Raise your hand if you are a professional wrestling fan that refuses to watch movies about your favorite pseduo sport since you know it will make fun of of your life long hobby while also making you feel like an idiot. (Raises hand.) Now meet director Robert Cuffley. Cuffley directed 2016’s Chokeslam, and did the seemingly impossible: make a good movie about professional wrestling that did not insult or depress fans. Not one to allow himself to be boxed into one description, Cuffley has directed films that have dealt with a myriad of topics. AiPT! spoke with the Calgary native recently. AiPT!: How did you get your started making movies?
I started on super 8 in the early 80’s. Fantastic memories. I would film with friends, send the film to a lab, wait a month, then splice it together using liquid cement and project it in my bedroom. It never occurred to me in a million years I could do this for a living. The feeling I got showing people these short films is still with me now. It drives me. It’s never quite the same as being a kid, but it’s close.
AiPT!: You have said that you wanted to be a filmmaker since the seventh grade. What have been the biggest influences on you?
Influences change over time. When I was in 7th grade, it was all about Raiders, 2001, Blade Runner, etc. Throughout the years it has been several things, but one that has stayed with me for a long time and remains an influence is Sex, Lies and Videotape. The seeming simplicity of it all, beautiful performances, told in a way to tell the story without bells and whistles. It’s the ultimate independent film and it continues to energize me.
AiPT!: You have been directing shorts since the late 1990s and features since 2001’s Turning Paige. Do you have a preference?
Time between movies is often three or more years. It can be a lonely time creatively. But with short films, I’ve very recently caught the DIY bug. I don’t have to wait on funding bodies or a big crew, I can just go and do it. Anyway, I shot a short horror film last summer and it’s doing festivals right now. It was so enthralling that I just shot another one in Vancouver two weeks ago.
The journey of making a feature is much, much more in depth and all consuming, so for that reason, right now I’m all about shorts because the turn around is so fast. But that’ll change when my next movie gets into production.AiPT!: You may treat professional wrestling better than any movie director ever. Were you a fan or was it just the vehicle for Chokeslam?
Thank you. We strived for that. I should say that it was also my co-writer, Jason Long. I was a fan, but he was/is a super fan of wrestling. That in addition to real life wrestlers being on set (Mick Foley, Lance Storm, Chelsea Green, Harry Smith, etc), made it easier to do things realistically.
Calgary, where I live, is the home of Stampede Wrestling and Bret “Hitman” Hart. I grew up watching it on a tiny television with mono sound. Many local kids of my generation had it embedded into their brains at an early age.
AiPT!: Chokeslam is lighter in tone than the rest of your work. Why did you decide to make a comedy?
It may seem like an odd choice, given the tone of my three previous films, but since films are in development for SO LONG that sometimes, by the time you get it funded, you’re in a completely different headspace than when you originally conceived of the idea. Chokeslam took 11 years to get financed. That’s not to say I wasn’t doing other things during that time, but there was still more than a decade between first draft and the beginning of shooting. But what attracted me to Chokeslam remained a decade later. It’s my John Hughes movie.
AiPT!: You have used a lot of the same cast in your films. (Amanda Crew, Michael Eklund) How did these working relationships come about?
Essentially, if I work with someone and enjoy it, I look for opportunities to work with them again. Canada is large geographically, but the industry here is very small compared to the U.S. So you do tend to see many of the same actors in work from your peers. Amanda Crew and I hit it off on Ferocious (movie prior to Chokeslam) and with Michael Eklund, it goes back even further to 2008 when he auditioned for the same part he ended up getting. He auditioned with ham (that’s right I said ham) in his pockets. To get into character. That sealed the deal.
AiPT!: From wrestling rom coms to dominatrix, your films cover a wide variety. At their core many have a similar theme of a young woman trying to cope with life’s struggles. Is this intentional?
It’s not intentional, no. I was just doing what felt right at the time. People love to group you into categories, but I feel like, for the most part, I’ve eluded that. Yes, female protagonists have been in my films, but never because I thought I’d want to be known for that. It just ended up that way. Future projects stray from that.AiPT!: Canada has made great theatrical contributions but you rarely hear about the Canadian film industry in America. As a Canadian, why do you think that is?
As mentioned, Canada’s motion picture industry is quite tiny compared to the U.S. A lot of us move down there and find success, others try only to return. Typically the P/A budget on a Canadian film is so ridiculously tiny, that it’s hard to get ANYONE’S attention. It’s a crowded market. That said, I know many Canadians who are welcomed with open arms into the U.S. simply because their work “feels different” than that of an American citizen.
AiPT!: What future projects do you have upcoming?
I’m really taking a deeper interest in horror, so I have a horror movie I’d like to make next year that’s going to be so fun it’s ridiculous. Not for kids. And on the other end of the spectrum, I have a kid’s superhero movie I’m developing, which is fun for entirely different reasons. And I have a television show in development. And at this very moment, I’m editing a horror short entitled ROMI.