Wholly Cinema Interview with Writer/Director Allan Hopkins.

Blog post by Ross Munro for Wholly Cinema.

Every aspiring filmmaker dreams about making their first feature film- but be careful as you just might get what you ask for. Suddenly finding yourself on a set in charge of a moveable army of cast and crew all looking to you for direction while the clock and budget tick away precariously (not to mention the harsh fallout of not having enough vegan catering options) is not for the faint of heart.

But luckily Vancouver first time filmmaker Allan Hopkins was able to bring his debut feature “Indian Road Trip”-  which celebrates his indigenous culture and roots with both humor and warmth expertly and deftly-  to the cinematic finish line as it makes it’s World Premiere at the now-playing (online version) of the Whistler Film Festival until December 30.

Full disclosure: I was actually featured in the cast of the film (my performance as the bad guy character “Ned” has been described by some critics- those mostly related to me- as a cross between a mid-career Jack Palance and a budding Lana Turner…I’ll take that…).

So, as I was on set throughout the filming of this amazing project, I can attest to the passion, drive and positivity of the director (not to mention writer and producer) Hopkins as he inspired cast and crew to help support his artistic vision on this film. We here at Wholly Cinema are very happy indeed that Allan was very generous with his time to reconnect and chat about his experiences making the film (and to remind me as well that the production was still waiting for me to refund my excess meal per diems during the shoot- just kidding…).

Hope you enjoy the interview!

Wholly Cinema: What inspired you to make your new feature “Indian Road Trip”?

Allan Hopkins: When I left my television journalism career at CTV, I decided I was going to write screenplays. So I got all the books, took courses, read scripts and listened to all the podcasts and ended up writing a TV pilot or two and some features but they were all very high concept.

But no one was really interested in them- partly because I was a new writer and didn’t know what I was doing but partly because the writing looked like everything else that was out there. But then I got an email from a friend encouraging me to send a screenplay to the Whistler Film Festival’s “Indigenous Screenwriter’s Fellowship”- but, after realizing I just can’t do this high concept stuff, I decided to write something personal. So I had been kicking around the idea for a film about an indigenous road trip so I thought I’m going to dust this idea off and that became “Indian Road Trip”. 

I reflected on my life as a teenager and then as a young man in my early 20s living on the rez- all the people, and the cars and the humour and quirky characters there and the original short version of the script all came together in a matter of days. It was ten pages at the time. So, after thinking nobody’s going to like this, I submitted it and it got in. I was shocked. I didn’t think my own personal thoughts and experiences were going to resonate with people but I was floored when everybody there fucking loved it. Eventually a producer read it and said I should send it to Telefilm as they were looking for indigenous scripts.

Writer/Director Allan Hopkins (posing in front of car)

So I expanded the screenplay to a feature and sent it to Telefilm’s “Talent to Watch” funding application and they really liked it and the next year I honed the script through the screenwriting workshop of Praxis up in Whistler and that’s where I met my eventual Executive Producer Andrew Currie who also became my directing/writing mentor for “Indian Road Trip”.

Then we got the money from Telefilm to make it in 2017 and next thing you know we’re on location shooting seven or eight or nine pages of script per day- it was crazy. I was able to shoot one or two takes, a couple of angles and then it was on to the next shot.

But, basically, the inspiration for the film was the humor, the characters, the situations and the idea and theme of when is it time to leave your home because there’s kids everywhere on the reserves- they’re very isolated- who want to leave because there’s no opportunities for them there. And how do you just walk away but not feel as though you’ve left everyone behind.

Actors: Ajuawak Kapashesit (Hank) & Paul Grenier (Cody)

WC: What were your biggest challenges directing “Indian Road Trip”?

AH: We just didn’t have a lot of time to shoot the film- we had to move from shot to shot very quickly. We had little to no rehearsal time except just before the cameras were about to roll on a take. But in a way that worked out because it gave a sense of spontaneity and innocence when you see it on screen. But overall the community where we filmed at was very welcoming and the crew really stepped up and gave it their all- people really got behind the film.

I didn’t really have anything horrendous happen during the shoot but they were very long days and it takes a toll when you’re trying to shoot so many pages of script per day. I definitely learned by trial by fire and I’d do it all over again in a heartbeat.

Cinematographer Vincent De Paula (seated in the middle)

WC: While making the film, were you surprised by anything or experienced anything you weren’t expecting?

AH: I was actually pretty sure of what I was trying to do with the film. Many more people had more experience than me on the set but I always had my own creative vision of the film and how it was supposed to look. I was really confident in my cast and very happy to get the cinematographer I wanted- Vincent De Paula- and I also learned that I can turn on a dime as a director when something doesn’t work out.

And I surprised myself that under that pressure I was able to weave and move and make things happen- I didn’t get bogged down with things. Overall, I was able to move and the cast and crew were able to move with me so that was a pleasant surprise. Of course, the first day on the set I was terrified but then things settled down as I concentrated on getting the shots I needed to tell the film’s story. It’s a nice feeling when all fear disappears and you’re just focused on getting what you want to get.

Some of the cast of “Indian Road Trip”

WC: What’s your next film project now that “Indian Road Trip” is being launched into the world?

AH: I’ve got several projects on the go. I’m working on a couple of feature films including one called “Cloudstriker” that’s my take on the residential school system that’s set in the 1930s and reflects the narrative structure of  “The Magnificent Seven” and “Seven Samurai”. It’s about a young man who escapes from a residential school where he and several of his friends are being abused and ends up recruiting indigenous warriors only to return to the school and free the children and exact a little revenge on these horrible people who run it. It’s sort of an alternate reality idea like “Inglorious Basterds” in that nothing like this ever really happened but the film will celebrate indigenous strength, resilience, intelligence and courage and shows indigenous people in a victorious mode.

I don’t feel like I’m finished telling indigenous stories- I have several that I’m working on. I’ve got a bunch of stuff happening and I’m really happy about that.

Buy your virtual screening tickets for the World Premiere of “Indian Road Trip” here (until December 30):

Whistler Film Festival

Viva la cinema!