It’s the culmination of five years of hard work, of personal savings accounts emptied and credit cards dipped. So-called rational people might consider this kind of investment a risk worthwhile only for real estate, but thankfully there are guys like Chris Cuthbertson and Drew Hagen, guys who just want to make movies and are willing to put their financial security—their entire future, really—at risk to do it.
Their magnum opus is called A Bug and a Bag of Weed, a feature-length comedy about guys trapped in a life of retail, written by Cuthbertson and starring both men. Cuthbertson and Hagen have known each other for years, and when they talk about their project, they have a tendency to finish each other’s sentences in their hurry to get the words out. Maybe it’s the fact Cuthbertson no longer has to work wearing a nametag that makes him as excited as he is.
“A lot of the stuff in is based on true life experiences,” he says. “I worked at two different computer stores, one was a great big, massive super-box sort of thing.” A Nova Scotia boy who moved to Vancouver in the early ’90s, Cuthbertson got involved making short films and doing work as an extra and the occasional stand-in, but took jobs in retail to help make ends meet, eventually getting into management. The sales floor was a rich inspiration for his future as a writer of a certain kind of comedy. He says, “The original draft of the script has stuff in it, a lot of it is too vulgar.” Hagen interjects, “The joke is a lot of that stuff is showing up in other movies.”
“If you ever watch that show Entourage,” Cuthbertson jumps back in, “The Johnny Drama character in that, everything he’s coming up with…we had this one scene that had eyebrows raised about this one guy shaving his balls. The whole cycle of making this thing, by the time it was done, it had been done in Entourage, it was done on American Wedding.” Hagen adds, laughing, “At least we’re on a good wavelength.”
The story revolves around three computer store salesclerks in their early 30s, in desperate debt. Nothing’s worked out for them, and bad habits keep them stuck in what they’re doing, from playing video games to spending their money irresponsibly. The bad decisions made by characters in the film intersect with the arrival of a vintage Volkswagen in their lives, as well as a large amount of marijuana, which suddenly complicates matters. “I knew one guy, he actually bought a motorcycle without his girlfriend knowing. He couldn’t tell her,” says Cuthbertson. “We all have these dilemmas in life. This other guy, he bought a boat without telling his girlfriend. That did not end well.”
Hagen is from Vancouver, and met Cuthbertson when they worked together on the Dave Chalk Computer Show, a syndicated TV show that aired in Canada and the United States, where Cuthbertson was a producer, responsible for the consumer technology content. Hagen was a cameraman and segment producer. “We had access to all this equipment, and for the first time we could make all these short films,” says Cuthbertson. It was there they shot a trailer for what would eventually become A Bug and a Bag of Weed.
Cuthbertson encouraged Hagen to come out to Nova Scotia in 2001 for a lifestyle of lower expense and the opportunity to make their own productions. Cuthbertson says, “Computer and video technology got to a point where...” Hagen continues, “You could do it yourself.” Their first effort was AfterDarkTV, a sketch comedy pilot that they’d dreamed would be their way into the Comedy Network, with fame and fortune following close behind. “We were very naive,” says Hagen. That didn’t quite work, but good things started to happen. They found work in the film industry here and completed a series of shorts that made it onto CBC Zed and into the Atlantic Film Festival, which also allowed them to get some experience in front of the camera.
“We’ve got to prove to some people we can do some stuff,” says Hagen. “And, in terms of money, we’ve invested our entire lives to get to this point, pretty much.”
A Bug and a Bag of Weed was shot in the summer of 2005 in a Spryfield mall, where the filmmakers were able to build their computer store set, amongst other locations. The budget of close to half a million dollars and a 15-day shoot didn’t allow for much elbow room, but they were able to assemble a quality ensemble cast including Sebastian Spence, Christopher Shyer, Nigel Bennett and Laura Kohoot, who sings a song on the soundtrack. Financial support also came in from Telefilm Canada, NSFDC, Showcase and the Independent Film Channel, guaranteeing the film a future on cable television. “We did everything we could to put together the best package to sell it,” says Cuthbertson. “It’s a big battle. We’re really excited it’s in .” Hagen adds, “We’ve been walking around this town for five years trying to make this thing. Almost a full time job. To bring it to the festival now, it’s a relief.”
A Bug and a Bag of Weed, September 22, Park Lane, 9:20pm, $10.