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On Patterson’s Wager & Comic Books, An Interview with Corbin Saleken & Garry Chalk

Patterson's Wager poster

By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)

University of Victoria

Victoria, BC
Tuesday, June 14th, 
7:00pm and 9:15pm

Also available on iTunes and other VOD platforms.

O. Corbin Saleken’s independent film, Patterson’s Wager, is not necessarily a tough to categorize movie. There are light elements of fantasy and a dash of comedy woven into a charming romantic tale about a dorky insurance agent, Charles (Fred Ewanuick, Corner Gas) trying to find that perfect moment to propose to Audrey (Chelah Horsdal, Hell on Wheels). But when he gains psychic powers that allow him to see into the future by a few minutes, just what can he do with it? Can he use this ability to find that special moment or save the day? This product could have moved like M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable. There’s no villain here but there’s a quest to discover what’s special between two people.

Within this film is a side story about a young girl’s relationship with grandpa which ties into the main story in one huge way. I don’t want to say too much about it since it would constitute a major spoiler. I was very drawn to this secondary narrative because it features one of my favourite all-time performers in a very genial role: Garry Chalk. He’s the voice of Optimus Primal in Mainframe Entertainment’s Beast Wars and played Colonel Chekovin Stargate SG-1.

Folks interested in this quirky film can find it on iTunes Canada and USA. It’s also available on other streaming platforms like Amazon Instant Video, VHX and Vimeo, along with making continued presences at the film festivals. This movie won many awards — like the Best Independent Feature Narrative award at the Winnipeg Real to Reel Film Festival and the Golden Honu for Best Foreign Feature at the Big Island Film Festival in Hawaii — since debuting last year.

This product is a very intelligent film. The story is really about Charles insecurity. He’s kind of like Chuck from NBC’s spy comedy from 2008, struggling with self-worth and identity — who too gains abilities he can not quite control. Although he’s secure in the fact he loves Audrey, just how he can move forward to advancing his relationship with her is in doubt, especially when he has this ability to see in the future.

This film is smart and witty, and I had a chance to talk to the filmmaker and voice legend. Ewanuick and Horsdal are the stars, but for me, Mr. Chalk won my heart with his grandfatherly role. His presence made me feel like I was watching Tom Bosley from Happy Days. Seeing him made me miss my days with grandpa when I was a wee lad.

O Corbin Saleken, Director.

Corbin, could you please introduce yourself to our readers unfamiliar with your work?

CS: I’m a Vancouver-based filmmaker. I’ve been making short films for a while now, and Patterson’s Wager – which I wrote, directed, produced, edited, and self-funded – is my first feature film.

Who inspired you to become a filmmaker?

CS: I’ve loved the movies ever since my Aunt Pam took me to see Bambi when I was three years old. There’s nothing quite like sitting in a theatre and being swept away by the story and characters on the big screen. Delivering such a transportive experience to an audience is very appealing to me. I suppose my other reason was simply to make the movies that I, myself, want to watch. The latter was definitely what motivated me to create Patterson’s Wager.

Do you think this movie will appeal to comic book fans because of its setup of an unlikely protagonist getting “mutant” psionic abilities?

CS: Well, I think this is a hard film not to like. As a 30-year comic book fan myself (my favourite day of the week is Wednesday, when the new comics are released), I can say that what appeals to me with comics, or with any story, for that matter, is originality, and I definitely think that this movie is original.

The plot involves a man, played by Fred Ewanuick from Corner Gas, who discovers that he has the unpredictable ability to see two minutes into the future. Now, in a typical comic book, these “powers” would likely propel the protagonist into some crazy battle against a costumed villain, or it’d involve some big mystery, or convoluted plot; in other words, the typical way to deal with a premise like this is to go big, to make it life and death, to have super high stakes.

I wasn’t at all interested in doing something like that. What I was interested in exploring was how would a normal guy, and his normal girlfriend, deal with a gift/affliction like this. How would this singular fantastical element affect their everyday lives?

So, if you like watching stories that unfold in ways that surprise you, that also make you feel really good when they’re over – whether you’re a comic book fan or not – then I’m confident that Patterson’s Wager will appeal to you.

Was it easy to get the people you wanted to play for all the key roles?

CS: Thankfully, we got all of our first choices – everyone said yes, pretty much right away – so, yes, between me and Alex, we did have all of the specific performers in mind. Except for Michelle Creber, who plays the 13-year-old Otter. We didn’t know girls of this age, which meant that we had to hold auditions for this one role. But it’s the only role for which we did this. Michelle got the part pretty much the moment she walked in the door, she was that good.

Charles (Fred Ewanuick) and Audrey (Chelah Horsdal) wait in anxious anticipation.

What is it like working with Fred Ewanuick and Chelah Horsdal?

CS: Working with these two high-calibre actors could not have been a better experience. We shot this movie in just 12 ½ days, and a big reason why we were able to do it was because people like Fred and Chelah were involved. They’re consummate professionals (as were all the actors) who were always prepared and ready to deliver, so we pretty much got every shot in one or two takes, except when we were dealing with a technically complicated dolly or Steadicam element.

What was also great about Fred and Chelah was how well they understood the characters. There were a few occasions when they’d come to me and suggest a different line, or suggest the elimination of an unnecessary line, and they were always correct in their assessment.

How did you get Garry Chalk involved? I’ve been a long-time fan of his voice-over work in animation, and the narration he gave is spot-on. 

CS: I worked with Garry on my last short film, The Vehicle. That experience went so well that when it came time to make my first feature I knew that I had to have Garry on board, so I wrote a part specifically for him. He’s got such a great screen presence and, of course, a wonderful voice. I knew that I wanted to take advantage of both of these things, so I made sure that I gave him an opportunity to do some voice-over work in the film, too.

GC: Corban is a very personable director. He cares a lot about his projects and for the people who work for him. And when he showed me the script for Patterson’s Wager, I saw that it should be fun. I said I’d love to do this. It incorporated elements of science fiction and the paranormal in it.

One of my favourite scenes is with Garry by the fire when the entire family is out camping, and talking about the one big cryptozoological legend of the Pacific Northwest. What can you tell me about the genesis of this material?

CS: The voice-over itself was actually recorded on location while we were setting up for Garry’s fireside scene. He went off into the woods with Anton Thomas, our sound recordist, and the two of them recorded everything that you hear in the finished film. I wasn’t even there when it happened. Garry did a few different takes of every line, so as to give me some options. When I eventually listened to the recordings I couldn’t have been more pleased. It was a real pleasure getting to lay down Garry’s voice over top of the images.

GC: I just played my normal genial self (laughs). I knew all the actors in this piece (Michelle and Alex). I knew them all personally from the get-go. [The scenes featuring us] was basically just us being a family and having fun. The only direction we had was in how would you be telling stories and that’s exactly what we did.

Otter’s Grandpa (Garry Chalk) at birthday party.

Garry, what was your grandfather like? Did you draw upon your experience with him when creating your character?

GC: My grandfather was a hardcore dock worker and was very stoic – you never got anything out of him. He wasn’t that much of a personable type, but my mother’s – there was a guy named John whom I knew a few years ago. He had that sort of genial nature about him and that’s who I thought about. I’m not one of that kind of method actors who look for characters in other people. I develop what’s within me and who I am and put me in that situation. The core essence of any character you play is yourself.

How do you think the legend figures into this tale?

GC: When I think about all the stories I heard in the past and we talked about how they worked, I knew I’m just going to use one of those stories I heard in the past and tell it. I’m a storyteller anyways. It was pretty easy to make that come to life.

CS: Personally, I think people often believe the stories they want to be true, which is fine (I certainly do this), but the important thing is to recognize that this is what’s happening.  At the very least, it might make us all a little more tolerant if we acknowledged this about ourselves and each other.

What would you say to people unsure about seeing this film, since it’s not an atypical kind of light fantasy romantic drama?

GC: This film features no guns and no violence… it’s just a really nice family friendly story that crosses all boundaries and I just love the story.

CS: If you like seeing original stories, if you like watching a movie unfold in ways you can’t predict – which is an increasingly rare experience to have these days – then you should come out. If you like watching funny, heartfelt, well-acted movies, you should come out and watch my film. If you like feeling really good when you walk out of a theatre, then you should definitely come out to the Cinecenta on Tuesday, June 14th, and check out Patterson’s Wager.


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