‘The World Is Burning’ dir. Justin Oakey
A young man returns to a traditional life in rural Newfoundland after tragedy strikes.
Writer-Director: Justin Oakey
Producers: Justin Oakey & Adam Reynolds
DOP: James Klopko
Key Cast: Brad Bonnell
C8: Where did the idea for The World Is Burning come from and how long did it take you to write?
JO: Like most of my work, the ideas behind this film were pulled from my life. This film is actually sort of autobiographical, as the story of a young man sick of being in the city and yearning to return home was something I was experiencing at the time. Further, the storyline where the grandfather is fatally attacked by coyotes is also true – at least in part – and was something that had happened to my own grandfather. Getting that phone call immediately inspired the writing of the short, and I think I had the first draft done in a matter of a couple hours. Though he was not seriously hurt or killed or anything. My pop is tough as friggin’ nails and it would take more than a pack of coyotes to get the best of him, I’m sure. He was a good sport about it all, and he actually played the grandfather in the opening of the film.
C8: What was the most difficult part of the scriptwriting process?
JO: The most difficult part of writing for me is packing a little fat onto the bones. I like to keep things spare, with lots of breathing room, and lots of meandering, and sometimes it’s tough for me to put anything in that doesn’t feel absolutely necessary. I’m learning, though, I think.
C8: What advice do you have emerging Writer-Directors?
JO: Of course I’m still emerging myself, but I think it’s important to establish good working relationships. Find people you collaborate well with, and cultivate those relationships, rather than trying to align yourself with somebody just because of who they are. Just because somebody has worked on something you like, doesn’t always mean you’ll get along or work well together, you know? Aside from that, always find time to create and conceptualize, no matter how bogged down you are with other aspects of your personal or work life.
C8: What obstacles did you face during the shoot and how did you overcome them?
JO: Mostly budgetary concerns, honestly – we did this film with very little money, and rode the back of kindness the whole damn way. The biggest obstacles came from shooting in winter, in a variety of remote locations. Lots of unit moves, planning what took place at each location, and so on. Our furthest location was nearly eight hours away from town, at my grandparents’ house. It was also tough to get our hands on freshly dead coyotes (as I didn’t have the time to hunt them myself), and once we did it was even harder then to find their living match (which were played by dogs). All that was a bit of a nightmare, but it worked out with some camera tricks.
C8: If you could go back and complete the whole process again what would you do differently?
JO: I would definitely spend more time with the opening scene – really bringing the grandfather character to life, without any dialogue. Just show more of his routine. So the tragedy is felt a little more. On my next short, Flankers, I spent a lot of time working with the actors and getting through most of the scenes with lots of improvised dialogue – I loved that, and have continued to work in that way. I wish I could go back and spend more time with the actors, and try that out.
C8: How did you fund the film? Did you receive support from film organisations along the way?
JO: The film was funded through a small IndieGoGo campaign where donations were collected in return for ‘perks’, as they say. Otherwise, we received a little post-production help from the National Film Board of Canada. Our biggest help along the way was Svart Records, from Finland. They agreed to a very generous ‘perk’ that pressed the soundtrack to vinyl, and the donations acted like a preorder. That helped us generate a lot of interest, actually. The soundtrack is absolutely beautiful, composed by Englishman Mat McNerney, of the band Hexvessel.
C8: What do you think is the biggest misconception about narrative shorts?
JO: That they need to be wall-to-wall dialogue, or that everything needs to be high stakes drama. A story is still a story no matter how high or low the stakes – its effectiveness comes from how it’s told.
C8: Where do you see yourself in five years time?
JO: With any luck I’ll be face and eyes into my third feature by then! I just want to tell stories, plain and simple, so in five years it would be nice to be wholly focused on writing and directing, and enjoying loads of time outdoors – hunting, fishing, and so on – with a family in tow.