Derek MacDonald's direction shines in "Undeveloped"

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      As a kid growing up in the small town of High River, Alberta, Derek MacDonald watched a lot of films. It helped that his family was among the first ones there to own a VCR. Multiple visits to the local independent video stores ensued, and things really ramped up when Blockbuster came to town.

      "I spent all of my childhood watching movies," says MacDonald on the phone from the south of France, where he lives when he's not in Vancouver. "And the funny thing is, I watched a lot of movies that were not age-appropriate. I watched The Exorcist when I was nine, so... I got thrown into the deep end."

      Fortunately for him, MacDonald took to the world of celluloid swimmingly, and has learned to traverse its waters with skill. A short film he directed and cowrote, "Undeveloped", has made it into the final six in the 2022 Crazy8s filmmaking challenge. At a gala screening on May 7 it will be shown along with others directed by Stephanie Izsak ("Consumer"), Shakil Jessa ("Imran and Alykhan"), Alireza Kazemipour ("The Gold Teeth"), Kenny Welsh ("The Faraway Place"), and Kay Shioma Metchie ("Weeds are Flowers, Too".)

      Movie posters for the six short works that made it to the Crazy8s filmmaking challenge.

      "Undeveloped" concerns elderly veteran and photo-shop owner Paul (Greg Rogers), whose comfortable existence is hijacked when he receives an envelope of negatives to process. He gasps in shock when he views the images in the darkroom, believing he's being blackmailed by someone. Paul contacts an old army buddy he hasn't seen in decades, Walter (Fred Keating), who also appears in the photos. But Walter sloughs off the importance of the discovery, much to the chagrin of Paul, who vows to hunt down whoever sent the incriminating images and "teach them never to mess with me!"

      The story for "Undeveloped" came from associate producer Alfredo Arroyo, who had studied along with MacDonald and cowriter-producer Tyler Twiss at Vancouver Film School. Before making "Undeveloped", as the final project of their VFS film production program, the three collaborated on the short film "Cake", which was recently selected for the Chicago Indie Film Awards and the Crystalline Film Festival in Toronto.

      "It's sort of about a young man that's dealing with some repressed emotions around his relationships," explains MacDonald. "And I'll give you a little bit of a spoiler—not too much of a spoiler—but he realizes that his true desire is just to make love to a cake. And so he fucks a cake.

      " 'Cake' was not that much different from 'Undeveloped' in terms of scope," he adds, "it's just that we had the school supporting us as opposed to like the entire Vancouver film industry, which is the crazy part of Crazy8s, I would say."

      The way Crazy8s works is 40 semi-finalists are chosen to pitch in-person to a jury of industry professionals, then 12 finalists workshop their script with a professional story editor. Of those, six winners receive $1,000 and a production package provided by sponsors in the local production community, with everything they need to make their short film in just eight days.

      "Eight days is intense," cites MacDonald. "It was a big challenge, but it was a pleasure to go through, especially with our key creatives and our crew. Everyone was so spot-on, and everything just hummed along. It was such a fun rollercoaster to be on."

      The director believes that he "totally lucked out" getting seasoned actors like Rogers and Keating on board.

      "Greg Rogers was incredible," raves MacDonald, "he was such an experienced actor to work with. It was almost a little intimidating for me to work with somebody like Greg. And Fred Keating, funnily enough, submitted after we closed our casting call. He showed up in our inbox, and I thought, 'Geez, Fred Keating,'—I know him because I worked with him on the AMPIA [Alberta Media Production Industries Association], producing their Rosie Awards. As soon as he submitted I said, 'I'm not even gonna have you read.' I just knew that he was the right fit for it."

      As far as his own directing talents go, MacDonald finds it difficult to pinpoint one filmmaker whose work has inspired and influenced him the most. When asked to name his all-time favourite director, he scoffs at the idea of picking just one, then—"only because I'm in France right now"—chooses Agnès Varda, a French director who was big in the '50s and '60s.

      Derek MacDonald.

      "She was sort of the French new-wave," he explains, "but just her visual language, her comedic timing, I can never get tired of that. I just love her style."

      When pressed to choose his favourite director of today, MacDonald comes up with a name that might surprise some people: Ben Stiller.

      "If you go on IMDB and you look at Ben Stiller's filmography, there's more directing credits than there is acting credits. I just finished Severance on Apple TV, but he did Escape at Dannemora and all those really clever, crazy shows that are just spot on. I'm surprised to say it, but Ben Stiller is one of my favourite directors right now."

      Judging by his own impressive work on "Undeveloped", it might not be long before people are saying the same thing about Derek MacDonald. Even before it was finished he felt sure that the film was something special.

      "You know, you're rushing against the clock and all that stuff, and the days are long and they sort of all blend together, but I knew—I could feel it. Jeff Zwicker, our DP, and I would stand and look at the monitor and I'd be like, 'Holy shit.' In fact the edit was the hardest part because we had so much great stuff to work with—which is a good problem to have."

      Derek MacDonald's "Undeveloped" will be shown at the Crazy8s gala screening on May 7 at the Centre in Vancouver for Performing Arts.