He’s your go-to guy for dolphins, whales and trees
MARK LEIREN-YOUNG This West-Coast artist is anything but laid-back
(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.