The camera has been an impartial observer and an invasive force in films, but in Camera Shy, a dark comedy directed by local filmmaker Mark Sawers, the camera becomes the main character's subconscious.
"It just occurred to me, wouldn't it be weird if one of the characters in the movie could see the camera that was making the movie? And it kind of just stuck with me for awhile," says Sawers, taking a break from finishing the movie's sound mix before its debut at the Vancouver International Film Festival on Oct. 6.
Nicolas Wright stars as Larry Coyle, a Vancouver city councillor looking to parlay a crooked land deal into a career in federal politics.
Shortly after spending a few pleasant moments that would be grounds for divorce if discovered by his wife, Coyle notices the camerman in his motel room. From that moment forward, the camerman trails Coyle, stalking him like a shadow.
"It does sort of dwell a little bit on the presence of cameras in our lives," Sawers says.
The cameraman functions like a thieving CEO's nightmare vision of Michael Moore in the movie, tormenting Coyle while remaining invisible to everyone else.
"You see a lot of movies where characters talk to the audience, they break the fourth wall... but this was different," Sawers says.
Speaking through the screen to the audience is usually reserved for the smartest character in the movie, be it Ferris Bueller or Bugs Bunny, but what makes Camera Shy unique is the way it turns that intelligence into a curse.
"What kind of a character would have a cameraman haunting him?" Sawers asks, discussing the formation of his idea. "And that led me to politicians."
Fascinated with the scandals that season politics, particularly in the United States, Sawers and co-writer Doug Barber created a portrait of an immoral politician whose life is spinning out of control.
"I'm more interested in the concept of what kind of a person goes into politics," Sawers says. "It requires somebody that's kind of selfless because the job of being a politician is to be a civil servant... and yet the kind of people who go into politics have to have such huge egos."
In terms of tone, Sawers says his movie is similar to the darkly bizarre concoctions of screenwriter Charlie Kaufman, who penned Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
"I'm not trying to compare myself [to Kaufman], but that kind of tone where there's a high concept, kind of a weird thing going on but it's comedic," Sawers says.
While audiences are growing accustomed to found footage movies like Cloverfield and Paranormal Activity, Camera Shy belongs in a different category, according to Sawers.
"There could be no editor involved. It's not like The Blair Witch Project... in this case it's just coming out of his subconscious," Sawers explains.
While the majority of movie editing is designed to create seamless transitions, the editing of Camera Shy is deliberately harsh.
"He's imagining a cameraman and we're seeing what the cameraman sees, so whenever the camera makes a cut, it's jumping for some reason... It's never cut like a conventional movie where you're cutting for the effect of a close-up because he's saying something important and then you go to a wide shot."
While discussing the issues of privacy and technology as they relate to the film, Sawers is quick to point out the movie's intention.
"The film is a comedy, it's not like it's got a deep message about any of that kind of stuff," he says. "It's not an art film, it's a silly comedy but it's wrapped up in this high concept."
Despite covering a wide range of topics in his career, Sawers' films invariably end up as comedies.
After receiving critical notice for his short films, Sawers took a job directing the irreverent sketch comedy show, The Kids in the Hall.
Some of Sawers' work included a skit that intercut a nervous man's encounter with a large, hairy gay bar patron with the nervous man's childhood memories of a scoutmaster's tips for surviving a bear attack. "I just don't take myself serious enough, I think, to be a dramatic filmmaker," he says.
After directing several TV shows and writing for video games, making a feature film represents a departure for Sawers.
Sawers helped write the video game Turok, which centred around a hunt for a war criminal, and Def Jam Fight for NY, which revolved around gang warfare.
"I don't like to write for video games because it's just painful, but I do like to story edit," he says.
With video games, the story always ends up dueling with the gaming component, according to Sawers.
"It's a constant battle which the story always loses," he says. "You can't tell a proper story when the audience has control over it."
With Camera Shy, the story also revolves around who is in control.
"He thinks he's controlling the story, he thinks he's in control," Sawers says of Coyle. "He tries and tries to change the story but fate, like in life, won't let him, and so he's forced to go the way the story takes him."
Asked to name his favourite movie, Sawers picks the Alfred Hitchcock classic about obsessive love, Vertigo. "Interestingly, that's not a comedy, it's a psychodrama. This is a psycho-comedy," he says.
Camera Shy screens Oct. 6 at 8 at Empire Granville Cinema. More info at viff.org.