In this animated short, writer/director Hart Snider takes us back to junior high school in the late ’80s for a dark but funny coming-of-age story. Back in the era of the Walkman, Pac-Man, and Wayne Gretzky, Hart finds himself lost amongst his pubescent peers. He lacks the confidence to ask the girl of his dreams out on a date, and he’s just discovered that he’s required to take shop class, when he’d been hoping to register for Home Economics instead.
Hart dreads shop class and his terrifying teacher, Mr. P. Threatened by the school bully, and lectured by Mr. P. on the horrifying consequences of using industrial power tools, Hart wants nothing more than to follow the scent of freshly baked cookies all the way back to that Home Ec. room down the hall.
Try as he might, Hart just can’t succeed in shop. He fails assignment after assignment as Mr. P. continues to break him down. But he perseveres, and discovers a few things about himself along the way.
Shop Class is a film with universal appeal, exploring themes of high-school alienation, old-fashioned gender roles, and becoming comfortable in your own skin. It’s an honest look at growing up, through the filtered lens of a teenager who is no longer a boy but is not quite sure what it means to be a man.
Head back to junior high with young Hart Snider as he finds himself lost amongst his peers, unable to ask out his dream girl, and forced to take shop with the dreaded Mr. P. A darkly funny look at growing up, through the filtered lens of a boy on the cusp of manhood.
Is this a true story?
Yes, the film is based on a true story.
That being the case, what made you decide to use this chapter in your life as the basis for a film?
Shop Class is a follow-up to my first film, The Basketball Game , an animated short about the time when I was nine and the former students of Holocaust denier Jim Keegstra were invited to my Jewish summer camp. The animation didn’t just tell the story: it brought to life my worst fears, which was something I wanted to explore further.
Shop Class takes place five years later, when I was 14, and is about how I’d wanted to take Home Ec. back in junior high but wasn’t allowed. Instead, I had to deal with a mean, tattooed shop teacher who was on a mission to make men out of us, and had even used a “shocker” to send a jolt of electricity through the whole class. Our relationship that whole year had so much conflict and, looking back, so much potential for dark comedy, that I wanted to bring it to life.
How did it feel to revisit this time in your life?
Hilarious and terrifying. Junior high is the most embarrassing time in your life. It’s SO dramatic already, and I am totally still recovering from taking that class. Making this film brought it all back! I also got in touch with old friends who were in the class with me, to get their stories about this teacher, which I included in the film.
What made you decide that this material was best suited to an animated film rather than a live-action short?
I thought that using animation, I could document the everyday reality of taking the class, but also bring to life my stressed-out mental state, as I navigated an entire year of going to a class taught by a teacher who I was sure had it in for me. Also, I liked the simplicity of a single voice narrating the story and simultaneously voicing the various characters that we hear along the way. The brilliant work of voice actor Fred Ewanuick made it possible!
How long did it take to get the film made, from script to screen?
About three years! But during that time, I was also busy editing (and in some cases also writing) four different television series and three feature films. Shop Class has been the constant throughout, and it is so thrilling to finally share it with audiences.
Who did you make the film for? Who’s your intended audience?
In general, I like to tell funny stories that capture dramatic times in my life where I was forced to make choices and learn hard lessons and grow, and I ultimately hope they are relatable for audiences of any age.
I think younger audiences will appreciate the dark humour, school setting and relationship story in Shop Class. I can see more mature audiences reminiscing about their own shop-class experiences, remembering the institutional sexism that existed, what teachers used to get away with.
What themes were important for you to cover in this film, and why?
A few years ago, after editing a few macho TV shows about rugged men working in Canada’s North, I started thinking about how we portray masculinity and how my understanding of it will forever be tied to my old shop teacher and that particular moment when I was worried I was going to die in his class. I realized that masculinity isn’t about pain tolerance, but believing in yourself, and that’s what I wanted to explore with this film.
Did you try anything new in this film?
Compared to my first film, it’s longer, and it’s in full colour. It started as a short story, then developed into a script, whereas the story for my first film was developed using more of a documentary process. The biggest change was the voice, as I had been the narrator on The Basketball Game. But as the script developed, it became clear that a voice actor would really be needed to bring Mr. P. to life. So beyond directing the animation, I got the opportunity to direct the talented Mr. Fred Ewanuick as well.
What made you take the leap from documentary/live action to animation? What is it about animation that attracted you?
Wow, that’s a question that goes all the way back to being a little kid on Saturday mornings, glued to the TV. I have loved animation ever since, but it took attending a screening of adult animation shorts (which included the film Lupo the Butcher by Danny Antonucci) when I was in high school to make me realize I really wanted to write and direct animated films. After interning at Nelvana animation in university, I thought I was on my way, until a job in post-production on a doc series about Cirque du Soleil back in 2001 led me on a totally different path as a documentary editor and writer. Creating The Basketball Game, an animated doc, finally let me combine all my skills and interests into one project, which has continued with Shop Class.
Can you talk a little bit about your creative process? How do you go from idea to script?
From my experience on feature documentary films, I think a lot about the structure of a story before I ever sit down to begin writing. Then I start with writing an outline, which I develop first into a short story and eventually into a script. I mostly made this film in the middle of the night, once all other work and daily chores were done.
You’ve worked quite a bit with the NFB. Can you talk a little bit about why you (seemingly) enjoy collaborating with the Board?
I have loved the National Film Board since I was a kid, when I would catch animated shorts playing on TV. In school, I was thrilled to discover NFB documentaries, which I would bring home from the library. In university, I fell in love with the work of Norman McLaren [Begone Dull Care] and Arthur Lipsett [Very Nice, Very Nice], who both have had a major influence on me. I am very proud to have both edited and directed NFB projects!
What’s next for you?
I just finished editing and animation-directing a feature doc on the comedian Sam Kinison for Spike, and editing a doc on Canada’s National Youth Orchestra for the National Film Board. In the near future, I plan on completing the third in this trilogy of animated films about growing up in Edmonton in the 1980s.
Written and Directed
by Hart Snider
Original Music and Sound Design
Sound Mix Facility
Sophia Sunju Lee
Special Thanks to
Michelle Van Beusekom
BC & Yukon Studio – English Program
© 2018 National Film Board of Canada