One of the more striking films in the Short Cuts Canada program is Kire Paputts' Animal Control, the story of an amateur taxidermist and his relationship with a dog he finds struck by a car at the side of the road. Paputts was good enough to answer a few of our questions.
Can you describe the origins of the story? Where did the character come from?
The story is a combination of three things...
1. Being dumped by my long-term girlfriend.
2. My friend's dog dying.
3. A Kids In The Hall skit where Bruce McCulloch plays this strange guy who lives in some industrial warehouse and drives around at night picking up road kill with a small camping shovel.
I guess the stars aligned or something because the script just flowed out of me. There weren't many revisions either. The shooting draft is basically the first draft. In terms of the character, I tend write stories that focus on the outsider, the misunderstood, the underdog, and the loner. Safe to say there's also a bit of me in there, especially because of where I was at personally. (See point #1)
When you settled on Larry being a taxidermist were you concerned at all about the response if you showed the taxidermy sequences in detail?
The taxidermy sequence was always a delicate issue and there were numerous discussions and feedback sessions. In the first cut of the film the sequence was about four minutes. Now it runs just over one minute. There's something to be said about "less is more", but I think by not showing anything, it can give off the vibe of low production value. So, we were definitely walking a fine line. I didn't want to lose my audience but I also didn't want to shy away from the graphic nature of taxidermy either. Showing the procedure gives the viewer a real sense of Larry and the reality he is stuck to. I also wanted to use that scene to foreshadow Larry shedding his own skin by the end of the film. There were way more graphic shots we could have used, but that sequence isn't about cutting up a raccoon carcass, it's a glimpse into the art of taxidermy, an art form that I'm fascinated by. Even taxidermists themselves are fascinating people. The majority of taxidermists I met were total characters, people I wouldn't let baby sit my kids...if I had any.
Where did you get all the animals from?
Riffing off the above answer, I got in contact with fellow named Bill Jamison, who has the largest collection of shrunken heads in the world. He also has a basement storage space on the Danforth underneath a Shoppers Drug Mart. My producer, art director, and myself met this shady guy, who Bill had hired to let us into the storage space, in a narrow dark alleyway. He was a taxidermist from Brantford Ontario. Enough said. But, once we descended into the storage cellar, there was a good five-minute period where I thought I'd never see my family again. I remember him telling me about his childhood, where instead of playing sports he would find dead things and cut them open. However, once we saw Bill's collection of stuffed animals we were blown away, not only by the quantity but by the quality. The majority of his collection was from the early 1900's. The taxidermy process was different back then, the preserving chemicals weren't as good and they stuffed them with sawdust. So, half of animals were falling apart, which created an interesting aesthetic and made Larry seem like an amateur taxidermist. I must add that not all taxidermists are nuts. The guy I hired for the film, Calvin King, was unbelievably professional and as soon as I found out he had a family I felt a little safer inviting him into my home.
Julian Richings has such an iconic look to him. Could Animal Control have happened without him?
Without Julian, Animal Control would be a totally different animal. Pun intended. Because Larry has no dialogue, I needed an actor who could carry the film solely through body language and facial expression. Julian was at the top of my list from the beginning. Not only is Julian a great actor, but he has such a distinct look. My cinematographer was in heaven because there's no bad way to light his face. On top of that, Julian was a prince to work with. I'm use to hiring "actors" off Craigslist so to have someone with that level of professionalism and talent was a blessing. Julian believed in the film and was always willing to do whatever it took. When I think back to the amount of shit we subjected him too, mostly the smell, it's a true test of his character that he stuck it out, because it would have taken its toll on anybody.
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