Toronto-born filmmaker Rob Heydon has a career full of music videos (he won a MuchMusic award for Edwin’s 2000 hit song Alive ), so taking on a film so heavily reliant on music was a natural progression. Irvine Welsh’s Ecstasy ties house music and the drug culture that necessarily follows it to a romantic relationship between two people struggling to figure out the difference between a natural high and a chemical one. Heydon’s commitment to the project is evident in the fact that he stuck with it over 11 years and many logistical obstacles. I chatted with him in anticipation of the film’s screening on Saturday, September 10th.
This film is 11 years in the making. Tell us a little bit about the setbacks and how and why you persevered in getting this project made.
This film was going to be a UK-only film, shot entirely in Scotland, and then Gordon Brown, who was the finance minister at the time, changed the tax laws overnight. We were financed, and then suddenly half the money went away [due to the new laws]. We finally decided to just go with what money we had raised in Canada. Then, in 2009, our lead actress at the time, Lisa Ray, announced during TIFF that she had cancer. By the time December came around, we would only have had six and a half hours of daylight in which to shoot, so we waited until the next spring, at which point it turned out we had lost even more financing. We still tried to make it a UK-Canada co-production, but in August our UK bond company said it was too risky for them to continue working with us. Between August and the end of November, we put it together as a Canadian film and shot it.
That must have been so frustrating.
Someone once explained to me that making a film is like trying to gather a bunch of balloons into a corner of a very high-ceiling room, and you have to pull down all the balloons at the same time. If one of the balloons goes free, whether it be cast or financing or a distributor or whatever, then you have to let go of all the balloons and start over from scratch!
So what is it about this project specifically that gave you the motivation to keep going after so many setbacks?
Part of it, I think, is that this is an important story that needs to be told. There’s a whole generation of people that feel the same way as the characters in this film. Based on the success of Trainspotting , we knew that the story would translate well around the world. Its not a commercial film from a traditional Canadian financier; we never got any finding from any traditional sources in the Canadian film industry, so we had to be creative with our financing. Irvine Welsh was constantly dedicated to this project, too. He had faith in this project sometimes more than I did!
I have to ask you about your history of directing music videos, because this film is obviously very heavily dependent on the house music, the rave culture, those kinds of atmospheres. Do you feel like your history helped you make this film about music?
Definitely. What a director can learn from making a music video is how to make things cheap, and how to use style and technique to tell a musical story visually. When I started working on this film, I wanted to create scenes that work together but also stand on their own. For example, the relationship between Hazel and Lloyd is expressed through music; I wanted to make a bit of an allusion to Jules and Jim by Francois Truffaut, because Hazel is smoking a joint instead of a cigarette and spinning around in a circular motion, and I had to make it work to the music. You didn’t need to hear what was in a character’s head in that scene, it was all expressed through this experimental electronic music. You just knew what was going on between these characters.
Did you ever feel nervous about the fact that this film is, in people’s minds, heavily related to Trainspotting, and that was such a huge cultural moment? Did you ever feel like you were up against that? Or do you not feel like your film is in any way in competition with Trainspotting?
I think people are going to automatically make the comparison. I think marketing-wise, its a good family of literary masterpieces. But I think to make the comparison between heroin in a time of AIDS, and ecstasy, which is a love drug, is not necessarily the same thing; our film is about relationships and love, and whether or not those feelings can be chemically created. I think if people want to make the comparison to a masterpiece like Trainspotting , that’s great, but I think this is a different story, with different characters, and in a different time and setting. Its funny to hear feedback from some festivals who think it is very similar to Trainspotting , but, you know, the distributors who have bought the film so far love that comparison because they know its going to get media attention. But I don’t want people to think its just another drug film, because its not just about drugs; its about relationships and about people striving to a point where they’re trying to get in their lives. This is a story about different characters striving for something. It could be religion, yoga, meditation, or drugs. Any of those.
There’s a really interesting division between the main characters, who stop doing drugs and enter into a seemingly healthy relationship, and then Woodsy (Billy Boyd), on the other hand, who goes a bit crazy and leaves to travel around India.
Yeah, its very ambiguous. Even though people will think this film takes place in the ’90s, ecstasy was also popular in the ’80s in the southern United States, and in London. So, we wanted this ambiguous ending because we didn’t want to beat the audience over the head with messages about whether drugs are good or bad. Its not about that. The characters and their stories may continue off into other territories; some of them may continue to do drugs and some of them may not. But we did want to leave it ambiguous because everybody who has seen the film loves Woodsy (Billy Boyd). We shot a bunch more footage and had a lot more stories, and I was joking with Irvine that there was so much world-wide interest in the story that we could even continue the story with Woodsy going off to India…
So when exactly is this film coming to Toronto, and you being a director who comes from Toronto, do you want to bring it here soon?
We’re talking about releasing it in February 2012. The lead-up to Christmas is a bit packed with blockbusters and Oscar bait, so for an art-house-type film like ours, we think February would be an ideal time slot. We’re doing cast and crew screenings right now, because some of the cast has not seen the film yet. The designer of the Trainspotting poster actually contacted us, and we’re working with him now to create something really special for the film now.
Cool! Thanks for chatting with us.