Most of us are familiar with the phrase, ‘Death is easy, comedy is hard’. These words are said to be coined from a few famous people. From English actor, Edmund Kean to Jack Lemmon and Shakespeare, wherever it came from the phrase has stood the test of time. In reality, comedy is hard to pull off. It’s not easy to make people laugh and it does require a sophisticated personality capable of looking past sadness and despair to see the comedy in it. As society we need to realize there is a lighter side to life and a yin to our yang, for balance. Thankfully there are individuals amongst us that have taken up the charge to have us spew liquid through our nostrils and hold our guts in laughter.
One such filmmaker and funny guy is Matt Atkinson. His film Room For Rent is in town for the Just For Laughs Film Festival. It’s a great addition to the other funny films screening at the festival. I’ve enjoyed the opportunity to view a screener and also talk to Matt about the process of writing and directing it. The film is about a young man that wins the lottery and eventually spends all of the money on frivolous items until its all gone. His parents run into finance issues and consider selling their home to survive but then their son convinces them to rent out a room for rent. The new house guest turns out to be quite a unique character. Comedy ensues and laughter follows in this well casted, well written film.
“You have a stellar cast in this film. How did you manage to attach them all to the film?”
“We began making a list of actors we wanted in the film 6 mths prior to getting it green-lit. When composing a list for the six roles we considered the actors we knew personally or had connections to that we really liked for the film that could get us started. We began building a roster in that sense. We knew Mark Little from Toronto and the improv scene and I was a big fan of his work. He was on board early, about six months early. Then about four months out we found Mark McKinney. I’m a huge Kids in the Hall fan and he was my first choice for his character. Having him attached helped to legitimize us to some of the actors based out of LA that didn’t know us from Adam. We didn’t have Stephnie Weir and Brett Gelman on board until 2 weeks before shooting. Finding the right fit for a character is never easy. Although Brett Gelman is in comedy, I wanted him to be able to play the villain as well as being charming in one scene and creepy in the next. It wasn’t easy finding someone that could play that character but we got lucky with Brett. Call it good karma.”
This is technically Matt’s second feature film. He made his first feature right out of film school. It was more of a do it yourself type film called, Dakota and was written by another writer. Room For Rent is the first feature he wrote and directed with enough money to attach a big cast of great actors.
“Where did the inspiration for this story come from?”
“I had left home after high school and my parents decided to rent out my bedroom for extra money. I began to think of how awkward it could be going home for holidays and possibly not liking the person renting my room or maybe even finding them creepy. Also, what if I wanted to move back home? The idea was born out of there.”
“How difficult was it to find a producer?”
“I had known Justin Rebelo over the years and he had recently returned from working in the US and was looking for a script to produce. I sent him my script, he liked it and began to work on it from there. He grew up with my cinematographer Robert Scarborough. It wasn’t very difficult to get the core team together but getting the other partners on board is always a challenge. There’s so many balls you have to get into the air. It kind of becomes a miracle just to get through the starting gate.”
“Where did you shoot the film?”
“We shot it in Winnipeg. It has great crews and great tax credits. They’ve got a great scene there for improve and comedy. It was a great experience to go through the casting and discover some great acting talent. We shot most of the scenes inside the home. We went to Wpg. thirty days before shooting and had secured a home. I began drawing up storyboards based on the homes layout but then one week prior to shooting, we lost it. My cinematographer Robert Scarborough and I began walking down residential streets in Wpg. and just started knocking on doors to find another house. Somebody had approached us and said we should take a look at a home down the street. We did and it happened to be a perfect fit. Basically, most of the stuff you see in the film already existed in the home. It was like walking into a time capsule of old ‘50’s wallpaper and carpet. The homeowner was very delightful and happy to let us film there. We found the home 48 hours before we were to begin principle photography. I had to rewrite part of the script in the last 24 hours to accommodate the house. It worked out great and was another stroke of good karma. The main cast was from Toronto and LA and the day players were from Wpg.”
Matt Atkinson used a fairly large crew for the film. His day job is directing commercials, so he used to dealing with a large crew. He had to scale it down slightly for the interior home scenes.
“How long did it take you to shoot the film?”
“We shot for 17 days and only had a certain window that the actors were available for so we had to work backwards from that and build a crazy schedule to accommodate them. As a result, we couldn’t shoot in sequence. It was a quick 17 days in May to June. We shot it in the summer of 2016 and finished post production in the spring of 2017.”
“Do you want to stick with comedy, moving forward?”
“I do plan on sticking with the comedy writing. I enjoy combing genres together and am currently writing a comedy sci-fi. I also like the idea of a comedy with a bit of film noir. This film isn’t going to change the world but its entertaining and I hope it’s a crowd pleaser.”
I couldn’t agree more about it being a crowd pleaser. The characters are all unique and a little twisted but hilarious throughout.
The film has been making the festival rounds and has screened across Canada. It’s been to Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver’s Just For Laughs festival, Halifax and Toronto, as well as the Chicago Comedy festival, San Diago and the LA Comedy festival.
They have a Canadian distributor out of Toronto and are currently looking for distribution in the US. They’d like as many people to see the film as possible.
This film was a delight to watch and the cast carry the story with the strength of power lifters. If you have an opportunity to watch Room For Rent, it will knock the rust off your laughter meter.
Check out Shaun’s take on the film here.