When Michael McGowan was writing the script for One Week, his 2008 film starring Joshua Jackson, he wanted to do two things: create a love letter to Canada, and tell an important story. Finding the right balance between the two was a difficult -- but vital -- piece of the puzzle.
"I like celebrating what's great about Canada without making it a Tourism Canada ad," McGowan explains. "I try not to hit people over the head with a gallon of maple syrup."
So, McGowan took a risk by giving One Week a dark premise: When Ben (Jackson) is diagnosed with Stage 4 cancer, an oddly prophetic Tim Hortons coffee cup convinces him to travel across Canada on his motorcycle to the West Coast. Along the way, he falls back in love with his country, while also rediscovering his purpose in life.
Says McGowan: "I wanted to start with the worst thing possible, and then, at the end of the film, see if it could have been the best thing possible: examining Canada while examining mortality at the same time."
After reading the script and meeting with McGowan, Jackson was up for the adventure. Soon after, the low-budget production was travelling through Canada and showcasing some of the Great White North's little-known landmarks.
"We didn't want him to go to Lake Louise or Niagara Falls. He stopped at the world's largest fire hydrant or the largest TV," McGowan says, adding that many
locations were chosen on the fly -- notably, when their production bus broke down outside Thunder Bay. "When Ben is looking at a storybook in a diner, that was just the gas station we pulled into. It was like, 'Can we shoot here?' 'Oh, yeah, sure.' That's the way we rolled."
One of the best days of filming, McGowan says, was the one day the NHL allowed them to film with the Stanley Cup. In the film, Ben happens upon a skating rink where a Canadian hockey player has brought the Cup for one day.
"When the Stanley Cup's around, everybody's in a good mood, for some reason," McGowan chuckles.
Honouring Canada has become something of a theme for McGowan, who also directed this year's Score: A Hockey Musical. Although tonally, Score is vastly different from One Week, both showcase the wonders Canada has to offer.
"Both films obviously take place in Canada; they could be made anywhere else. But if you're going to set them in Canada, then why not romanticize it like other films do with New York or Paris or wherever?" McGowan says.
But, ultimately, what's important to McGowan is the story. Through films like One Week and Score: A Hockey Musical, the director wants to show his love for his country while also connecting with viewers around the world.
"If you're going to 'roll up the rim,' that's something we can use, because it's so ubiquitous in Canada -- but it's still a plot point that works internationally," McGowan explains. "If it's just trying to be Canadian for the sake of being Canadian, we won't get that far."