Wylie Writes’ One-On-One with Daniel O’Connor

Being a film critic, you witness certain – shall I say – ebbs and flows;  usually reflecting on what mainstream audiences are demanding or what studios are labelling “hot”.  I usually understand trends in popularity, but the volume of Canadian productions dabbling in supernatural quirky comedies is stunning.

So far, within this year, I’ve seen five movies of this hybrid (A Sunday Kind of Love, No Men Beyond This PointEnd of Days, Inc, No Stranger Than Love, and now Look Again).  That may not sound like a huge number, but when this peculiar genre keeps frequenting my weekly queue, I wonder about its high demand.  I’m not complaining either.  I like when filmmakers channel their storytelling ambition through unique stories – it shows real creative effort.  But, maybe – just maybe – I could finally get an answer to this craze when I spoke with Look Again’s writer/director Daniel O’Connor.

O’Connor (who struck big with his previous film Run Robot Run! through numerous festivals) takes a morality dilemma and attempts to extend it in Look Again.  When a character is given special specs that can help him see the “good” and “bad” in people, he starts to get hooked on the power.  I’m instantly interested to know if this premise stemmed from the filmmaker’s inner debate.

Addison Wylie: Do you consider yourself someone who can usually sort out what’s good and what’s bad in people?

Daniel O’Connor: I generally try to steer clear of those kinds of labels when I meet people, although it’s not always easy to do so.  I’m predisposed to believe that we are essentially good and try to do good things.  So when someone acts like a jerk, I’ll try to see the underlying fear or insecurity that is driving their behaviour and push myself to reach a point of compassion.  I admit I don’t always get there…

Perhaps since I started working on this movie, I’m more aware of my own judgments of people and am working hard to see beyond first impressions – whatever they may be.  My goal is to really get to know the person.  We are all a mixture of desirable and undesirable traits and qualities.  I have yet to meet someone who was really all bad.  Though a few came very close!

AW: In Look Again, a character is given power that allows him to guarantee trust in his life – that’s interesting.  Do you generally think, given the choice, people would choose a life of faithful trust over a romanticized gimmicky power like invisibility or the ability to fly?

DO: We did two days of streeter interviews asking people if they would use the glasses if they had a pair.  A large percentage said that they would not want to know if someone was “good” or “bad” – they would want to discover who they were.  The rest were very keen on getting a pair of the glasses.  Personally, I think the perfect plan would be to have the glasses – or power – available one day a month.  On that day, you could drop by all those new people in your life you had some questions about and get a quick read on them.  Or, you could fly to work or turn invisible.  It would be more of a life perk than a crutch.

AW: How did you come up with Look Again’s concept, and how did it evolve into a story?

DO: There had been a lot of talk in the media about Google Glass and I thought – who wants to walk around reading their email or surfing the web through glasses?  I thought they should have more powers than that.  At the same time, I have friends who continually seem to make bad decisions about the people they invite into their life.  They end up betrayed, cheated, deceived and angry.  It occurred to me that it might be very beneficial for them to have a way to get a quick read on people, something that was more accurate and reliable than what they could do on their own.  Thus – magic glasses!

After that I asked the great question:  What if?  What if someone had those glasses and came to rely on them?  What would be the consequence of that?  I became very excited about following that story because we are all guilty of snap judging others.  It pushes us apart and creates distance between people, causes and countries.  The main character in Look Again is really just a slight exaggeration of most of us.  He is quick to judge people then refuses to see their true nature when it is revealed if it contradicts what the glasses (his judgment) has told him.  As you can see in the movie, this is not a great way to go through life.

AW: How was your experience with crowdfunding on Indiegogo?

DO: A lot of hard work!  It was a full-time job for at least two months.  The good thing was that it built up a fan base for the movie, and we got to connect with a lot of great people all over the world.  It pushed us to create a lot of on-set videos that we shared on YouTube and to stay in touch with our fans.  Overall, it was a very good experience.

AW: There are a lot of funny people in Look Again.  Did your casting director (Marsha Chesley) use a traditional audition method, or did the production base a lot of casting decisions on other projects these actors have starred in?  Christian Potenza, for instance, has provided so much material for filmmakers to get an idea of his comedic range.

DO: I wrote the film with Anand Rajaram in mind for the lead, Christian and Darryl (Dinn) as angels and Eugene Clark in his role.  I’d worked with them all before and could see what they’d bring to the party.

The rest came through auditions with the exception of Joel Keller.  He is a friend of Anand’s and was with him in Men with Brooms.  I’m so glad that Anand brought him on board because the two of them have a great natural chemistry that shows on the film.  I shot a lot of their scenes in two-shots because it enabled us to see their rhythm together.  Marsha was very helpful in suggesting people for the other roles, in particular for our hero’s love interest.  She felt strongly that Brittany Allen would bring a lot to that role and she was spot on.  Brittany was so good!  She won Best Supporting Actress for her work at Worldfest Houston.  Overall, I think the cast is stellar and I hope to work with them again.

AW: Your film stands on its own, but it’s peculiar how many recent Canadian productions have blended comedy with supernatural elements.  Just last week we had No Stranger Than Love, a rom-com where Alison Brie’s hunk fell into a magical bottomless pit.  Why do you think this hybrid genre is such a hot trend at the moment?  Is it that, as a storyteller, it allows you to be more creative?

DO: I don’t know why it’s so hot, but I do think it allows for a great deal of creative discovery.  A story based on a “What if?” idea that goes beyond the laws and confines of the natural world is very liberating.  As a writer, I get excited in that space.  It allows for metaphors and analogies, to treat a serious subject lightly and with humour, like we do here, or to make a plain subject exciting by dressing it in the supernatural.

The genre has been popular every since the angel Clarence dropped down to help Jimmy Stewart in It’s a Wonderful Life and probably even before that.  I hope to see and make many more movies that take us into new realms.

Look Again opens at Toronto’s Kingsway Movie Theatre & Cafe on Friday, June 24. A Q&A with O’Connor and cast members will follow after the 24, 25, and 28 screenings.


Do You Tweet? Follow These Tweeple:

Daniel O’Connor: @ImDanielOConnor
Look Again
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