As a graduate of French and Philosophy, a choice 17 year old me thought was wise, I have been in the exact same situation and experienced similar feelings of despondency and hopelessness as befalls the fresh graduate in Alec Pronovost’s Pro Pool (Piscine Pro). Through a series of hilarious scenes depicting pointless tasks, infuriating colleagues and truly monotonous interactions with the jacuzzi buying public, the universal themes and authentic scenarios laid out by Pronovost could be transplanted to anyone, anywhere punching a time clock in a dead-end job and feel totally relatable. Pro Pool, shot in the exact same location from which Pronovost drew his real life inspiration, features the most fabulous ensemble of characters whose authenticity cements the absurd comedy of the daily interactions that our above it all newly minted graduate Charles-Olivier finds himself subject to. DN invited Pronovost to speak to us about the lived situations that he was able to write into the film and how he gradually built up the frustration and annoyance of his protagonist which leads to his unexpected and laugh out loud perfect dénouement.

So, how autobiographical is Pro-Pool? And how did you get the project off the ground?

It is loosely based upon my experience as a clerk in a pool shop on the south shore of Montreal right after graduating from film school. I received my diploma and the next weekend, I was testing people’s pool water without knowing what the hell I was doing there. I worked there for a grand total of three weekends. While I was there, some of my friends from my class had their student film get into Sundance. So that was challenging!

I self-financed the film with some money I earned doing TV stuff here in Quebec. I contacted my ex-boss from the pool shop and they agreed to let us shoot there for three nights. For the lead role, I went with one of my best friends who happens to be one of my favorite actors in Quebec, Louis Carrière. He had already played some version of ‘me’ from my past in a comedy short series about a camp counselor we had done a couple of years before. In a way, it was a natural continuation of the same role.

I want to see a series with each of these characters! How did you decide upon the final rundown of employees?

Since the whole thing is based upon my experience as a clerk in a real pool shop, it was easy to take (steal?) inspiration from the coworkers I met during my three weekends tenure there. I also took many quirks or anecdotes from coworkers I encountered in other jobs. I had an older colleague who was a cell phone salesman in a video store that I worked in and during a staff party he came to me, a bit drunk, looked me dead in the eyes and said: “I’ve asked all the girls we work with and the results are in: we’re the two prettiest men around here”. Keep in mind, we were a team of 10 employees and not even half of them were women. What I always found amusing about that, was the image of him annoying our female colleagues asking them who they thought were the prettiest guys in the group of eight nerds they were working with – while also trying really hard to be the one they would name. “Okay yeah yeah sure Charles is pretty but so am I right? I’m a pretty man right? RIGHT?? Hey, where you going, come back !?” The situation always felt funny to me.

There are so many silly little rules in those jobs. It wasn’t hard to find some annoying ones to put in the film.

I’ve also had a few colleagues from my teenage years who were, in some ways, spiritual guides for me during smoke breaks. The character of Oussama is based on them. Friendly coworkers who always seemed to have it all figured out and who were eager to share their life lessons with me. They were also very generous with cigarettes, so I was more than happy to smoke with them while listening to their advice about what I should do with my life. Most of the time, they were surprisingly insightful.

I love all of the golden references to the bullshit that we have all been subject to in those kinds of jobs, such as the different uniforms and the way he has to punch in.

Ahaha yeah, there are so many silly little rules in those jobs. It wasn’t hard to find some annoying ones to put in the film. Especially those related to gender, like, “Guys do that part and girls do that part and that’s the way it is, end of discussion”. I used to sell beers at music festivals for a couple of summers and my role was to pour beer in the eco cups so they were ready for the clients. During one afternoon, my colleague, who was the one taking the clients’ orders, suggested that we switch places, just for fun. So we did; she was pouring the beer and I was the one dealing with the clients for 30 minutes. The boss walked by and really wasn’t happy about it and I got an earful, like probably the worst one I ever got in my life, “GUYS DON’T DEAL WITH CLIENTS, THAT’S THE GIRLS’ JOB! STICK TO POURING BEER!”. So yeah, that guy was a prick.

What a luxury to have the pool shop for three nights, what equipment did you shoot on and how did you make the space ready for what the film required?

I was really lucky to get that pool shop actually. My friend who got me the job back in the day was still in contact with the owners. So I called them and surprisingly enough they remembered me and agreed to rent us the place for three nights! In terms of equipment, we really didn’t have a lot of stuff since I was financing the film with my own money. Luckily, the cinematographer, Natan B. Foisy, has an ARRI Amira that he kindly brought with him on set for a couple of bucks. The pool shop was already kind of perfect as it was so all we had to do was to find great frames to set our interactions in. It was somewhat of a playground – fun winter nights in a pool shop in suburban Montreal.

Louis Carrière is brilliant! What references did you give him and how did the two of you build the palpable growing resentment of his character?

He IS brilliant! He’s one of my favorite actors here in Quebec because he navigates the fine line between comedy and drama so well. He’s incredibly funny while also being relatable and heartwarming. You can root for him while also laughing at him, it’s the perfect blend! He also happens to be a dear friend of mine and this was our 4th project together so the workflow and the relationship between us was already there. I feel like we really trust each other creatively and that allows us to explore more and have lots of fun with the characters.

The pool shop was already kind of perfect as it was so all we had to do was to find great frames to set our interactions in.

Our first project together was a short series called Le Killing set in a summer camp and was also based on my work experience there. The lead character of that show is in many ways the same person as the character in Pro Pool. We did two seasons of Le Killing and when I approached him with this short I told him that this was the logical next chapter of the character we worked on together during the last two years. It was time to progress from camp to real life and show how a pool shop environment can quickly kill your inner light and your inner ambitions. It was all about building resentment through more and more annoying small moments, things that aren’t that annoying if you take them apart but when you put them all together one after another, you’re slowly boiling inside. The anger is just rising and rising. And that was the whole point, show him becoming more and more annoyed while also having to swallow it up and move on…until that’s not an option anymore and you just snap. Like the character at the end of the film.

The never-ending monotonous drudgery is so vivid with your nippy, sharp editing. At what point did you find that exact pace?

Since the film was a project in between projects, I really wanted to take my time with the editing process, find the perfect flow for the story and allow myself to explore. In most projects we work on there’s always a big deadline looming over us. Everything must be done right away and sent to the network or the clients or whatever. It’s always go go go and with that you lose an important element that is exploring, questioning yourself and taking the time to find the best way to edit a scene. Not just find a way to make it work so you can move on as fast as possible. So we took our time. Me and the editor, Louis Chevalier-Dagenais, went back and forth a lot to try and find the right pacing of the scenes and the right rhythm for all this. I always knew I wanted it to be fast-paced and super in your face and Louis helped me find the right balance in that with some great ideas.

It was all about building resentment through more and more annoying small moments, things that aren’t that annoying if you take them apart but when you put them all together one after another, you’re slowly boiling inside.

Let’s talk Death Metal vs. Tencho Pop.

Well, I’m more of a metalhead than a technohead. Even though I do enjoy electronic music, my heart belongs in the big and vast metal world. I really wish I had a bigger budget only to have bigger needle drops during the film. We had great songs by Quebec bands who agreed to let us use them for free so thanks again to all of them. There’s just a tiny part of me that wished at some point, we could have seen the character listening to some At The Gates, In Flames, Suicide Silence or Unearth which were the bands I was religiously listening to back when I worked at the pool shop.

In Pro Pool, I had one character listening to some sort of electronic music next to my lead character really just to show that sometimes you and your coworkers just don’t care about the same things and that’s just the way it is. While I was writing the film, I was listening to a lot of Against Me! (I was also reading Laura Jane Grace’s biography during that time so I was all about Against Me!) and the end song of the film was supposed to be Cliché Guevara by Against Me! I really wanted that to happen but I was broke after the making of the film so that was the end of that. Luckily for me, during the editing process, Maxime Gervais, a wonderful comedian from Quebec, released his song Autocombustion. I fell in love with it and since we know each other a bit and he’s a great guy, he agreed to let me use it for free. Thanks again Big Max!

Was Pro Pool always going to end with that fabulous punch?

Absolutely. I really love comedy scenes where people get punched in the face. It almost always makes me laugh. There’s just something so dumb and absurd about actually punching someone in the face as hard as you can. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one in real life though, so I guess that’s good news! So far, I’ve done punches in the face in three projects and I can’t wait to do it again. On a personal note, my favorite punch is the one at the beginning of the first episode of Eastbound & Down, right before the music comes on. Magnificent.

What’s next for you?

In a couple of days I’m releasing a new short series called I Like Juice or Juice Lover (I haven’t found the English title yet but I’m open to suggestions!) Long story short: it’s about an energy drink company called ZOOP and one of its employees who goes to war with them, trying to reveal their darkest secrets. I’d say it’s a business-comedy-thriller, 6 episodes of pure caffeine! If anyone reading this is curious, I have private links for all the episodes (with English subtitles!) that I will happily share with you. Just slide in my DMs!

Other than that, I’m actively working on two TV projects and two feature films, they’re all in the writing stage but I can’t wait to shoot them. I’m literally getting impatient but that’s just because I love these stories so much and I want to share them with as many people as I can. They’re all comedies but with different tones and different vibes, really exciting stuff.

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