What: Gone South: How Canadians Invented Hollywood
Where: Vic Theatre, 808 Douglas St.
When: Saturday, 7 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m.
Tickets, info: thevic.ca
Who can blame Leslie Bland for wanting to pinch himself, just to make sure he was awake while he was making Gone South: How Canadians Invented Hollywood in Los Angeles?
It wasn’t just because Bland and co-director Ian Ferguson got to interview several L.A.-based Canadian show-business achievers. They included legendary game show hosts Monty Hall and Alex Trebek, producers Arthur Hiller, Ted Kotcheff and David Shore, actors Neve Campbell, Alan Thicke and Dean McDermott, funnymen Howie Mandel, Will Sasso, Harland Williams and Dave Thomas, and music producer David Foster.
And it wasn’t because Bland’s home-away-from-home during filming was the historic Safari Inn, the retro, neon-lit Burbank hotel featured in movies such as True Romance and Apollo 13.
It was what the Victoria-based producer and former Kaleidoscope Theatre artistic director describes as “my childhood dream day” that he remembers most about producing the light-hearted documentary that exposes the influence Canadians have had on American pop culture.
The duo’s peppy, tongue-in-cheek documentary that intercuts colourful interviews with self-mocking Canadian showbiz luminaries with animation, archival footage and a historical overview, makes its Canadian première at the Vic Theatre on Saturday at 7 p.m., followed by a 4 p.m. show on Sunday, with both filmmakers in attendance for both.
“That’s a day I will never forget,” said Bland, recalling a particularly memorable day.
It began with his on-camera interview with Tommy Chong and climaxed with Bland and Ferguson interviewing Newfoundland-born actress and former Playboy Playmate Shannon Tweed, who is married to Kiss frontman Gene Simmons, at the couple’s Beverly Hills mansion.
“That’s kind of what got me into this business in the first place,” Bland said. “I got my start listening to Bill Cosby and Cheech and Chong and imitating their routines. I shouldn’t even have been listening to them at age nine.”
Although Bland only asked Chong three questions, the comedian kept talking for an hour, riffing on the origins of their classic Dave’s Not Here routine.
The big highlight, however, was when they taped the Tweed interview and “Shannon Tweed’s husband,” as Ferguson jokingly told Simmons he’s regarded in Canada, suddenly appeared.
Bland, a proud member of the Kiss Army back in the day, was beyond thrilled.
Other highlights shooting in L.A., or “Canada’s fourth-largest city” as it’s referred to, included hamming it up with Canadian actress Erin Karpluk and Tracy Thomas, the singer-songwriter whose attempts to make her mark musically bookend the film, and stifling laughter to avoid audio problems while a mischievous Mandel cracked Ferguson up.
Bland and Ferguson also have fond memories of being offered muffins, coffee and fruit by Hall of Let’s Make a Deal fame and Marilyn, the Winnipeg-born nonagerian’s wife of 67 years at their Beverly Hills home.
The filmmakers had burgers and beer at Kotcheff’s West Coast contemporary home on Mulholland Drive and hung out on the Jeopardy set at Sony Studios with Trebek after the Sudbury, Ont.-born host had taped five consecutive shows during a 14-hour day.
Ferguson, the award-winning author and humourist, and Bland approached more than 110 Canadian celebrities after word spread “through the Timbits grapevine” about the documentary produced by Less Bland Productions with assistance from the Canadian consulate in Los Angeles.
The final cut features 32 Canadians, including historical references to influential Canucks such as London, Ont.-born movie mogul Jack Warner; Mack Sennett, the Quebec-born director who discovered Charlie Chaplin; and “America’s Sweetheart,” Toronto-born Mary Pickford.
Another challenge was having to rein themselves in and ruthlessly edit an abundance of choice material.
All was not lost, however. They found a home for some killer extra material on the film’s website (gonesouthdoc.com).
Other online highlights include Kotcheff reminiscing about the making of The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz; Alan Thicke’s recollections of when his much younger son Robin called him while he was in Norway to tell him about the commotion Wayne Gretzky was causing while staying at his house; and Trebek playfully complaining about the location of his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, and revealing it has a crack in it.
There’s also a game called Canuck, Not a Canuck that challenges visitors to identify which famous individuals are Canadian, and a risqué monologue on American health care by comedian Renee Percy.
Before this weekend’s première, the film was selected for 18 festivals in North America and the Cayman Islands, including showcases in Edmonton, Hamilton, Boca Raton in Florida, New York and four festivals in Los Angeles. It won best documentary at the Glendale International Film Festival.
“It’s been really interesting to see how different the reaction has been between Canadian and American audiences,” Bland said.
“Canadians get all the in-jokes, but the Americans have been really receptive. You hear comments like ‘I had no idea he was Canadian! Him, too? Wow.’ It’s really cool to hear that.”
Bland said it is especially gratifying having the film make its Canadian première in their hometown at the suggestion of Canadian distributor Kinosmith.
“Robin [Smith, Kinosmith CEO] championed it early on,” said Bland, whose film is destined for Superchannel. “We’re very grateful.”