'Asphalt Watches' Is the Most Glorious Animated Film about Hitchhiking Ever Made

By Nadja Sayej


Trailer for Asphalt Watches.

Toronto artists Seth Scriver and Shayne Ehman went on a hitchhiking trek 13 years ago from a 7-Eleven in Chilliwack, British Columbia, to downtown Toronto. The journey really impacted them, and now they've immortalized it by co-directing a feature-length flash animation called Asphalt Watches based on their adventure. The film made its world premiere at the Vanguard selection of the Toronto International Film Festival last week.

Skeleton Hat (Scriver) and Bucktooth Cloud (Ehman) are two friends who decide to go on a no-budget, lo-fi adventure to meet Santa Claus in Calgary that’s nearly ruined by a near-death experience in Regina. They dodge creepy ex-convicts and rap with dogs, all set to a deep, bassy synth.

Based on a true story, the film is a colorful flashback to an era before everyone had cell phones, in the pre-9/11 world of 2000. They claim all of it happened. There is something South Park-y about it, but it's weirder than that—almost like the film was yanked from Cartman's nightmares.

On their cross-country ride, the duo kept journals and sketched out people they hung out with along the way. Initially, they were going to make a zine. Ehman turned it into a storyboard, which became the basis of the animation, and, after crowdfunding $10,000 in three months last fall, the artists sat in front of a screen and edited their journey into an animated masterpiece. The voiceover cast includes Toronto art luminaries like Jon McCurley, Amy Lam, and Erin Zimmermann.

Scriver and Ehman took some time out of their TIFF schedule for a quick interview about the film, West Coast train cops, and the great Canadian landscape. They also gave us an exclusive clip from the film, a rap track called “Come Over for Some Boiled Hot Dogs.” The track is based on an encounter with two women in Chilliwack who tied up their dog with an extension cord to go inside a 7-Eleven and shoplift hot dogs. Of course, they invited the boys over for some hot dogs, or "B.H.D.s," afterward.

 

A rap song about B.H.D.s at a 7-Eleven with bubble gum-chewing characters who have Tasmanian devil tattoos.

VICE: Why did you decide to start the journey in Chilliwack, British Columbia?
Seth Scriver:
 Well, our friend Dilly suggested we hop out from there. At the time, we had a fantasy of finding a couch and putting it on a boxcar and riding in comfort out east, and right when we made it to Chilliwack we found a couch and carried it down the tracks for a long while, but it was a hideaway and quite heavy, so we abandoned that plan.
Shayne Ehman: Just to add a little note, it is nearly impossible to hitchhike out of the downtown of a city like Vancouver or Montreal, so we took public transit out to Chilliwack. The train cops are gnarlier in Surrey and so we figured it would be easier to get on a train at a small-crew change point where we could easily guess which way the trains were headed. 

Tell us about your trip. What was it like hitchhiking across Canada in 2000?
Ehman:
Hitchhiking across Canada was the best! Of course, 9/11 changed things, but prior to 9/11, hitchhiking was a normal summertime plan. To put trust in the void and step out there... Now that’s real!
Scriver: It was a weird time, 2000. Lots of people were going nuts with apocalyptic fears of Y2K. We made a pact to finish the animation before the next apocalyptic blowout in 2013. And now that it’s after the end of the world, getting into TIFF was no problem.


The filename of this one is santaparade.jpg...

Was acid involved?
Ehman:
Of course it was! I had a great teacher in school named LSD. The quest for a fire spark puppeteer in the park... Mutants of the glowing racetrack... Exploration of consciousness... Exploration of storytelling styles... Experiments in seeking shared reality through art... It seems reasonable to concede that acid was involved in some way... But, honestly, as far as I can recall, we weren't high on the actual trip, nor were we high while creating the movie!
Scriver: I've actually never done acid. My dad would always tell me acid stories as a kid and I would always get paranoid about looking into a mirror and becoming the reflection.

What was the most memorable moment Skeleton Hat and Bucktooth had together?
Ehman:
We were just talking about this and agree that there was a moment when Santa passed us some Green Death smokes. He had just picked us up and hadn't revealed his true identity yet, but we were in the back of the car smoking Green Death just looking at each other amidst all this rubble and we both knew something was up.


... And this one was crustcopy.jpg

The Canadian landscape can be boring. Do you hope Asphalt Watches offers it in a more psychedelic light?
Ehman:
Fuck that! I don't agree. The Canadian landscape always rules! Every pebble zoomed in on. Every weed on the roadside, dusted and blown.
Scriver: I love the landscape across Canada, minus certain parts of New Brunswick—just kidding, I bet the trees have grown back there and it's beautiful again.


Riding in the back seat with Santa.

Your visit to Saskatchewan seemed sketchy. Would you go on the same adventure today?
Ehman:
[laughs] Sure! I would bring my wife and son! No, we are into different things now... Healthier adventures involving food security and wildlife habitat conservation.
Scriver: It's hard to say, because at that time we were really desperate for a ride and it was exciting that a car even stopped, so we jumped in. But if I had a choice of cars to get in, I think I would have choose something else. It's amazing that we got in that ride though, and I'm glad we got out in the nick of time.

Well, I'm glad you both survived.

For information on upcoming screenings of Asphalt Watches go here and here.

Follow Nadja on Twitter: @nadjasayej

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