In Camera Shy, opening today at the Vancity Theatre (January 18), a rat-brained Vancouver city councillor involved in a crooked development deal begins to think that he’s being followed by a cameraman that no one else can see.
Every lie, every humiliation, every illicit shag with his possibly psycho personal assistant in City Hall—it’s all on tape. Isn’t it?
This is not a documentary. Camera Shy is, however, fantasy fulfillment for those of us who have been feeling lately that Vancouver is actually not so awesome.
If Bruce Sweeney’s recent film The Crimes of Mike Recket was what you might call a real estate-noir, Camera Shy is its comic-surreal first cousin. Thanks to the film’s viciously tight internal logic and Nicholas Wright as the increasingly jumpy politician Larry Coyle, it’s also genuinely hilarious.
“What I needed for this role was a really good actor who was naturally funny,” says director Mark Sawers, in a call to the Straight. “That’s not something you find a lot. You find a lot of good actors, and you find a lot of funny guys, but you don’t find a lot of both, and he has that gift.”
Coyle is eventually diagnosed by his psychiatrist with “Clapstock’s Syndrome”, meaning the invisible camera guy is an externalization of his mounting guilt (“We were gonna do a fake Wikipedia page for it,” Sawers snickers).
Not that this explanation makes the looming camera any less real to Coyle as he furtively manouevres himself into a bid for federal office (with the “Conservative Alliance”), gets kicked around by the thuggish super-developer Bob Sterling, or lies to his trophy wife and their ornamental adopted Vietnamese kids. As ever, matters are further complicated by a corpse.
“I always want my characters to be beleaguered and just in so much pain that you laugh at them. That’s my sweet spot,” says Sawers, whose early work included directing filmed segments for The Kids in the Hall.
Presumably that’s where he honed his ability to float a high concept with a low budget. Gradually, Coyle accepts that he’s the author of his own filmed life, and, in one of the film’s many excellent twists, Camera Shy then brightens from gritty faux-verite into a cheesy Hollywood turd with good lighting and an orchestral score.
“Usually as a director you’re communicating to your audience: this is what I want you to feel; this is my sensibility coming through as a director,” Sawers says. “But in this case I didn’t make any of those choices. The character was making them.”
In other words, the director found himself having to think like a narcissistic local politician with shit taste. Kind of like Will Graham in Manhunter, only much worse.
“He watches very middle-of-the-road movies,” muses Sawers. “So, how would he imagine himself walking across the road? I’d sit there with the DP, going, ‘How can we make this shot as obviously conventional as possible?’ And we’d be scratching our chins, because true hackery is sort of natural, right?"
Camera Shy opens tonight at the Vancity Theatre, followed by a Q&A with the filmmakers