If your first thought after watching Monkey-Love, Please Hold is “What the actual f*ck?”, you’re not alone. Much like an unconventional sexual habit, such as masturbating on an online sex chat wearing a gorilla mask, this offbeat comedy, directed by Greg Fox (who we last saw on Directors Notes with bedroom insecurities romance comedy I Love You, Hannah) is not going to be to everyone’s taste. But the 23-minute film, centred around a recently heartbroken, karaoke loving, self-proclaimed pervert who receives a life-changing, fish bearing blow up doll, treads a fine line between moderately obscene and inexplicably heartwarming and the result is distinctly memorable. And whether you’re a fan of the monkey-love (like we are at DN) or not, the brilliantly constructed lead character (performed equally brilliantly by Dan Mousseau), fat-free editing and masterful direction on display here, are indisputable. We are overjoyed to be premiering Monkey-Love Please Hold, and to have got the chance to chat to Fox about the inspiration behind Ben’s character, working around a global pandemic and an unruly cat, and the importance of conquering one’s fears of rejection.
Tell me about yourself. How did you get into film?
My name is Greg Fox and I’m a Toronto-based writer and director. I fell in love with movies as a kid, like most filmmakers do. I grew up watching the blockbusters like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Indiana Jones, and just being captivated with everything about them. But I think I really fell in love with film when I watched all the behind the scenes footage and making-of documentaries, (Lord of the Rings and Pirates of the Caribbean were the best ones), and just seeing how these magical moments on screen came to life. Watching all the crew working together to create such epics, whether it was the props team, or the hair and make-up artists, or assistant directors setting the background actors to make a scene truly come alive. I was hooked on the process. I knew I wanted to be involved in that in any way possible. I knew I wanted to make movies and tell stories.
Where did the idea for Monkey-Love, Please Hold come from?
The idea came from pure boredom and annoyance. I got the idea when I was stuck on hold with Service Canada for over 4 hours, just pacing around my apartment, doing random little tasks to keep myself sane all while listening to the most annoying elevator music of all time. After the call was finally finished I thought to myself, “That might make a funny little movie”. A movie about a guy stuck on hold just wasting time and seeing all the things he might do while waiting for someone to answer on the other end. From there it quickly turned into a weird, strange, perverted sex comedy about two lonely individuals looking for a meaningful connection on an online sex chat website. I’m weird. It’s a weird movie. I think it’s a cute story.
Ben’s character is so specific in his mannerisms, delivery and personality traits, it made me wonder if he was based on someone you knew or maybe even on yourself.
Dan Mousseau is such an incredibly talented actor. He brought so much humanity and depth to the character. He was mesmerizing to watch every day of shooting and every day while editing.
While creating and writing the character I drew inspiration from lots of films like, Punch Drunk Love, Lost in Translation, Annie Hall, but I equally pulled from myself. From my own insecurities about relationships, depression, and loneliness. Feeling like you can never truly be yourself around people, always feeling like you’re acting as a different version of yourself, someone that you think others will be drawn to or like, as silly as it sounds. We’re afraid to show people who we really are because we’re scared of rejection. That’s something I feel all the time and I’m sure lots of people do as well. That’s what Dan and I discussed with each other, these feelings of insecurities and heartbreak, the pain of not being enough for someone you love. That’s what the character was built on and Dan took it all and dug deep in himself. He reflected on his own experiences and created a pretty amazing character, one who’s funny, weird, loves Planet of the Apes, and is a little perverted.
We’re afraid to show people who we really are because we’re scared of rejection. That’s something I feel all the time and I’m sure lots of people do as well.
It looks like it was a really fun shoot. Tell me about how it all went down and if there were any challenges or surprises along the way.
There was a big challenge. A very big challenge. We shot the film in the fall of 2019 and were scheduled to shoot the remaining footage, the office scenes with Katie in her cubical, as well as all the computer screen graphics that would later be VFX’ed into the film in March of 2020… but… you know… so the film got delayed and we didn’t end up shooting the remaining scenes and elements until exactly a year after principle photography. So there was a huge delay in getting the film finished, and it ultimately just dragged out the process.
Also, the cat. Cats are difficult animals to work with. They can be divas but he sure was cute. Overall, other than a cat and a pandemic, shooting went smoothly and was a total blast. The cast were great, the crew were great, and we had a lot of laughs making this weird little movie.
The editing plays a huge part in what makes the film so funny. How closely did you guys stick to the script/storyboard and how much was trial and error in the edit suite?
The editing process might be my favourite part of making a movie. To me, it’s the moment where the film truly comes alive. You can finally watch it. I love sculpting away cut after cut. The final film is basically the shooting draft of the script. We didn’t restructure or cut out a lot. It’s very close to what was on the page. The first cut of the film ran 37 minutes which was a little nerve-racking (that’s a not so short, short film) but I knew we could keep tightening it up and sculpting it along the way, and like PTA says, “Just cut out all the bad shit”. That’s what I tried to do. Just cut out all the bad stuff. I had a lot of help along the way from the film’s Producer Van Wickiam. There was a lot of trial and error to nail those comedy moments or to finesse a beat or the delivery of a certain joke but those just come from trying things, adding a few frames or taking a few away.
I never wanted the film to meander, but I also never wanted to lose key moments or scenes I liked just to shorten the runtime.
My biggest concern overall was getting the runtime down. 23 minutes is still long for a short film but I felt that if the pacing was strong, and it never dragged that it would be okay. I never wanted the film to meander, but I also never wanted to lose key moments or scenes I liked just to shorten the runtime. That was a balancing act and a challenge throughout, but I’m happy with where we ended up. I watched it for the first time since I finished it so I could answer these questions and it didn’t feel like a 23 minute movie so that’s good, but there are some things I would change if I could go back.
How game were the actors to perform the masturbation scenes?
They weren’t hard to convince and were pretty game right off the bat if I recall correctly. All three actors are friends of mine from university so they trusted me from the start which is so important. We talked about the reasoning for it, and why it was vital to the story and the characters, as opposed to it just being some random gratuitous masturbation. I thought the scenes were done in a respectful way for both actor and the viewer watching. It’s much more than just watching Ben and Katie masturbate at their desks. Their characters confuse sex for love and what began as an easy way to get your rocks turned into something more. It’s them trying to connect with a stranger on a deeper emotional level but they aren’t sure how. They’re both so incredibly vulnerable that they hide their faces, Ben with a gorilla mask and Katie with her webcam framing. They’re terrified of rejection. It was my job as a director to make sure that both Dan and Hannah Galway (an absolutely fantastic actress) felt comfortable, and to make the set feel as safe as possible so they could bring the wild, crazy and weird!
It’s much more than just watching Ben and Katie masturbate at their desks. Their characters confuse sex for love and what began as an easy way to get your rocks turned into something more.
Why did you pick a scene from Tampopo?
I love Tampopo. I love that scene. I think it’s one of the greatest scenes ever. I remember watching it for the first time and being so weirded out by it but also slightly aroused. It’s so incredibly intimate. It made sense to put it in the film. I’d like to try that someday.
Why is there a fish inside the blow up doll?
“We’re just two lost souls
Swimming in a fish bowl
Year after year
Running over the same old ground
What have we found?
The same old fears
Wish you were here”
Wish You Were Here – Pink Floyd
What do you hope people feel after they see your movies?
First and foremost I hope the people who watch my films are entertained. That’s the most important thing for me. An enjoyable experience watching a movie, whether it’s funny or sad. If they can get anything else out of the stories or relate to the characters and find truths about themselves within them, then that’s a huge bonus. If they can find a deeper meaning behind the surface that’s great too. I hope after people watch this movie they’ll try a little harder to show people their honest selves, to not care what people think and to just be happy in their own skin, with their own weird thoughts. We’re all unique and strange in our own ways and that’s what makes us great. If you know someone who’s going through a hard time or feeling a little depressed, reach out and show them you care, show them they’re not alone. It could save someone’s life.
What are you working on next?
I’m currently writing my first feature film. It’s exciting and equally challenging in a wonderful way. I’m very excited to make it. It’s an ensemble film full of strange characters and intersecting storylines that all takes place over 24 hours. It’s been very fun to write and it’ll be even more fun to shoot!