TIFF Q&A: Dylan Akio Smith and Kris Elgstrand
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TIFF Q&A: Dylan Akio Smith and Kris Elgstrand

Co-directors of Doppelgänger Paul (Or a Film About How Much I Hate Myself)

Filmmakers Kris Elgstrand (left) and Dylan Akio Smith. Photo by D.A. Cooper/Torontoist.

Doppelgänger Paul (Or a Film About How Much I Hate Myself)

Directed by Dylan Akio Smith and Kris Elgstrand (Canada, Vanguards)

Monday, September 12, 9:15 p.m. AMC 2 (10 Dundas East)

Wednesday, September 14, 3 p.m. AMC 9 (10 Dundas East)

Saturday, September 17, 7 p.m. AMC 2 (10 Dundas East)

Given filmmaking’s collaborative nature, ascribing authorship can be a bit tricky. Sure, there’s the screenwriter, literally authoring all the stuff you see and hear. But then there’s the director, who oversees the cinematography, editing, and most every other aspect of the production, while also nudging along the actors’ line-readings. Then you have the actors themselves. Then there’s the producers, though they’re more like the patrons: calling a producer the artist is kind of like calling Cosimo the Elder the artist of Donatello’s statue of St. George. (There’s a little nugget for all you House of Medici buffs out there.)

Anyways, the point is it can get confusing. But this perplexity about authorship proves good fodder in Vancouverites Dylan Akio Smith and Kris Elgstrand’s Doppelgänger Paul (Or a Film About How Much I Hate Myself). Co-directed by Smith and Elgstrand, Doppelgänger Paul follows two grumpy loners, Karl (Tygh Runyan) and Paul (Brad Dryborough), who collaborate on a book which somehow ends up in the hands of two smiling morons pushing it on morning TV. As a film about doppelgängers (Karl believes Paul to be his, though they look nothing alike), self-loathing, collaboration, and the nature of authorship, Smith and Elgstrand’s film immediately recalls Charlie Kauffman and Spike Jonze’s productively naval-gazing Nic Cage vehicle, Adaptation.

We spoke with Smith and Elgstrand at a cafe in Little Italy about Doppelgänger Paul and their own collaborative process.

Torontoist: So you guys co-wrote and co-directed the film?

Kris Elgstrand: Well, I wrote and we co-directed. And he served as co-director of photography and co-edited. There was a lot of collaboration.

That makes sense because the movie is very much about collaboration. And the perils of collaboration. How did it work out for you guys?

KE: It was a constant struggle. [laughs] No, but we’d actually worked very closely together for several years. We made our first movie together about eight years ago, and then did a bunch of shorts. It’s mostly stuff that I’ve written and then served as producer on. So there’s a lot of cross-pollination there, but we each had our defined roles.

In the film, Karl’s original manuscript is like 22,000 pages long and then gets severely edited. Did your script change much between when you wrote it and when it went up on screen, Kris?

KE: When I wrote it, it was about the same running time as the film is now. Maybe a bit shorter.

DAS: We probably cut about 10 minutes out of the original script.

KE: Well, maybe a little more than that. But most of it came out in the editing process. We had conversations, but it never descended to “Fuck you, Kris!” or “Fuck you, Dylan!” But we did find that we were acting out scenes from the movie almost.

DAS: Yeah, like we’re editing the scene about them editing the book and they’re arguing about it and we’re arguing about it.

What attracted you to the idea of the doppelgänger, and interpreting it this way, where the characters don’t even really look alike at all?

KE: It’s hard to say, exactly. I love Hope/Crosby movies. And I sort of wanted to make one of those. It was just the idea of two guys, and when I was getting into buddy movie territory, I thought, “Well what if this guy thought the other one was his doppelgänger?” Originally they were both going to have beards, and share that, but we scrapped that idea because it was funnier.

DAS: Also, we liked this idea of the one guy drinking too many energy drinks, to the point that he thinks some stranger is his doppelgänger. The idea is that the drinks are making him lose consciousness and he’s tapping into this other world. But that’s actually real. That happened to Kris’s stepfather. He was drinking these bee pollen drinks without realizing that he was allergic to it, and started having these hot flashes and stuff.

There seems to be a lot of cynicism, and nihilism, and self-loathing—after all, the film is subtitled A Film About How Much I Hate Myself—running through the film. What attracts you guys to these darker, more narcissistic emotions?

KE: All the stuff we’ve done is about people inhabiting that kind of space, who are stuck in this way of living their lives and take some action to get out of it.

DAS: Yeah. Dysfunctional people are more interesting than functional people[…] In this one too, there’s the whole thing about plagiarizing. And that’s something kind of specific to how we live our lives these days, where you can just click a button and download it and share it around.

The whole James Frey scandal kind of came to mind too.

KE: Yeah! I toyed with how much to reference that. I never watch Oprah, but I happened to see that episode. So it did occur to my while I was writing.

DAS: We can see a correlation, too, between what’s going on in this story and what was going on with us in the process of making the movie. Like dealing with committees and people who tell you that you need a big star in your movie. You can lose your voice in the process. So when I was first read this script I thought, “This is the one. This is the one we need to make now.”

Is the problem just that these things get focus-grouped to death in order to ensure funding?

KE: It wasn’t even so much that. It’s just the pressure of having to please the agency whose money you’re working with. I don’t think I’ve ever had a screenwriting job, where I got paid to write a script, that I didn’t want to quit. But I have since found out the Ernest Lehman quit almost every screenwriting job he ever had. North by Northwest he quit, and then he came back. Sweet Smell of Success he quit, and came back. So I thought, “Okay. This is just what writers do.”

That’s interesting because the script for this film is so unique that it’s hard to imagine where anyone would even begin to tamper with it.

DAS: With this one we didn’t even give them the chance. I basically just read the script and we decided to go out and make the movie, without getting feedback. We almost didn’t change a word of it and just shot it as-is. It was almost to see, like, here’s one we developed with committees and got all this feedback on, and here’s Doppelganger Paul, which we just went out and did and feels way more fresh because we weren’t told what to do with it.

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