Director Tyler MacIntyre discusses his new film “Tragedy Girls,” his experience at Ryerson and working in genre film.
Director Tyler MacIntyre is proudly introduced as a local Ryerson graduate at the Toronto After Dark screening of his film Tragedy Girls.
The movie follows two best friends, Sadie — played by Brianna Hildebrand from Deadpool — and McKayla — Alexandra Shipp from X-Men: Apocalypse — who decide to kidnap the murderer terrorizing their town (Kevin Durand; The Strain). The girls then start killing people themselves, leveraging the murders to help improve their social media following. The film also features Craig Robinson (The Office) and a hilarious cameo from Josh Hutcherson (The Hunger Games).
MacIntyre, the director and one of the writers of the film, is originally from Olds, Alta. — roughly an hour from Edmonton. He double-majored in psychology and film studies at the University of Alberta, then came to Ryerson University.
After graduating from Ryerson’s masters program in media production in 2008, he moved to Los Angeles and attended the American Film Institute. This led to a position with producer Roger Corman, who has helped to launch the careers of many directors including Francis Coppola, Martin Scorsese and James Cameron.
MacIntyre then found consistent work as a movie editor while still working on his own projects. His short film Patchwork, another female-led horror comedy, became his first full-length feature and is currently available on Netflix in Canada. His most recent film, Tragedy Girls, was released in the United States on Oct. 20.
How did you find your grad school experience at Ryerson?
Tyler MacIntyre: Coming out of my undergrad, I knew what I wanted to do but I didn’t know how to do it, necessarily. It was a very Canada specific program [and] it was not 100 per cent what I was looking for.
There was a class that was conducted by a professor who used to teach at MIT, called Digital Virtual Environments, that was about new and emerging media, talking about VR and augmented reality in like 2007. That was a class that was 100 per cent ahead of its time. And that actually has been very useful to me, thinking about things in terms of how things are changing and how the world interacts with media.
Do you have any advice for Ryerson students looking to get into the industry?
Yeah definitely. I would encourage you to help each other out. If you as an individual wanted to get into the industry, I would just encourage you to volunteer to work for free on other people’s things because you will learn something every single day you’re on set or in post. You’re always encountering different problems and that will make you more confident. I would just say work on projects you find interesting and try to make ends meet whenever you can. Obviously don’t starve yourself to death, but try and follow your heart in terms of what you think could be interesting.
Right, so did you always want to work in genre film? Was that something that kind of happened?
I mean I’ve always loved genre film, to be honest, I remember very literally thinking that it would be easier to get a good job on a smaller genre movie than it would be to get a shitty job on a big budget movie and then work your way up. My entry level position was editor, which is a pretty high creative position on a large movie.
I think genre movies are interesting because you can play with the audiences’ expectations. It’s not anyone’s first film, [the audience] comes into a movie constantly trying to predict what’s happening, [so] you can work to subvert that — to try and take them somewhere they haven’t been before.
I just wanted to know, from your movies Patchwork to Tragedy Girls, why did you choose to create films focusing on strong female characters?
I tend to just go after characters that are interesting to me. Right now in genre [film] there’s been a lot of male focused stories told, and I think there’s a lot of new ground to be broken in stories that are very much rooted in a female perspective.
I thought it would be interesting to have a female Frankenstein [in Patchwork]. You know, what if we have characters that are in some way damaged, and actually find that they’re more complete together? Whereas Tragedy Girls is very much about friendship and kind of creating an environment where you’re rooting for these friends, even though they’re doing something extremely destructive.
What did you do to make this feel so authentically like high school and like a teen movie?
I essentially looked at a lot of high school movies that I love, like Three O’Clock High — revisiting a bit of John Hughes and stuff like that. I really wanted to position it more in the 90s, and have [it be like] that edgy teen girl movie that you don’t really see a ton of, other than Heathers and Jawbreaker, and to a certain extent Mean Girls. We [also] borrowed a lot from Ginger Snaps, and we kind of mixed all these things in a blender to try and take what we’ve seen work in other films and apply those to a different narrative we could try and improve.
One of the overarching themes in Tragedy Girls was social media. So what are your thoughts on social media, or perhaps the millennial or teen obsession with it?
Ultimately this movie is satire, and I kind of fall on the oldest side of millennial. I grew up with the internet, I’m still young enough to be savvy with it. I think older generations like to accuse millennials of narcissism because in their mind you wouldn’t print out a bunch of photos of yourself and mail them to everybody, so therefore, why would you post a selfie? I think it’s a lifestyle difference. I don’t see it necessarily as very narcissistic, but I thought it would be very interesting to take this accusation and equate it with real life psychopathic narcissism, just see how absurd that is.
I just wanted to talk a little about the casting process. How did you guys get Brianna Hildebrand and Alexandra Shipp involved? I know you mentioned that you got them after they had been in Marvel movies.
We brought on Lisa Beach and Sarah Katzman, some of my favourite casting directors. They have done some of my favourite comedy ensembles such as Jawbreaker, which I mentioned, but they also did Wedding Crashers, so they’re kind of legends. Once they were able to come on board we started comparing notes with them and we had Brianna and Alex on both our lists.
Is that how you got Josh Hutcherson involved? Through those casting directors?
They thought that Josh was kind of a long shot, but one of our producers is a personal friend of Josh’s and he kind of floated the idea to Josh. We got him to take a look at the script and I met him for lunch. He’s never done a cameo role, only has played lead roles, and they’re often more serious and kind of action-y, but he’s actually a very funny dude in real life. I was really hoping he’d do it, and then it worked out with his schedule.
So you just mentioned Craig Robinson, so what was it like working with him?
Craig’s awesome. He really liked the script. So he came on as a producer first. Then I think he became a lot more open to acting in the film. Craig’s a sweetheart, he’s a great performer, great improviser and really great. He just kind of elevates everything that he’s part of.
Tragedy Girls premiered at South by Southwest in March and was released on Oct. 20 in the United States, though its Canadian release date is still unclear.
Watch out for MacIntyre’s next project, Nightlight, which was sold to Sony’s Columbia Pictures and is being produced by Robert Shaye and Vincent Gatewood at Unique Features. It’s described by MacIntyre as a “messed up version of Home Alone.”
Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.