Following the success of the 2019 James vs. His Future Self, its core creative team head into the world premiere of Canadian film ‘Ashgrove’ at Glasgow Film Festival 2022.
Set in the midst of a global water pandemic, renowned scientist Jennifer (played by Amanda Brugel) is at her wit’s end. Coaxed into a farmhouse retreat by her husband Jason (Jonas Chernick), Jennifer starts to suspect all isn’t as it appears.
The Indiependent spoke to Ashgrove’s creators—Jeremy LaLonde (director, writer, producer) Jonas Chernick (writer, producer, lead actor), and Amanda Brugel (lead actor, writer)—about the future of the film and the genius behind the production.
The Indiependent: How do you feel Ashgrove will perform considering last year’s success with James Vs His Future Self?
Jeremy LaLonde: I think that we (as filmmakers) have done enough of these things to know to go in with no expectations. Over time, you start to realise and learn to not get upset about anything you can’t control. The only thing I can control, to varying degrees, is the film itself. Once you put it out to the world, you kind of just ride the wave and see how it’s going to go. We’ve had such interesting and unique experiences with previous films, where we get into festivals we weren’t expecting to get into. With James Vs His Future Self, we ended up being involved with genre festivals—which we never expected with that film, but we rode the wave. I think for us, we do our best work, see how it’s received, and embrace that for what it is.
What drew you to Glasgow?
Jonas Chernick: We just love it. We were here two years ago with our last film, and we came out of it just blown away by the city and by the festival. The lineup, the programming, the hospitality. We said if we did ever come back here with another film to do it, and it worked out really perfectly. We’re showing the film tonight, for the first time to a live audience.
One of the film’s truly outstanding factors was the feeling that so much was happening that you should’ve seen coming as an audience, but didn’t.
Jeremy LaLonde: Yes! That was kind of what we wanted, and what we were hoping to pull off. This idea of—not a ‘switch’ as such—I believe that a movie has to make a sort of contract with the audience, of what kind of film they are going to watch. The trick to this movie that was exciting for me as a filmmaker, was that we’ve got to gradually get the audience ready for this ‘thing’ that’s going to come.
So for us, it was like, how do we craft in tweaks to set off the feeling that something is a little bit ‘off,’ that something is weird? Obviously, without giving it away too early. That was the thing that I was most excited, yet nervous about. We were on a tightrope where the audience is thrown a curve but are left sitting there thinking “this is not what I signed up for.” It’s a dangerous thing to pull the rug out from under the audience that late into the film, it’s an incredible risk. The feedback we received during the crafting process was that people really loved it and that it was working. We’re hoping that the same happens when we begin releasing.
There were moments that forewarned of the twist. As a viewer, you feel like you’re living through that yourself. It’s rare to see anything like that.
Jeremy LaLonde: Definitely. There was a very loose structure to the narrative, and how much information all the actors had about their roles. We can see the story together—we built the character’s backstory. We shot the movie in chronological order, and I kept certain secrets from certain characters, so the moment that you’re talking about (without going into spoilers), Amanda discovered that on camera. The trick I did whilst we were shooting scenes in chronological order, is that when you see a sequence and the other versions of scenes, they are other takes where the actors just thought we were experimenting with play.
Amanda Brugel: We thought we were just experimenting, not realising that we were actually filming the final shot!
Jeremy LaLonde: That was my plan that I didn’t let anyone else on. Knowing that I needed something that ticked off boxes and still felt authentic, but not the same.
Jonas Chernick: Usually, you have a script, and you film that script. Jeremy, Amanda, and I crafted this experience that we were making a film in a different kind of way. We weren’t memorising exact lines, so there was a lot of room to breathe. Part of the genius structure that Jeremy came up with was that these surprises that the characters would realise later in the film, were actual surprises.
With such a unique way of producing a film, do you feel that experimentation is important in a growing industry?
Amanda Brugel: Especially for all of us at this point in our careers, you can sort of become complacent and start to coast. Everybody has a rhythm—we know that rhythm and we do it well. Suddenly, to be thrown into a situation that is completely new, that flips what we’ve been doing for two decades on its head, it changes everything. It made me feel incredibly insecure, vulnerable, and scared, but I’ve never felt better about myself as a performer. I’ve taken bits that I’ve learnt from the experience and tried to imprint them on projects that I’m doing now. It reminded me of when I first started acting, how frightened I was. It really invigorated my love for what I do, and so interesting that all it took was a play with my friends on a farm to do that. But for that I am glad.
Amanda, you’ve had a lot of different roles, and a lot of them challenging. Does this ever take a toll on you, or can you separate from the craft?
Amanda Brugel: I think all of us are slightly crazy. So just to be in this business, for me, I need it. It’s not therapeutic, but I need to really be able to go into those dark places. Even the lighter ones. There are so many voices and people. It’s fun! Ultimately for artists, it’s fun to play, it’s pretend!
Jeremy LaLonde: It’s 100% therapeutic for me, I air out all of my dirt. That’s why I don’t need therapy, I get to make movies! Air out all the things I’m struggling within my own life, in dramatic ways. Luckily, I’m married to someone that’s cool with it.
One of the factors of the film that really pulled it all together was the music. What was the creative inspiration behind this?
Jeremy LaLonde: The music is composed by someone who we’ve worked with now on four features. He is one of my favourite collaborators. Our approach to this film was sort of discovering it as we went along, similarly to a lot of the film itself. He and I wanted to do something where he took a bunch of songs and set a score around that. I wasn’t sure if it was quite right for the film, but I told him to try it regardless, and we ended up with the music you hear woven throughout the film. Sort of whimsical and light. He’s phenomenal.
What’s next for the team, and where are you going from here?
This is the premiere (in Glasgow), so now the movie begins its journey. We have our Canadian premiere coming, then the US in April, then it will be released in theatres and on television during the rest of this year. It has a long journey ahead of it!
Words by Mia Stapleton
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