Broken Social Scene’s Kevin Drew with director Bruce McDonald. Photo by Caitlin Cronenberg.
It seems like the summer of Broken Social Scene or something. With the band’s first album in five years on record store shelves, their much anticipated return to the Toronto Island on Saturday for an indie rock super-fest (including another little band called Pavement), and the Bruce McDonald–directed This Movie Is Broken, a Toronto romance built around 2009’s Harbourfront Centre concert, this is a banner summer for BSS. It is as if the band members have been consciously plotting to regain their title as reigning kings and queens of Canadian indie collectives. (Outta the way, New Pornographers!)
But This Movie Is Broken, which premieres at The Royal tonight as part of the NXNE film fest, is more than just a Broken Social Scene concert flick. Well, at least it tries to be. BSS co-founder Kevin Drew calls the film Bruce McDonald’s “love letter to Toronto,” and while that may be true, it’s also a curious love letter.
Following twenty-something Toronto cool kids Bruno (Greg Calderone) and Caroline (Georgina Reily) as they try to finagle a backstage spot at last summer’s Broken Social Scene concert, This Movie Is Broken panders to a demographic that neither McDonald nor screenwriter Don McKellar seem to understand.
The film’s fusion of live concert footage and dark night of the soul romance is ambitious but largely facile, tripping up what would other be a rollicking document of Broken Social Scene’s impressive live shows. Still, set against the 2009 garbage strike and showcasing a host of Hogtown hotspots, This Movie is Broken may not be the best film of the summer, but it’s certainly the Toronto-i-est.
We sat down with Kevin Drew and Bruce McDonald at the Drake Hotel last week to chat briefly about the film, why you can’t fight progress, and how, despite everything else, it’s all about the love, baby.
Torontoist: So, was there any sort of logistical problem when the concert in the film was originally supposed to be scheduled on the island, but then with the civic strike everything kind of got rejigged?
Bruce McDonald: Yeah. Because we were going to do the island show, but then the show got cancelled.
Kevin Drew: But we thought that show was kind of going south, anyways. We were like, “Alright, what’s going on?” We’d only sold four or five thousand tickets for it and we were trying to figure out how we were going to make this a special thing and then, boom, it was cancelled. So for us, on our end, we were like, well, it’s kind of been a long time since we’d done anything free in Toronto. I don’t know if you remember, but one year we did do the Harbourfront, and then we also one year did the…uh…City Hall. What do you call it?
Nathan Phillips Square?
KD: No. We did Yonge and Dundas Square. Sorry. I’m still kind of in denial that that’s there. So, we hadn’t really done anything free, so we talked about it and thought, yeah, it’s kind of just time to say, “Look, forget it. We’re trying to get people to buy a $49 ticket. Let’s just do a free show.” And then we rescheduled it pretty quickly and thankfully we knew the guys at the Harbourfront and they were into it. Then Bruce said, “Alright, well let’s bring the shoot there.”
BD: Yeah, it happened pretty fast. It was one of those things where when the date was set, you just had to shoot somehow. And there wasn’t a lot of lead-time to running around raising money, writing scripts, and doing things. So, the Thursday before the show, Kevin said, basically it’s not happening.
KD: I hadn’t said anything to the band yet. It was basically just Brendan [Canning] and I who were chatting with [Bruce]. We said we’d tell the band when we knew it was on. And we didn’t know who was coming in yet, but by Thursday, I knew that basically, by some miracle, everyone was showing up. So, I was sweating a bit. And I always presumed that Bruce was going to make this little $40,000 art film…and I got the call Friday morning: “It’s back on!”
BM: Yeah, we had a guy walk into the office late Thursday night with the cheque and say, “Here, I’m in.”
So this was the day before [the concert]?
KD: Yeah. So, the band didn’t know! That’s the irony! We went out for dinner that night and Brendan and I were supposed to say something and we started to say something, but it just became this magical night that wasn’t about anyone else except us. So I thought, “Well, this isn’t the time to say it.” And then they showed up…
BM:…and there were giant cameras ringing the stage.
KD: They were like, “What the hell is going on?” And it’s like, oh, Bruce is doing his thing…and at the same time we didn’t know how big it was going to be. More people started to get involved. Mo’ people, mo’ money, mo’ problems. But then the storm got weathered and Bruce did what we did: he put together a community of people. He put together a great crew and everyone kind of dropped what they were doing. They did it for Bruce, they did it for the band, they did it because they wanted to capture the city. They all kind of got behind it. And that’s the spirit you can kind of see in the film.
So, did you retrofit these narrative elements into the film? Did you shoot them after the concert?
BM: Nope, nope. We shot them at the same time, and then a few days after. I mean if you add up the time—I don’t know if this is something to really brag about—but the actual shooting time was probably twenty-four hours from start to finish, spread over three or four days.
The first day was the concert, with the material you see of the characters at the concert, going to the concert, backstage at the concert, that sort of thing. And then we had a couple days when we would shoot them at their house or at different places they appear in the story. It was fast. And again, very small crew. Just doing it.
Actors Bruno (Greg Calderone) and Caroline (Georgina Reilly) en route to see Broken Social Scene. They ride bikes! Just like us! Photo by Norman Wong.
As far as it being a Toronto film, it’s kind of the anti-Chloe, too. Instead of the postcards of Allan Gardens and Yorkville, you have piles of trash.
BM: Yeah, yeah.
KD: I thought it was great…Toronto just needs to be what it is, and it’s slowly just becoming that now. I think that has to do with a lot of up-and-comers, and the kids, and the people, and the fact that now we have all kinds of festivals going on, and all kinds of people doing great things, and people look to our city now as they look to many others. It’s just a fact. And if I can say something for the Torontonist [sic], I think the city planners in this town are a bunch of fucking idiots.
You’d probably get little argument from Torontoist.
KD: It’s got to stop. There is a condo crisis going on in our town and if someone doesn’t do something, people are going to get hurt.
It’s a bit ironic, though, to say that while we’re sitting at the Drake, which is the resounding heart of West End gentrification.
KD: Yeah, but that has to happen. You can’t fight that. You have to embrace it, but you can also have control of it. I mean, the Drake came in, but they did put their money where their mouth was. They said, “We’re going to be pro-artist, we’re going to be pro-art” and they’ve been more community-oriented than any other place around here. And the Gladstone too, coming back around, that’s amazing. But that’s just how it happens. You can’t stop progress but you can govern it a bit.
Quick one for you Bruce: when I heard you were making this movie, it made a lot of sense to me considering your history with rock ‘n’ roll films. But it also didn’t make any sense to me because your history of rock ‘n’ roll films bred this sort of productive nihilism for young Canadians at the time, whereas this film comes across as being very much about the camaraderie of everyone in the band, and your rapport with the city and each other. It’s very friendly, and feel-goody, in a nice way. So, what was it that attracted you to this? Considering that this film is not only the anti-Chloe, but the anti–Hard Core Logo?
BM: I guess in some of those early films I was more, well, thinking about devils and you know, the dirt, and pain. I thought that was romantic. I thought that was something.
KD: Can I answer? I got it.
KD: I know it! Bruce got married and he has a kid.
BM: It’s all about the love now!
KD: And Social Scene came into his life and it’s all about the love.
BM: Kind of. You know, the dark is a good place to visit once in a while. It keeps you on your toes.
KD: And please keep doing that, because your dark is the kind of dark I like.
BM: Yeah, but there’s something…I’m really proud of this movie in the sense that it is a bit of light, and a beautiful day, and community and friendship and kissing and making out. You kind of go, “Nothing’s wrong with that.” Nobody’s being punished for their pleasure, which is so often the case. Even in romantic movies or sensual movies, people have to be punished for the pursuit of pleasure. And here, nobody is. It’s refreshing.
KD: I got butterflies.
This Movie Is Broken premieres at The Royal (608 College Street West) tonight at 7 p.m. and hits wide release in Toronto on June 25.