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You’ve lived in Toronto since 2007, but you were born and bred in Vancouver. What did you learn about filmmaking here?
Everything. I went to film school at UBC. When I applied, I had to submit a film, and I had no idea what I was doing. A friend’s boss had a Super VHS camera, and I’d written a little script called Solitaire that was, in a way, a love letter to Vancouver. It all took place in the West End and around Lost Lagoon. I was also inspired by my childhood home, but I didn’t know it at the time. It was a very modest house, but it had elements of every era. I remember we had gold fern-printed foil wallpaper, with royal-blue carpet and red velvet chairs, mixed with this sort of nubbly beige couch. It was a house probably from the 1950s that had a lot of ’80s elements—a very extreme look.
Why did you leave town?
In 2006, I had three short films at the Toronto film fest, so I got a lot of press that year and a lot of buzz. I met with a commercial production company, and it became clear that there was the potential to support myself by making commercials. I really liked the idea of that because my ideal form of filmmaking is obsessing over the tiniest details, and in commercials it really does work that way. The mechanics of fitting something—some emotion or some joke or some look—into 30 seconds is very scientific.
Your debut feature, For a Good Time, Call…, is unlike your previous work. It’s a sex comedy co-written and produced by Lauren Anne Miller, who’s married to Seth Rogen, and by Katie Anne Naylor. Why did they think you were the man for the job?
I’m still flabbergasted and relieved that I got it. I think they considered themselves unvisual; I don’t agree with them, but I don’t think they were able to “see” their film. So when they saw my films, it was clear that my vision was very precise, and so I think they were like, “Let’s jump onboard that!”
Was it difficult to make the transition from short films and commercials to a full-length feature?
I didn’t consider it any different. My short films are so much more visual and so much more formal and arty than the commercial work, but I consider every project the same: I visualize its ideal form and I go about executing it. Making this film involved many different muscles that I hadn’t used before, but it was so fast and dirty that there was no time to think, “Oh my God, how am I going to do this?” You just do it! I think that applies to everything I’ve made.
After its premiere at Sundance, the movie sold to Focus Features for over $2 million. Is Hollywood knocking down your door these days?
What I got is this influx of sex-comedy scripts, and I wasn’t interested in any of them. I’m very fearful of being pigeonholed. But I’m starting to read great scripts, a whole new calibre—films that already have financing or are at studios, or where the producers have specifically thought of me. The next decision I make, for the next film, will be the most important decision of my career.
Focus Features bought Travis’s indie sex comedy, which hits theatres Sept. 7, for $2 million. It’s not the first movie Focus has scooped after Sundance exposure. In 2010, The Kids Are All Right (a four-time Oscar nominee, including best picture) sold for $4.8 million