A work of love, patience, and healing, Canadian filmmaker Laura Marie Wayne’s documentary Love, Scott (which had its premiere at the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival this week) takes a look at one man continuing journey to come to grips with trauma following a violent assault several years prior. While many documentaries have looked at the complexity of trauma and PTSD from any variety of different angles, Wayne’s Love, Scott is something more revolutionary and nuanced. It’s an artistically composed conversation about complex feelings carried out between close friends.
On October 12, 2013, gay musician Scott Jones was stabbed outside of a nightclub in the town of New Glasgow, Nova Scotia as he was on his way home. The assault left Jones paralyzed from the waist down, and with a lengthy physical and mental recovery ahead. Scott’s attacker was apprehended and convicted of attempted murder, but the case was never handled as a hate crime, despite Jones’ sexual orientation playing a large motivation in the assault.
Love, Scott is the result of Wayne – one of Scott’s closest friends for over a decade – spending a great deal of time with her subject and allowing him to convey his complex feelings in a patient, therapeutic manner. Outside of sharing her own thoughts on what Scott and his traumatic journey means to her as a friend, Wayne allows Jones ample time and a safe space to talk about his life and emotional well being without coaxing answers out of him. Frequently employing long takes where Scott is simply allowed to be himself instead of just another interview subject, it’s a rare, raw, unfiltered, and indispensible look at a fraught, but hopeful healing process.
We sat down with Scott, who’s currently pursuing his masters and PhD in musical education at the University of Toronto, and Wayne on the week of the film’s premiere to talk about their film’s unforced tone, their collaborative process, and why their friendship made the movie possible.
This is a film where Scott gets to tell his story in a relatively uninterrupted fashion. There are a lot of moments where you guys allow a lot of time and space for hard answers to be given, and the approach is remarkably patient and resonant. It really allows for the viewer, and for Scott, to get to the heart of the trauma he has suffered in an attempt to put it into words. For both of you, was this a freeing experience to just sort of let the feelings flow?
Laura Marie Wayne: Absolutely. For me, that was clear from the beginning, Because of the nature of what we were going to be talking about, it was important that Scott had space for whatever needed to come up. And even though what you see in the film might be Scott expressing his thoughts in an unbroken fashion for two minutes or so, that might have only come after about an hour or two of warming up to that point.
I wanted to just be a listener, but every now and then I would ask a question to try and get things going. We would start by having conversations, and to do that the space was very important. I was very clear from the beginning that we weren’t going to be doing lots of cuts. There were two styles that I always wanted to go together in the film. The first was this dreamy sort of film where we could play around with different aesthetics, and the other is the time that we spend directly with Scott. And in those moments with Scott, we’re really WITH Scott.
Scott Jones: I think if you’ve ever seen any of Laura’s other work, you’ll know that’s she’s very much against making lots of cuts. (laughs) Even watching a movie with Laura, she’ll often ask out loud, “Why can’t they just have a single, solid frame on a person and just leave it there?”
I will admit that I do find it distracting in a documentary when someone is talking to the camera, but they’re actually talking to several different cameras that are shooting the interview from different angles. I always thought that was really unnecessary.
Laura Marie Wayne: (laughs) Do you know how many people do that? It happens in every kind of movie. Lots of people think that they absolutely need to have at least a two camera set-up for everything, and for something as simple as an interview, you almost never do. I also think that it ruins the intimacy. If we had a larger crew, we could have had all three angles of Scott driving in a car, but I don’t think we would have had the same private and intimate space between us.
Scott, was it good for you to be in an environment like this to get your story out, or was this a process where you had to learn a bit of patience? I can imagine that it’s very different talking to someone about what happened one-on-one in front of a camera than it is to talk about the same things in a more traditionally therapeutic setting.
Scott Jones: The camera did add a little bit of difficulty for me at the start, for sure, but I also think this would have been a very different experience if the person on the other side of the camera was someone other than Laura. If this was someone that I didn’t know at all, I don’t know if it would have had the same effect on me, but it definitely wouldn’t have been the same overall experience. Having a relationship with Laura over the past twelve years made this such a cathartic experience. I had counsellors and therapists that I could always talk to, but it was always valuable to me that I had this one friendship where, regardless of the camera, I could go deep into this trauma and what was bothering me at any given time.
It’s clear that the process was to never force Scott to say anything if he wasn’t ready to say it. For both of you, what’s it like to have an on screen discussion in this kind of manner instead of a standard interview template?
Laura Marie Wayne: First off, I definitely suggest that other filmmakers try this approach. (laughs) To be honest, the filming process was always just an extension of our friendship, so it only felt natural to have these spacious conversations. If I came in with a list of questions, or if I tried to guide things in a certain direction, it would have felt false. I do think that in our first couple of on screen interactions there was a bit more of that guiding to start things off, and looking back on those early days of footage, you could tell that’s what we were doing. You could feel it in the footage. You could feel that we were trying to go somewhere specific. It was apparent early on that this wasn’t going to be that type of film.
Scott Jones: In terms of Laura’s approach, whether she’s looking for something specific or she’s attempting something specifically artistic, the foundation of all of our interviews was based on feeling the mood and seeing how I was feeling and taking things from there.
Laura Marie Wayne: Yeah. It was always important to go with whatever Scott was feeling and what was happening on any given day. There were a couple of points that we knew we wanted to make about who Scott was as a person, how he was feeling, and the hate crime aspect of his case, but this really was always a film about documenting one person’s journey. And when this person’s feelings are evolving, the process of making the film had to be evolving with it. It’s so much more beautiful to bear witness to this beautiful person’s journey than to guide him or ask him a list of questions.
It’s definitely one of only a handful of documentaries that benefits greatly from the filmmaker and the subject being such good friends. I think that allows for the conversations you guys had to naturally go in different direction. That probably also leads to a lot of moments where one of you might think a conversation will be leading in one direction before going on a completely different path from where you started.
Laura Marie Wayne: (laughs) Totally. That happened all the time.
Scott Jones: We’re both air signs, so that was bound to happen. (laughs) She’s an Aquarius and I’m a Gemini, so we’re pretty scattered thinkers at the best of times.
Laura Marie Wayne: Our friendship didn’t just allow for patience, but also for trust. There was that trust that no matter where a conversation was heading that we always knew that the process was going to work. We always knew that we would take these long roads to get to wherever Scott needed to go with what he was saying, but through this process we always knew that if we were ever going to touch upon something that was too private for that moment that the space was always safe.
Scott Jones: I always felt that Laura nurtured that space and took it very seriously. If I was ever uncomfortable for any reason, I could always tell her. And we did have some conversations around what I wanted to have put on film and what I didn’t.
I did want to talk to you guys about how the film uses safe spaces to help Scott tell his story. A lot of the interviews you conducted with Scott take place in the natural world, far away from too many distractions and outside stimuli. And in the few moments where you guys return to a place that could be triggering, there’s a lot of space and consideration being given. Was this always an important part of the process for you guys?
Laura Marie Wayne: There wasn’t a moment where I wasn’t aware that we were always going to be talking about trauma in some way. When we go back to the place where Scott was attacked, the intention was to always talk about this in a way that could be healing and cathartic. It was never going to be about avoiding it, exploiting it, or keeping everything at a surface level, so those kinds of moments where we have to do something like that had to be about gently bringing things to the surface. There’s a lot of healing power in just being heard, and no matter where we went or what we were talking about, it was always important to create a space where I could listen.
I feel like, in a way, I was a protector. I don’t know how you felt, but I thought that it was important to have that safe space. I think where my protective instincts kicked in was whenever I thought there was going to be outside voices or sources unwittingly having an input on what we were doing and saying. I think a lot of the film was designed, in a way, to minimize those outside voices to keep the focus on Scott and his healing. Because of the sensitive nature of what we were talking about, I was always particular on who became a part of the project and when they did.
My loyalty was always to Scott and his story, rather than to the film itself, and I think some of those locations and our conversations are a big part of that. I always saw the film as a tool. The better way to say it is that I never thought this was a film ABOUT Scott, but rather as a film WITH Scott. It’s something we were doing together, and in that sense it demands a different set of ethics and a different process, if that makes any sense. It’s coming from the two of us, and rather than looking at Scott from the outside, it was more about bringing his truth out into the world in the most powerful way possible.
Scott Jones: It goes back to what you were saying at the beginning about making sure nothing felt forced. Sometimes you watch films, and you realize that there’s a definite narrative that’s being laid out by the filmmaker and the filmmaker alone, and there’s a certain amount of control with that. But I definitely never felt controlled or forced wherever I went to get to a specific point, or even to talk at all if I didn’t want to that day.
Laura Marie Wayne: It’s interesting to mention that a big part of the impetus to make the film came early on. It came really because after Scott was attacked and in his hospital bed recovering, there were all these stories in the media about what had happened, and they were creating their own version of what happened. Then later on, the justice system created their narrative of what happened. And where was Scott’s voice in all of that? So many things had been taken from him in that moment, but not his truth, his voice, and his authority over on how the story should be told and what happened. The film was always borne from the intention to show Scott as the authority of his own story.
Then, of course, as time went on, I realized that I was in there, too. (laughs) So now I just say this is our version of the story. (laughs)
This is a film that will really speak to victims of any kind of trauma. Usually, people who go through something like this are usually asked the same questions over and over again – always of a strictly factual nature – by the media, authorities, or courts, and it’s a very draining experience. No one really asks how you as a victim are feeling, and that can get annoying and disheartening at times, and it doesn’t help at all with the healing process. Was it helpful to talk about what happened without having to answer the same questions over and over again?
Scott Jones: Absolutely, it was. That feeling of having to repeat yourself goes not just with the justice system and the media, but also working with the Department of Community Services and Victims Services. It’s an exhausting process trying to be objective about something so subjective, powerful, and non-linear. Being able to have a space to talk about all of the gray area between the black and the white was helpful for my healing process. And I know that not a lot of people have that opportunity, so I feel incredibly grateful to have worked on something like this.
Laura Marie Wayne: That’s also why our interviews could always be over an hour long; to make sure that everything that needs to be said is being said. I remember an article where Scott was named some sort of honorary citizen, and basically the gist of the article said “Scott forgave his attacker and moved on with his life.” What does that even mean? That’s so reductive. I think it was important to show the bravery and resiliency of Scott in the face of what happened. To tell Scott’s story and say that it was something that happened and he just moved on is so unfair.
Scott Jones: I always say that article was “incorrectly reductionist.” (laughs) It didn’t just reduce everything that I went through to a tiny blurb, but in that reduction it became somewhat incorrect.
This film does leave people with some food for thought surrounding how Scott’s attack was never prosecuted as a hate crime, but that it was clearly prompted because Scott was gay. What’s it like for the both of you to make a film like this today in an era where similar crimes are taking place and still not being prosecuted accordingly?
Laura Marie Wayne: It took a lot of guts I think on both our parts. I’m proud of what we’ve done, but also sometimes terrified. It’s a strong film about a point that needs to be made about how these crimes are prosecuted. When I first started, I actually interviewed a lot of professors and lawyers and politicians that I thought would help the film in that respect. All of that ended up getting cut, but the process of doing those interviews impacted the final film greatly. What I saw was that it was really easy for people to explain to me why it’s so difficult to openly say that what happened to Scott was a hate crime. But what we could do is to show what it feels like to go through something like this and then not have the true nature of the crime named. I think the film can do two things. I think it can show what happens to people on an internal and emotional level when they can’t talk about these things in the justice system, and on the other hand to make this known. I don’t think the general public really sees the huge gap between what’s being felt and what’s being named in the public record. That’s what this film is pointing at: the gap. In the film, I can’t explain all the elements of the gap because that’s more for policy makers to look at, but what we can do is point to the gap.
I remember having a conversation with one lawyer who believes that the law is structured in a certain way and that he believes in how it’s structured. He said that we should never look to the law as a place for healing. Well, if someone can’t look to the law for healing…
Scott Jones: Then why look to the law in the first place? The law should be a tool for change, and healing can’t totally come without change.
Laura Marie Wayne: He said that you should look for healing elsewhere because the law has limits for a reason. It’s important that the discrimination that someone faces on an everyday basis can be wiped clean in a court of law, despite the fact that we have laws that can recognize these prejudices that aren’t being utilized or put into place.
Scott Jones: And that’s at every level. It’s not just in the courts. It’s also in how the police investigate these crimes. How are they supporting a community that’s being discriminated against? Especially in cases where the community is specifically stating that something is a real problem. We’re seeing that more and more, and it’s extremely pertinent right now. You don’t have to look further than the queer community in Toronto and how they’ve been treated after trying to say there was a serial killer within their community and not getting support for well over a decade.
Laura Marie Wayne: In Scott’s case, the New Glasgow police saw the outcome as a best case scenario for them. They got the guy, they got him convicted of attempted murder, what more could you want, right? But that wasn’t enough for the person who was attacked.
Scott Jones: And it wasn’t enough for society.
Laura Marie Wayne: If we can’t protect the person who was being attacked, what good are we doing? How are we going to have conversations about this? How are we going to address it? How are we going to learn from it?
Love, Scott screens again at Hot Docs on Thursday, May 3rd at 9:15pm at TIFF Bell Lightbox.