Moviemaking on Ice: Jay Baruchel on the Transition from Acting to Directing for Sequel to Cult Hit Goon

After co-writing surprise cult hit Goon back in 2011, actor, comedian and Canadian Jay Baruchel now steps behind the camera to deliver its anticipated sequel Goon: Last of the Enforcers.

Most of the impressive cast of the first film is back, and the results are as bloody as ever. This story finds hockey enforcer Doug Glatt (Seann William Scott) attempting to settle into a more traditional (i.e. soul-crushing) lifestyle at the behest of his pregnant wife Eva (Alison Pill), after a fight with another player (Wyatt Russell as a rebellious hothead with major daddy issues) leaves him practically maimed. Thankfully, the lure of the ice (and the accompanying bloodlust) proves too insatiable for Doug to resist. For all of its crassness, Goon: Last of the Enforcers is, at its core, an earnest look at marriage and the sacrifices and honest communication required to make such a demanding union not only last but flourish.

Seann William Scott as Doug Glatt and Alison Pill as his wife Eva in Goon: Last of the Enforcers.

Caleb Hammond, MovieMaker Magazine (MM): As an actor and screenwriter, you must have been prepared for a lot of what directing entails. Was there something that you realized—once on set—that you weren’t prepared for at all?

Jay Baruchel (JB): I did my homework, and I had 20 years of on-set experience at that point, but the one thing I did not prepare myself for and was not expecting: I’m not always comfortable talking to groups of people. I think because I’d been on set since I was 12, and there’s few places on earth that I’m as comfortable as I am on set, I just assumed that that comfort would translate. Of course, I forgot that, as an actor, you’re afforded these random little moments where you can go off and mind your own business for a bit. You have a way of hiding at least a little bit throughout the day. Also, there’s rarely a time where everyone has to stare and listen to everything you’re saying. When I got on set as a director, there were multiple times a day where all the cast and crew would queue up and wait for me to tell them what the scenes would be. That was a bit of a hump to get over, because I’m inherently always nervous if I’m talking to more than five people. This was about a 100 people every day, but they were all lovely people, and I eventually got my sea legs. I figured it out eventually. Strangely enough, it wasn’t any of the technical stuff. It wasn’t any of the physical stuff of pacing myself throughout the day; I was ready for that. It was the, “Oh, yeah. People have to listen to me.”

MM: What is the technical process of shooting sequences on ice?

JB: It’s very unique, clearly, but I had been involved in other hockey movies prior. So there were lot of things that I had learned from that time. But it basically all started with number one: We’re making a movie in Canada. The vast majority of people on set can skate anyways. It started with a camera test day. Because this was a hockey movie, our camera test day was at an ice rink. We took everything but the kitchen sink: every rig we could get our hands on or conceive of—there are a lot of MacGyver things that we tried. We had this criteria: what was the most exciting image where you could still actually follow and get the proper info, and what made you feel in your stomach what it is to play the game, to watch the game live, to give a shit in your living room watching it on TV?

Director Jay Baruchel on the set of Goon: Last of the Enforcers.

I would venture to say there are few audiences in the world better versed in how hockey is photographed than Canadians are. So we have to make sure we’re getting everything they’re supposed to from the image but in an interesting way that they haven’t seen before. We eventually figured it out and came up with our three visual hero conceits: We would go broadcast first, which is meant to recreate how it’s photographed on television—with a camera on a tripod going north and south. Then we would use the coolest thing, which was our “shovel cam.” It was this thin steel plate that had four hockey pucks bolted to the bottom of it. It had this giant snow-shovel type handle coming off the ass end. We put a camera head right on the plate. Our grip Stewey put his skates on, and skated his ass off pushing the fucking thing around, chasing the action. That’s how we get all of our crazy low angle stuff. It had to be hockey pucks on the bottom, because that’s the only thing that can make the camera move at the speed of the game. Certainly when we wanted to marry our actors into the action, as you get closer and see their faces, we used a Movi Stabilizer system, which is this gear head you put on the camera which allows you to hold it handheld, but you get rid of all of the shaky high frequency stuff. It looks like a Steadicam, but you don’t have to have all of the fucking gear with it. It allows the guy holding it to skate as fast as the actors. Our doubles would run these plays that we came up with weeks ago, and we’d just attack it shooting it piece by piece.

MM: As an actor, what was your process working with the actors?

JB: I’m quite spoiled for riches on this movie. Most directors in their first films don’t have the caliber of actors, and also don’t have people, for the most part, that are friends that they’ve worked with at some point. Having already been through the adventure of the first film, there was a lot of shorthand already. But there were some new additions as well. One of the things that really helped was we made sure actors were here about a month before shooting. They each had about three weeks of hockey training together. On the first film [Goon] they got three days. Three crazy, eight-hour days on the ice and that was it. I wanted much more this time, because I knew I wanted them to meet the other skaters; I wanted the actors to gel and get along with one another, but I also wanted them to meet all of the stunt performers and anyone else that might be on the ice with them. By process of being on a hockey team together for three weeks, the new additions quickly stopped being new additions, and were quickly part of the family.

I made it very clear to them from the get-go that, “What’s on the paper is not just a blueprint; they’re not just mile makers. These are the characters; these are the stories, but I can only get it to a certain point. There’s a massive chunk of each that requires you guys to put yourself in it, and take ownership of it. When that happens at a certain point, you guys will become the authorities on the characters. So if there’s something I’m having you do that you don’t think the character would do, you have to challenge me. I want you to know that at any point, the first vibe that we’re feeling in a scene is not necessarily the vibe that we’re going to go with. We’re going to find it, and I’ll always let you guys follow your gut instinct. Know that I’ll remind you that it’s my job to keep track of everything. So there will be times when you’re meant to be on the larger end, a little more operatic, and there are times when I want you to be super small. We’re going to play with it, but you will always have the freedom to find your way and to make it yours.” I made sure they didn’t just find a way to take ownership of the characters but of the whole story.

Wyatt Russell (left) as Anders Cain and Seann William Scott as Doug Glatt.

MM: Talk to me about the unexpected success of the original Goon and how that led to this sequel.

JB: It’s something super cool. We were very proud of it. We were surprised but not shocked. Surprised just because, unless you’re an asshole, you don’t assume the best-case scenario. Especially not if you’re Canadian—you’re bred to be prepared for the worst at all times. We were all quite proud of the movie we made, but we knew it was a Canadian hockey comedy, and that’s a potentially very niche genre. So we just assumed that, “We’ll see what happens.” We didn’t expect it to open number one across the country here in Canada. We didn’t expect it to do what it did theatrically in the U.K., and we certainly didn’t expect it to become the kind of Donnie Darko or Boondock Saints cult movie that it’s become in the States. It’s really really special. I can’t stress enough how crazy it is to help create something that people have tattoos on them about. There’s people to whom the movie means a great deal, and that’s all you can ask for as a creator. It also seemed to dovetail how we all felt about the movie. We all had such a blast making it, and not just because we had a good time, but because we thought we were making something awesome. We always had more ideas than we knew what to do with, so we always wanted to do it again if we could. When we had the chance then, all of a sudden it became, “OK. We have to do this right. I don’t want to step on how awesome the first one is, and if we make a shitty follow-up that’s what happens. You make a shitty movie, and it takes away from something awesome. We have to endeavor to make a movie that these characters and these fans deserve.” And that’s what we tried to do. MM

Goon: Last of the Enforcers opens in theaters on September 1, 2017, courtesy of Entertainment One. All images courtesy of Entertainment One.

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