Exclusive – Eric Toth Makes ‘The Call’ at Vancouver’s JFL Film Festival

How long do we hang onto jokes before we decide to retire them? Is there even an expiry date? I prefer to keep them in my vault in the event I’m ever taken hostage and need to use them for leverage.  Not even the bad guys can resist a good laugh. I think we have enough watches out there that tell time, heartbeat, steps you take and blood pressure. Those are all very important vitals but I believe it’s vital to laugh regularly too. Why can’t somebody design a watch with a laugh option on it? Instead of counting steps, it will count your laughs.  There’s my million-dollar idea for the day.

If you need a good reason to laugh you can attend the Vancouver JFL Film Festival the next time its in town. It recently left its footprint and lingering punch line in the city, before its 10 day laughter run ended on March 10th. This is the first year of the  festival and it had some amazing talent in attendance. From comedians to panels, workshops and films submitted from around the world. I had an amazing opportunity to talk to a few of the Canadian filmmakers with films screening at the event. One such film that I had an opportunity to view was, The Call.  I later had the grand satisfaction of talking to the writer/director, Eric Toth.

This film is a very comical look at the technology of video chatting mixed with good intentions, old age and frustration. The Vancouver JFL Film Festival was The Call’s first festival submission. With Just For Laughs history and brand, the festival is sure to be a gold mine for comedy every year it returns. This year’s launch will supply scores of data to analyze as well as help get the word out to other comedy writers and filmmakers internationally to participate with their own brand at next years event.  One can only anticipate the coming laughs and more comedy films.  In the meantime however, we have Eric Toth to talk to about his film, The Call.

“I thought this film was hilarious. The actor that you cast was such a funny character.  How did you find him and where did this story come from?”

“I first met Pat Thornton when we were both working in sketch comedy. We were in different troupes but were fans of each other’s work. We both toured with the Fringe Festival and both lived in Toronto, so we’d see each other often.  We then ended up working on the same TV show together.  It was an odd little show for the CMT network where we’d take a viral video clip off youtube and then shoot a comedian against a green screen. We’d then reinsert them into the viral clip and create a different scene with them in it. This film is a satire of modern technology that shows the variations of communication and the annoyance that goes along with it. If you have older parents or relatives that are new to video chatting, you’ll find the film very relatable. This film contains every question and annoying gesture that your relative/parent might throw at you regarding the workings of the video options. The videoconference experience in the film becomes more frustrating by the minute. The other side to that is, when it’s live you can’t hide your frustration.”

“Is this your first comedy film?”

“I am self-taught. I began directing in sketch comedy before taking a few directing classes.  I directed a couple television episodes before moving onto a series for CBC Digital called, My Kitchen Can be Anything. I directed and Pat acted in it. It’s a fantasy series in which we’d take Pats kitchen and pretend it’s anything but his kitchen. I’ve transitioned from performer to working behind the camera but Pat is still very much a performer.  I really enjoy our relationship. It helps to direct what you’re writing because you see it as you’re writing it. You won’t hear the same jokes in the scenes if the director isn’t the writer. This is our first soiree into making films.”

Eric had also created a show called, the Gaming Show (In My Parents Garage). It was about some kids that create their own gaming show on youtube. They had turned one of the kids parents garage into a studio. Although the Vancouver JFL Film Festival is its first, they’re hoping to submit it to TIFF.  They’ve also sent it off to the LA Comedy Festival. They’re hoping for another screening at the JFL Comedy Fest in Montreal.  Eric Toth and Pat Thornton have been writing features together since The Call and currently have one in development.

“How long did it take to shoot this film and what size of a crew did it require?”

“We shot The Call in a day.  Pat plays both characters in the story. It was a small crew inside of a small house. We used both the top and bottom floor. We had a DOP, Camera assistant, Producer, Art Design, Lighting and Make-up.  We probably could have used more people but there wasn’t anymore room.”

“How did you finance the film?”

“With the exception of a production company coming on board to help facilitate it, the funding came out of pocket. The budget was between 3–5000.00 and it was a huge benefit having Pat play two characters.”

I believe it’s a unique gift to be able to take daily events that would frustrate us all and spin it to be able to show the humour in it. Life is full of funny moments if you can adjust your frequency. People like Eric are great at spotting that glimmer of funny in the darkest moments.

In preparation for them writing the feature together they wanted to take some smaller steps first, so they focused on the short. Pat had worked with the editor on a previous film, Filth City. Loosely based on Rob and Doug Ford.  It was helpful that she was already familiar with Pat previous to this film.

“Have you always been drawn to comedy?”

“Whenever I think of a storyline, my mind immediately goes to comedy. It’s just how my mind works.”

Maybe I can get Eric to work on my watch idea.

“What comes after this film for you both?”

“We’re currently in development with the Harold Greenberg Fund on a feature. It’s through the Bell Media Fund. Pat will be starring in it and I’ll be directing it. The script is already finished and we’re at the last stage of development, which is the production stage. We’ve also recently finished writing another feature on the advice of our editor. They told us to have one in development, another one written and an idea in mind for the third. It felt like pretty sage advice. It takes a long time to get a film made so it’s good to be working on multiple projects to stay busy and ready. Making this film was part of that strategy of staying busy and getting our names out there.”

Eric Toth and Pat Thornton are a unique comedy duo with incredible chemistry. Having found their first short film hilarious, I look forward to seeing their first feature.

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