INTERVIEW - AIDAN CHEEATOW ON WRITING/DIRECTING BEDLAMITE (2018)
Aidan Cheeatow is a writer-director from Toronto, Canada. He has experience making short narrative, documentary, and alternative films. A graduate of York University’s Film Production program, Aidan’s work largely explores family structure and weighing the importance of nature versus nurture.
Q: What was the motivation to make this short film?
Aidan: I think my fascination with human behaviour and the nature versus nurture debate is what led me to making Bedlamite. The idea initially came to me as an observation of family dynamics where a boy is clearly exhibiting alarming behaviour, but his parents are largely unaware. As I started to break down the characters and try to develop the family relationships, religion (Catholicism in particular) quickly became a significant element in the story from a nurture perspective. There is a lot to analyze socially and psychologically when you place a boy with psychopathic tendencies in a deeply religious family setting. Within this structure of competing developmental influences: environment vs brain chemistry, a thriller naturally presented itself.
Q: It has strong thriller elements. Did you have any specific references or inspiration?
Yes, I certainly took inspiration from a variety of films. As I was writing the script it was immediately clear to me a short thriller film was emerging, we referenced films like: Prisoners, It Comes At Night, Loveless, and Afterschool. I also read a few books, most notably, Confessions of a Sociopath by M.E. Thomas and Why They Kill by Richard Rhodes.
Q: How did you go about the production design?
The art in Bedlamite speaks to the efforts of our Production Designer, Lachlan Anderson, and his careful attention to detail. Designing the crucified squirrels to look real while also malleable enough to be fastened to makeshift crucifixes was the most obvious challenge we were presented with. The squirrels were actually made from real squirrel furs (all of which we purchased from a very spooky store, in a very spooky building that only sells dead things... Spooky). Lachlan used the furs essentially as the shell of the body of each squirrel. He lined each fur with wire so they would fit on the crucifixes easily, and filled them with stuffing to make them look full and three dimensional. It was quite a disgusting process to watch.
The other major piece of production design for us was the melted action figures and barbie dolls. Our Art Director, Kerim Banka, was hugely involved in designing the network of red string in the forest and experimenting with melting toys (muahaha). Rigging all of that up took a long tedious effort. Our incredible art team had actually spent a few hours stringing up all of the toys and positioning the squirrels after a long morning, but I found a better location close by and they redid the entire setup no questions asked and it looked amazing!
Q: The locations all feel very full and atmospheric. How did you manage to lock-in those specific places?
I’m really into using locations with personal meaning to me, so I try to incorporate as many familiar spaces as I possibly can into my films. I live in East York, Toronto and I have my entire life. I find there’s a simple authenticity to most of East York (especially east East York). The residential neighbourhoods have an understated, but warm atmosphere to me. I used my friend’s childhood house that I spent a lot of time at as a kid for the main location. All of the exterior residential locations were filmed in and around different parts of East York. The ravine entrance we used is actually the entrance to a tiny little ravine at the bottom of another friend’s childhood street. The actual ravine we used for the crucifixion scene was filmed in Taylor Creek Park.
Q: This was your thesis film at York University for their Film Production program back in 2018. What was the experience of making something like this through an institution like York?
I definitely found it much easier to make a film through the film school pipeline than independently from an administrative and financial perspective (if I ignore the cost of tuition). Having now made several short films independently post-York, there are so many advantages your production receives from the program. Cheap production insurance, the ability to use Actra talent, access to studios, post production facilities, and screening rooms, all incredibly valuable and helpful resources I got to use free of charge (again, ignoring the cost of tuition). In addition to all of the above, I also had the guidance of the professors and the enormously helpful feedback. When I began pre-production on my first independent film outside of school, the absence of all of the above became immediately apparent.
Q: Do you recommend the Film Production program at York University?
I will say yes, but with a few caveats. I think you should go to film school with an open mind, looking to meet people who you want to make films with. I think film school really can toughen you up to criticism and taking feedback well. And I think film school can be good for holding you accountable for your filmmaking decisions, but I think all of this only applies if you can maintain your self-confidence as a filmmaker. It is definitely easy to be persuaded into making certain kinds of movies - every film school has its own philosophical approach to filmmaking, York is no different. It’s easy to get stuck in the film school bubble, but it can be a very helpful bubble if once you’ve learned and used what you can from the program, you are able to step outside of it.
Q: What are you working on now?
I have a handful of short form projects: a short drama I wrote and directed, a music video, a short documentary I did the cinematography for, and a really cool short horror film I helped produce last summer, all expected to be released in 2020. I’m also in the process of opening a small production company that we’re getting ready to launch in the coming months.
Q: Is there a place where people can find your work/ contact you?
For sure! You can find all of that stuff on my website https://aidancheeatow.com/.