Festivals - Fantasia 2020 : The Oak Room : Cody Calahan’s interview

By Mulder, Canada, Quebec, 20 august 2020

Q : Hello Cody, after Antisocial, Antisocial 2 and Let Her out, The Oak Room is you new movie. Can tell us a little bit about your background ? What was your main inspiration to become a director ?

Cody Calahan : Yes so I mean I kind of followed suit like everybody else does not want to be a filmmaker so I went to film school and then I got to school and I started as a RPA which I spent most of my time just cleaning up sat in a slowly work my way up and here we are. .

Q : The oak room has a really great screenplay. Please what can you tell us about your collaboration with Peter Genoway on this movie ?

Cody Calahan : Yes so I do. One of the actors in the film Ari Millen who plays Michael was also in the play that Peter originally wrote and Ari brought me the screenplay or the script for the play and you know was interested to see if I wanted to adapt it into a film and so I met with Peter and we sort of spent a year talking about how stage play could be turned into a screenplay and it was kind of cool because rather than sort of getting the whole thing completely changing it, we really stayed true to what the stage play wise and just added in and tweak minor thing. So that it assumes a little better but we really stayed true to how the actors performed on stage, long takes and lots of dialogue

Q : Did you shoot the different sequences of this film in chronological order ?

Cody Calahan : we actually we shot all the exterior stops so the big story and the hitchhiking story and all the aerial shots of them during the winter snow storm. All of that stuff was shot in the winter and then over the next few months we built we cast of the movie at that point we weren't totally cast yet. The cast of the movie and then we shot the spruce tavern which is the main bar with RJ Mitte and Peter Outerbridge. The oak room is one set that it's been re-dressed in between shooting so we shot those back to back.

Q : Your direction of the actors is very inspired. What can you tell us about your collaboration with Peter Outerbridge and RJ Mitte?

Cody Calahan : you know my background as far as a director is mostly horror films and the approach to this one was completely different and I really wanted to have this sort of an actor piece and so I am I'm not with all the actors at certain points in between the shooting up the first part of it the second part and all of our meetings were to talk about the characters as a whole what is past ones with the you know what happens after the movie and stuff like that. We didn't rehearse much what was actually in the movie and that was what was on the page we sort of work with the characters outside of that and in doing so in sort of you know talking and talking to all the actors I sort of realized at a certain point that because it's such a dialogue driven thing, I didn't want to break their flow so I asked so I have asked to the actors to memorize their lines and then on the day we did I think we had some takes that were about 15 minutes when actors would run 15-16 pages in a row and it really sort of. I had this organic creative flow to create, I saw the movie just sort of took on a life of its own letting these actors sort of you know because after a few minutes you can see the really fall into the characters and all into the setting you know sometimes even forgetting where the where the camera was so it was a a really special experience and course with talented actors like RJ Mitte and Peter Outerbridge it was my job quite easy.

Q : What do you think are the ingredients for a good thriller ?

Cody Calahan : Good ingredients for a thriller would be, I think thrillers rest a lot on the actors and a lot of the pacing. In building a thriller you really need to know how much to give the audience and when to give them and when to pull back and really you know save those those big moments for you know, the perfect time to deliver this to the right information I think thrillers are quite a dance in the edit and especially in in in production as well.

Q : What were the main difficulties encountered during the making of this film ?

Cody Calahan : It was hard to find the right people. It was pretty cool because in the end all of the actors in the film where are our first choices. So it was it was all offers we didn't do any auditions really. We kind of just like the people that we want but the challenge was how do because it was a low budget how to make this movie seamless but you know keeping it on a budget with the shoot days we had I mean I think we only shot for 18 days. So it was a lot of preparation and a lot of building of the set so I mean one of the obstacles that we that we definitely hit was the locations because we had scouted a ton of real bars in in around Ontario but we just couldn't find the right one so we decided to build them which took a lot of the budget but. It also saved us in the end because they're quite beautiful.

Q : What was the most difficult scene for you to shoot and why ?

Cody Calahan : difficult. I would say. I don't know it's a hard question because there wasn't too many issues like technical issues with anything but I would say it you know the approach that I decided to take to shooting it and really giving actors these big long takes as you're doing that you have to within a 15 minute take your you have to memorize all the notes that you would get it and the tweats that you want to do so I think one of the biggest challenges overall for me was just. Learning how to direct an actor was in a 15 minute tape and since doing so I I really I really love that process and I directed a movie after the oak room at night and I brought the same ideologies that I sort of learned on the open to that as well so I think one of the biggest challenges but one of the biggest rewards was sort of. I'm hurting myself and longer to takes and really leading the actors dictate pacing and stuff it was it was great.

Q : What can you tell us about your long collaboration with Black Fawn distribution ?

Cody Calahan : So Black Fawn films is a company that I co-own with my partner Chad Archibald it is a partner and there's a subsidiary company called Black Fawn distribution which deals more with obviously you know smaller Canadian and a films from the world and distribution in general and you know the sort that we work together is you know some of the movies the Black Fawn contracts are usually end up going with platform distribution at some point because there's sort of a “Gorilla” team and really if they got their ear to the ground and Chris Benn is one of the other owners. Sort of make-up that part of the company and they're really all about distributing films. Basically it's a bunch of filmmakers distributing films by filmmakers so.

Q : What were your main sources of inspiration for The Oak Room ?

Cody Calahan : I mean, I would say that for me Fargo the original film was a lot of the inspiration visually and then I would say that there's not too many exacts films but directors like Quentin Tarantino and in his sort of the way he directs you no longer takes dialogue and the way that words dance between the actors and somebody like if you can manage it so you know I watched a bunch of films for you know inspiration from directors I love but not necessarily there wasn't sort of a film and I was like I want this movie to be. You like that I just knew that I wanted the atmosphere sort of that far will gives you.

Q : As a filmmaker, can tell us about your biggest challenge that you have met ?

Cody Calahan : I mean just like the script is long scenes of dialogue so now I mean learning how to approach that and It was obviously like one of the biggest challenges and obviously the biggest learning curve which is great when you have really talented actors makes your life a little easier. I'm just splitting up the shooting because we shot some of it in the winter and then the rest we shot in the in the summer and on the set. So you know we shooting in the middle of July and it's beautiful and we're trying to make it feel cold in the arts that was always sort of visual challenge.

Q : Between your first movie Antisocial and The Oak Room there are seven years ... Have you seen any significant differences in your approach to filmmaking ?

Cody Calahan : Of Course I mean from every film you learn so much and it's funny because every film is just you know you learn a bunch of stuff and we make a ton you missed some more mistakes than you do you know the right decisions usually but I feel like I'm making is just one of those things where you learn by doing it so more films you make the better you get so did you from any social to this it's sort of as a filmmaker it's sort of I'mcompletely different it's not your day.

Q : The Oak Room could be seen as a sketch film, but it's not. This structure of stories within a story seems have been a big challenge. Is that what motivated you in the artistic creation of this movie ?

Cody Calahan : Yeah I mean it's interesting because it kind of has this anthology feel and so in making it's like I knew that you know the somehow to just as a whole but almost each scene has to exist like a short film and has to have a getting a middle and an end and it needs to drive the audience along and just when the audience is either figuring something out or is maybe you know just a point where they're sort of where is this going you kind of you can switch gears and throw them into a new story and do it again and so I mean obviously it was a whole movie as a as a whole was a challenge but each segment was a challenge as well because they all had to fit together like a puzzle and in one piece was weak it would be you know it's like the call of the. You're only as strong as your weakest link so each story within a story up you know had had to be in a. Design and put together in a certain way so they all fit together so. The whole thing was a challenge but in approaching and I knew that I just I wanted each segment to try to give you a beginning a middle and an end and then move on to the next segment but each one of them couldn't exist without the other

Q : your film is presented as a World Premiere at the Fantasia festival. how does it feel to see your film selected in this international festival ? Your first movie was also presented in this international festival.

Cody Calahan : both play at the festival this is actually. Thanks for Black Fawn films, this would be our tenth Premiere at Fantasia so it's become sort of a home away from home and we always talk about it I mean we're all from Toronto but when we go to Montreal for Fantasia it feels like the hometown premiere and you know Mitch Davis and everybody at fantasia it's incredible festival as well I think it's probably my favorite for the audience participation and the fans and just for the love of film in the city and everything it's quite amazing and even now obviously in these weird times with covid and not being able to actually physically be there sort of a little heartbreaking but again you know being able to still do it virtually and still know that you know that that audience is going to be there watching. It's awesome. that's great.

Q : Who are your favorite directors and which films are the main driving force behind your artistic creation ?

Cody Calahan : It's funny it feels like you know each year that goes by find new films and new directors and a new inspiration especially when I'm working on working on different things but you know I've always sort of gravitated more to David Fincher and Paul Thomas Anderson and stuff like that. But I mean, it's so hard these days and you know you always get ask question where you some sorry favorite movies are some your favorite directors and I feel like I can give an answer now and then you know 2 years from now you can ask me again it be completely different. I feel like I'm more driven and excited by beautiful films and stuff rather than not necessarily the directors and the writers and stuff even though I do follow the ones that I love but you know, I tend to find a new film is my favorite film every few years.

Q : Do you have any French actors you'd like to work with ?

Cody Calahan : it's so funny that you said that I actually just thought about this but I can't remember his name but the lead actor Leon the professional loved him. He's amazing yeah. (Jean Reno)

Q : Do you have a few words around your film that you would like to say to your audience as a preamble ?

Cody Calahan : Yes I mean it's, if you've sort of seen what Black Fawn done and any sort of you know like the horror film to be produced before I definitely think this is a very unique film for us as filmmakers and as a company and it's definitely a completely new direction for me and feels definitely like the most mature film I've made but also you know in making this film might I feel like I'm back to it was like back to film school the skills like my first film again

Q : Which are your currents projects ?

Cody Calahan : We've got is soon as we wrapped the Oak room I think I had like a week off and then I was back on set directing a movie called Vicious fun which stars David Koechner from Anchorman. So that movie is completed and we've just started to submit to festivals so that's probably going to do some festivals at the end of this year and hopefully into early next year but having 2 films at once it's been very intense.

Synopsis :
On a snowy night in a small Canadian town, Paul (Peter Outerbridge) is trying to close down his bar when a young man named Steve (RJ Mitte) walks in - with lots of luggage. A common episode in the two men's story creates a great deal of tension before Steve finally says he has one hell of a story to tell. It's about another bar, The Oak Room, another snowy night, and another bartender visited after hours, this time by a stranger. There is a story in this story too... and as each mini-story unfolds, it brings Paul and Steve closer to a truth that will have serious and irreparable consequences.

The oak Room
Directed by Cody Calahan
Produced by Chad Archibald, Cody Calahan, Jeff Maher, Ari Millen
Written by Peter Genoway
Starring Coal Campbell, Nicholas Campbell, Amos Crawley, Avery Esteves, David Ferry, Ari Millen, RJ Mitte, Peter Outerbridge, Martin Roach
Music by Steph Copeland
Cinematography : Jeff Maher
Edited by Mike Gallant
Release date : August 24 2020 (Canada)
Running time : 89mns

A huge thanks to Cody Calahan and Chris Benn for this amazing interview