Canadian filmmaker Ed Gass-Donnelly got his first big break in the bathroom. His play “Exercises in Depravity” made a splash in 2000, receiving considerable press because it was staged in a woman’s restroom. But he foundered immediately after that, he says, having trouble making the transition from the familiar world of theater to film (his father, Ken Gass, founded and runs Toronto’s Factory Theater).
In the early ’00s, he worked on a movie-of-the-week and made a handful of shorts, funded by Bravo. Then at the age of 26, he dusted off an old play called “Descent,” developed it for six months, and after getting turned down from Telefilm Canada, decided to make it anyway. The resulting film, “This Beautiful City,” a gritty urban drama about two couples spiraling out of control, garnered four Genie nominations.
His follow-up, “Small Town Murder Songs,” was made in record time: from script to screen in 10 months, premiering at the Toronto film fest last September. Originally conceived as a more experimental project inspired by the Fembots’ concept album “Small Town Murder Scene” (Gass-Donnelly had directed musicvideos for the band), the project evolved into a more traditional narrative about a troubled cop (played by Peter Stormare) trying to solve a murder in his small Mennonite community.
Stormare’s transformative performance stands out as further proof of Gass-Donnelly’s talent for directing actors. “I say to them, ‘Trust me that I’m not going to stop shooting until you’re brilliant and that I’m a really good editor,’?” he says. “I know I’m good at finding the interesting nuances that the actors hadn’t initially attended, and sculpting performance, because I’m emotionally sensitive to the arc of the characters and the actor’s process.”
Moving forward, Gass-Donnelly plans to stay prolific. “I have eight movies in development,” he says. “And I don’t want to do the same thing twice.” Foremost on his plate are two genre pieces, a horror film set in northern Canada called “Permafrost” and a supernatural thriller tentatively titled “Lavender.”
“I didn’t go into this intending to produce, direct and edit everything I make, but there’s a power in independence, and I don’t want to spend the next three years trying to get one particular project off the ground. The one big advantage is that I can get movies financed in Canada in a much more feasible way than my American counterparts.”
Inspired by: “I’m more influenced by editing,” he says, citing the nonlinear structure in Steven Soderbergh’s “Out of Sight,” the jolting and unapologetic cuts in Michael Haneke’s “Code Unknown” and Gaspar Noe’s brazen “I Stand Alone.”
Agents: Manager: Jennifer Levine, Untitled
Richard Ayoade | Daniel Espinosa | Ed Gass-Donnelly | Elgin James | Patrick Lussier | Baran Bo Odar | Andre Ovredal | Denis Villeneuve | Juanita Wilson | Jason Winer