The official "Elliot" trailer.
Former karate champion and Nova Scotian Elliot Scott wants to be Canada's first action movie star, which, when you think about it, is ambitious, bizarre and hilarious for a bunch of reasons. Not least of which is the fact that the moppy-haired actor/director looks more like the guy you sat next to in biology class than Chuck Norris. But this underdog fight against the odds is why New Brunswick filmmakers Jaret Belliveau and Matthew Bauckman decided to make a documentary about his quest. Elliot follows the making of the martial artist’s next indie action movie Bloodfight, But as the film delves deeper into Elliot’s personal life that he shares with his girlfriend Linda, it becomes difficult to find the line between reality and dreamworld, as Elliot transforms from an quirky antihero underdog to a something darker and more complicated. It's Fubar meets Cheaters with a little bit of American Movie, except all of what you’re watching is real. Elliot is as entertaining as reality television, but with a sensitivity and thoughtfulness that provokes meditation on the nature of truth, and the desire for fame.
Set in Nova Scotia, the film had its world premiere in Park City, Utah at the Slamdance film festival this past week, where it won best feature documentary. For those of you who aren't familiar, Slamdance provides a platform for emerging artists (Lena Dunham and Christopher Nolan featured early work there) and scrappy cinema, filling the holes left by the increasingly commercial Sundance film festival, which runs it concurrently, and where “independent” movies tend to have million-plus budgets and Oscar-winning cast members.
Anyway, I caught up with Belliveau and Bauckman in Utah to hear more about the making of Elliot.
VICE: What were you first expecting when you first started making Elliott?
Jaret: From the start Matt and I knew that Elliot was exaggerating to some degree just because of the difference between the [fairly positive] newspaper articles we were reading and the quality of the trailers of his films that we were seeing. But we thought mostly he was a lovable guy who was trying to do anything to get known and to get his movies out there. We thought it was pretty innocent.
Did you relate to him at the beginning?
Jaret: I related to him just from the passion and the drive that it takes to make films, so for us he just seemed like a lovable dreamer who had a great group of people around him.
Matthew: And what he was doing with Bloodfight was great. We came to love all these people playing the characters in his movies like Blake and Linda and Blair. In Nova Scotia, where they’re living, there’s no real platform to get what they were getting from Elliot. They got to be stars in their own way. Elliot really provided that. No matter what was true and what wasn't, even though there were inconsistencies, that's what made it seem like a positive thing for everyone around him at first.
Jaret: The key to the film was when [his girlfriend] Linda started opening up to us, because that was the other side of the story. Elliot could only carry the film so much. He has no self-dialog. He can't analyze his actions in a way that would translate to the viewer, so we needed other people to show his world and how he operates within that.
You included your own voice a bit in there as well. Was that also a reality check to balance what Elliot was saying?
Matthew: I think in a way Jaret's voice is like an audience surrogate, because we wanted to take the audience on the journey we went on. The more Elliot delves into this fantasy world, the more fed up we got because we had someone who was not being honest with us for two years and that is really difficult.
Jaret: It was somewhat difficult but more difficult to see how that is affecting other people, because we get to leave. We show up for a couple of days, we might be a little annoyed, but we leave and we know that this man is concocting huge fantasies and bringing all these other people into it. That was nagging us, the way that he was hurting them. We included the audio of my voice sometimes because we wanted people to see the kinds of questions we were asking. We were actively trying to get them to think more about what Elliot was doing, what role he was playing in their lives.
He’s an unreliable narrator, but what’s hurtful isn’t necessarily that he’s delusional, but that he’s unreliable to the people in his life. Do you think he could be delusional and not be hurtful?
Matthew: We are all delusional to varying degrees. There's always a big gap there between how we perceive ourselves and how other people perceive us. It's just at that level of [delusion Elliott reached] I don't think you can get away from hurting people. When you’re lying to people, people are going to get hurt.
Jaret: He started blending his movies and reality. Like in the documentary when Elliot starts talking about a stalker. He had a movie called The Stalker And The Hero, and he's the hero, and he's protecting Linda; so he started taking these fantasies from his movies and starts making them part of the documentary—
Matthew: And part of his life.
"Elliot" poster courtesy of Jaret Belliveau and Matthew Bauckman.
There are obvious similarities between your film and American Movie, but yours is Canadian. To you, what about it is Canadian and particularly east coast, maritime Canadian?
Matthew: Where we are from, specifically in the Maritimes, there seems to be an abundance of characters. I don't know what it is. I don't know if it's because everyone is spread out more, but there a lot of unique interesting characters that are around, like Elliot. We had another documentary subject that we followed around for several months before we decided to do Elliot, this French Canadian rapper called JBB or Godfather Big Boss.
Jaret: Or Boner Bill. He gave himself around 16 different nicknames.
Matthew: All of his nicknames are involved with the mafia or his penis. There seems to be a lot of characters in the Maritimes and there seems to be a lack of pretension that we really respond to. We joke about it in interviews. When people ask what do people back home think of what you are doing, I say, "Well they love what we’re doing but they’re not impressed."
Jaret: In a sense, what is different is that Elliot wants to be recognized in America. In Canada, the way that he is going to feel good is to get that notoriety not in Canada really, but from Hollywood or these other big stars. He wants to be Canada's first action hero, he says that, but I think that's just a tool to be famous in America.
Matthew: It's funny because that's such a Canadian thing. In Canada, we are always getting this Canadian culture and media and we feel this inferiority. Elliot almost exemplifies what it is to be Canadian in a negative way.
If someone brings up Pamela Anderson, I just can't help myself, I have to say: "Oh you, know she's Canadian eh."
Jaret: We totally have a complex.
Matthew: But when people ask us about being Canadian filmmakers, I don't know what to say because I feel so part of American media.
There's an earnestness to this film that feels very Canadian to me.
Matthew: People always talk about these really esoteric, hard to pin down themes to their movies but if we could sum it up it would be: Don't lie and be nice to your loved ones and friends. That's pretty fricken Canadian eh, like, geez bud. I love New Brunswick though, I really do. If we could continue making movies there and set up a home base there, it would be great.
Jaret: And it also just gives us a space to exist. We are sort of alone. There's not a lot happening. There's not a lot of documentary people there. We can just do our own thing. We are not influenced. We don't know what is trending in New York as a hot doc topic. In a way, that's a liberty.
Matthew: But there really isn't much money. There isn't much support. It can be very disheartening.
Jaret: Of course, but who would fund Elliot? Maybe we’re being hard on Canada but it's like we are making a movie, this guy might be a pathological liar. We are going to China and he's going to embarrass the shit out of Canada. He's going to pretend he's Jackie Chan. We might complain but we aren't making a movie that's a typical Canadian doc. We can't expect to get funding because we aren't staying within what Canada is comfortable with.