He’s your go-to guy for dol­phins, whales and trees

MARK LEIREN-YOUNG This West-Coast artist is any­thing but laid-back

National Post (Latest Edition) - - ARTS & LIFE - BY VANESSA FAR­QUHAR­SON

(Her­itage House), which tracks his ex­pe­ri­ences as a rookie re­porter in small-town B.C.

“I ac­tu­ally wrote the first draft for Stam­pede Queen over the course of two months back in ’88, and came up with the idea for [my film] The Green Chain in ’91,” he adds, “but it’s all just com­ing to­gether now.”

Al­though some might try to la­bel the 47-year-old Leiren-Young as an artis­tic jackof-all-trades, he in fact does so many dif­fer­ent jobs, it’s prob­a­bly eas­i­est to sim­ply list them all in one go: Film­maker, tele­vi­sion writer, au­thor, jour­nal­ist, co­me­dian, ac­tor, play­wright, en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist and mu­si­cian.

“You know, years ago, I had so many peo­ple telling me I needed to fo­cus,” he says, “and so I promised my­self that at the end of the year, I was go­ing to quit one of my things. I was go­ing to aban­don ei­ther jour­nal­ism, the­atre or com­edy, as I re­call.

“Well, that was the year I picked up TV writ­ing. So I just sur­ren­dered in the end.”

And it’s a good thing he did, too — as Leiren-Young ad­mits, the lessons he learns in one medium of­ten tend to flow into an­other, and creative in­spi­ra­tion can come from all gen­res.

“My best dra­matic stuff is fed by be­ing a jour­nal­ist,” he says. “And when I do any other writ­ing projects, peo­ple are shocked that all my facts are checked.”

It also doesn’t take much to He has an award-winning book, a fea­ture film and a short film com­ing out this year, and that’s not all Mark Leiren-Young has on his plate — he’ll file a cou­ple of tele­vi­sion scripts by next week, do some work on an en­vi­ron­men­tal hor­ror film af­ter that and is cur­rently in the midst of record­ing an al­bum.

What­ever that stereo­type is — the one about peo­ple from the West Coast be­ing laid-back — it doesn’t seem to ap­ply in the case of this Van­cou­ver artist.

“It sounds like a lot, but it’s all been kind of stag­gered,” he says over a cup of tea in a down­town Toronto café. He’s here to pro­mote his films as well as re­ceive the Stephen Lea­cock Memo­rial Medal for Hu­mour for his book, Never Shoot a Stam­pede Queen re­al­ize that his pas­sion for the en­vi­ron­ment finds its way into nearly ev­ery­thing he does.

When a di­rec­tor friend called Leiren-Young to ask if he’d help write a short film, his re­sponse was, “Well, are you cool with it be­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal?” The re­sult was The Green Film, which takes a tongue-in-cheek look at a di­rec­tor’s ill-fated at­tempt to make a low-im­pact movie.

More re­cently, LeirenYoun­g was hired to write a made-for-TV hor­ror film. His first ques­tion: “Can I make it eco, please?”

“It’s funny,” he says. “it used to be that I’d write stuff and every­one would come back to me and say, ‘You re­ally have to lose all of this dol­phin­swhales-and-trees stuff — no one’s go­ing to be in­ter­ested in that.’ But now, I could prob­a­bly do noth­ing but dol­phins, whales and trees, and it would be a huge suc­cess.”

But what makes his ap­proach to all this en­vi­ron­men­tal stuff dif­fer­ent is that it’s funny. The last thing Leiren-Young wants to do, af­ter all, is come across as a preachy, self-righ­teous hip­pie.

“I did this in­ter­view once with David Suzuki’s daugh­ter Sev­ern,” he says, “and she kept say­ing to me, ‘My dad is earnest and he scares peo­ple.’ And she’s right, in a way, be­cause you can lis­ten to him talk and get fright­ened, and start to think that if you’re not liv­ing in an off-the-grid yurt, you’re a hor­ri­ble per­son.

“So I think you have to laugh at the scary stuff,” he adds. “My men­tal­ity is, if I can make peo­ple laugh about the de­ple­tion of the ozone layer, maybe they’ll say, ‘Oh! Ozone layer! I should pay more at­ten­tion to that.’ ”

In the mean­time, how­ever, Leiren-Young needs to pay at­ten­tion to his pro­mo­tional du­ties.

“I’d love to be able to sit back and bask in this for a while, but I have a cou­ple of huge dead­lines in the next week,” he says, “and if I don’t do any promo for th­ese films, my pub­li­cist will kill me.”

The Green Chain is now play­ing at se­lect the­atres in Toronto; The Green Film re­cently played as part of the World­wide Short Film Fes­ti­val; and Never Shoot a Stam­pede Queen is avail­able at most book­stores.


Mark Leiren-Young may be some­what of a tree-hug­ger, but he doesn’t want to scare you with his earnest­ness.

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