Scheduling an interview with the three guys behind the film “Crown and Anchor” was pretty easy, especially considering they’re coordinating their schedules from three different cities.
Screenwriter/producer/actor Matt Wells connects with the original interview call from Toronto, where he’s living the dad life, then patches in his longtime buddy Mike Rowe, also a “Crown and Anchor” actor and producer, who just arrived home in St. John’s on the red eye from L.A. Mike takes a second and brings his brother, filmmaker Andrew Rowe, in on the phone call, live from Winnipeg airport. No big deal, they do this all the time.
“It works out because when it’s 5 a.m. in L.A. and Mike’s just getting home, I’m up making school lunches,” Matt says, laughing.
It’s always like old times when Matt and Mike get together, and adding Andrew to the mix has proven golden when it comes to film projects.
Matt and Mike, former members of now-retired St. John’s band Bucket Truck, moved away from town in 2003, taking the band to Halifax and on tour. Once the band wound down about 11 years ago, Matt was hired by MuchMusic to host shows like “Going Coastal,” taking him and his family to Toronto.
Mike headed to Vancouver to visit Andrew, who was studying film, and ended up helping him out with some short videos. He took a few acting classes and got a break when he was cast as DC Comics villain Deadshot in CW’s “Arrow” in 2012.
Andrew is now a successful filmmaker with some acclaimed short films like “Vehicular Romanticide” winning top awards at film festivals around the continent. Andrew and Matt have acted in a few of the shorts, so a collaborative feature film idea was perhaps inevitable. “Crown and Anchor” is based on a script written by Matt.
The trio admits the film isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. It’s dark, it’s gritty, it’s scored with punk music, it’s character-driven, and it doesn’t sell out. There’s nothing trendy about it, and that’s exactly what they wanted.
“It’s not an easy movie to watch,” Matt explains. “I think for us, we knew when we made the movie, what we wanted it to be. We knew it would have challenges but we did it all because we wanted to stay true to the story.”
Though they applied to a variety of film festivals, they received a number of rejection letters. Festivals praised the film’s acting and cinematography but passed on it because it didn’t fit into their theme. Matt, Mike and Andrew turned down some festival offers, too – something they never thought they’d do – because they didn’t feel it was a great match with their vision.
All the same, “Crown and Anchor” has screened at festivals in Mexico (with Spanish subtitles) and in San José, where the guys got to sit with the audience and see it on the big screen for the first time.
Audiences who get it, they say, are getting it good. Thanks to features by film news outlets like “Deadline,” “Playback” and Revolver Magazine, “Crown and Anchor” has garnered some international interest. It’s set to be released in North American theatres this fall.
“Crown and Anchor” is a story of two cousins: James (played by Mike) and Danny (Matt), who grew up together in a family of hard cases in St. John’s. James moved away and became a cop; Danny stayed in town. The film sees them forced back together and dealing with their past, exploring how it defines them.
Andy Jones and Robert Joy also star in the film, as do local less heard of actors, hired specifically by Matt, Mike and Andrew with the goal of giving some new talent a break. It worked out perfectly, they say.
“There’s something really special about art that’s made at home, and there are so many talented people there,” Matt says. “There’s something about the urgency of living on the island that, despite the Internet making things more connected, is still isolated culturally and socially. Every one of the actors upped what everyone else was doing. I love that.”
“There’s some sort of healthy support and rivalry in a small place like this that lifts up a project up and moves it forward,” Mike adds. “I was really impressed with how fun it was. It was almost more exciting to work with raw talent and seeing where a scene would go with that energy.”
For Andrew, “Crown and Anchor” is not only his feature directorial debut, but it’s a bit of a departure from the comedy and neo-noir comedy that’s earned him his success so far.
“I was a little bit nervous when we started,” he says. “I found it easiest to make jokes and make things funny. I didn’t really follow what it was that I wanted to do until (the darker comedy) “Vehicular Romanticide, and then I said, OK. This is what I want. My fear is that I make something that I want to see and no one else does, but I thought, this is my first feature. I better just take the opportunity.”
Andrew was specific in terms of how “Crown and Anchor” was shot, and hopes people won’t be taken aback by its claustrophobic cinematography. It was filmed in St. John’s but there aren’t any ocean shots, and the cameras are more or less stuck to the characters. It’s all about creating tension, and it’s effective.
“Crown and Anchor” will have its Canadian debut, appropriately, at the LSPU Hall tonight, as part of the Nickel Independent Film Festival. Showtime is 8:50 p.m. and the screening will be followed by a question-and-answer session with Andrew, Matt, Mike and Andy Jones. There are a limited number of tickets still available and can be purchased by visiting www.nickelfestival.com.