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This month we talk with Solmund MacPherson about his absurd short film, Wolf in Dude’s Clothing.

In Wolf in Dude’s Clothing, we see a starving wolf find a suit of human skin, crawl inside, and become a man....

MacPherson writes and directs films which have shown all over the world at festivals like Fantastic Fest, Palm Springs, Sapporo, Rhode Island, Tampere, and Athens Film + Video, and have won awards including Vimeo’s Staff Pick, NFFTY’s Audience Choice, and CineYouth’s Best International Film. 

Can you tell us a little about your background and your route into directing?

My whole family works in theatre. Instead of daycare they'd bring me to work with them, so I was kind of raised in the wings of independent theatres in Winnipeg. 

I performed on stage myself for about 12 years until I started to think I'd write or direct for theatre, and I did write two plays and direct one. Around this time I was doing work as a press photographer for theatres as well, so the combination of performance, script-writing, and photography all kind of pointed towards filmmaking.

Solmund MacPherson – Wolf in Dude’s Clothing

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Would you say you have a directing style? How did you arrive at it? 

Not yet! Maybe someday. Wolf in Dude's Clothing obviously has a very theatrical, elevated sensibility to it but I'm interested in trying new things. I think perhaps my writing has more of a distinct style than my filmmaking. 

One of my guiding principles for writing is from The Odyssey, and that's that a lie can be more truthful than fact. Odysseus wasn't really trapped in a cave by a cyclops, or sail a narrow passage between two horrible monsters, or wash up on a cult's island, etc etc, but the journey home was so long and so difficult that it felt like he did. The only way to communicate the true horror of his journey was through myth. 

With my writing I want to use absurdity and surrealism to communicate truths that are too difficult to convey with realism.

Did you study filmmaking? How did you learn your craft? 

I did not, I have no formal education whatsoever. I think I learned to write by just reading. Composing images came from photography. 

Directing actors came from being an actor myself for so many years. I've also been working as a grunt in the film industry for 5 years, right now as a Props Master. Doing props is great because you're kind of in the middle of things, your work overlaps with stunts, sets, special effects, visual effects, picture vehicles, actors, wardrobe, graphics, lighting, and more, and you work closely with the Directors themselves on a lot of what you do. 

Not many departments get a glimpse into so many different disciplines without being at like, the top of the chain.

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ABOVE: A collection of BTS photographs from the shoot.

What was the inspiration for Wolf in Dude’s Clothing? 

I get asked this a lot and it's really hard to calcify all the elements that contributed into one "inspiration". I love my dog a lot and kind of see her as more of a roommate than anything, she also has very droopy skin that probably influenced my skin suit idea. I've done a fair amount of sleeping in my car and after a while you start to feel kind of feral yourself, and you start to realize how fragile the social contract that maintains order is when people avoid you because they are worried you won't adhere to that contract.

One thing that solidified the themes for me was a time I was sitting by the Canadian-US border, which I used to do every now and then when I was feeling bad. I was sitting in my car watching people go through the very stressful rigmarole of crossing the border, when I saw a family of deer run across through a farmer's field nearby. I remember thinking how insane it is that we've constructed an ecosystem for ourselves that's so unnatural I could be locked up in a tiny box for many years if I tried to do that. The fact that something as arcane and opaque as the stock market can destroy your life is absurd, isn't it? I just wanted to try and capture that absurdity.

Where do you find the inspiration for your projects? 

I aim to live like an anthropologist or something, gathering data. I talk to strangers a lot and I try to welcome chaos into my life if it means seeing or experiencing something interesting. I've met some amazing people and gotten myself into bizarre situations that have inspired tons of ideas. 

Some of them I haven't even experienced firsthand, I've just watched from a distance as two people argue after a fender bender, or someone tries to carry too many grocery bags on their bike, or a bird works up the courage to steal food from a picnic, or whatever. There's a thousand little melodramas happening all around you every day if you pay attention.

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ABOVE: Some storyboard comparisons from Wolf in Dude's Clothing.

What were the biggest challenges you faced in pulling this project together? 

Making a movie in general is pretty hard. I think the sheer scale of this project was a little outrageous for the resources we had, and I ended up doing way more than I should have. I broke my wrist and elbow right before we started shooting and had to finish building the wolf puppet (and other effects), drive the cargo van, carry around furniture, etc etc with my one good hand.

How long was the shoot and what was the most challenging aspect of the project? 

We shot for four and a half days. There are a few scenes that simply did not work because I screwed up on the day and editing that stuff was by far the most difficult. Not even necessarily for the technical-logistical difficulties, but because it is so psychologically tormenting to watch your mistakes over and over and over for days. Next time I'd like to work with an editor, hah.

What have you learned during the process of making the film? 

Sleep a normal amount. Eat a normal amount. Delegate a little bit.

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ABOVE: A collection of stills from the short film.

What other directors' work do you admire? What is it that stands out? 

To be honest I'm not super well versed in terms of the Cinematic Canon. My favourite filmmakers all have very distinct senses of humour like Ruben Ostlund and the Coen Brothers, have elements of absurdism in them like Roy Andersson and Charlie Kaufman, and are formally very precise like Jacques Tati. 

What are your hopes and plans for the future? 

I hope to make a first feature soon(ish). I have two scripts in particular that are strong contenders for low budget first features, and a documentary subject I'm interested in pursuing. Until then I plan to keep writing, making shorts, and watching strangers' moments of melodrama from afar.

Take a look at Solmund MacPherson's shots Unsigned page here.

You can check out some of the amazing work put out by unsigned directors in our monthly shots Unsigned Showcase, here.

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