By Troy Hasselman, March 23 2020—
James vs. His Future Self, Jonas Chernik’s time-travel comedy that has played to strong responses at festivals across the world, is set for it’s theatrical release across Canada on April 3, including screenings at Calgary’s Eau Claire Cinema. The film has received high levels of acclaim, including nominations for four Canadian Screen Awards and four awards at the Toronto After Dark Film Festival.
James vs. His Future Self stars Chernik as the titular James, a young scientist obsessed with inventing time travel to the detriment of his personal relationships. He is visited by his future self (Daniel Stern) who attempts to get him to stop his experiments and focus on his relationships before he alienates all of those around him because of his consumption with his work.
Chernik originally had the idea for a film about time travel over 20 years ago and spent the interim period figuring out how he would make a movie about the subject. It wasn’t until 2015 that the project began to fully gain traction for Chernik after he worked with the director Jeremy LaLonde on another project.
“I wrote this thing after many, many years of wrestling with trying to figure out what my version of a time travel movie would be,” Chernik says. “I knew I wanted to tell a time travel story and it took me 20 years to figure out it would be a comedy and would mostly be about the characters and not the time travel.”
It wasn’t until 2015 that the project began to fully gain traction for Chernik after he worked with director and co-writer Jeremy LaLonde on another project.
“In 2015, I acted in a film called How to Plan an Orgy in a Small Town, directed by Jeremy LaLonde,” Chernik explains. “He and I had a great experience working together and after that we said ‘Let’s figure out something to write together’ He said ‘Do you have any ideas?’ I said ‘I have this one idea’ and I pitched it to him and he loved it and we expanded it and spent two to three years writing it and then we made it and here it is coming now to a theatre near you.”
Chernik says the idea for the movie originated from his travels through Europe in his early 20s, with the project going through different plans for presentation such as a one-act-play before the movie was made.
“The first inkling of the idea goes as far back as my early 20s when I went backpacking through Europe. You say ‘I’m going to find myself’ and I didn’t find myself in Europe, but then I started to imagine ‘What if I did actually find myself?’ Like if I wandered into a cafe in Belgium and there was me sitting there and I had a conversation with myself,” Chernik says.
Before he pitched the project to LaLonde in 2015, Chernik was picturing an odd-couple scenario for the film with him living with his future self and dealing with the hijinks that would stem from that.
“I always knew it was going to be about the older version of me trying to steal the life of the younger version,” Chernik says. “Whether that be to steal his girlfriend or steal his job, but then it evolved into the older version trying to steer the younger version in the right direction and steer his life and teach him from the mistakes he made. We wrote about 20 drafts of it so it really came a long way.”
While Chernik co-wrote and starred in the film he doesn’t see James as a reflection of himself. Though he does admit the two share attributes.
“James is not me but we definitely share a lot of attributes,” Chernik says. “It wasn’t a huge stretch for me to get into that head space. The hardest part was probably that James is not a social creature. I think he lacks a particular ability to empathize, I don’t think he always understands how his actions or words impact others. I’m the opposite of that, I’m oversensitive of that stuff to a fault, that’s probably the most challenging part of slipping into the character of James and to turn that social knob down and dial it back.”
“There’s always this moment when writing something I’m going to act in where I take off the writer’s hat for the first time and put on the actor’s hat, usually just as we’re heading into production,” Chernik says. “I stop looking at the script as a writer and start looking at it as an actor who is preparing a role. It’s fascinating that I always find huge things to address as an actor where I’ll come back to Jeremy, my co-writer, and say ‘James would never choose to do this. How could we have written this?’ It’s almost like a schizophrenic experience. I see the material through a different lens and it always helps and enriches what we’ve got.”
The film’s cast has some familiar faces, including Tara Spencer-Nairn of Corner Gas fame, Daniel Stern from City Slickers and Home Alone and Frances Conroy, best known for her starring role on HBO’s Six Feet Under.
“[Tara] vowed never to play a cop again after Corner Gas but we begged her and showed her the script and she agreed,” Chernik says. “Daniel Stern is an icon and we grew up obsessing over his movies and seen Home Alone, City Slickers and Diner dozens of times. That was a dream come true. The biggest surprise was Frances Conroy. We thought ‘We’re never gonna get her, but let’s offer it to her and see’ and hopefully we’ll get a quick no but we got a quick yes. She called 24 hours later talking about how much she loved the character and wanted to do it. It was a dream scenario putting this cast together, we got really lucky and everybody was great in it.”
The film’s music, from composers Stephen Krecklo and Ian LeFeuvre, has also won acclaim, including two Canadian Screen Award nominations.
“The final piece was the music,” Chernik says. “We got these amazing composers, Ian LeFeuvre and Stephen Krecko and they put this great original music, which by the way, the movies have been nominated for four Canadian Screen Awards, two of which were for music — Best Original Score and Best Original Song.”
The film runs at a clean 90 minutes, but got to this running time after a painstaking phase of edits that cut down 40 minutes of the film’s running time.
“I remember watching that first cut and immediately thinking, ‘Oh, how are we going to cut anything out of this?’ Because you’re so in love with what you’ve made and you’ve worked so hard on it,” Chernik explains. “Then you start taking pieces out and saying “Is it necessary if we don’t keep this piece in?” There’s entire subplots we shot that we thought were integral that came right out and made the movie better and made it move faster. It’s always a difficult process, there’s a lot of back and forth and arguing and it’s all to do with making the movie better. Ultimately we got through and we’re better for it.”
While Cineplex cinemas across the country have temporarily closed until April 2 in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, James Vs. His Future Self is set to open on April 3 in theatres across Canada, including Calgary’s Eau Claire Cinema.