I sat down with Jason James over the weekend to chat about his first feature-film, That Burning Feeling, currently showing at this year’s edition of VIFF. The film follows Adam Murphy, a real estate big shot and prolific bachelor, as his life bottoms out in the event of a contracted social disease. The result is a search for an authentic way of life, through finding honesty within himself and his relationships with others. Jason explains some of the ideas behind the movie.
So, you grew up in Vancouver, right?
I did. I grew up in North Vancouver.
In the movie [That Burning Feeling], [Roger] Whitacre’s company… I was curious to know if that was inspired by gentrification in and around Vancouver?
Yeah, totally… as a filmmaker you’re always inspired by what’s around you and Vancouver is such a condo culture. Roger Whitacre was inspired by Bob Rennie a little bit. You know the “condo king” of Vancouver. Also by this other eccentric guy named Tom Ford is where John Cho got all the mannerisms and the wardrobe. To me the themes of the film about community, I was kind of playing with the idea that people create community and not buildings. In this city we just keep tearing down our past and tearing down these beautiful, amazing heritage buildings and putting up luxury condos. The Olympic Village in False Creek is a fucking ghost town, there’s nobody there. There trying to create this culture and this atmosphere that it’s like a real village, but it’s just this concrete kind of bunker.
And they’re only putting up more.
Yeah, they’re all over the place. You know… you look at The Waldorf, this great hub of creative culture. The Ridge just got torn down this week. What is this city becoming?
It definitely plays to the title of the “No Fun City”.
Yeah. I also find the way they market the condos really hilarious. You know it’s like “The Bohemian” or “The Artiste”, and no one that lives there is a bohemian. No bohemian can afford the million-dollar condo.
A community full of oxymorons.
Yeah, so I found a lot of humour, I mean it’s sad, but I find the humour in how they market and develop those things. So, what’s happening to the city is really interesting to me. Where it’s going to go, I think Vancouver is still a city, in a way much like the movie. It’s about a guy who’s searching for his place in the world and Vancouver is still kind of trying to figure that out.
Identity crises play into the title of the movie. Obviously there’s the gonorrhea and literal pee burning, but there’s also the double-meaning…
The triple meaning! That Burning Feeling is about love, about that thing you’ve always wanted to do and have always been too afraid to try, and about the fire down low.
What’s the thing you’ve always wanted to do but have been too afraid to try?
Directing! Yeah, this is my first feature. I’ve made a lot of projects, created TV shows, worked on TV shows, produced movies. I kind of got to a point where I was helping other people tell their stories, and there was a certain point where I just needed to stop and start telling my stories. The movies that I love, which are character-driven comedies, and so my burning feeling was directing a feature in this town with my friends. I also wanted to do a film that was bold and daring and kind of crazy. A romantic comedy about the least romantic thing possible. It’s kind of like… there’s so many movies out there, so much media vying for our attention, so it’s like why not do something that raises the bar up here and turns people’s heads a little bit.
Do you see a lot of yourself in Adam then?
[laughs] Not a personal story if that’s what you’re asking. I mean, Adam is a guy that I know quite well. I have a lot of friends did everything right. They went to the right school, they got the right job, they got the cool house and they got the cool car. Then, they kind of stop and look around and are still not happy. So, Adam kind of bottoms out and needs to discover who he really is, and what he really wants because it wasn’t that thing. He didn’t realise how empty he was. That he didn’t have any real friends, he never got to know these women. It’s a search for his authentic self and authentic relationships. I guess I know a lot of people like that, they stop and go then realise “what the fuck am I doing?”
They put up the blinders and push for what they think is “success”.
Exactly. I don’t know, that’s just something else I was playing with too.
I really enjoyed how Tyler Labine’s character [Frank Purdy; Adam’s neighbour] wasn’t portrayed as the traditional, campy gay guy.
[laughs] Yeah, he’s a dude who likes dudes. It’s kind of like The Big Lebowski, a small reference to that character [The Dude]. Tyler’s such a great comedic actor. All the actors were great, really. You know, there’s what’s written on the page and every actor brought their own thing to those characters and made them really specific. I mean, I love Genevieve’s character [played by Emily Hampshire], a woman who’s stalking all the time. She’s a good friend of mine and has been in a lot of stuff I’ve done. She just makes it kind of more real. You can write that role, it can be really broad and lame, but she made it really real and grounded. We had sympathy for her.
I know I felt bad. Well, bad for her husband at home.
And again, we realize that she’s not happy and wants to do something different. She’s looking for something else. All these characters, in a way, help each other. It’s like a sexual pay-it-forward.
It was a huge cross-section of women Adam manages to gather in a month. He’s a bit of a ladies man, I mean, fourteen in a month? You really get to see him try everything.
That’s what was really exciting as a filmmaker. Working with all these women, really different talents and types of people with different approaches to the comedy. That was something I was really stoked on and you don’t get to do in a lot of movies. You don’t have a cast , I mean it was a challenge to have all these actors in the film, but also a real privilege.
It’s a romantic comedy, but it’s not a traditional romantic comedy, in the sense that it’s focused on one guy and not the romantic relationship. I mean, there was a happy ending and all that, but the meat had more depth to it.
Yeah, I mean I have a love/hate relationship with romantic comedies. Some of my favourite movies,The Apartment (1960) or Two for the Road (1967), those are great romantic comedies, but I feel somewhere along the line, like in the ‘90s, they just got really big and dumb and shitty. This kind of challenges the genre in a way, being a romantic comedy abouts something that’s really unromantic. But, it also sits firmly inside it, like it has that structure where the guy loses the girl and has to get her back.
Lose all the girls!
Yeah! So it’s sort of an homage to those films, but still kind of playing with it a little bit. Challenging the genre and poking fun at it.
Yeah, it’s almost a satire, but still remains in the genre.
Yeah, there’s a part of that, but I hope you still get a sense of how much we love those movies.
So what are some of your hobbies? You know Adam learns French cuisine, learning different languages, and fencing and all that. What do you do on your spare time?
Umm… what do I do? I mean, movies pretty much take over your whole life. Part of it was this idea of him coming out his shell a little bit. I’m the kind of person where I only do things that I’m good at. Recently I started, since I met my wife… she got me into surfing. I am so fucking bad at surfing, but I love it so much. I want to be good at it, but I don’t even fucking care. The waves crash down on me, it’s ridiculous how bad I am. This idea of challenging yourself and doing things that you’re not good at. It’s really freeing, and brings you out. That’s sort of what I was trying to show with him learning all these different things. He’s always been a winner, who knows what to say, knows how to close, knows how to get the girl. Just a winner in life. So the idea of trying stuff and failing… it’s commendable in people
Anything coming up in the near future? Projects?
Yea, I mean this movie after it plays Vancouver we’re going to Austin, Texas for the Austin Film Festival. Austin’s such a great film-loving town. Then, the movie is going to get released in Canada across the country, it’s going to air on the MovieNetwork and MovieCentral. We’ve had like three or four offers for the US, so it’ll be released in the US now. We’re just deciding which way to go.
That Burning Feeling plays next at The Rio (19+) on Oct 11 (3:30 pm)