Local filmmaker Jesse Ramshaw was driving back from work, smoking a cigarette, when he was struck by the idea for a movie focused on the drug trade shot in Meadow Lake.
And suddenly the perfect line came to his head.
“The first line that came to my head, is this man coming down some stairs, and he looks at these four men and says: ‘You’re not in this business for your well-being or pride. If you wanted that you would have become a priest. You’re in this for the money.’”
And thus was the start of ‘Renegade Rat’, a film directed by Jesse, starring his twin brother Josh and featuring all local actors. The film, which plays next month in Meadow Lake, is a tale of bad decisions, betrayal and redemption, set against the backdrop of the Saskatchewan drug trade.
Jesse co-wrote the script along with his fiancée Chantal Bouvier over the course of a very busy week.
“I wrote 35 pages in four hours,” he said. “It was a very inspired day … it was like some kind of film-related possession just came over me,” he added with a chuckle.
The filming took about two months, but the full process from Jesse’s head to the big screen took nearly 10. The twin brothers started filming back in July and stumbled into a number of challenges.
For one, they had a low budget, about $1,000 or less, not including equipment. As a result, the actors could not be paid, which meant working around their schedules as most had full-time jobs.
“That also meant that once you’re off work, you’ve got to shoot while you still have light, so you’re basically scrambling,” Josh said.
Jesse also had to juggle his family life with his fiancée and young daughter.
“In a couple scenes we did, we were driving around with my daughter in the car too,” he said. “So it’s funny, because when people are watching the movie, they’ll just see this drug deal going down, but they’ll have no idea what’s going on behind the camera.”
The film, originally planned to be 35 minutes, quickly grew in scope, with a final running time of 77 minutes. The pair had previously worked on a zombie-spoof film called ‘Lifeless’, which never materialized due to cast problems.
But the twin brothers realized their special blood blond also helped with their theatrical relationship.
“When you have your own twin that’s working as the lead actor, you have trust, because you’ve grown up with this person your entire life, and you understand what they’re capable of and what they’re not,” Jesse said.
That allowed the brothers to push each other during certain scenes, and also to be brutally honest.
Jesse says the film primarily deals with darker subjects, but also straddles the line between comedy and grimness at times.
It doesn’t glorify drugs, neither does it condemn them.
“It doesn’t have like a preachy message to it, but at the same time it shows some of the effects that can happen,” Josh said. “And how if you let things, how they can spiral out of control.”
And Jesse believes the film will even resonate with people who have no interest in drugs or the street life.
“A lot of the underlying themes, like fatherhood, brotherhood, personal redemption, I think those are issues people find prevalent in their own lives,” Jesse said. “And many of those are a metaphor for things that can happen in people’s lives.”
Ironically, the two brothers grew up in a strict, religious household, and weren’t allowed to watch movies like ‘Renegade Rat’.
But their parents have still been supportive, despite the fact that it’s the type of movie “you wouldn’t bring your kids to”.
“My parents haven’t seen the film, so we can’t make a judgement call until they actually see it,” Jesse said. “But they’ve been very supportive in the fact that no matter what they’ll be there (for opening night).”
The pair originally planned on screening their movie at local and national film festivals, but were pleasantly surprised to find out there was enough interest from local theatre operators to screen it in Meadow Lake.
“We screened 15 minutes of it, and that was one of the most incredible feelings of my life,” Jesse said. “Because I had spent years going to the theatre, watching films, thinking one day I want to do that. And then I see my own film on there.”
Josh was excited to see himself on the big screen, but confirmed it does add a couple pounds.
“I’d say more like 20, but I can use the weight,” he quipped.
Jesse mostly stayed behind the camera, but does have a cameo in the movie.
But don’t expect to be confused by seeing the two twins in the same scene.
“I wanted something I can show my kids, and we have this one scene where we needed a dead body,” Jesse said. “I’m that dead body.”
‘Renegade Rat’ plays from May 17-19 at Meadow Lake’s Dynasty Twin Cinemas.