It’s a beautiful thing when a project seems to mysteriously compose itself, as if it was just waiting for a channel to the outside world to open. It sounds like Kris Elgstrand hit that creative third rail when he banged out the script for Doppelgänger Paul.
Elgstrand was dealing with another film project that was mired in development issues at the time. “I was sort of completely lost in a sea of other people’s thoughts about my writing at that point,” he said, discussing the locally shot film in a call from Whitehorse last November. “And I did not intentionally sit down to write a movie that sort of mirrored that experience, but it happened to sort of mirror that experience.”
In the elegantly absurd world of Doppelgänger Paul (which opens Friday [March 16] at the Vancity Theatre), those frustrations and anxieties are rewired by Elgstrand into the tale of a lonely Vancouverite who starts following a man he thinks is his double. “It was really just that idea,” the writer-director said. “One guy thinking this other guy is his doppelgänger, and then the joke being that they don’t look anything alike.”
Oh, but there’s so much more. Paul (Brad Dryborough) is intrigued by his solemnly intense stalker, Carl (Tygh Runyan). The ensuing tale of their anxious connection consistently goes everywhere you expect it wouldn’t (and then some), but largely it hinges around what happens when Paul agrees to edit Carl’s 20,000 page exegesis on why he sucks so much.
Codirectors Elgstrand and Dylan Akio Smith manage all of this with tone-perfect economy, abetted in no small way by their two leads and Craig Trudeau’s outstanding cinematography. The film’s success, though, really comes down to Elgstrand and a script that he naturally thought “was the worst thing I’d ever written”.
His friends, including Dryborough, put him right. In a separate call to the Straight, Runyan described how he was “hooked on the first read”, adding that—although his soulfully phobic Carl is very much Runyan’s own creation—the unspoken assumption on-set was that Carl basically was Elgstrand.
“I know Dylan referenced it,” Elgstrand admitted, sounding slightly uncomfortable. “When we were talking about costumes, he’s, like, ‘Well, what are we talking about? We’re talking about a neurotic writer, so…’ and then he’s pointing at me, and he’s, like, ‘Consider the source.’ ” (It might be significant that Elgstrand found himself admiring the jacket Runyan chose for his character. “I love that jacket,” he said. “I wish I owned that jacket.”)
It was also Smith—Elgstrand’s creative partner on five previous films—who suggested that his collaborator take a codirecting credit on Doppelgänger Paul, “which sorta makes a meta comment on the movie”, as Elgstrand says. Indeed, it seems as if everybody was jiving on the writer’s vision and accessing the same mysterious source Elgstrand was drawing from. When the production couldn’t get the permit to shoot Carl and Paul’s first meeting at the Vancouver Aquarium, it was Trudeau who came up with the ineffably perfect alternative.
“He found the beautiful abandoned polar-bear enclosure, which never would have occurred to me,” Elgstrand says. “And then it became a motif. It looked so great, and it even became the motif for our poster. It’s one of those things where, I’m not spiritual or anything, but it feels like there’s a little bit of magic tugging you in the right direction.”
Watch the trailer for Doppelgänger Paul.