes. I'm currently working on a spec pilot as well. I'm also trying to think of a funny tweet.
Michael V. Smith
Photo by David Ellingsen
Michael V. Smith is a writer, comedian, filmmaker, performance artist and occasional clown teaching creative writing in the interdisciplinary program of the Faculty of Creative and Critical Studies at UBC's Okanagan campus in BC's Interior. He is the author of the novels Progress (Cormorant Books 2011) and Cumberland (Cormorant Books, 2002) which was nominated for the Amazon/Books in Canada First Novel Award.
In recent years, Smith won Vancouver's Community Hero of the Year Award and the inaugural Dayne Ogilvie Award for Emerging Gay Writers. He's also won a Western Magazine Award for Fiction, scooped two short film prize categories at Toronto's Inside Out festival, and was nominated for the Journey Prize.
His videos have played around the world, in cities such as Milan, Dublin, Turin, London, New York, Toronto, Paris, Geneva, Berlin, Glasgow, Lisbon, Beirut, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Buenos Aires, SF, LA and Bombay. Smith is an MFA grad from UBC’s Creative Writing program.
Vancouver Magazine has considered him one of its city's 25 most influential gay citizens whereas Loop Magazine named him one of Vancouver’s Most Dangerous People...
His first book of poetry is What You Can’t Have (Signature Editions, 2006), short-listed for the ReLit Prize. In 2008, he published a hybrid book of concrete poems/photographs, Body of Text (BookThug), created with David Ellingsen.
RUSTY TALK WITH MICHAEL V. SMITH
Kathryn Mockler: What keeps you going as a writer?
Michael V. Smith: I’ve always loved a puzzle. My novels have felt like long complicated puzzles that I tried to figure out. Really, every book is a mystery novel, right? You read to the end to find out the whodunnit, in whatever shape that takes. How is this book going to end? Even, how is the poem going to end? How does it work? So writing is the best way to enjoy making puzzles (long ones like novels, short ones like a poem) and still get paid. Okay, I use teaching to get paid. What keeps me going is a fine alchemy of things. There are many pleasures in creating: simple ego-stroking, the thrill of feeling like I’m discovering something, a satisfaction in accomplishment, being generous with myself, the feeling that I’m creating a conversation with someone about a collection of ideas (or characters) I’m very fond of, and the pleasure that comes from being engaged with the world. I’ve never thought of writing as a solitary act. I don’t know where that idea comes from. Writing is a very long one-sided conversation, but I’m always aware that eventually an audience will hear it, and listen, and join in.
Kathryn Mockler: What is the revision process like for you?
Michael V. Smith: With novels, after I have a first draft, I take out all the parts of the flab that aren’t plot. Just cut it all away. If there are bits of information I particularly like, or can’t do without, then I find somewhere to slip that back in. Usually, that first draft, cleaned up, is a solid skeleton. Then I do drafts that look at fixing specific things: I go through the whole manuscript, for example, and look at tying the events more closely together, so that one event is the cause of what comes next, or I do an edit to ‘psychologize’ the characters, meaning I add in some of the unwritten emotional life of the character, or flush out a bit of background, to fill out our sense of character. It’s a great way to edit for me, because it gives me focus on a particular skill. I always do other work at the same time, of course. One type of change triggers five others. But if I’m just approaching the novel as a whole, it’s overwhelming, and hard to see it clearly, so I love going in there with a tool in hand and digging around, which makes the whole process more manageable.
Kathryn Mockler: How did you deal with rejection when you first started out?
Michael V. Smith: Rejection is all part of the business, so if you aren’t rejected, you aren’t in the business. I take rejections as a good sign—I’m being a writer.
Kathryn Mockler: What are you working on now?
Michael V. Smith: I'm working on two projects: a series of tribute videos to friends and family who are ill, and a collection of essays titled Men.
MICHAEL V. SMITH'S MOST RECENT NOVEL
Progress, Cormorant Books, 2011
Since her fiancé’s death at eighteen, Helen Massey has spent her life avoiding it. Change comes when her town is only months away from being thirty feet under water. A government agency, The Power Authority, is relocating the entirety of her hometown to make way for a power dam project. What can’t be moved will be torn down. Even the cemetery is to be dug up and reinterred nearby.
While visiting her lover’s grave, Helen witnesses a man fall to his death on the power dam worksite. “He fell like a sack, straight down, with one arm waving in circles. He fell past the other workman strapped into a harness who must have been surprised to see him pass. Mocking the air. It seemed he fell without a sound.”
That same day, her brother returns unannounced after a fifteen-year absence. Robert Massey was a runaway. The construction made his homecoming a “now or never” decision, he tells his sister. “I didn’t want to have to come back in a boat to see the family home.”
When Robert discovers his parents kept the reasons for his departure a secret—too little has changed—he confesses, hoping his sister might bury the past. So begins their transformations. The siblings must negotiate their shared history, and their differences, if they are to find themselves a future. In his essay, "A Memoir of Progress," Matthew Rader offers a brief memoir about his experiences with Michael V. Smith's latest novel Progress. This essay is published by AngelHousePress.Read an excerpt of Cumberland.
For more information about Michael V. Smith go to his website.
Ivan E. Coyote
Photo by Eric Nielson
Ivan Coyote was born and raised in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory. An award-winning author of seven collections of short stories, one novel, three CD’s, four short films, the editor of an anthology, and a renowned performer, Ivan’s first love is live storytelling, and over the last eighteen years she has become an audience favourite at music, poetry, spoken word and writer's festivals from Anchorage to Amsterdam. The Globe and Mail called Ivan "a natural-born storyteller" and Ottawa X Press said "Coyote is to CanLit what k.d. lang is to country music: a beautifully odd fixture." Ivan’s column, Loose End has appeared monthly in Xtra West magazine for eleven years. Her first novel, Bow Grip, was awarded the Relit award for best fiction and named by the American Library Association as a Stonewall honor book in literature, and is in development to be made into a feature length film. Ivan’s new collection of short stories, Missed Her, was released in September, 2010. Ivan also recently co-edited Persistence: All Ways Butch and Femme with Zena Sharman. Coyote’s latest short story collection, One In Every Crowd, a young adult collection of stories compiled for queer high school kids, was released in April 2012.RUSTY TALK WITH IVAN COYOTESara Jane Strickland: What is your first memory of being creative?
Ivan Coyote: I am not sure if I have a memory of this or not, or if I feel like I remember it because there is an old old photo of me doing this, but I have a memory of setting up pots and pans like a drum kit on the front deck of my parent's first house and playing the drums on them. I would have been about two or three.
SJS: How would you describe your writing process?
IC: Deadline driven. I set or get goals and dates, and I try to follow them. I have thousand word days. I make myself write a thousand words, good or bad, not perfect words, just out there. Out of my head and onto the page. Also I make lists of scenes or chapters or stories or ideas and then I just try to write them and cross them off.
SJS: What are you working on right now?
IC: A novel and a survival guide for tomboys. Also two live shows, both collaborations with musicians.
SJS: What is the revision process like for you?
IC: I just grin and bear it.
SJS: What influences your writing the most? IC: Life. Other books. Other writers. The sky. The weather. How much I have been to the gym lately. Music. Dance. Painting. Movies. Things I overhear on the bus. Kids I meet. People I meet. Loved ones. Loved ones dying. New ones being born. Life.
SJS: How did you deal with rejection when you first started out? IC: The first book I was a part of writing, we got asked by the publisher for a manuscript, so I have an unusual story. I didn't have to deal with a lot of rejection right out of the gate.
SJS: What keeps you going as a writer or why do you write?
IC: I write because I love it more than anything else in my life. I write because I don't know or remember how to be anything else anymore. I write to pay the bills. I write to change the world. I write because I have a deadline. I write because not writing is no longer an option for me. I write because it is the only way to navigate this life, for me.
SJS: What is the best thing about being a writer and the worst thing?
IC: The best thing? Working alone from home with no pants on. The worst thing? Working alone from home with no pants on.
IVAN COYOTE'S LATEST SHORT FICTION COLLECTION
Missed Her, Arsenal Pulp Press, 2010Description from Arsenal Pulp Press:
In her passionate and humourous new collection, Ivan takes readers on an intimate journey, both literal and figurative, through the experiences of her life: from her year spent in eastern Canada,to her return to the west coast, to travels inbetween. Whether discussing the politics of being a butch with a pet lapdog, or befriending an effeminate young man at a gay camp, or revisiting a forty-year old heartbreak around her grandmother’s kitchen, Ivan traverses love, gender and identity with a wistful, perceptive eye, and a warmth that's as embracing and powerful as Ivan herself.
What happens when a woman with "dykey clothes" confronts a man with a bushy beard about the lesbian book he's reading? Is life easier for a butch or a lipstick lesbian? Is it better to be queer in Whitehorse, where you're subjected to direct questions, or in Vancouver, where PC politeness masks embarrassed confusion? Missed Her, a collection by Vancouver writer and performer Ivan E. Coyote, conveys these lifestyle collisions with thoughtful humour.... Thematically, Coyote's writing has grown in complexity and depth.
These vignettes read as though they've been freshly torn from a wanderer's notebook, where they were immediately jotted down so as not to lose the vibrancy of the experience. The result is refreshing and tearfully real---Coyote has a gift for blending the tragic and comic in a way that renders a reader gobsmacked.... The writing in Missed Her is direct yet lyrical, poetic yet unadorned, reaching simultaneously for the heart and the gut with brevity and power.
--Quill & Quire (STARRED REVIEW)
Photo by June Pak
Michael Vass is a filmmaker and writer based in Toronto. His award-winning short films have screened at numerous film festivals and have been broadcast internationally. His critical writings have appeared in the film journal Cineaction and the Philadelphia-based publication MACHETE. Michael received his BFA from Simon Fraser University and his MFA from York University. He is also an alumnus of the Canadian Film Centre. RUSTY TALK WITH MICHAEL VASS
Kathryn Mockler: How did you first get into filmmaking?
Michael Vass: I’m not completely sure. As a child I think I was drawn to performing—for instance, I loved stand up comedy at what now seems a weirdly young age (I couldn’t possibly have understood most of the jokes)—but I don’t think I was ever completely comfortable performing myself, at least not after a certain age. So I started writing stories then making videos, probably initially as a way of performing out of sight. When I was 11 or so, I started making little home movies with my friends and my sister. We’d make parody sequels for movies that were popular at the time. I think we made Home Alone 2 and Die Hard 3 (which we called Die the Hardest) before either sequel really existed. Since then I’ve just kept making things. As a teenager my interest in film intensified, then I went to film school where I was exposed to all kinds of films that fascinated and excited me.
KM: Was there a writer or filmmaker that had a big impact on you?
MV: There are too many too name, and it tends to shift somewhat depending on what I’m working on. For my most recent project, Vancouver #1-13 (Notes for a report…), I was influenced mostly by filmmakers working in the somewhat amorphous genre that’s sometimes called the essay film, which has long fascinated me. The term itself isn’t that important, it’s just a way of grouping together a kind of film that’s always been around, which combines elements of fiction and documentary, and which tends to have a significant writing component—usually in the form of a first person voice-over. It’s generally a more self-reflexive and personal way of using various cinematic techniques, and it often addresses somewhat political themes, directly or indirectly. Film/video-makers like Chris Marker, Jean-Pierre Gorin, Jean-Luc Godard, Harun Farocki, and John Smith had a particularly strong impact on me as I was working on the film, as did the writers Robert Musil, W.G. Sebald, Thomas Bernhard, and Roberto Bolano.
KM: Can you describe your current film project that's screening in Philadelphia?
MV: It’s called Vancouver #1-13 (Notes for a report…) and, as I mentioned, it’s a kind of essay film, which mixes documentary and fiction to examine security and protest in the society of the spectacle. It uses documentary footage from the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and the G20 debacle in Toronto, and adds a voice-over by a fictional intelligence agent analyzing the footage. It is currently screening as an installation in the group exhibition “First Among Equals” at the Institute for Contemporary Art in Philadelphia (April 11-22). My participation in show came about because of my involvement with the Philadelphia-based gallery Marginal Utility and the Machete Group which jointly puts out the publication MACHETE, for which I’ve been writing about film for the past couple years.KM: What is the best thing about being a filmmaker and the worst thing?
MV: The best thing about being an artist of any kind is that it lets you structure your life around engaging with the world and your experiences and interests on your own terms, or at least on terms of your choosing—creatively, critically, reflectively…however you want. The worst thing is that this kind of activity rarely pays the bills, so usually you have to find some other way of making a living. Sometimes this can be something tangentially related to your activities as an artist (like teaching), or sometimes it is something completely unrelated, but either way it tends to eat up a lot of time and energy you’d rather be spending working on your own projects. This financial downside is exponentially worse as a filmmaker because filmmaking is so expense, logistically complicated, and time consuming, so if you want to make your own films, it can obviously be quite difficult. But artists shouldn’t whine too much about jobs and money – almost everyone hates there job and would rather not be doing it, at least we have something we want to be doing.
KM: Your funniest filmmaking moment.
MV: I directed a film at the Canadian Film Centre in 2006 called Skinheads. The film is a dark comedy and isn’t exactly about actual skinheads in any real way, it just appropriates some of the iconography of skinhead culture for other purposes. We put a trailer on YouTube to promote the film at festivals, etc. However, we didn’t anticipate that there are a lot of actual skinheads all over the world searching online for skinhead related stuff. The trailer has received a ton of views in the past year, along with some affronted comments by Neo-Nazi types. Somehow the trailer must have gone viral in some minor way recently on skinhead sites or something and has generated some negative attention. Maybe that’s not ha-ha funny, but I find it kind of amusing—as long is there is an ocean between the offended skinheads and me.
Still from Vancouver #1-13 (Notes for a report…)
Multiple-award winning filmmaker Mina Shum has written and directed three feature films. Born in Hong Kong and raised in Vancouver, Canada, The New York Times calls Shum's work "wry and winning".
As a director resident at the Canadian Film Centre, Shum developed her first feature-length film Double Happiness, which premiered at the 1994 Toronto International Film Festival, receiving the Special Jury Citation for Best Canadian Feature Film and tying in third place with Kieslowski for the Toronto Metro Media Prize. Double Happinessgarnered Canada’s highest film honours, winning Genie Awards for Best Actress (Sandra Oh) and Best Editing (Alison Grace) with additional nominations for Best Picture, Best Direction, Best Screenplay and Best Cinematography. It also won 1995 Berlin Film Festival prize for Best First Feature, as well the Audience Award at the Torino Film Festival in 1994. After it’s US premiere at Sundance, it was released theatrically in the U.S. by Fine Line Features in 1995. Her second feature Drive, She Said premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in 1997. The film was invited to the competition section of the Turin Delle Donne Film Festival in 1998. Shum’s third feature film,Long Life, Happiness and Prosperity premiered at the 2002 Toronto Film Festival and played to sold out audiences at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. It won a Special Citation for Best Screenplay at the Vancouver Film Festival. It will be released theatrically in Canada by Odeon Films and in the U.S. by Film Movement.
Shum has written and directed several short films, including Picture Perfect, which was nominated for Best Short Drama at the 1989 Yorkton Film Festival, Shortchanged, Love In, Hunger, Thirsty and Me, Momand Mona which won Special Jury Citation for Best Canadian Short at the 1993 Toronto Film Festival. Her 2011 web short, Hip Hop Mom has garnered thousands of hits and can be viewed for free at www.minashum.com.
Shum directed the television movie, Mob Princess for Brightlight Pictures/W Network. Her episodic directing work includes: About A Girl, Noah’s Arc, Exes and Oh’s, Bliss, TheShield Stories and Da Vinci’s Inquest for which she was nominated for a Director’s Guild Award. Her episodic work has been seen on CTV, Global, Nickelodeon, CBC, N, Logo/MTV, Showcase and Lifetime.
She is currently writing and developing her next feature film, Two of Me, with Brightlight Pictures, as well as writing and developing other feature projects including, The Lotus (co-written with Dennis Foon).RUSTY TALK WITH MINA SHUMKathryn Mockler: How did you first get into filmmaking? Mina Shum: When I was 7, I got down on one knee, spread my arms wide like Al Jolson and declared "I want to be in show business." At 12, I started my first journal and wrote everything I thought, felt, and heard down. I would copy things I'd overheard on the bus ride home, word for word to examine the patter of speech and the subtext of a banal conversation between two ladies about a cupcake recipe. In grade 9, I was failing my knitting class and transferred to Drama and that was the beginning of my official training as a filmmaker. I went to theatre school at UBC, got a film diploma after my BA, and continue to study and practice the craft.
KM: Where do you get your ideas from or what or who inspires you? MS: I am a voracious consumer of ideas, movies, art, theatre, music, dance, fiction and non-fiction. I read interviews with people I've never heard of. And I listen to both friends and strangers speak. I live entirely, throw myself into situations, get my heart broken, soar with infatuations. And somehow all that gets funneled through my guiding intention, which is to reflect and reveal how we can be happier. How to live more authentically, how to make the most out of this one life.
So, how does this hodge-podge of thoughts gets distilled through my next feature? Two of Me is an irreverent romantic comedy about an overworked 35 year old super woman (two kids, live-in-mother-in-law, husband, high pressure job, trying to get promotion) and she's granted a wish for "two of me" except the other "me" is ten years younger when she was a no-good indie rock musician. It's a film about who you once were and who you've become and the disconnect that often occurs when we're busy living life! At its heart, it's about surppressing our true nature (which I think all my films are about).
KM: What is the writing process like for you?
MS: I get hooked on an idea, a question and I write.It starts in the title which I believe should say what's the essential theme/idea behind the movie; it starts with a good title. Then I write the three-sentence pitch. If I can do that, I move on to a proposal that is half director's vision and writer's beats. But after that I work on my treatment, which is beating out the film pretty well. And at this point it's the writer's hat I'm wearing. The writer has to deliver on the promise to the director. Being both writer/director, I have to know when to wear which hat. The director in me is a heavy taskmaster and will continue to make me (the writer) work the script until it sings and I take it over as a director. And then when I direct the film, I will continue rewriting bits even in the sound mix of the film.
KM: How do you approach revision? MS: I rewrite until you are watching the movie in a theatre. When I say that, I mean in marketing, in my interviews and in my q and a. I assume that all the notes I get, is just gonna make the film better. I do reject notes. But if the same note is coming over and over, I take notice.
KM: Writers/filmmakers often have to face a great deal of rejection, especially when they first start out. Do you have any advice for aspiring filmmakers on coping with this? MS: Nothing is ever lost when you practice. I like to think of all of life as a practice. Malcom Gladwell says it takes 10,000 hours to get really good at something. Clock your 10,000 hours. Keep working on it. I write and direct everyday even if it's just in my mind, toying with concepts or even a note to a friend.
Trust the path.
KM: What is the best thing about being a filmmaker and/or writer and the worst thing? MS: Best thing about being a filmmaker, making a film.
Worst thing: waiting for the funding to make a film. But even as I write that, I know that I have to "practice" making that part fun, part of the process.
At best it takes fours years to go from thought to you seeing it on the big screen. That's four years of living, breathing and waiting. Or should I say "practicing"?
From the short film HIP HOP MOM
Photo by Matt Lyons
A SHORT FILM BY MINA SHUM
Check out Mina Shum's latest 4-minute short Hip Hop Mom.
When two alpha moms fight over a parking spot, they reveal their secret identities, and it's a hip hop battle royale!