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Sep. 11 2012

Interview with John Paizs (Director of Crime Wave)-One showing- Thurs Sept13th at the AFM benefit

AFM benefit, crime wave, kids in the hall, Asheville, Asheville pizza and brew

Sept 13th at 10pm we will have an Asheville FM benefit at the Asheville pizza brewery off Merrimon- The benefit will include a raffle with incredible prizes (including a new Apple TV)-Variety show 10-10.30 with Runway circus- Shane Perlowin- Sugarfoot Serenaders and a surprise comedy act

followed by a rare showing of 1980s Canadian cult Comedy Crime wave Aka Big Crimewave- John Paizs (who also directed for "Kids in the hall") took some time out of his busy schedule to talk to me-

Q: Guy Maddin (acclaimed Winnipeg director) acted in one of your short films "The International Style". Did you go to film school together? How did you two meet?

A: Neither of us went to film school. We met around 1980, through a mutual friend, George Toles, who was a film prof and later became Guy’s collaborator on his scripts. Soon there were five or six of us, including Guy and George and Greg Klymkiw, who was this sort of enfant terrible movie critic about town, who got together pretty regularly to watch and talk movies or just hang out. This was during the early and mid ‘80s

Q: Crime Wave seems stylistically to borrow a great deal from gritty crime noir and cheesy educational school films any specific films inspire it?

A: Hitchcock’s “Shadow of a Doubt” was definitely an inspiration. It’s not too far a stretch from the two Charlies in leafy Santa Rosa in “Shadow of a Doubt” to Steven and Kim in leafy Winnipeg in “Crime Wave,” at least to my mind. As well there was this bunch of trailers for these obscure ‘50s crime B-movies that an animator friend of mine showed me in the early '80s; he collected them on 16mm. It was the first time I’d seen trailers anything like these and I thought they were just fantastic, hilarious. Almost surreal, some of them, with often this manic energy or crazy voice over. I remember thinking they just had to be a thousand times better than the movies themselves, and they sewed the seeds for Steven Penny’s scripted beginnings and endings in “Crime Wave.” As for other films that may have inspired “Crime Wave,” I might also mention Fellini’s “8 1/2,” though not so much as an inspiration, though no doubt there was a bit of that, but as sort of confirmation. The scriptwriter’s block theme in “Crime Wave” came from my own experience, but that it was also the theme of “8 1/2” pretty much cemented its viability in my mind. If it’s good enough for Fellini....

Q: There were some initial issues with the video release due to Sam Raimi and the Coen Brothers making (a vastly inferior) 40s crime movie satire called Crime wave (oddly) at the same time. You had to change the name of your film to Big Crimewave in the States. I imagine that probably created some personal issues. However I can only assume Raimi and the Coen Brothers probably saw your film. Have they ever proposed to work with you?

A: It was my distributers who changed the name to “The Big Crimewave” in America. I hated it but had no say in the matter. As for the Coen brothers or Sam Rami seeing the film, I know the Coens saw it because my distributers sent it to them to get their opinion on a possible re-cut of the final reel, or something. I wasn’t part of the conversation so I don’t know the exact details. But whatever it was about, nothing came of it. The movie wasn’t re-cut. And I never had any direct contact with the Coens. But I’ve always thought it was interesting that a few years later the Coens came out with their own screenwriter’s block comedy, “Barton Fink.”

Q: What did you think of the other Crime Wave?

A: I've never seen it. Nor have I seen the original 1950s “Crime Wave,” from which I took the title.

Q: You currently work for the Canadian Film Center. What do you do?

A: I’m the Director in Residence there. I mentor the Director Residents (students).

Q: In your shorts up thru Crime Wave your character never speaks.What made you decide to create and continue playing that role in your early films?

A: Just playing to my strengths, really. I was never under the delusion that I was any great actor, but by doing the silent man thing and building movies around the character I had something that was quite different and could work quite well, I thought. So I kept with it until “Crime Wave,” when I decided to quit while I was ahead, or so I thought, with the approach and retire the character.

Q: Your early work (shorts) started out with animation? Do you still animate? Are any of these works available to stream online?

A: I switched from animation to live-action while I was in University, and I haven’t animated since. And no, none of my old cartoons are  available to stream online, nor would I want them to be. I was really just a kid when I made them and it shows.

Q: In Crime Wave Steven Penny breaks a Camera from the National film board of Canada was this based on a personal incident?

A: Yes. It was during the filming of one of my shorts, “Springtime in Greenland.” A muscle car was supposed to race up the street toward the camera, in this shot we were doing, and turn at the last moment. But it was going too fast and lost control. I was behind the camera and came within inches of getting hit by the car. As it happened, it just missed me, but took out the camera and the streetlamp behind me. That it was a streetlamp that came toppling down——though thankfully it didn’t land on my head——could be seen as a kind of harbinger possibly of the feature that was to come, “Crime Wave,” where a streetlamp does actually crash down on my character in the movie’s head. An interesting foreshadowing, or something, I thought I’d mention.

Q: Eva Kovacs (the little girl in Crime Wave) had previously only acting in small plays and has since become a Canadian News Anchor. I would think acting in the film inspired her to continue working in media. Have you spoken to her recently, or worked with or met back up with any of the old cast?

A: I last saw Eva about five or six years ago, on one of my visits back to Winnipeg. At this point she had just retired from broadcasting to raise her family full time. She’s a lovely young woman, a natural talent with great poise and charisma. I was incredibly lucky to have seen her perform in that church play back when I was about to start looking for my actress to play Kim in “Crime Wave.” It was almost like a godsend! She was just perfect for the role. Another of the old cast that I met up with——actually, I ran into him on the street in Winnipeg, about a dozen years ago——was Neil Lawrie, who plays Dr. Jolly. He hadn’t changed hardly at all. He’s a lovely guy. Very erudite and gentle, the opposite of the psychotic script doctor he plays in “Crime Wave.” A real pleasure to know.

Q: Crime Wave has a solid cult base in Canada. I understand Bruce McCulloch saw the film and loved it so much he brought you in as a script writer for Kids in the hall. What skits for KITH did you pen?

A: Bruce McCulloch saw it on TV, and he got their producer to track me down in Winnipeg. They flew me out to Toronto to meet the Kids and then hired me to direct a number of sketches for them. It was my first paying gig as a director. I directed some of the “It’s a Fact” sketches, some of the “Cops” ones, all the “Mr. Heavyfoot” ones, and a bunch of one-offs.

Q: You went on to direct 50s sic fi satire Top of the food chain aka Invasion! and even worked with SCTV alumni on Maniac Mansion and the tv movie Marker.and Hotbox. Crimewave was your last personally scripted piece. Do you miss writing?

A: Yes, I do, actually. I mean, that’s where it’s all born. And it’s exciting. And makes you excited about the rest of it, I mean the production part of it, in a way that’s sometimes hard to duplicate, though you try, when it isn’t your own script you’re working from.

Q: On Imdb a Tv show "Curious and unusual deaths (listed as 2009) is in post production?

A: It’s a documentary series in the vein of “Weird or What?” or “Urban Legends,” and it currently airs on the Discovery channel.

Q: Do you still film with your old Bolex?

A: Alas, no. Film hasn’t run through it in over 25 years. A few years ago, though, I had it serviced. I tracked down very probably the last person who services Bolexes in Ontario——he lived in a small town north of Toronto——and had him give it the once over. I just don’t want it to waste away. It’s one of my most cherished possessions.

Q: Any plans to return to directing, writing,acting or animation?
A: I hope I’ll return to all of them one day soon.

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