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the following appeared in the June 2000 issue of the Vancouver monthly Drippy Gazette.

High Self Incentive / Low Cost Esteem

Blaine Thurier is Vancouver's own anti-auteur. He created a feature film called Low Self-Esteem Girl, shot entirely on DV, using non-actors and practically no budget. Given the limited resources he had to work with, Low Self-Esteem Girl is an intelligent and often humorous narrative exploration of the culture of self-repression, and how individuals interact with each other when they are unable to express their innermost desires. This conversation between two cinephiles/low budget filmmakers took place over a bowl of black bean soup at the Sugar Refinery. Much time was spent talking of cinematic technique and our mutual appreciation of filmmakers such as John Cassavetes and Andrei Tarkovsky.

jody: Are you an auteur? I'm interviewing you here: the filmmaker as star.

Blaine: I don't want to be a star but in order to keep making films you almost have to be a star. You have to promote yourself, you have to be an asshole at parties and say, "oh, yeah, by the way, we've had a nice conversation, but I've made a film." You have to do that in order to get by.  If I want people to see my film, I have to sell myself as well. A name draws people.

jody: Give us a little personal history so our readers can get to know you. They want to know all the dirt on the stars!

Blaine: I was born on the prairies, we moved about once a year. I went to a different school every year, a different church every year. I've always been rootless. Still, every year I move. In Vancouver, I've had one apartment a year. Now, I make movies.

jody: How has the reaction been to Low Self-Esteem Girl been so far?

Blaine: It's been really good, much better than I expected, maybe too good. A lot of my favorite films were hated when they first came out, so this is kind of scary in a way. It played in Sydney, Australia, last night at an art gallery and I'm waiting to hear how that went. Locally, though, it's been great!

jody: What are the kinds of things people have been saying?

Blaine: They say it's funny. I didn't make a comedy, there's not really any jokes in it, but I'm glad people find it funny. What I've liked the best is when people compliment the performers. That's the most important thing to me, is when people say the performances moved them.

jody: You started out your "artistic career" as a cartoonist...

Blaine: Yeah, I've done comics for Discorder, "Velvets Record," "Bugs" in Terminal City. And "Grief," which was the original Low Self-Esteem Girl, that's where the story started. I decided midway through the comic that I wanted to make a film, and this was it. This was a better film than it was
a comic. It seemed to have all the elements.

jody: Where did you get the story from? What was "Grief" about?

Blaine: The phrase "low self-esteem girl" popped into my head, this idea of a loner who would sleep with anybody to try to find herself. I created that character in a comic and I was personally very disturbed by it after I made it. Being that I was disturbed, I thought I should explore this, (even) just in terms of being more fair to the character. The strip was a lot more callous towards her in a way. I wanted to explore that person more, that's what it started with.

jody: Can you tell me thematically what Low Self-Esteem Girl is about?

Blaine: It's about trying to be an individual, to what point you can be an individual without stepping on somebody else's toes, and to what point are the rules of social interaction too restrictive. We'd like to follow every single impulse we have but something stops us. I wonder what it is that stops us, and what is the line between completely expressing yourself and being an asshole?

jody: Something I found pretty powerful is that it seems to really capture the culture of self-repression that exists in Canada, in British Columbia, where people don't feel free to express themselves the way they want, or hold back, or end up expressing themselves in unhealthy ways as they have to conform to a facade of social politeness.

Blaine: That's why it's so good to be a salesman in Vancouver. I have a problem with this - I'll buy stuff because I feel bad for the salesman. That's just an extreme example of how polite we are. I'm not much of a talker, really, that's why I made a movie, because I can't express what I want to say completely in words. I had to make a movie. Maybe when I'm 80 I'll look back and say "Ah, I see what was going on in my head." But, at the moment, I really haven't a clue as to what it's about. But instinctively, somehow, I'm satisfied with it.

jody: Is that how you worked the movie out - instinctively?

Blaine: I had no choice because I didn't have much of a plan. I had a whole script, but I really didn't like the script at all and changed everything at the last minute. When you work like that, you have nothing to lose, you can do nothing but trust your instinct at any given moment. I still can't pin down exactly how I made this movie. Somebody asked me to write out what my plan was, what my technique was, but I couldn't do it, I was pretty lost throughout the filming. I would point the camera at the people, I gave the actors a general direction to go in. They could use their minds and not use the lines. And I just shot it as best as I could, getting as much coverage as I could until everybody was too tired to continue. That's what I did, I used my instincts.

jody: Your movie captures the essence of Vancouver, it seems to nail the feel and the language of its culture very accurately, in a way I've never seen before in film.

Blaine: Other people have said that as well. That's high praise. But it's not at all what I set out to do. I wanted to focus on people's personalities. I think it's good that it came out that way, I'm glad Vancouver is recognizable, because in a way that means that I represented the people well, where they come from. We didn't do any set dressing, we
left things they way they were, people could talk in their own way. So that
came through.

jody: What was your working relationship like with your actors?

Blaine: It was really relaxed. I didn't really feel like a director at all in that I didn't boss them around or anything. Everybody'd show up late, we'd get started two hours later than we were supposed to. It felt more like hanging out than shooting a movie. Carl, who plays the youth pastor, said that during shooting he didn't feel at all like we were shooting a movie. He was surprised in the end when he saw the results because it was more like playing around. than anything. And I had so much footage of that that I was able to insert it into the narrative.

jody: Do you think that worked for you?

Blaine: It did work for me. I think it comes through in the performances, the non-performances, as you called them, which were very casual, very natural because of that. Nobody felt any pressure whatsoever. Everybody was nervous, of course, but I didn't pressure anybody. I always told people, "whatever you do is okay, it's impossible to make a mistake. Any mistakes you make are totally useable. In fact, please make as many mistakes as you possibly can."

jody: A lot of the actors you used are close friends of yours?

Blaine: Yes, they are close friends of mine. Once I cast, I re-wrote everything around the person who was playing the character. I tried to bring as much of what I knew about them into the role and I let it develop that way. It was much easier to create a character because each individual brought so much to it.

jody: How close were the actors to their characters? Did you cast them into these roles feeling they knew these characters to be part of themselves?

Blaine: I tried to imagine what these people would be like. It's not that I think Ted Dave is a slimy guy who will prostitute a woman without her knowledge, I don't think Ted Dave is that kind of guy at all, he's actually a very sweet guy. But I thought if those words were coming out of his mouth, if he were in that situation, he would be believable in that situation. I don't think that Carl who played the youth pastor is a total control freak, although I see... if his life had taken a different course perhaps maybe he could have been a youth pastor... (pause) Let's strike that last sentence, that's not what I wanted to say.

jody: Okay, I will.

Blaine: It's not that I could see Carl becoming a youth pastor... wait, start again. That stuff I said about Ted Dave is good. But there are different parts. The Christian parts in the movie definitely involved more acting than the other parts. The youth pastor is very far removed from Carl's personality. And Cindy, who plays his wife, had no idea what any of this was about, she was completely shocked by the script. She would say, "does anybody really say these things? Do people really behave this way?" It's a totally foreign world to her. So the Christian people had to do more acting than anybody, the other parts were closer to the people, twenty-something, early thirty-something slacker types, right? So, in a very vague general sense yes, they're like the characters. But they did too
many reprehensible things (in the movie).

jody: Did you or your actors find delving into the characters to be a form of personal exploration?

Blaine: Definitely. It has to be personal. It's not worth doing if you're not exploring some part of your self that you might be afraid of.

jody: What were you personally exploring?

Blaine: Well, like your phrase, the culture of self-repression, being raised in a repressed home. I never got to express myself the way I wanted to. I was a hardcore Christian until I was 15.

jody: Were any of the Christian elements in the movie based on what you were exposed to growing up?

Blaine: I was absolutely familiar with all of that stuff. Every line I wrote for the Christians, every improvised line that ended up in the final cut, I made sure that it was something I could hear a real Christian person saying. I didn't want to exaggerate it, in fact I really downplayed the zealousness. The Christians in my film are half as crazy as any real Christians I've known. But in the interest of fairness, I wanted them to feel like real people. I didn't set out to mock Christians by any means.

jody: Many of the Christian elements of the story seemed utterly fantastical, like the casting out of the demons, and the traveling preacher telling the tale of converting an entire biker bar and having the whole congregation believe him, unquestioningly. But within the context they are presented in and the way it is filmed it ends up seeming very natural, realistic and believable.

Blaine: I'm not sure how we pulled that off, actually. To me they weren't fantastical things, this casting out of demons and conversions of entire biker bars. These were things I grew up with. For the longest time, I believed it was natural for everybody. Later on when I came out of the Church and started telling people about what went on I was shocked to learn that people were shocked! So, if things seem natural in the film it's because they aren't unusual to me.

jody: It is alien to the cultural context we are living in now...

Blaine: ...to a lot of people. But there are also a lot of former
Christians who saw this film and said to me that the people laughing the loudest were ones laughing out of the shock of recognition.

jody: Did anybody ever try to cast a demon out of you?

Blaine: I was fortunate. Others weren't so fortunate.

jody: You also show another side of Christians, playing music and having a good time.

Blaine: Sometimes church was great. I was in Alaska for a while, we went to a church where the congregation was entirely black, we were the only white people. It was great. I actually looked forward to going to church. We danced, we sang, it was like a party. And they seemed less strict about the
rules. That was a great church!

jody: Did you reach a breaking point, a point of rebellion, a time where you made a conscious decision to break from the Church?

Blaine: It was a pretty gradual process. It was a matter of asking questions and not getting answers for them. It felt like I was missing out on life by remaining Christian. I didn't want to stay with that group of people. Non-Christians seemed happier and more normal to me. Talk about the culture of self-repression! That's where it originates! Or, where it's the most prevalent, anyway.

jody: You once had a musical project called Thee Crusaders.

Blaine: That was a faux Christian rock group. That was me, Carl Newman, Mark Szabo, Sara Lapsley and Scott Morgan. Basically, Carl just wanted to play onstage the songs he'd heard when he was involved in Christian youth groups. He liked a lot of the songs. We thought it would be a good idea if
we could actually have a Christian band, being as earnest and sincere as possible, taking as much of the novelty aspect out of it as possible, to make it a totally believable thing. And it worked. Too well. A lot of people really believed we were all Christians for a very long time. People even said that they were scared to meet me because they wouldn't know how to
behave around a Christian.

jody: which would just be another form of self-repression!

Blaine: (laughing) Yeah... it would be another form!

jody: Lois (the Low Self-Esteem Girl) didn't have that much of a problem with the Christians. She was assimilated very quickly.

Blaine: She buried her own personality to whatever was around her. She reflected whatever group she was in. She was the most repressed character in the movie, because she was so far from any form of individual expression.

jody: But all of the characters represent that, though.

Blaine: To a certain extent, yes, but it's expressed in different ways.  The Rob character is incapable of articulating himself in any way whatsoever. Carl and Cindy have given up their own personalities in favor of the rules and regulations of their church. The pot dealers and smokers have given themselves over to their baser desires. So there is a contrast between those who follow the rules and those who follow their impulses, and neither of them come across very well. It's a matter of finding that balance, which is reflected in the way I shot it. It was very loose and free-styled, but I had to impose some sort of structure on it so that it could be entertaining or enlightening.

jody: Much of the dialogue is awkward and repetitive, like how people communicate in real life. It's not as articulate and bang-on as in other movies. You're leaving in what, for example, I'm going to leave out in this interview!

Blaine: In a lot of the scenes I deliberately sought out the flubbed lines, the mistakes. I picked those over the perfectly enunciated lines. I tried to leave in as much of the awkward, stuttering stuff as possible. This in and of itself isn't necessarily a good thing, but in the general overview of the film it makes sense thematically.

Originally we shot a bunch of test stuff where I did have people follow the script exactly. I used a tripod, set up the shots, people said the lines they're supposed to say and we did it until they got their lines right, rather than do it until an emotional breakthrough came. That test stuff is terrible, horrible to look at! In between that, I'd just leave the camera
running, and I have this candid stuff of Carl and Ted Dave and Dan goofing around. And that was far more interesting than the stuff I'd written! When we finally went to shoot Low Self-Esteem Girl I tried to capture that candidness I found so interesting. I decided to dispense with the rigidity of the original treatment. That's how the style of the film emerged.

jody: You own your own DV camera?

Blaine: It is in my house, it's at the foot of my bed, I can pick it up and use it any time I want, which is why I insist on owning instead of renting everything. I can just call people up and say, "I just had a good idea, let's shoot tomorrow!" That's how I'm doing my next film. It would be nice to have financial help but I can scrape by. It's just a way to start, though. I believe in doing the best with whatever available to you. If one day I make a film and it's absolutely necessary that I shoot it in 70mm to make the film the film I want to make, I will do my best to shoot it on 70 mm. I'm not married to digital technology at all.

jody: There is a difference in the aesthetic quality of different film and video formats, in the image quality and light and color contrast. And there's also the fact that when you shoot in video you can shoot reams and reams of footage because it's so cheap, whereas with film you have to be much more precise because you can't shoot that much.

Blaine: You make a good point, that's why I went with video in the first place because I realized I was going to need to take insane amounts of footage to get the results I wanted. But ultimately, when the film is done, if it compelling in any way people won't be thinking what the format is. Hopefully when people watch Low Self-Esteem Girl ten minutes into it they
forget they're watching video. Not that they should think, "oh, I'm watching a real film," I want them to forget about the format altogether, I just want them to be listening to and watching the characters.

jody: Tell me about your new feature video project.

Blaine: You keep saying video. I do like to say film, though, because film defines the form.

jody: It is a video that has a cinematic quality to it.

Blaine: So I don't know what you call it anymore!

jody: Tell me about your new cinematic video!

Blaine: I don't want to say too much because I want people to be surprised. It has to do with temporary visitors to Vancouver, namely the little hordes of Japanese students on working holidays, the sub-communities they inhabit and the friction that occurs when they encounter Canadian culture in the form of home stays and schools and cops. Carl Newman is my cop. I am working on that now, although I'm having some casting problems. When you work this way on a day to day basis cast members disappear, they come and they go. I'll have something done by the end of the year at the latest.
When Low Self-Esteem Girl plays at the Blinding Light again I'm going to have some scenes from the new movie, or maybe show a trailer.

You can catch the second run of Low Self-Esteem Girl and a preview of Blaine's new film, I Love You Game, at the Blinding Light from Friday, 30 June to Wednesday, 05 July.

 

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Last Updated August 22, 2000

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