Nobody can accuse Mike Clattenburg of slacking off. Ever. Since screening his short film 'Trailer Park Boys' at a Canadian film festival in 1999, he's been masterminding every episode of the now iconic show of the same name, until the series ended in 2008. In that time, Trailer Park Boys grew from a cult hit into a show with fans all over the world, making the words "Ricky, Julian and Bubbles" mainstream, and setting a new standard for mockumentary style shooting.
With the show off the air, he's now directing his creative energy into both comedic and more serious ventures. I was lucky enough to tear Clattenburg away from his new projects to discuss the history of the show, what it's like to kidnap famous musicians, and what we can expect from him in the future.
As a Canadian living in the States, I have to say that it's one of the first things people ask me about: "Do you watch the Trailer Park Boys?! Do you know them?!"
I’ve heard a lot of stories like that, from the weirdest places. Through twitter [@MikeClattenburg], I hear from fans all over the world: England, New Zealand, Ireland... it’s just incredible.
How did the Trailer Park Boys come about?
I was making some short films, and I made one called “One Last Shot” with Robb Wells and John Paul Trembley, and we kind of improvised and played around. John Dunsworth was in that film, as Mr. Lahey, and we had a real gas making it, and it made it to the festival. And the next summer, we wanted to make something else, so the characters kind of evolved. We needed a set, and [the trailer park] was a free set for us, so we shot with no other intention than seeing it in the film festival. We spent about four weekends playing around with it and writing this crazy story. And it was a much darker earlier version. When it screened at the film festival, Barry Dunn was there, and he loved it and said “it can’t stop here, we should pitch this to television". We sat down and wrote 12 episodes, and Showcase signed us up and next thing you know, it’s on TV. And at first everyone’s like: “What is this bullshit!?” It took a real long time for everyone to warm up to it, musicians were the first to catch on to the humour. So with a bit of musician support, it started to pick up and then by season 2 people were really watching.
Trailer Park Boys: The Big Dirty and Countdown to Liquor day were hilarious films. Do you plan on making more movies in the future?
I hope I can continue to bring stuff to people that they enjoy and make some more movies. I like the idea of doing a longer format for a little while. TV is fun but it’s pretty grueling. It’s nice to stick with one overall story and it’s fun to shoot long format.
The boys are notorious for doing all public appearances and interviews in character. What was the reasoning behind that?
The boys have always loved doing it, so it just takes the idea of a mockumentary that much further by remaining in character.
You’ve directed music videos. How did that come about?
I liked working with the Hip. I had written a treatment for the music video where the guys want a bucket or chicken and I sent it off, didn’t hear from them for quite some time, and then one day I see in my email: From Gord Downie. I’m a big fan, and he liked the idea and we just connected with those guys and had a blast. We were on tour with another Canadian band called Our Lady Peace, shooting some stuff, and there was a two day window where we shot in Tornoto and brought in these trained cats from Vancouver. It was last minute, and about plus 2 in the middle of February, so we shot those two nights, and this crazy story, The Darkest One, and we really enjoyed it.
One of my favourite epsiodes is "Closer to the Heart", where Ricky kidnaps RUSH guitarist Alex Lifeson. How the heck did you manage that cameo?!
When the show first came out, it wasn’t very well received from anyone for a long time. [Alex Lifeson] was one of the first people to kind of catch on. He sent me an email saying how much he loved it and all of the characters and I was quite touched by that, and I thought it might be neat to try and write him into an episode. I asked if he was up for it, he said “Hell yeah”, and next thing you know I’m meeting him at the airport, we drove him to set and the first scene we shot was him taped up in the backseat of Ricky’s car!
We could have done a RUSH love-in, which is kind of the cliché, but this worked because only Bubbles really gets just how big of a deal the band is. Whereas Ricky gives Alex a really hard time and thinks he’s in April Wine, so it was more of a roast that way, which made it way more fun.
What can you tell us about any new projects you have in the works?
Berzerkers shoots sometime in September. It’s a story of a group of refugees who live off the coast of Nova Scotia who are starving because the sea is dying and they’re forced to attack a mainland grocery store. It's a feature film that I hope to submit to independent film festivals, it's a flat out comedy, but I can't give away too much about it. It all takes place in present day Halifax. It's quite a different approach from Trailer Park Boys, and different characters. But hopefully it’ll be similar in that it’s funny.
Clattenburg at work
It's great that people all over the world love your sense of humour and the content you put out there, especially since it's really Canadian content and situations sometimes.
Everyone recognizes people like Julian, Bubbles, Lahey, Ricky, Lucy. So even though it’s made in our own backyard [Halifax, Nova Scotia] and it’s about stuff that makes us laugh, like petty crime, the other universal themes of how its one big dysfunctional family. I think that’s one of the reasons it speaks to people. And low end crimes are hilarious. Photocopying lottery ticket receipts, stealing change- they're all things I’ve heard about growing up, and it’s a reflection of a lot of the people we’ve known mixed with a little hyperbole and exploring the depths of foolishness.
Since you can't give me too many details on Berzerkers right now - top secret! - can you tell me what else you're working on?
At the end of Trailer Park Boys, it's important to me to do something entirely different: apples and oranges. I just finished a feature film last month, called Afghan Luke and the Burgundy of Hash, which is moreso a drama, set in Afghanistan, and that's coming out from Alliance Atlantis sometime in the new year.
It's a pretty dark story. it's about a Canadian journalist who's on the trail of some snipers who are alleged to have cut off the fingers of the people they kill, the Taliban. It's night and day from Trailer Park Boys, and it was really nice to change it up and do something entirely different. So that was kind of exciting for me, I really enjoyed doing the show for all those years, but it's kind of like you're making the same film for ten years.
Berzerkers is more of a screwball, zany comedy. I like stuff that's not too broad, or dressing up in a lobster outfit and jumping around. I'm much more interested in finding that character that could plausibly exist, unknown to the modern man who must confront the modern man- comedy based in realism.