Voodoo at VIFF

Director Mark Ratzlaff

Director Mark Ratzlaff returns to VIFF this year with an imaginative short film, Voodoo. It will screen as part of the short series, Mood Swing.  

Ratzlaff talks about his film, the local film industry and the future of filmmaking in Vancouver.

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WD: Could you tell me a little about yourself as a filmmaker?

MR: I graduated from the UBC Film Production program in 2006. From there I got in with Chris Haddock's show Intelligence in their post department. I've been working in post production but I've always liked to continue working on my own short films.

This last one is my fourth film and the third one I've had played at VIFF. What's been great is I've been able to work with the same people: Jessica Cheung who has produced my short films, Lindsay George the cinematographer. We all came out of UBC together.

I had a short film called The Porcelain Man that was nominated for a few LEO awards. It won two of them, one going to Lindsay for cinematography. I've just been trying to keep my own projects going.

This last one was made possible because I applied to the NFB for the Film Makers Assistant Program and the Director's Guild of Canada's Kick Start program. That made up our budget for Voodoo.

WD: Where did the idea for Voodoo come from?

MR: It's actually based on a really short story about half a page long. I read it back in high school in English class. It was part of our short story program.

What I took from the short story was what ended up making up the last scene. That's all the short story really gives you: this unhappily married couple that finally comes together and has this explosive argument and they try to resolve it with an unusual solution involving a voodoo doll. I thought it would be fun to start the morning of that day and see how these characters got to that point.

I went back to my high school and I talked to my old English teacher and he still had this old book. From there I had to try and find the short story rights.
It was written by an author named Fredric Brown, who died in the seventies. He did a lot of science fiction stuff but he started in the fifties doing these little serial pulp style short stories with a darker mysterious edge.

I always really liked the twist. There's a twist in his short story and I really got a kick out of it.

WD: What was one of the most challenging things you were faced with making this film?

MR: The biggest thing was... before I sit down with Jessica and talk about budget I've already written the script. I just write what I hope we can film despite the budget. Because it's a period piece set in the forties, I knew I wanted to shoot on black and white film. The set was going to be pretty hard because I wanted it to feel like a film that somebody dug up: like something that had been lost. I wanted the technical side of it to feel as dated as the look of it: the costumes and all that.

There was an exterior scene in an airport etc.. There was this massive list so it really fell on Madeleine Grant our production designer to pull all this stuff together. It was a really intensive hunt for an old taxi cab, and old house... we even have a nineteen forties by-plane for the airport shot.

I'm amazed we pulled it off, but that was definitely the biggest obstacle: really selling the period.

And also the cast. I think we did a great job of pulling together some great Canadian talent for the project.

WD: Where did you have the most fun?

MR: It was really fun because the main characters are played by David Nykl, who 's from Stargate Atlantis, and Camille Sullivan who's done Intelligence and Shattered.

I really loved their work and I was a little intimidated to come on set with all these veterans of Vancouver film and TV but they were really amazing. Nobody had an ego: they were just as involved  in having as much fun in the Indy vibe as the rest of us.

It was a lot of fun just getting to play. There was a bit of improvisation at times. I'm always open and want to hear what the actors have in mind for their characters. It was a lot of fun because we had a few locations, one per day, so we could really play around in the scenes and have some fun.

We had one day where we got some scenes of one of the characters who is supposed to be in World War II, and we got to do some explosions, which was cool. I think they ended up being bigger than we expected. We only had two tries so we couldn't stop rolling. I remember the first one going off and everybody was getting showered with dirt but we had to keep rolling because we didn't have the money for another one.

WD: Was there anything unexpected that happened during the shoot?

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