Thursday, March 19, 2015

FATHERS OF WOLFCOP: Interview with Lowell Dean, Leo Fafard, and Emersen Ziffle

by Aaron Allen

WOLFCOP -- the tale of drunken cop Lou Garou and his transformation into a gun-slinging and whiskey-pounding werewolf at the hands of a demonic conspiracy -- is the latest in a long line of kooky Canadian genre exports to hit VOD, DVD, and Blu-ray, sparking the imaginations of horror fans the world over.

After competing in and winning the Cinecoup Film Accelerator challenge and getting picked up by Raven Banner Entertainment, Wolfcop became an instant hit with fans and has developed a carnivorous cult following among connoisseurs of horror and outlandish comedies. With Wolfcop screening this Saturday night in Hamilton, ON on a double-bill with werewolf thriller Late Phases at Fright Night Theatre, Horror in the Hammer interviews the three men we could call the fathers of Wolfcop, each responsible for giving distinct life and look to Canada's favorite beast with a badge: Lowell Dean (writer/director), Leo Fafard (star), and Emersen Ziffle (special effects makeup).

Wolfcop aims to conquer the independent horror film world
Horror in the Hammer caught up with the Wolfcop crew at the Anchor Bay booth at Fan Expo 2014 in Toronto, Ontario. Under a huge banner of a naked Wolfcop (ala George from Seinfeld), heavy promotion was underway to spread the gospel of Garou with interviews, a screening of the film, and a hair-raising, full-costume appearance by Wolfcop himself. Upon meeting Dean, Fafard, and Ziffle, the trio definitely struck us as a more-than-meets-the-eye crew of unique personalities. Lowell Dean, a reserved, soft-spoken, and unassuming director, was not the kind of man one might expect to hatch an idea like Wolfcop, but one need only speak with him to realize he's as hardcore a movie buff as they come with a seriously intense appreciation for the power of ridiculous cinema. Flanking Dean was star of Wolfcop, Leo Fafard, also not the kind of man one might expect to see surrounded by the conspicuous nerdiness of a comic convention. Fafard was high-energy, extremely outgoing, and undeniably mischievous. We'd be lying if we didn't spy a bit of Wolfcop's bar-brawling wildman twinkle in his eyes. And knitting the two together was a true FX whiz kid, special effects makeup artist Emersen Ziffle, who looked like he'd be just as comfortable quietly holed up in silence surrounded by moulds, latex foam, and rubbery fake body parts as he was eagerly chatting it up on the convention floor about sci-fi, horror, and the magic of monster-making. And as we soon learned by talking with these three talented gentlemen, it is precisely their unique and contradictory personalities that helped give Wolfcop his own.

Wolfcop's a Director's Best Friend

It all begins with Lowell Dean, whose previous credits include the zombie horror feature Eeire 13 starring American Mary's Katharine Isabelle. Where exactly did such a twisted idea as Wolfcop come from, and how much of himself does Dean see in his creature creation?

"I’m just really messed up," Dean admits with a laugh. "A lot of the tone and the story is in me, but hopefully very little of the character. Wolfcop is just a dark, twisted tale and I just really enjoy movies that are really ridiculous. There’s a feeling that we've seen everything. Superhero movies, especially. Origin movies, especially. For me, I always do think of Wolfcop as hopefully a fresh origin story for a character and an anti-hero and fun. I was just saying that my favorite movie of the summer was Guardians of the Galaxy  because it brought fun back to a genre that we've seen people desaturate and pull the fun out of."

Maybe that love of the fun and ridiculous best comes out in Wolfcop's infamous sex scene. Yes, kiddies, Wolfcop features a hazy softcore sex scene straight out of a late night Cinemax flick between a woman dressed as Little Red Riding Hood and a nude (and very hairy) Wolfcop. It's silly....and also hilariously awkward.

My what know....
"That’s the thing," said Dean, "I thought it would be really funny and we hoped it would be funny, but I have yet to be in a screening where anybody laughs in that scene. They just go quiet. They only start laughing when they’re smoking after it."

Clearly, shooting a werewolf-on-woman love scene was not without its complications. "You know, I felt oddly at home shooting that sex scene," Dean commented when asked. "I don’t know what that says about me. It was one of the scenes I was thinking about before there even was a script. I was thinking, we had never seen a woman and a beast. It’s either two humans or two beasts.

With scenes like these and full-on sequences of gleefully gory carnage, souped-up muscle cars, gun play, explosions, and monsters on the loose, Wolfcop's one hell of a ride, especially for the midnight crowd where Wolfcop has found some of his biggest admirers.

Dean has seen it first hand. "It’s like a mathematical equation," he says. "The later the screening has a correlation to the enjoyment. I’m sure liquor’s involved too."

But it's not just just drunken Canadians who are grooving to Wolfcop. The film also went on a highly successful European festival tour that had UK audiences, in particular, howling.

"It’s actually, knock-on-wood, shocking the response that the movie is getting outside of Canada," said Dean. "I’d actually argue it’s getting a better response outside of Canada than within Canada. . . . Maybe in the UK, a small Saskatchewan town is oddly bizarre and charming."


The Man
Speaking of "bizarre and charming," two words could not be more endearingly apt to describe lead actor and the man under the fur: Leo Fafard. Born and raised in Saskatchewan, Fafard has more camera and technical credits to his name than acting roles, but you wouldn't take Fafard for anything but a seasoned and hardcore character actor for the way he brings Lou Garou / Wolfcop to life. It takes an actor with true dedication, and that special blend of "bizarre and charming" quirks we mentioned, to endure the hours of makeup required to make Wolfcop a reality on set and then endure the same process to promote the film in full makeup by jumping out of airplanes, scaring up interest on the streets of Canada's major cities, or shaking hairy palms at horror conventions. We caught Fafard just before he underwent his Wolfcop transformation for Fan Expo 2014 to ask him about becoming one of the most recognizable indie film characters in the Canadian genre scene. Given the popularity of Wolfcop through online social media, does it translate into the real world? Do people recognize him on the street?

The Monster
"Pretty rare that anyone puts the two together," Fafard tells us."I guess Lou Garou is just not that recognizable in person. Because I pretty much look exactly like him most of my day-to-day life. My hair is the same. I’m usually unshaven and mostly unkempt.  But you know, it does happen and it’s kind of weird, and not just in our hometown of Regina either."

Wolfcop's definitely a wild man. There must be some kind of catharsis in being able to lose oneself in the character and, perhaps, act in ways one couldn't in normal life, don't you think?

"I don’t know if I act any way that I wouldn't outside of the costume. I’m a bit of an ‘acter-outer’ anyway. I don’t conform very well to society’s rules and regulations as it is. But as far as there being a cathartic moment or change from being Leo Fafard / Lou Garou to Wolfcop. . .  I like to sleep in the [makeup] chair for the most part. [Emeresen] does his thing, and I go to my happy place, and I know that when I wake up or when I sit up and [Emeresen’s] done, I am somebody else. I get a chance to go into the character a little bit, so there is a real transformation that happens. When I get up out of the chair and throw the suit on, I definitely feel there’s something else in me."


As Fafard said, the mad scientist responsible for bringing out his nner wolf is none other than Emersen Ziffle. Ziffle helped create the look of Wolfcop for the original pitch trailer and stayed on the project to work closely with Lowell Dean to reshape Wolfcop's look for the final feature.

"We really loved the trailer and how angry and scary he was," Ziffle explained, "but we really wanted to bridge the gap between that and what Leo brings to the table as a character. We did about 10 designs and gradually whittled it down to something that retained a bit of humanity but kept it kind of scary."

The original look for Wolfcop was decidedly more feral and frightening, with black eyes and deep cracks in his face. What inspired his initial look?

Ziffle explains: "I tried to do more dog-like features. If you’ve ever seen in a dog’s mouth they have this weird black lip thing that goes from fur to that and is just like this flappy fold of skin. I tried to incorporate that."

Fafard becomes Wolfcop at Fan Expo 2014
Such attention to detail and Ziffle's willingness to experiment, work on the fly, and fuse Lowell Dean's vision for Wolfcop with Leo Fafard's take on the character made him an invaluable asset to the success of Wolfcop. In fact, we had to wrap up our interview because we were going to lose both Ziffle and Fafard to the makeup chair where Ziffle would transform Fafard into the beast in full view of the Fan Expo audience before unleashing him on a murderous rampage of photo opportunities. Clearly, practical makeup effects were at the heart of what made Wolfcop so great. So we thought we'd pose writer/director Lowell Dean one parting question:

If he were given this Faustian deal -- 200 million to make WOLFCOP 2 but Wolfcop had to be computer generated -- would he do it?

Playing Wolfcop really gets under the skin
"That’s a really tough question," Dean said after a pause. "How the hell do you turn down 200 million dollars? Maybe Emersen can design the CGI model? Honestly, if we had a budget of 200 million, I would be fighting and pushing really hard to do as much practical as possible. I think there's a real resurgence of practical effects. Look no further than the new Star Wars films. All you hear is that they're trying to do as much in camera as possible. I don't think that's by accident. I’m sick of movies with no stakes. I’m sick of a thousand digital ships fighting a thousand digital ships.  Practical is grounded and it's real and it usually keeps things more intimate, as a rule."

Of course, Leo Fafard had to have the last word.

"If you had that budget," he deadpanned, "you could make Lou CG and Wolfcop practical."

Come experience Wolfcop for yourself this Saturday at FRIGHT NIGHT THEATRE. 9:30pm. $10 advance, $12 at the door, or $15 on a double-bill ticket with LATE PHASES at 7:30pm. 

The Staircase Theatre - 27 Dundurn St. N., Hamilton, ON


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