Life lessons learned from two guys in a donkey suit

When the Kansas City girl kissed the guy dancing in the two-man donkey suit, Greenwood Secondary students squealed with laughter.

Mark, the guy she kissed, was good-looking enough, a Toronto guy with a husky kind of Jack Black charm.

But – and it’s a big butt – he was working the part of the donkey that rhymes with ‘sass.’

Billed as a story about “love, friendship, and a burlap donkey,” A Mile in These Hooves was the showcase film among six Canadian shorts and animations that the non-profit group REEL Canada screened for students at Greenwood and the School of Life Experience on Feb. 25.

Filmmaker James Brylowski, centre, listens to an impromptu rap by a student who quickly took up Brylowski's advice after a film screening at Greenwood Secondary school on Feb. 25. Brylowski, who wrote, directed and produced the mockumentary short A Mile in These Hooves, told students the best way to land work in film, music, and other careers is to just get started. “I think that’s what it’s about," he said. "Pick up a camera, shoot stuff and show people what you can do.” PHOTO: Andrew Hudson
Filmmaker James Brylowski, centre, listens to an impromptu rap by a student who quickly took up Brylowski’s advice after a film screening at Greenwood Secondary School on Feb. 25. Brylowski, who wrote, directed and produced the mockumentary short A Mile in These Hooves, told students the best way to land work in film, music, and other careers is to just get started.
“I think that’s what it’s about,” he said. “Pick up a camera, shoot stuff and show people what you can do.”
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

The 15-minute buddy movie tracks foster brothers Mark and Tom as they try to set a world record by plodding from Toronto to the California coast in a wide-eyed donkey outfit.

Since its Canadian debut last spring, the film has picked up awards for best comedy, cinematography and people’s choice at festivals from Yorkton, Saskatchewan to Hamilton and Toronto, and will play at more US and Australian festivals this year.

Director James Brylowski, who also wrote, edited, produced and handled cinematography for the film, was on hand at Greenwood to speak with students about how it got made.

“That’s actually my wife in the ass of the donkey,” Brylowski said, setting off a round of giggles in the school cafeteria.

Shot over two weeks, mainly in desert corners of the US southwest, Brylowski said several people took turns in the donkey, at times with frozen hand towels wrapped round their necks to survive the 43°C heat.

Image courtesy Solid Porcupine Inc.
Image courtesy Solid Porcupine Inc.

Brylowski said some of the funniest moments happened off-screen, like when his crew dropped off the donkey actors alone on the highway and then drove ahead to shoot them through a long lens.

“People driving through the desert would come across this donkey costume and be like, ‘What the hell is going on here?’”

Christian Moncrieffe, a Grade 12 student, said after taking a senior photography and video production course at SOLE he got a real sense of how much effort must have gone into Brylowski’s film – all told, the 15-minute short took about a year to get on screen.

“I thought it was really well done,” said Moncrieffe, who is keen on a career in graphic design.

“The cinematography was really great, and it has a good story with some funny points that all wrapped up in the end.”

Besides the film itself, students asked Brylowski about how he got to the point in his career where he could make it.

“I think it really boils down to just doing things,” he said, adding that new technology has made it easier than ever to get a DIY head start in film, music, and other media careers.

“No amount of film school is going to teach you all those hard lessons – it takes years of just falling down and picking yourself back up,” he said.

Before A Mile in These Hooves, which features rich landscapes and a ‘mockumentary’ style, Brylowski produced travel segments for networks such as Discovery and Condé Nast Traveller as well as music videos, commercials, and still photography.

All of it, he said, grew from chasing his hobbies – taking photos and playing drums – and the result is a career full of fun.

“I’ve been doing this for the last 10 or 12 years,” he said.

“Even though I’m tired and have worked really hard, I don’t feel like I’ve worked a day.”


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