The Rise and Fall of the Grumpy Burger is a documentary by Matt Gallagher about local moviemaking legend Marshall Sfalcin as he tries to make the leap from self-produced b-monster movies into serious storyteller. By making a movie about his family’s Hi-Ho fast food restaurant chain that operated famously here in Windsor for several decades from the 1930’s, Marshall hopes to expose the truth, that it was his family that invented fast food. It is an exciting glimpse into the passion of a man that is a driven moviemaker and a proud Windsorite.
The Q&A following the presentation featured filmmakers Braunte Petric and Matt Gallagher. Braunte started things off answering questions about how the idea for her documentary Defender came to her.
“I’ve worked [with the subject of the documentary] maybe just over two years now, the idea came to me last year, and it was actually for TVO, and that’s what started that.
Julia is this amazing woman that’s been through so many challenges, like in that video she was actually going through chemo. She’s done so much and she’s done so much for other people, fighting for people.” Braunte remarks.
What was the most difficult part of producing the movie?
“By the time I found out this contest was out I had two months to make it, and then in the middle of that my grandmother actually ended up in the hospital. So, I ended up having to throw that together. I had less time than I wanted to be able to direct it, produce it, and get a proper story created. I had to use what I got, and the most difficult part was trying to put something together in less time than I expected, but trying to still to find a powerful story that would come across in -I only had 4 minutes and 55 seconds for the contest.”
When did you make the movie?
“It was right after I graduated. I ended up entering the contest a week after I got my diploma.”
The focus shifts to Matt Gallagher.
Why that film at that point in your life?
“I graduated the University of Windsor, I’d done a little half hour short, much in the spirit of pulling it together at the last minute, but this was the first film that TVO gave me a chunk of money. I sold them on the idea of this character from Windsor, Ontario named Marshall who was this filmmaker that wanted to make a real movie about his grandfather who he claimed invented fast food in North America so whether that was true or not it was irrelevant to my film. I thought to myself I can probably spend some time with them, between the two brothers I had filmed a lot with them … probably at least 70 hours of footage at some point. We had already struggled with the edit … I hadn’t worked with Nick Hector before, and Nick had a great reputation of doing documentaries, he met with me and he watched the footage and said, ‘I think we got something here’.
“Nick and I have done another 6 or 7 films now.” Matt Gallagher adds.
The relationship with Marshall’s grandmother really humanizes him, was that a decision during filming?
“My camera was a moth to the light when I saw his grandmother for the first time, I was like, ‘that could be the film just him and his grandmother’, so any opportunity that I could get just to spend time with him and his grandmother I thought was great for the film, and really just an interesting relationship that I’d never seen before. His grandmother owned this old salon that hadn’t had a customer for 25 years, but she still cut Marshall’s hair.”
What year was it filmed?
“I think 2007 was the final date that we put the edit together. But that film took three years to make, so we probably started filming it in 2004, so we were shooting on a little Sony PD-150, standard definition, it took a long time … we didn’t know what the story was, and we had to wait for Marshall to finish, that’s the thing about some documentaries that you get into, you can have a great beginning, great middle, but if you don’t have that end, then you have to wait for it all to come together. Now I do things a little differently.”
Why did Marshall like making movies in Windsor?
“Marshall could only answer this himself, but from what I know about Marshall, what I remember about him at this point, was that he wanted to stay in Windsor, he liked Windsor, he grew up here. He had a bit of a chip on his shoulders about Toronto filmmakers, and Vancouver filmmakers and filmmakers in Hollywood, and how much it takes to make a movie and all we need is our passion and our stories. Marshall was a big supporter of anything Windsor and loved this city, and I think for him he saw it as a badge of honour to be able to produce shows like ‘Ten Dollar Tales’ and these other movies in a city like Windsor that you don’t expect to see that, at least in 2007 that was something new, now I see that … Windsor has been featured in a lot of other films, but at that point there wasn’t much here.
Theodore adds: “And that was before Youtube really kicked in, and just the idea that they had this show on local cable was amazing, I remember flicking through channels and seeing it, it was this cool grassroots thing that predates, or prototypes it.”
How did you overcome the amount of footage in order to pull a story from it?
Nick Hector said, “Whenever anybody talked about the Hi-Ho, it was incredibly dull, but the second that it was between you two then everything pops. It became easier.”
Did you intend to be a character in the film?
“No, I didn’t want to be a character in the film. I hate being in films. I’ve been forced to narrate a couple of films, and I always get dragged into it kicking and screaming. It’s my intention not to be into it, but Marshall pulled me into the story. His conversations with me were interesting when it came to art and what’s real and what’s not real and what’s documentary and what’s not. He forced my hand and made me be in the film. At the end of the day, we just looked at the content and what he had on tape. The footage will dictate your story. If you’re looking for a true story, you just have to look at the footage.”
Conflict in the story between the brothers, how much were you involved in pushing them to finishing the project, and pushing them so that you could finish your own project?
“I couldn’t finish my film unless they finish their film, and at that point they were probably three years in or so and I was just done. I didn’t want to do this anymore … either finish the film or don’t finish the film, but Tuesday night I’m showing up there and I’m filming because I’m going home after this. I think it was my soft-threat that actually got that screening happening, good or bad, it was an ending to my film, but at that point I was tired, as I’m sure they were.”
How do you get somebody to give you money to make a film?
“The technology now is amazing – 4K and 6K and now you can do it so much easier, and the editing software is so friendly. I still struggle, I’ve been making documentaries for twenty years, and we still start from scratch every time we go into a broadcaster. In Canada, there’s only a handful of broadcasters. There’s TV Ontario, and they only do 13 a year, and CBC might do another 26. You’re competing against me and every other filmmaker in Canada, it is going to be very difficult to get a green-light on a production and when you do you should thank your lucky stars. What I would do, and what I did do in the beginning is I just made them on my own. I made a half-hour film on my crazy Uncle Terry who lived in downtown Detroit. I did another little calling-card drama that actually Ted (Theodore Bezaire) volunteered with lighting and production assistant. You can’t wait for a yes from a broadcaster, you have to go and make your film and hopefully get it into a film festival; but that short about my Uncle, it got into Hot Docs which is a good documentary festival in Toronto, and it got into a festival in Michigan, but that little calling card film was enough for TV Ontario and CBC to take me seriously when I got them on the phone the next time. There’s a thousand ways to do it, and I don’t want to pretend that I know the secret code, that’s the way I did it, and I would recommend for first time filmmakers to make a calling card film.”
There you have it, Windsor, follow your passion and make your movies, your subjects are out there in the city waiting to be discovered. The next, and final screening in the U of W Alumni Filmmakers series is Jack Brooks: Monster Slayer, has been postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.