Making movies about survival in the woods, or somewhere lost in enormous park may sound easy for you. And why should not it? But after seeing Adam MacDonald`s BACKCOUNTRY, you no doubt will start thinking otherwise. MacDonald`s movie tells the story of an urban couple who find themselves lost in the territory of a hungry, very hungry black bear. What happen next is something you as a viewer should find out. But for now, I am very pleased to post an interview with Adam MacDonald with whom I had a great pleasure talking about his first featured film, Backcountry.
MOVIEMOVESME: According to the opening credits of the film, the movie is based on a true story. But some part of it I’m sure is fiction, so how did you build up the story?
Adam MacDonald: The idea to do Backcountry came to me in the woods. I wanted to make a movie that could be made for lower budget. In Canadian films we have the stories up here with grizzly bears. During my research I started writing and I came across a couple of stories of people being attacked in the wild. There was one of a young couple who were attacked by a predatory black bear and even two people on an island in Algonquin Park were attacked by a bear as well. So it was inspired and drew from that story but it is very loosely based. It’s a fictionalized account of their stories in many ways because it’s not a documentary. So I built the structure around the story. But it’s great when someone asked me at TIFF, “So has this happened?” I said, “Yeah.” “So two people went in and they got attacked by a bear?” I said, “Yeah and it’ll happen again.” So that’s what my bases are.
MOVIEMOVESME: Can you talk about your unique approach of misdirecting the viewer, wanting to surprise them with the movie?
Adam MacDonald: It’s tricky because someone who doesn’t know anything about the movie, they go in thinking it’s a horror movie, survival movie whatever, when Brad shows up, there’s a feeling like, “Ah, it’s one of these movies. He’s either gonna rape them or kill them.” But it doesn’t go that way. It just goes another way, so I wanted to tell the story that there are lot of dangers out there in the wild, more than just human beings and you can encounter predatory black bears. So you get a feeling that something’s coming but you don’t know is it the guy or something else. So when the bear shows up, it’s unforgettable, it completely makes everything else in the story less important. So it’s horrible when they get lost but the chances of getting out are pretty good, they’re in a provincial park. Just keep going, maybe they’ll find something. When you encounter the bear it changes everything. But if people see the bear in the poster, they wait for the bear all the time. It makes people frustrated, which I understand, but there was a talk about not having a bear on the poster, which makes it a harder film to sell.
MOVIEMOVESME: So you think the viewers want to see a film where people are being attacked. How do you plan the story to make sure people will be interested?
Adam MacDonald: I think we’re very lucky because so far we’ve been really well received in the US. The film is doing great in Germany, in Italy, it’s very fortunate. I think there’s something, I’m not even gonna compare it with Jaws, Jaws is an amazing film. But do people really want to go see a movie where people are getting eaten by sharks? It’s something that’s really deep rooted in us, the separation between the wild and us. There is something beautiful and intense about it. Lots of people feel safe in the cities now than they did even 200 years ago. There’s less trouble really, in terms of wild anyway. Nothing scares us like our primal fears because they’re deep rooted into us. So if they want a cool bear movie, this is not the movie, it’s not a fun, crazy splatter fest movie, it’s not like that. It’s what it would be like to a camping trip and facing one of these animals. So I think it intrigues people. My hope is they go and see it not just another bear movies or woods movies but be like, “Aw, it’s good, there’s more to it. It has emotion and wow! I felt something.” That’s my goal. So the bear may get them to the seat but the story will bring them something more when they leave.
MOVIEMOVESME: How do you develop the story in order to examine a film about survival, about how the relationship between two can change when survival is at stake?
Adam MacDonald: This was really on my mind all the time. I don’t like films so much when they’re cookie cutters, when they’re perfect in the beginning and everything is great. I wanted people to just start in the relationship and see like it’s not champagne and bubble-gum, they have real dynamic. They’re not even friends at first, they have fights, like in real life. So I used a lot of things that I’ve drew from. I am Alex in some and Jen in other ways. What interests me more is that when you’re in a relationship, you know which one loves the other more. You just do. So in this case Alex knew, Jen loves him less than how much he loves her. These draw in deep insecurities especially in men. She’s a pretty girl and he wants to do this perfect outing and he overcompensates for it. The idea doesn’t go well and it tests them to the limit and the irony is that in spite of all what’s happening, when they’re sitting by the fire, they connect the first time in the movie. That was very strategic and you see why they’re together. It’s like in real life.
MOVIEMOVESME: As a first time feature filmmaker, you managed to make such a strong film, what do you have to say about that?
Adam MacDonald: I had a good team too, it takes many people to make a movie. I had a really good team I can rely on and get the images in my head on the screen, edited the right way and so I couldn’t have done that without a good team for sure. I had years to study, I did three short films. I knew what was wrong with those films. Blue Valentine is a huge influence on this movie too because there’s only three or four characters in the movie anyway. You’re stuck into this story because it’s real. I was really meticulous in trying to show that the right way. So it doesn’t feel like a cheesy horror film on Netflix that no one really watches because they don’t feel like anything. But if you’re uncomfortable, because they’re like real people, some people don’t like that. I got very uncomfortable while watching Blue Valentine. He makes all these mistakes, Ryan Gosling’s character, same thing, he’s overcompensating! What he does later is he’s stupid because men can do that sometimes when we get ahead of ourselves as Alex does. I think personally, it frustrates a lot of men that he does that. He puts her behind him when the bear attacks and to me that’s like the ultimate man thing to do, to protect the person you love.
MOVIEMOVESME: What was your main goal behind making this film?
Adam MacDonald: My main goal, because I wanted to work in genre, and I wrote a script that really didn’t go anywhere. I was thinking of a story I could do. That’s where this came in. The basis of the story is grab attacks, it’s not a sci-fi movie in that way, it’s very serious, very real situations. That’s the idea. What I want to take away is, I was never personally satisfied with bear attack movies. I wanted to do something for Canada too, because I’ve never seen a movie like this in Canada come out. We have these stories that happened, we have bears here. I’m a huge fan of the Australian films and they do the sharks and the crocodiles all the time and they’re good. So I wanted to come in the ring and I wanted to make the best bear attack movie using the history that we have in this country. I wanted Canada to represent itself in that way. I wanted people to feel that way I felt when I watched Jurassic Park or Jaws. It’s about giving the audience that, that was my dream.
MOVIEMOVESME: As a filmmaker of independent films, how hard is it to convince people to invest in your film financially?
Adam MacDonald: It took four years to convince people to do it. I think the only reason it got made in the beginning was producer Thomas Michael because we got together early on. He’s a ferocious guy who if he wants something done, gets it done. When he signed on, I knew that was the best chance for the film to get made. He step by step got the money together and you give the script to the distributor and they say this is a great script, they can see what you’re doing, so they take a chance. It was hard because it was my first feature, so I had to tell them to trust me that you’ll never see a bear attack like that. Moreover, I gotta make a deeper movie than that, more thought provoking movie. They’re like, “If you can deliver, that’d be great.” It was a great feeling when we showed the distributors a cut of the film and they saw the bear attack. As I said it’s the team I had, it’s all about the team. I had the images, the scene in my head. Without the right DoP, producer there’s no way it would have happened. The movie turned out exactly as I wanted, it’s a little freaky that way but the editor found a rhythm and it turned out just like I had imagined.