Calgary shot film gets a screening at this year’s CUFF while those involved continue the story with new Vice TV series.
It’s National Canadian Film Day when we catch up with Dave Lawrence.
For if there’s one thing the Calgary actor takes a great deal of pride in as he gets set to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the release of the locally-shot cult classic FUBAR — which he starred in and helped create — it’s that he contributed, in some small part, to the great Canadian film canon.
“I’m just really proud to have a Canadian film that people have heard of,” Lawrence says.
“In this industry, working next to the American giant, it’s really a challenge — there are lots of great Canadian films that no one’s ever heard of, so I’m actually really lucky to have one that people have.
“I know it’s not a huge reward, but in this system and in this country, it’s pretty rare.”
He continues. “I mean, if you ask if someone can name 10 Canadian films, they’ll stop at Porky’s.”
Presumably, none of those people will be in attendance at the anniversary screening of FUBAR Thursday night at the Globe Cinema as part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival.
Likely the audience there and at the Ship & Anchor, which will host the pre- and afterparty, will be full of the devotees who have kept it alive, spread the word, helped it grow to those heights over the past decade and a half.
It’s a group that includes those hosers and heshers who’ve memorized every line, bought every licensed product (books, soundtracks), even tattooed themselves with the FUBAR logo or characters, and helped spawn a 2010 sequel and now a soon-to-be-released TV series.
Lawrence has just returned from working on post-production for the show, which just wrapped filming in Montreal, where Dowse and Spence currently reside, and where Vice, the network that commissioned the eight-part FUBAR series, is headquartered.
Understandably as the only representative who’ll be marking the blessed anniversary occasion in the city where the original film was shot, he’s allowing himself to be a little nostalgic about it.
And for Lawrence, it seems like only yesterday that he, director Michael Dowse, co-star Paul Spence and the rest of the ragtag crew who put the guerrilla film together, launched what would become their lasting legacy.
“Yeah, it sort of flew by,” Lawrence says of the time passage. “It’s pretty amazing over these 15 years how many people the film has resonated with and the level of commitment to quoting every single line.
“It really is some people’s favourites, one of the movies they can watch over and over, and each time they still feel it.”
Quite the return on an investment.
The original FUBAR was made on a shoe-string budget of about $400,000, with the actual shooting being financed by Lawrence’s credit card limit of about $10-$12,000, the filmmakers then raising money from a rough cut through Telefilm and other film credits to get it completed.
It would go on to be an official selection at Sundance and, again, take on a life of its own when it hit the DVD market.
To say that it was something of an unlikely success story doesn’t quite do it justice, as the mockumentary about two heavy-metal loving, mulleted, prairie dirtbags — Lawrence as Terry Cahill, Spence as his bud Dean Murdoch — and their hard-partying, or givin’ ’er ways, seemed to resonate on a level that has transcended the time from whence it was spawned.
As to why that is, the actor thinks there’s an inherent timelessness to the themes that the film embraced.
“It seems to be something that younger generations are still discovering it. For me it’s kind of like a Spinal Tap. I was late to Spinal Tap and realized it was made awhile ago, but it was still relevant as a young human,” he says, before taking that to FUBAR’s core philosophy.
“If you spend any time learning how to drink beer and camping, this film will eventually come up.”
Lawrence also admits it also has a great deal to do with the characters, themselves, or rather the particular human sub-species that they represent: The headbanger.
“Bangers are still alive. They look a little different, but the genre is still very healthy,” he says before admitting that “the music helps us. I always say we piggybacked on metal.
“The attitude in some of the music — the rebellion, what we used to call the ‘stunted adolescence’ — is still alive and well, and I think it always will be. That’s part of growing up, resisting, and having a good time being more important than other things. And especially when you’re young, I think it’s good to have that as a priority.”
Which brings us to the obvious observance: Lawrence, Spence and their characters are no longer young. Fifteen years has, as has been noted, passed since that first film was released and they and those loveable losers they play are further down the road of life.
Why does it still work?
“Maybe I’m in denial or something,” he says. “But even when we made the film, I was 23 when we shot it and a lot of people thought the character was already 30, 32 — the character was played as an older character.”
Lawrence says the trademark wig and yellow sunglasses help, but as a 40-year-old he’s also gone out of his way to make Terry appear “older and fatter,” while still maintaining the essence of what made him who he was and still is.
“These kind of characters don’t really change. Even in real life, you often see bangers finding their pattern and sticking to it. They know what they like and they’re those types of guys that don’t really change anyways. They’re obviously fake characters and it’s not entirely true, but I’ve seen in certain neighbourhoods the same guy doing the same thing for 15 years — riding around on his 10-speed with a ghetto blaster duct-taped to it collecting bottles.”
Which begs the question of why, as an actor, he still finds it rewarding to return to what is admittedly a relatively static character with Terry?
“For me, personally, it all comes from the roots of how I got into this was through improvisation,” he says, noting that he still does it “regularly” at local theatre institution Loose Moose.
“If I’m improvising as Terry or improvising as a dentist it’s still improvisation. For me, that’s at the core. I enjoy the thrill of making up my own dialogue and being in the moment …
“Even though the character’s been around for a long time, if I go to a live event, I’m still improvising, I still get to put on that face and I never know what Terry’s going to say.
“If someone says, ‘Hey, do you want to play Terry?’ it’s not like, ‘Awww, that again?’ I’m not a musical guy, but it feel likes that if you know the same songs and you go and play them for a different crowd you still get that rush.”
That’s why he had no problem signing up for the Vice series, which had initially been talked about as a cartoon but turned into a live-action continuation when discussions furthered, all parties thinking it made more sense.
Lawrence thinks it makes even more so now that they’re closer to the final product, which will tentatively air this fall.
“It’s awesome,” he says. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”
While he’s wont to give too much away, the basic plot of the show has Terry and Dean fleeing the wild fires of Fort McMurray — where they headed for a taste of those oilsands riches in that sequel FUBAR: Balls to the Wall — back home to Calgary.
Most of the action, apparently, takes place in a basement apartment, with Spence’s character working on creating a metal epic and Terry, having just discovered the Internet, getting addicting to life online, seeing in it a way to make it rich or at least make a living.
“Most bangers are always struggling with money and trying to make their way in the world and Terry decides the Internet might be his way out,” he says, noting that he prepped for the film by actually doing some improv work on Skype before shooting began. “Unfortunately for the character, it doesn’t matter, he’ll always be the same.”
Which, for fans of the original, is obviously a good thing.
“If you like FUBAR you’ll definitely like the show,” he says. “It’s in the same vein of humour and storytelling with a little bit of heart.”
He pauses. “And it’s kind of stupid.”
But Lawrence most definitely isn’t. He fully understands and appreciates what FUBAR has given him these past 15 years, which is whey he’s more than happy to don that wig and glasses Thursday after the screening for a special Heavy Metal Karaoke session at the Ship.
In fact, he’ll pull double duty, showing up for a Q&A at the Globe right after the film as himself before retreating to his other persona for what he assumes will be a more welcome appearance.
“Most people, when they meet Dave, they’re like, ‘Oh you’re not as cool as Terry,’ ” he says with a laugh.
“But I’ll pull Dave out for the Q&A so I can answer the questions and then hopefully Terry shows up at the Ship.”
Fubar’s 15th Anniversary Screening takes place Thursday at the Globe Cinema as part of the Calgary Underground Film Festival. Actor Dave Lawrence will be in attendance. Lawrence will also participate in the free Heavy Metal Karaoke after party at the Ship & Anchor Pub following the screening. For tickets and more information please go here.
Mike Bell has been covering the Calgary music scene for the past 25 years with publications such as VOX, Fast Forward, the Calgary Sun and, most recently, the Calgary Herald. He is currently the music writer and content editor for theYYSCENE.ca, and the co-host of the show Saved By the Bell, which airs Wednesdays from 4-6 p.m. on CJSW 90.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter/@mrbell_23 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. He wrote about FUBAR when it was first released. He has never nor will he ever give ‘er. He would still shotgun a beer with you, though. If you’re buying.