Imagine that you’re broke, you have no job and your mom needs her medicine to live. It’s probably not that difficult to imagine, given the current Covid-19 pandemic, but does it cause you to think so far outside the box, that a criminal element offers a solution to your money problems? Some of you might be nodding Yes because desperate times call for desperate measures and when your loved ones rely on you for survival, those survival instincts kick in. This is the premise for the short film, Not Your Average Bear. It’s actually based on the true story of a robbery that happened in Metrotown in the ‘90’s. Filmmaker Simon Longmore remembers the story and wrote his screenplay based on it. He also pulls off a brilliant performance portraying the character of a lonely out of work loser that lives with his mom.
Simon has been acting for decades and also teaches it. He’s written a plethora of short films for his students to perform in and Not Your Average Bear is his latest project and it’s already won approx. 20 awards at the film festivals. Simon’s first film experience was as an extra in the Sylvester Stallone’s Rocky 3 and his first notable role came on the hit series, The X-Files. Flash forward a couple decades, Simon has over 64 acting credits on his imdb page and has appeared in numerous projects including Stargate: Atlantis, Supernatural, The Good Wife, Hell on Wheels, Bates Motel, and Arrow. Simon has also been involved in teaching since the mid-90s and in 1999, Simon founded the Vancouver Academy of Dramatic Arts where his approach to acting has been taught to over 10,000 actors.
I caught up with him to discuss his latest film and after a lengthy discussion about the film industry or lack of it, we eventually turned to the subject of his film.
“Where was this story inspired from?”
“It’s actually a true story and it happened in the ‘90’s. A guy had gone around the neighbourhood to ask people to make false 911 calls and said he was from the 911 team. He was able to rob two armed guards loading up an ATM machine in Metrotown, (Greater Vancouver area). I remember hearing it over the radio when a police sergeant announced it, saying ‘whoever did it wasn’t your average bear’. I remember thinking, ‘that’s the name of the film’. The concept of robbing someone is really not that compelling, so I reflected on some of the qualities that might make an audience sympathetic for the anti-hero. I came up with the backstory of him living with his mother and trying to find a job/trying to do anything that helps – kind of a loveable loser. He watches the forensic shows with his mom, which is where he gets the idea from?”
“Where did you find your cast?”
“In Vancouver. A lot of them are former students of mine; from the pellet gun guy to the security guards, Jenny the cashier – all former students. I’ve also been in the business a long time, so I called some people, the producer called some people and we basically begged some people to come in. Most actors want to act, so they’re usually quite happy to come out and spend half a day with us. We were pretty tight with the time and only kept them for 2-3 hours. We were very grateful for all the talent that came out; Reese Alexander, April Telek, Kevin O’Grady and my wife and son were also in it – the blonde woman and the little baby. We got the whole family involved (laughing).”
“You have an incredibly experienced DP, Jay Kamal and director, Cliff Skelton on this shoot, was it difficult to get them onboard?”
“The director is an old friend of mine from LA. I’ve known him for 25 years and I happened to pop into a bar when I was living in LA… and who comes sauntering up to the bar for a drink? I’m like… ‘Cliff?’ He flew up to shoot the film and we were happy to have him. Jay, was someone we had heard about through industry talk – he works on Batwoman in the camera department. He told me ‘my camera operating fee is 500.00 a day but if you let me DP it, it’s 250.00’, so it was an easy choice (laughing); he also works with a lot of people on Batwoman, so many of them were more than happy to come out and spend the day with us… we were very thankful for that and we even had a guy with a steady-cam.”
“Where did you shoot the film?”
“We shot it all at a mall in Vancouver, on Robson and Cardero. If you go up to the second floor – it’s got 200 years of dead skin on all the railings (laughing)… I thought, this is perfect. As it so happened, it also had a decommissioned coffee bar, so we begged and pleaded with the owner and he agreed to let us have it for a day. The rest of the film was shot at the 2400 Motel on Kingsway (Metrotown). The actual home that John lived in was actually one of the suites; they have these tiny houses there.
“How long did it take to shoot?”
“Three days. I’ve been in the industry for a long time, my producer Adam Lolacher is also very experienced as well – Cliff (Skelton) is used to shooting commercials and Jay (Kamal) knew exactly what he was doing as well. When you have really competent people in lead positions, you can get things done. We had everything laid out – we knew what was going on.”
“It appears that you’ve done much more acting than writing. Is this only the third film you’ve written?”
“Actually no… I’ve written about 20 short films for my studio. I used to write short films for my students and then we’d go out and shoot them. We never bothered to put them on imdb because they were just student projects. I’ve done a variety of styles of writing… including educational videos, how to find an agent ‘video’ and I’ve even made a do-it-yourself building show/series – where we’d put in floors in an apartment. We had a client that was a female carpenter and she installed floors. I always used to think about all the men that wouldn’t do that job, as well as all the other women watching the show and thinking – if she can do it, so can I; it’s inspiring. As an actor/acting coach, I also work on scripts every day… anywhere from a CW series to a classic play. One of the things I realized making that short film, is that everything in the action and dialogue has to support the story – the television even plays a character, with the dialogue talking about high unemployment rates/crime rates on the rise. Everything that’s in the story is in alignment with the overall objective.”
“How did you finance the film?”
“I went into the bank and took the money out (laughing). For some other people, it’s a risky proposition and I don’t recommend it but for someone like myself, who’s been an actor for a very long time, I’m using it to raise my profile as a teacher as well as other angles – such as showing what kind of writing I can do. You can say you’re a great writer, actor, producer but then financers will ask, ‘what have you done’ and you’ll say ‘nothing, but give me your money’ (laughing). You have to prove it first.”
“Is it easier to write a script when you know you’re playing the lead?”
“Oh yes, for sure… as long as you don’t let your ego get involved. If you’re true to the character, John Sullivan is going to be the most awkward bank robber ever. He pulls over for an ambulance because he thinks it’s a police car. When people write their own characters, it’s usually from a fantasy – they want to play a James Bond or cool action hero. It takes a while to be honest with yourself in that capacity.”
“How did you pull off that ambulance scene?”
“It was just luck – we were driving around taking this other shot and an ambulance just happened to pass us; we were literally shooting and it happened to drive by. It was one of those happy accidents.”
“In moving forward, will you continue writing short films or do you want to go bigger?”
“My next step is to definitely make a feature film – you can only make so many short films. Having this film done and winning awards is great but who’s going to buy it? The real test is to get into the feature film business, that’s the next step.”
“Let’s try a couple non-serious questions. Would you rather rob a bank or fight a lion?”
“I’d rather rob a bank; the rewards are greater (laughing).”
“Do you have any hidden talents to share?”
“I have a really dirty sense of humour – it’s a blue sense of humour and it’s gotten me into trouble before. A joke is a joke… but some people just don’t find it funny (laughing).”
Not Your Average Bear is a great piece of hilarious drama that stays true to the character of an awkward first-time robber. Simon Longmore wins us over with his portrayal of a hopeless, jobless desperate man that loves his mom and will do anything to keep her happy. I loved this little film and still find it hard to believe – it’s based on a true event. Life is stranger than fiction.