I recently had the chance to talk with David Bezmozgis, Director of the upcoming film Victoria Day, in Toronto at the Metropolitan Hotel. Here is my interview. Please be aware that we did discuss some plot elements, so there are minor spoilers for the film in the interview.
How does Victoria Day compare to your previous work?
My previous work, I guess is a collection of stories about a family of Soviet Jews, so it also touches on the same kind of community in the same place, set in Toronto and North York, and the point was to make it feel like real life, like “what’s it really feel like to go through this”.
What was the hardest scene to film?
I think the concert scene was probably the hardest scene to film, because we didn’t know if we were going to get all those extras in the back - we didn't pay for those people.
Was it historically accurate - was there actually a Bob Dylan concert on, like, May 15th, 1988 in Toronto?
Not to that extent, but there was a Bob Dylan show in 1988...
...at Ontario Place.
Yeah, it was like Exhibition Stadium, but it was close enough.
And what was your favorite scene to film?
That’s a tough question. I guess the scene where - the hospital scene - where the parents show up and the father sees him with the broken arm. To me, I always look forward to seeing that scene.
How long was the filming process?
We shot for 21 days
...and then the pre-production and the post-production?
Pre-production... what did we have... I think we had 4 weeks of pre-production, and we posted it in 3 months - which is fast.
Now one of my questions for John and Mark was, “what was it like working with you”, but obviously I’m not going to ask you that...
You want to know what it was like working with me? I thought I was ok. I got along with myself for the most part.
Did you use a clapboard?
oh, a clapper?
We do, but it’s all digital.
You don’t get the little chalkboard?
You don’t get the chalkboard, you get digital figures that are running all the time... But you still clap it - it’s called market, so it’s like “market” (clap) marker.
And could you understand the Russian when the actors were speaking Russian?
I speak fluent Russian. I directed the Russian actors in Russian.
Yeah, that’s what I thought. And did you write those parts of the screenplay in Russian?
I wrote it in English, and then for the Russian parts, the actors and I kind of worked together to translate it into Russian.
What did you think about filming the fireworks scene?
It was a lot of fun.
Because I know that you like filmed for three days, and through the night...
Yeah, we filmed it over a couple of nights, but it’s challenging because you would have stuff flying around, and you have to be safe.
And you had to get permits...
Oh, yeah, you have to get permits for everything.
...and insurance obviously for the actors.
Yeah, everybody was insured, even me.
What is the maximum number of takes you did for a single scene?
That’s a good question. You know that scene at the hospital, that I was talking about? Where the father says, “You think that’s your arm? Well it’s my arm.”, we probably did 15 takes of that. That’s probably the most of anything we did.
What was the least number of takes?
I think there are any number of times when we only had one or two takes. We’re pretty quick.
Was this filmed digital?
Yeah, 4K. It was good - I like the RED. My cinematographer? Not so much. He prefers film, but I think the look we got is filmed really, really good compared to any other digital form.
It must really help in the editing...
Yeah it does,
Because you didn’t have a ton of film to go through, but obviously they said that you had to keep changing the harddrive.
Yeah, we had to keep swapping out, but it’s an interesting technology for sure. I’d want to do more of it.
Was this all edited in Apple’s Final Cut?
Yes, it was edited in Final Cut.
Did you do all the editing yourself?
No, no, there’s an editor.
How long would the “Director’s cut” of the film be?
Same. I’m very happy with exactly what we have there.
So there’s not much deleted content? What would you put on the DVD?
There’ll be some background stuff, there’ll be some auditions, I think there’s some behind the scenes that will be there... And there’ll be some other cool stuff that will be on there too.
Good, I look forward to it.
Is it true that you wanted Mark (Ben) to keep eating bananas in that scene?
I needed him to eat the bananas when he was on camera, he had to have something in his mouth, so yes, he had to eat the bananas.
Yeah, because Mark was saying he kept telling you he didn’t want to eat anymore f---ing bananas...
Yes, he needed to eat the f---ing bananas.
What are your thoughts on the finished film?
I am very proud of the movie - I’m really pleased with it.
How do you think it’s going to connect with audiences?
Well we’ve shown it before. We showed it at Sundance, we showed it here at a film festival, and I’ve gone to high schools and shown parts of the film to students, and they really... they get it - they’re thrilled by it.
Obviously it’s a very different film from Adventureland, but have you seen Adventureland, and how do you feel it’s similar to another coming of age story that takes place in 1987, (or ‘88)?
I haven’t seen Adventureland, but I’m aware of it...
Yeah, ‘cause it was also at Sundance...
It was also at Sundance - in fact we played them back to back - but I couldn’t see it because there was something else going on. But there’s a little movie called The Squid and The Whale, which is also set in the ‘80’s - do you know this movie?
Yes - never seen it, but I know of it.
I saw that one, and I liked it a lot, but it also, I think, had a similar style and a similar tone.
Are you working on any more movies?
I have a few things in mind, nothing that’s starting anytime soon, but I hope so.
Would you want to cast some of the same actors again?
Yeah, I would love to work with most of them again - probably all of them.
Thanks for taking the time to talk to me today...
It was my pleasure.
...and I hope you check out the reviews.