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Matthew Kowalchuk, Director/Writer: LAWRENCE & HOLLOMAN

March 1, 2014
Matthew Kowalchuk

Matthew Kowalchuk, Director. Photo by Katie Yu.

1Q: Tell us a little about the origins of LAWRENCE & HOLLOMAN, from concept to financing.

I’ve collaborated often with Daniel Arnold, who co-wrote, produced, and plays Holloman. We have done theatre together, and teamed up to make our first short film, The Janitors, which starred William B Davis (The Cigarette Smoking Man on The X-Files) and  ended up being a huge success.  He and I were talking about a new project and I suggested doing this brilliant two-hander play, Lawrence & Holloman (by two-time Governer General Award Winner Morris Panych). Daniel kind of wrinkled his nose at that, but only because he had started thinking that we could do it justice as a film. Low, low budget two-hander, shoot on weekends with friends, that sort of thing. And then it grew. We got in touch with producer Paul Armstrong — who had actually seen the premiere of the play and loved it — helped us get development funding. We were able to option the play and do a couple of drafts of the screenplay. That also allowed us to bring in story editors Kyle Hunter and Ariel Shaffir (50/50, Goon, This is The End) as well as story consultant Dan Petrie, Jr. (Beverly Hills Cop, The Big Easy), who had been a supporter from afar since our early days with The Janitors. As the scope of the project grew, the script really gained a reputation for being something different, fresh, exciting. And it was. We took an existentialist play, which really lives in its own little world, populated by only these two characters, and created a fully formed world for them to live in. One that is still unique and a little off-kilter. I think people sensed that it had the potential to be something special – to have a feel all its own. At a certain point – keeping in mind, the development process went on for a good three years before we were able to get it funded – we met with our eventual Executive Producers, Mary Anne Waterhouse and Andrew Currie (who form Quadrant Motion Pictures). They were super impressed with our script, and more importantly the passion that we had for it. They really believed that these two first time feature filmmakers (along with Paul, who had a couple features under his belt already) could get the job done. And once they believed, that went a long way to having others believe. With their help, we aimed a bit higher in budget and eventually Telefilm Canada came in with the bulk of our financing, about a half million, which in the movie world is still very low budget – but remember, we had originally been talking about shooting this basically guerrilla style, with almost no budget, so we were ecstatic. A little over four years to the day of beginning the adventure, we began principal photography on L&H.

2Q: LAWRENCE & HOLLOMAN has done well at previous film festivals.  Will you be less nervous now at Cinequest? Does this process ever get any easier?

Well, just having the blessing of Cinequest first of all, makes me less nervous. The fact that they and other reputable festivals are inviting us raises the confidence level immensely. I also tend to not be the nervous type. That said, I’m always a little nervous until we get our first few laughs – the first one is maybe a minute in, and sometimes is small, sometimes big, depending on the audience. Once the audience settles in, I’m less nervous and become more of a voyeur, watching and enjoying their reactions. I’m constantly surprised and curious at how each new audience reacts a little differently than the last.  L&H is a pretty dark comedy. It goes to some extreme, absurd places, and that type of storytelling  and comedy is simply not for everyone. One thing I love about L&H, is that the people who like this movie, like ita lot! They really do. In every screening we’ve had so far, at some point I’ve seen people losing it a little with laughter, going into little convulsions. A number of people have also said that it has inspired them. The idea of how your perspective on life changes the world around you is a powerful one, and audiences really have keyed on that. It’s an incredible feeling to know that what we’ve done has that strong an effect on people.

3Q: What was your best and/or worst experience while making LAWRENCE & HOLLOMAN?

It was my first feature, so of course, I want to say: EVERYTHING. It was such a dream to be doing it, that I cherished every moment – even the hard ones. The best was working with such talented actors. I know, everyone says that. But in a show that relies so heavily on its two leads, we were gonna sink or swim based on Daniel Arnold and Ben Cotton’s performances. And they were phenomenal. Daniel really immersed himself into Holloman’s dark, depressing world – to the point that on set, near the end of the shoot, he was becoming a real worry wort producer, and we were able to have a chuckle at realizing it was really Holloman talking. And Ben, he just fell instantly in love with his character, Lawrence. It seemed to grab him and take him for a ride, he could do no wrong. In the opening credits sequence, as we get to meet Lawrence, I just let Ben go and his instincts took over and carried the scene. They were both possessed by their characters in different ways. Working with them, and sharing the nuances of those performances was so rewarding, an incredible privilege. The worst experience was not necessarily bad, but oh so hard. After months of editing, I had to truly learn the art of collaborating in film. Once I had my ‘director’s cut’ as they like to call it, then the other producers weighed in (6 of us at this point, if you’re counting). And of course, they have many things to say: it’s not perfect, needs to be faster, funnier, all that. They say positive things as well, but as director, after spending months in the room, finely tuning each moment, you only hear the negative in this moment. And of course, you know, we’re all trying to make the best movie. Really, that’s the truth. But how do you appease six slightly different versions of what ‘The Best Movie’ is? That’s the golden question, and one that I wish I could answer for you. We worked hard to get the cut to where it is today. Producer feedback, test screenings, and more test screenings. I don’t think I’ll ever get used to the process. It was one of the hardest creative periods of my life. In the end, did we get the best movie out of it? Yeah, I think we did. But… there are a couple of moments I wish we didn’t have to lose.

4Q: Festival audiences often have to make hard decisions about what to see, and the catalog descriptions sometimes run together. In your own words, why should people see your film?

Lawrence & Holloman is billed as ‘The Feel-bad Movie of the Year’.  And you will enjoy every moment of it. You will laugh at every bit of pain that the characters suffer, and they will take you beyond your wildest expectations, inspiring you, challenging you to think about how you see the world, and how it treats you in return. This is a buddy movie, gone bad. If Barton Fink stepped into the world of Entourage, and then plunged head first into the sensibility of Breaking Bad, you’d be pretty close to L&H.

5Q: Time to pre-plan: You just won an Oscar for LAWRENCE & HOLLOMAN.  Give us your acceptance speech.

Oh, gosh. Yeah, I’d probably say ‘Oh, gosh’ first. I would thank my wife and son, for supporting (and putting up with) me all this time. I would thank my mom and dad for having me, accidentally, all those years ago. I would thank our entire producing team, and especially Daniel Arnold, for how, together, we’ve come so far. I would thank all of the actors and the crew. Yes, I’d give the incredibly boring thank you speech. But I wouldn’t miss anyone, not even my 2nd grade teacher, Mr. Doxsey-Whitfield, who was then and is still, a great inspiration to me. Unless I got pulled off the stage for talking too long. Yeah, I could see that happening.

See LAWRENCE & HOLLOMAN at Cinequest!
“Like” them on Facebook!
Follow them on Twitter!
Follow Matt on Twitter!
View the Trailer!
Watch Matt’s short The Janitors!


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