When Jason Bourque was an adolescent, a series of terrible crimes came to light in his New Brunswick community. One of his neighbours was a killer. It planted a seed that now, 30 years later, has resulted in a film having its world premiere at the Vancouver International Film Festival.
Black Fly is about a troubled teen, Jake (Dakota Daulby), who is reunited with his older sibling, Noel (Matthew MacCaull), and discovers a terribly violent side to his big brother. The film was shot in British Columbia.
Mr. Bourque, who is now 42 and lives in Vancouver, has a long list of TV and film credits. But this is his first feature as writer/director/producer. He discussed the challenge with The Globe and Mail.
I understand the film was inspired by true events.
I grew up on the Kingston Peninsula, and when I was about 12, within our community, we had a neighbour, Noel Winters, who shot two people, and [their] bodies were chopped up in garbage bags and taken to the dump that we used to go to.
And when all of these tales emerged [two further victims were discovered buried near his home, after which Mr. Winters hanged himself in his cell] they were totally terrifying and horrific because we had a predator in our community. And for me, being that age and being ultracreative, it really left this indelible mark on me. In '84, it was all about Friday the 13th and Nightmare on Elm Street and the bogeyman under the bed, and I was devouring horror novels, Fangoria magazines, comic books. So being hit by something with more of this reality to it definitely left a huge impression. Because he was in some ways the bogeyman of New Brunswick. Even at that age, I knew I wanted to get into filmmaking. So the aesthetic of that community, the idea of having a serial killer in our midst, all of that kind of laid the seeds for Black Fly, which I wrote at the Vancouver Film School in '96.
Even back then did you think these crimes might become fodder for a film at some point?
I did. While I was in Saint John I started making on VHS a movie called Interview with a Hit Man, just with local kids in the neighbourhood, and I eventually came out west and continued making that, and I would rent it out at a local video store in Victoria that I was working at, in about '94, '95. It was made for 50 dollars, with fake blood made of corn syrup and food colouring, and it looked terrible because I was shooting on 8mm video with lousy sound. But we still pulled it off and for the most part, people smiled when they brought it back. The energy was there and they could tell there was heart put into it.
Did the script for Black Fly change much between 1996 and now?
Originally I was looking at it being more based on facts, but as it progressed, it is now a work of fiction inspired by Noel Winters and my experiences growing up on the Kingston Peninsula.
It's a dark film with very dark subject matter. What was the atmosphere like on-set?
Because we shot so quickly, in 14 days, we're dealing with one, two, three takes at the most. Because of that we had to allow those actors the space they needed to build up to some of those emotional, intense scenes. So we had some days that if someone just walked on-set, it looked a little bit like an insane asylum.
I remember one day, Matthew MacCaull, in order to get into the role of Noel, would listen to eighties heavy metal music, and he and Christie Burke [who plays his girlfriend] would improv a lot of scenes in order to build up to what they had to do. That sometimes involved screaming, sobbing, all while in character, all again to build up to it so we could essentially do it in one or two takes. I think it was a healthy way of making it. The characters are pushed past their breaking points so I think as actors they also wanted to push themselves in order to get these really raw emotional moments.
I thought Dakota Daulby was great.
He doesn't have much dialogue, but he has this broken-angel-type look where you just want to hug him. I've never worked story-wise with a protagonist that's that broken and vulnerable. He was actually a last-second [replacement]. While we were in prep we lost our actor who was playing that part to a pilot. We had to make this during pilot season this year back in February-March and it must have been the busiest time I've ever seen in my 10 years of working in the film industry. And we had an emergency casting session and we went with him. He was okay in the audition, but he just brought this incredible vulnerability to the role. He was great. Luckily all the actors brought their A-game and they were just givin' her.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Black Fly has its world premiere at VIFF Sept. 27 (The Rio, 6:30 p.m,) with a second screening Sept. 30 (International Village, 4 p.m.).