Ginger Snaps 2

Collage Artist, Stephen Notley

Normally I'd be reviewing a movie like Ginger Snaps 2: Unleashed, but there's a thing in the reviewing game about revealing possible conflicts of interest, and in this case there's a doozy:  I drew a paycheck off the people who made the movie and my name appears in the credits as "Collage Artist".

A little more than a year ago last Christmas, I got a call from Todd Cherniawsky, a way-back buddy from a first-year Visual Fundamentals class at the U of A where he was a skinny, angular, insanely talented and hard-working guy who intended to be a production designer in Hollywood and went off and became precisely that. He worked on big movies like Sphere and Armageddon (he designed the tanks in Hulk) as well as smaller movies like the original Ginger Snaps, a smartly-written nasty little sister-werewolf flick with unusually strong appeal to girls.

Todd was back in Edmonton to make two Ginger Snaps sequels, or rather, a sequel and a prequel. The prequel was this whole other ball of wax, a period piece set at Fort Edmonton 200 years ago, but the sequel directly picked up where the first movie left off with mousy Bridgette having killed what was left of her sister Ginger.

Apparently, Todd was saying, they needed some comic/collage stuff for another character in the sequel. Would I be interested in taking a look at the script? Uh, what? Are you talking about a *job*? Yes! Of course! Jesus, what's happening?

Todd dropped off the script. In other work I have read hundreds of terrible scripts. This wasn't one, thank god. With Ginger dead, Bridgette's on her own, stumbling around injecting herself with wolfsbane to try to stop herself from turning into a werewolf. She ODs and wakes up in a detox center, so now she's addicted to not being a werewolf in the one place where they're not gonna let her get her fix. It's a bad situation and it gets worse and weirder when she gets mixed up with this bizarre 13-year-old comic-reading collage-making girl named Ghost.

Ginger Snaps: The Sequel (as it was called then) was a very different from the first film, more pandering and exploitive, not so much about the sister-sister bond, and it had some strange off-balance structural choices, with one character essentially hijacking the plot. But it knew what it wanted to be, a compact, aggressive, nasty little horror movie. There were lots of mean things in there besides werewolves --burnt skin, icky injections, dog heads, sick hospital games, and of course some icky comic-book collages.

I went through the script, made a list of all the comic pages and collages that the camera would see, grabbed a bunch of See Magazines and comics and went for my one meeting with the director, intense Brett Sullivan. He was pretty excited as we talked about mixing comics and photos from fashion mags --"Yeah! Make it really sexy!"-- and with sexy as the word I went home with a $180 per ten-hour-day job making a crazy 13-year-old's insane comic collages.

Ghost turned out to be a slippery little creature indeed. I was in the position of having to perform Ghost -- not onscreen as an actor would, but rather by performing her artwork, injecting her personality into her collages. She hadn't been cast yet, so I had no idea what she was going to look like, and even the writer and director hadn't quite figured out what her character was all about.

There were several major collages that needed doing, key images that were supposed to make relevant character points, along with a mess of lesser collages of various levels of complexity. Very soon philosophical quibbles about the character disappeared in the face of the need to simply pump out material as quickly as possible; the only surviving guideline was "try to make it kinda cool-looking".

Knowing nothing about 13-year-old girls or collages, I stole some basic imagery from a girl cartoonist I like and plunged in, spending ten hours a day drawing and cutting and gluing and markering in gunky browns and greens and yellows, doing test versions and experiments with the collages from the script. It quickly became obvious that you could dig through dozens of comics and never find an appropriate piece for a collage if you needed something specific; you had to re-draw it or scan it, Photoshop it and print it out.  

It was a little crazy-making; for a month my walls hung with images of women with their skin burned off or evil men carrying gory packages. And then at the end of the third week of January it was over. As far as I knew I still had unfinished collages to do, but Todd collected all that I'd done, trial versions and camera ready stuff, took it back to the art department and that was it. For weeks people would ask me "So you're working on that movie, right?" and I'd say, "Nope, I'm done", and then months later they'd ask "So what's up with that movie?" and I'd shrug and say "How the hell would I know?"

So is the movie any good? Well, as I think should be fairly obvious by now, I'm biased. My first viewing of it was very much a careful census-taking of everything I did, so there's no use pretending I wasn't thinking about that stuff as the movie unfolded.  There were some early blips of different kinds; it was strange to see Bridgette stumble and collapse in the alley behind my apartment. But the actors are good, and the look is pretty tight, and the icky stuff unfolds as it should, and holy smokes! It's one of my collages! It's a close-up of the guts I drew with red felt pen! Wow!

And then it's back to watching the movie. All told my three weeks of crazed hard work, hundreds of hours of intense concentration and focused work from the micro level of cutting a hairy werewolf arm one hair at a time out of a comics page up to the level of wondering what the point of the whole movie was supposed to be and how Ghost fit into that and how my work fit into Ghost --all that added up to a total of maybe eight seconds of screen time, three shots of my collages plus a shot at the end of something made out of stuff I'd done. Man, I love show business!

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