Bruce McDonald is one of the most renowned directors in Canada. But rather than relish in his many notable film accomplishments, he’s put his expertise into directing select episodes from the new live action Teletoon series, MY BABYSITTERS A VAMPIRE, after directing the TV movie back in 2010. But it’s not his first time directing a Canadian teen series, as his resume also includes directing episodes of READY OR NOT, FLASH FORWARD, DEGRASSI, and INSTANT STAR.
The Mag got the chance to chat with Bruce about his work on the show, Canadian teen sitcoms, supernatural beings, and much more:
You have done quite a lot of work on Canadian teen sitcoms. What do you particularly like about working on MY BABYSITTER’S A VAMPIRE?
Well, I’ve always liked horror and creatures and all that sort of stuff when I was growing up. And I liked the cheekiness and the smartness of the script as well. It reminded me a little bit of MAD Magazine, poking fun at pop culture and things like TWILIGHT; that sort of thing. That really appealed to me.
What are some of the challenges with directing a supernatural show for young kids?
I guess…being careful not to turn kids onto Satan, you know? When you have any supernatural things—in television, especially—there are fast days doing all the special effects, being out at nighttime and animals and different things…it’s a lot of juggling. It’s a full house, so to speak, a big, full house to keep it all up and rolling through the whole thing. It makes for a busy show—not just people talking in the hallways, having interesting conversations, running about…it’s like an extra level of production and complication when it comes to executing these kinds of magical elements.
You mentioned before that you were a fan of supernatural stuff growing up; where there any in particular that you were a big fan of?
Oh yeah, stuff like the TV show, THE TWILIGHT ZONE, which is kind of supernatural. There’s PLANET OF THE APES, also a very powerful message to me. COUNT DRACULA, THE WOLF MAN, FRANKENSTEIN, I loved all those guys. You know, I love sci-fi and horror…all that stuff.
When directing tween/teen shows, do you ever feel pressured to establish issues like bullying or is it something that you naturally want to convey in the episodes?
No, I’m always a big fan of the issue being slipped in there and trying to let it first tell a good story. I think, with kids’ television, it’s overdone in a way; sort of like we’ve got to teach the kids something. They’re getting something educational out of this and I’ve always felt good about making it the more inferior project among projects and making sure we’re concerned with the story and the character first, and those things will or can be addressed as the second tier issue…I don’t know.
You want to make sure that the issue isn’t beaten into them…
Yeah! I mean, there are a lot of very elemental issues for young people, internet, for example. I remember the first day of doing the new Degrassi and the first episode was about a girl who meets somebody on the internet. She’s thirteen, he’s thirty, he’s obviously being…weird. And these issues can obviously be the foundation of a great story. But for younger kids, somehow I feel that, handled badly, kids can smell that they’re being taught something and will run from it rather than run to it. Striking a balance is key.
Would you say that some of the characters on the show were like you growing up, like are any of them a young portrayal of you?
I kind of identify with those guys, but, you know, they’re starting their first year of high school…I wasn’t a sports guy or a cool guy or…whatever the other things are. I’m just this intellect making superhero and zombie movies, my little cache in a bizarre sort of way. Yeah, I was one of the kind of nerdy, intense kids that loved MONTY PYTHON and like surrealist, bizarro things. I think I secretly yearned to be part of the cool people but never got quite—well, not even remotely close. [Laughs]
In the episode “Friday Night Freights,” it had the character, Coach Ed (Clé Bennett) going “jocks and nerds” a lot…
It was great! Did you like that guy, Cle Bennett, who played the Coach?
He was fantastic! Was there any specific person who you drew his character from?
Gosh, I’m trying to remember…I know Cle, the actor, mentioned something early on when he came in about his name that he was channeling specifically and I just can’t seem to recall it right now. Cle is just a really fine and great actor, so I was like, “Wow, we got Cle Bennett! This is awesome!” And he just did this super job.
Were there any other particular fun characters that you loved in the series?
Well, I was quite fond of Ari Cohen, who played the dad. [The parents] are not in it that much, but…uh, the grandma. She’s pretty funny, cookin’ up her potions and things. It was just fun, and I wish I could have done all of them. There are a lot of fun guest stars and people were enjoying coming onto the show because the scripts were quite smart and clever and the main cast were very generous and hard-working, terrific actors. So, there was a good vibe going on.
After working on shows in the mid '90s like READY OR NOT and FLASH FORWARD—how have you noticed Canadian teen sitcoms changing over time?
That’s a good question. Um…I don’t really know! … I think I just saw some of that new teen sitcom, LA COMPLEX, about the actors living in a kind of DEGRASSI house just trying to make it. Maybe the writing’s getting better?…I guess people like to think that things are getting more edgy and tackling more complicated issues, but you look back at say, the early DEGRASSI and you’ve got kids flying off the roof on acid. We might be surprised to know that things are getting much more conservative and much more locked down. I don’t know if I’m really in a position to see the overview and go, “Oh, that’s true.”
What is your favourite Canadian kids’ show of all time—either one that you’ve worked on or one that you watch?
I tend to do more of making them and don’t really have time for the “watching” part…I would say DEGRASSI is up there in the pantheon. I’ve worked on a bunch of those and they’re always full of surprises, drama and strange hilarity. But kids’ shows, uh….growing up, it was like…THE FOREST RANGERS.
Is there anything else that you’re working on, show- or movie-wise right now?
Right now? Let’s see…well, we’ve kind of got the big cauldron going, so we’re looking in for forward permission. So we’ll receive those instructions, I think, in the next few weeks. But now, we’ve got a scary movie, we’ve got a musical movie, and a few other things. So we’ll see what the film gods will allow us to work with.
Thank you, Bruce McDonald! Catch MY BABYSITTER’S A VAMPIRE Thursdays at 8pm on Teletoon.
Photo's courtesy of Teletoon Canada.