Calgary Film 2018: WolfCop director Lowell Dean goes off the grid with post-apocalyptic, prairie Mad Max action flick

Opening night jitters really are a thing. Even in the film world.

When the curtains open for the first time, and your hard work — blood, sweat, tears, catering budget, etc. — is put onscreen for a paying audience, all bets are off.

That’s even the case when you’ve got a proven track record like Canadian director Lowell Dean.

Perhaps more so.

The man behind horror film 13 Eerie and gory, goofy, low-budget cult classics WolfCop and its sequel Another WolfCop, is getting set for the world premiere of his latest film SuperGrid, which will have its initial screening Friday, Sept. 21 at the Calgary International Film Festival.

Dean, the film’s producers, Hugh Patterson and Trinni Franke, along with writer T.R. McCauley and cinematographer Michael Jari Davidson will be in attendance for a Q&A following that first public screening at the Globe Cinema and and he admits he’s more than a little nervous.

It is, after all, something of a departure from what the Regina filmmaker’s fans are used to and what he’s used to making.

Yes, there’s action and violence, but, for the most part, it’s played straight. And there is nary a cop nor a werewolf, to be found.

“It’s always a trip the first time you see a movie with an actual audience — especially not an audience of friends, because they don’t have to give you anything. They’ll laugh when they want to laugh and they’ll freak out when they want to freak out,” Dean says from Regina.

“I’m very curious to see how people respond to this because it’s not silly. I won’t really know how to gauge it, because if they’re laughing all throughout the movie then something’s wrong.”

Shot in his home province and set in the “undetermined future,” it’s a post-apocalyptic cross between The Road Warrior, Highway 61 and, say, Resident Evil, where mining conglomerates have sucked all they can from the land before abandoning it and its people, leaving all of them a mess — the citizens poor and suffering from disease, the water undrinkable and the cities dilapidated with earthquakes a common occurrence.

Two brothers, played by WolfCop himself, Leo Fafard, and Glee’s Marshall Williams, are tasked with the dangerous mission of travelling across “the grid,” on a highway heading south across the border to retrieve an unknown cargo. Along the way, they’re attacked by pirates and helped by others, including the citizens of an First Nations community, which all makes for a very Canadian action film that should be an audience-pleaser.

Prior to that premiere and a Sunday, Sept. 23 matinee showing at Eau Claire, Dean spoke with theYYSCENE.

Q: Congratulations on the film. It’s something of a departure for you, isn’t it?

A: It’s definitely a little different than WolfCop, it’s almost subdued and normal. But obviously still people die.

Q: When you set out to make a movie is that the guiding force: People must die?

A: (Laughs) No, actually, this was brought to me, this was not a project I developed. It was something my producing partner Hugh Patterson, who was one of the producers on the WolfCop films, this has been his baby, he’s been developing if for, God, I think the last five years. He was always talking about it, but there was never any firm commitment or attachment to me, he was just always telling me about it, and I was always, “Well, good luck with that …” But by the time it became real and he got Telefilm onboard and the National Screen Institute and things started rolling into place he said, “Will you direct it?” And I was like, “Uh, I dunno, this seems like a literal suicide mission.” But I love Hugh and I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to shoot in Saskatchewan in the summer, thinking about how fun it would be. So even though it would a bit overwhelming and ambitious for our budget, I knew I had to do it.

Q: Other than getting to film in Saskatchewan and Hugh, what else drew you to it? It’s got a lot of Sasky people in it, and I’m assuming the crew is very local, was that also a big part of it?

A: Yeah, I mean, to be honest the biggest draw was working with Hugh, because we’ve gone through the wars of making two WolfCop films together, and I knew he had my back and I knew that he 100 per cent just cared about making the movie and making the movie good, putting the money on the screen. So I knew that even though this wasn’t necessarily my baby, he would give me all the freedom … to make it as good as we both wanted it to be. It was just exciting to work with him again and everyone else …

He developed this project with Leo in mind, who plays WolfCop, so it was a natural collaboration again, and he brought in a lot of familiar faces from the WolfCop films just because they were people we also love working with, and obviously some new faces.

But, yeah, the biggest driving factor was getting to work with Hugh and getting to make a movie in summer and, I mean, if I’m being honest, it’s never a sad day when you get to do these explosions and gunfire or car chases.

Q: It obviously has elements of the Road Warrior and films like that. When he told you, what was the elevator pitch for it?

A: That was honestly it, in a nutshell — it’s a Mad Max movie on the prairies. And to me, my biggest fear, I think, going into making this film was, well, we’ve seen it before. We’ve seen multiple Mad Max films at the independent level and at an amazingly huge budget level, so my kind of personal challenge became, “How do I find aspects to this film that aren’t Mad Max? Where do I find the personality that can take a left turn or a right turn …?” We worked on injecting a lot of heart into it. To me, I looked at it almost as more of a western, like a prairie western. But obviously when you’re making a cargo run and people are chasing you with masks and shooting at you on an isolated, post-apocalyptic highway, it’s going to be Mad Max to an extent.

Q: It is beautifully shot. It is a pretty great view of the prairies — the big, beautiful skies. You can tell that there’s an understanding and appreciation of it.

A: We don’t take that for granted, even though we’re from here. I mean it’s free production value — any chance you get to film a prairie sunset you take it. There was a few shots in particular where we really wanted to get towards the end of the film a really beautiful sunset. It took two or three days of us setting up and lining up, and everybody was hoping and praying it would work out, but when you get it, you’re like, “Money in the bank.”

Q: I love the aspect of the reserve, the inclusion of an Indigenous community. I thought it was pretty unique and pretty great, but it’s not played up, it’s just part of the landscape, these are the people here.

A: You hit nail on the head, I mean, the First Nations community is a core component of Saskatchewan, so to not represent them in this film would have felt (wrong) to me. And also I enjoyed the opportunity to present them in the positive light that in this future world where maybe many cities have fallen to disrepair they’re kicking ass out there, they are the ones who are leading at the forefront and they are pulling in two of these idiots and helping them (complete) their mission.

Q: I know with the post-apocalyptic element of the film there will be some people who will, especially being in Alberta and being in Saskatchewan, draw parallels to the oil and gas industry and to fracking and the oil sands.

A: You don’t have to look too hard to draw that comparison.

Q: Is that a concern or a worry, because you do have those people who get defensive about it, that knee-jerk reaction?

A: Oh, yeah, even on the crew there were people who were like, “What are you trying to say here?” But I think that’s maybe why we didn’t go too headstrong into the political arguments around it because we want people to get lost in the movie. But, I mean, wherever you stand on the issue, I stand definitely on the side of let’s do as little to the planet as we have to. Hopefully it’s not too in your face.

Q: So, frightening? Exciting? How would you describe your mood right now, because audiences are finally going to see this?

A: I mean, I guess, for sure I’m nervous, because it’s out of our wheelhouse. People, like I said half-jokingly, people die but it’s not the same movie. I think people going into this expecting WolfCop 3 will be disappointed. I mean, I think it’s got a little heart and maybe a little more ambition, certainly, but at it’s core it’s still an action movie with these messed-up characters just trying to make the world better. And you’ll get to see some crazy stuff happen.

Q: You keep bringing it up: Will there be a WolfCop 3?

A: I don’t know. I mean, obviously for me it’s hard to put that down, having done two, I always have it in the back of my head, but we have no immediate plans. But I do love the character, so I would never say never.

SuperGrid has its world premiere Friday, Sept. 21 at 9:45 p.m. at the Globe Cinema (upstairs), and includes a Q&A with the filmmakers following, and Sunday, Sept. 23 at 12:30 p.m. at Eau Claire 6. For tickets and more information, please go to calgaryfilm.com.