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Interview

School Days

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School Days
Photo Source: Michael Buckner
"I really like bold films. For me it's like, when you watch a movie, I want to see it, I want to feel it," says director Will Canon, expressing an appropriate sentiment considering that his first feature, "Brotherhood," is definitely bold. A unique take on both frat-house films and thrillers, "Brotherhood" is reminiscent of other films but picks and chooses from their overdone components to create an intense new vision of fraternity life. The action takes place over the course of a single, fateful night when a traditional hazing goes horribly awry. Tensions escalate and a bad situation gets progressively worse.

While the film offers an intense and dark vision of Greek collegiate life, Canon notes, "I didn't want to make a movie that was pro- or anti-fraternity. To me, that was never really the point. It was always a film that's about people. It's a sort of moral thriller. I feel like fraternities and sororities are not good or bad in themselves; they're just institutions. The people are going to make it something that is positive or something that is negative."

Canon himself was never involved in a fraternity but found the topic fascinating. "Brotherhood" is actually the elongated feature adaptation of a short film he made while attending NYU. That film, "Roslyn," is very similar to the first few minutes of "Brotherhood." He credits that early filmmaking experience—he eventually sold the short piece to Showtime—with opening a lot of doors.

"Brotherhood" may be the Dallas native's first feature, but he tackled the opportunity with enthusiasm and confidence, an approach that extended to casting the film as well. "I'm very involved," he says. "I can't seem to keep my hands out of all parts of the process." His inclusive attitude toward making the film generated fine results, as each member of the cast not only fulfills the requirements of their character with aplomb, but also fits into the greater ensemble with believable ease.

That is not to say the film is always easy to watch. While there is not a dull moment from start to finish, the content is gritty and even vicious, though not gratuitously so. Canon selected a cast that could manage both the action and the emotion. "There was something about them that resonated with the characters in the script," he explains. Key members of the cast include Trevor Morgan and Jon Foster, both of whom have worked with seasoned veterans, including Steven Spielberg, Paul Newman, and Jeff Bridges. But that was not what drew Canon to them. "These kids are all sort of the same age," he notes. "And I wanted it to feel authentic. I did not necessarily have to have people who had been in a million things. I just wanted people who I felt like had something interesting about them, who had an authenticity about them, that you believe them in this world."

Bringing in the Right People

Canon's general approach to casting is "about seeing as many people as you can for it and just finding interesting people." As for working with actors on set, Canon reveals, "I write as well, and going into a scene it's important for me to have a clear understanding of what the scene's about, what its purpose is, and the overall film. And just to know what does each one of these characters want. From there, it's just about whatever questions the actors have. Helping them get the information they need on their end. I feel like if the script is written well and it's clear what the purpose is, then as a director I have confidence that I have cast the right people in it. Certainly in 'Brotherhood' I had the utmost confidence in all of the actors we had cast, so at that point as a director I'd say usually there's not a whole lot to do, honestly. You can give little notes here and there. I am a believer in bringing the right actors in and telling them to do their thing. That's what we were doing most of the time."

Considering the film's lengthy night shoots, Canon's greatest challenge was maintaining continuity and the enthusiasm of cast and crew. "The movie has a pace to it and a tension to it," he divulges. "So it was very important that everybody stay at that energy level for the whole time. And as actors, it's draining to be at level 10 for long a time period, but the guys did a great job." But did that make for a strained work environment? Canon says no: "It wasn't ever really tense or dark. There were times, if we were doing something that was very involved or long takes—there were certain things that were very draining for people. There is a scene that takes place in the kitchen. In the script it's about a seven-page scene. And it's a very tense scene. And I wanted that to be the most intense scene in the movie.… And I know for Jon [Foster], he was hyperventilating. His energy level was so high and we were shooting that scene for so long, I know that was super draining for him."

Canon offers insight into his process, as well as some advice for others hoping to break in the way he has, noting the most important thing is to "stay with it. I think the key to all of it is staying with it. Being relentless, you know?" While such advice, which he has apparently followed to promising results, applies to anyone hoping to make it in the industry, he also has some advice specifically for actors. "Acting is such a hard part of it. Unless you're going to go make your own film or put on your own plays, you're waiting for someone else to give you a chance, and that's a hard thing to do," he notes. "I have so many friends who are actors and I admire their drive and tenacity so much."

Canon's debut indicates a new talent on the scene, one who is just as capable with directing actors as he is pulling together a thrilling look at a collegiate environment we thought we knew.

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