By Nicole Schmidt
When Ryerson film graduate Pat Mills reflects on his high school days, he remembers spending the majority of his time making movies with his white bichon frise, Fritz. He was an outcast, which forced him to focus his attention on the thing that interested him most – film.
“I felt like a total freak,” said Mills. “Film was something I got obsessed with when I was friendless in high school and that’s when I knew I wanted to be a filmmaker.”
Mills eventually found new characters to star in his movies. His most recent film, Guidance, which Mills wrote, directed and starred in, had its world premier at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) on Friday.
Guidance follows the fictional tale of former child star David Gold, who tries to re-establish himself despite feeling like he has already peaked in life. Things slowly begin to spiral out of control when his alcoholism and sexual repression take charge. After coming across a motivational tape, he decides to re-invent himself by posing as a high school guidance counselor and gives teenagers the worst possible advice.
Guidance started out as a side project and eventually evolved into one of Mills’ primary focuses. But because it was a smaller production with a lower budget, he didn’t expect it to get accepted into TIFF. When he received a phone call from the programmers, he was sure they were calling to tell him that his film wasn’t chosen. To his surprise, it was.
Mills drew inspiration for the character and the film from an alter ego he created based on his personality. He was formerly on a Nickelodeon TV show called You Can’t Do That on Television, so he understands what it’s like to become an adult and feel like you’ve peaked creatively and professionally.
“The character that I play is loosely based on myself, but more of a train-wreck version,” said Mills. “[It’s] based on my own sexual repression. I created this very severely closeted version of myself and I think there’s a lot of comedy to mind with that.”
Mills’ short films, which also have evident comical tones, have been screened at TIFF in years past.
But he wanted to give Guidance, which is his first feature-length film, a different approach – one that set it apart from his other projects. It’s meant to be a dark comedy.
“I hadn’t made a film since 2009 and I wanted to take a huge creative risk and risk being embarrassed and risk failure,” said Mills. “There are so many first features that fall flat and they don’t have that risk or that passion and I felt like what was going to make this movie stand out was something really ‘punk-rock, fuck you, I don’t care.'”
Mills described the process of filming his first feature like jumping right into the deep end and fully exposing himself in both the artistic and the literal sense.
“I have a somewhat nude scene where I tuck my dick in like Buffalo Bill in Silence of the Lambs,” said Mills. “I thought, you know what, now’s the time to be ballsy and just do this.”