DA: yes, there really was quite a reception actually.
tV: How did you choose to make this film about Ron Sexsmith?
DA: Having heard him for the first time in 1994, that moment on the radio, and realizing... for me personally, I had already identified with the power of the singular artist, the singer songwriter, the troubadour type by then, and so when I was listening to this live show on CBC Radio, and it was this guy named Ron Sexsmith live form Blacksheep Inn in Ottawa, I just couldn't believe it: I just couldn't believe the voice and I couldn't believe the melody.
Peter Brook the famous director, said it in an interview a while ago that there's no way to describe these moments: when an actor seizes upon a line and transforms it. The only way he could describe it was “the something else.” Ron has that.
It's hard to put into words: it's easier to capture on camera. A lot of journalists describe it, and I think Ron thinks so, as this kind of melancholy thing. I think that clip with (Elvis) Costello turns that on its head. But he has that: Ron really is dialled in. I mean even as I say these words they don't really capture it. You can only capture it by being in his midst and you realize that there's something divine.
He's got songs like “All in Good Time” where there's an incredible set of lines. Journalist rarely actually see the work, like journalists have done with (Bob) Dylan: seizing on his lines and his phrasing. There are some incredible lines in that song that even when I just read them over, I get goose bumps.
Martin Terefe said in an interview (which didn't make it into the film), that nobody writes lyrics like that. He was almost moved to tears talking about it. But that wasn't the direction of the film: I didn't want to do the whole producer-producer thing on it. This was more about Ron's journey at this point and time.
tV: What was the most challenging thing about making this film?
DA: I'd say the most challenging thing was getting the deal. And waiting all that time for broadcasters and programers to actually get it. Ron's isn't the kind of story... it's not a slam-dunk story for broadcasters. They often don't know who he is. You're still lucky if you can find someone who really does know the story.
The challenge early on when I was shopping it around was finding a fit: a programer who actually got it: because he wasn't a household name. That's what I was up against, which ironically repeats the story.
I think things have changed a little bit this time around. I think Ron's story has taken on a different set of stakes as well. He will say that there were different pressures in his life at the time of making this record and I think that helped, but he's still not well known.
tV: That's extraordinarily bizarre for me and many others who think he's out of this world. For someone like him not to be known, at least nationally, is outrageous.
DA: And he is out of this world! He told me he had a card reading done many years ago. He sat down and soon into this reading the card reader stopped and started staring at him and said something like, “you're not from this world.” He was getting all these bizarre readings and said, “you're caught somewhere between this world and another.”
tV: At the Q&A he was full of energy and good humour so I'm assuming that you had some really incredible moments while filming. What aspect of the filmmaking process and dealing with Ron did you enjoy the most?
DA: He does have that. I think it's the actual... that's a good question because it's not quite work and it's not quite pleasure either when you're doing these things. For me it's always the focusing down on a song or a performance moment.
I mean, think about that. To know about his work and to have travelled with him for so long and then to say to him very late in the game, you see it in that scene where we go into the flashback and the explanation of his son being the source of his inspiration, that we're going to do Speaking With The Angel.
He says, “oh you want me to play that?” and he starts it. This is only a couple months ago at tops and even at that stage, this late in the game, he plays Speaking With The Angel in the Church of the Holy Trinity in Toronto and I'm moved yet again: really emotionally moved by the performance.
He played that, and you can hear it in the film, and it's so beautiful. For me that was always the highlight with him. He's right there. He doesn't need to prepare, he doesn't need to practice, he doesn't need to to tune, he's just right there.
tV: What can we do to help get the word out?
DA: Not to sound self focused but you talk about the film. He's at a remarkable point where... we were talking about this after with Ron and his management and he's got two things: he's in a remarkable situation now where the film is leading before the record comes out.
If the audiences here in Vancouver are any indication of what general audiences will be like, and I think they are, I think there will be a lot people who may not necessarily know his stuff or who he is, so talk about the film.
Love Shines is the right title for this film. I think Ron is starting to get that. It's reflecting back onto him now. He'd wanted different... I'd always thought they were downer titles. He was thinking, “No Help at All” and I was like, Ron that's not on the cards for me, let me frame this in a way that's going to work for you and be positive. I knew it had to be called Love Shines the moment we played the demo in the studio.
tV: What are the plans for the future of this film. Where is it going?
DA: It's going to have a life in festivals and theatres first. That was the original intent with our broadcasters Movie Central and The Movie Network, and those plans are still being worked out. I think this is a great indication of where we can go with it.
Other festivals are interested. We really want to get it into South By Southwest, which times up just after the release of the record, and maybe a few others along the way.
tV: When and where can we get the album?
DA: I don't know where, but they're saying February, 2011. Warner Music Canada is the lead on that. It's not Warner Brothers, it's Warner Music Canada. Warner Brothers Records took a pass on it. We were hoping they would release it but they said no.
tV: Is there anything you are hoping people will take away from this film?
DA: I guess that by way of journeying along with Ron and following his soul searching I hope people will feel a little closer to what it means to be human. It's weird, it's that paradox where he'll say he's shy and he's nervous but what a revealing thing to do on camera. Just that idea of what individual struggle is about and how we're all up against ourselves ultimately in the end.
We've got to make a choice and I think Bob (Rock) nails that near the end of the film when he says to Ron, “you've got to decide if you're going to put that foot forward, or you're just going to end up talking about it for the rest of your life.”
tV: What was the quote he gave about fear?
DA: “everything you want is on the other side of fear.”
DA: Yah, and that's really the key moment in the film.
tV: Yes, that seemed to resonate with a lot of people in the audience. There was a bit of a buzz after he said that.
DA: Yah, there was a lot of that: a lot of murmuring, a lot of chuckling along, a lot more chuckling than I expected, which was great.
tV: One indication of how the audience really did get it, how talented this guy is, seemed to be at the point in the film when he's in the recording studio with Bob Rock and he starts to play a song on an acoustic guitar. Bob tells him to switch to the electric guitar and Ron complies gently and quickly.
It seemed to strike the audience as funny that someone so extraordinary talented would have absolutely no ego about someone else asking him to do something differently.
DA: I know the exact moment. No one's mentioned that. That was cool. Where Bob says, “Ron, you should play that on electric” and he says, “oh, ok.”
Bob was good on questions at the Q&A too. He took on that first one and really knocked it out of the ballpark. He really is a rock star, isn't he: when you see him and when he's in the room.
Love Shines rocked the Vancouver International Film Festival with sold out shows and extra screenings. Ron Sexsmith is an incredibly talented Canadian music icon whose music is devastatingly beautiful.
Canada, we have something to be proud of in this extraordinary man.
check Warner Music Canada for information on the release of the new Ron Sexsmith album. It will be money well spent.