Written by: Yelin Gemma Lee, Peak Associate
Lonnie Nadler, author of The Dregs has produced a feature film over the course of four years of work. And it is phenomenal.
The documentary, called Co-Creators: The Rat Queens Story got accepted into Vancouver’s DOXA festival this spring; in other words, Nadler is rapidly becoming an up-and-coming in the local creative scene.
“I had initially intended to make this film about the world of independent comics in general, and to feature a number of different creators from that world,” Nadler explained. “It was supposed to be an in-depth look at what it’s like to make comic books.”
“But the more I started to follow Kurtis [Wiebe, the creator of comic series Rat Queens] and the more his book grew in popularity, the more clear it became to me that this was where the story was.”
“To be completely honest, I didn’t quite know where the film was going for the first two years of filming,” Nadler admitted to The Peak, “I knew there was a story, but I didn’t quite know how to tell it or what the themes would be. It was a long process of working with my very dedicated editor, Torin Chambers, and my associate producer, Zac Thompson.”
One can only guess that a documentary takes a lot of time, flexibility, and patience to produce and does not come without struggle. For Nadler, this struggle was elevated when one of the co-creators of Rat Queens was arrested for domestic abuse, and his story started to take form in a way that was unexpected.
“It became something way more intense than I ever could have anticipated,” Nadler said. “[. . .] I didn’t want to gloss over anything or play sides. But at the same time I also had to be respectful of the people involved and make sure I wasn’t exploiting anyone. I tried to be hyper aware of everything I put in the film for that reason.”
The relationship themes in Co-Creators: The Rat Queens Story are the triumphs of the film. Nadler found a story that has never been told before in this way. It’s a true example of what it’s like to work, play, and live in a creative world where creative relationships are a huge part of everyday lives.
“I noticed that the relationship between the writer and artist of the book was very similar to a toxic romantic relationship,” Nadler explained. “There were so many ups and downs, and they tried to work through the struggles, but in the end it collapsed because there was too much dishonesty and hidden issues.”
The documentary is broad at the beginning, but then zeroes in on the specifics with slow progression and then with relentless confidence. I could almost picture the gears working behind the scenes of this feature, and how it was pieced together into what came to be a raw and honest exposé on creative relationships.
“These themes of relationships kept presenting [themselves] in different ways — between writer and artist, husband and wife, subject and documentarian,” Nadler said. “Once I realized this and had something to work towards, I did a lot of re-shoots and pick-ups near the end to make sure I had enough footage that would help to express these themes.”
At the end of watching any documentary, I evaluate it on whether or not my mind has expanded to welcome in a new way of looking at the world. Even Nadler himself found himself learning so much over his years of meticulous work on this story.
“Watching this story unfold certainly made me more aware of how I collaborate with people and how important it is to foster a safe and open working relationship. I just try to be as honest as possible with everyone, online and off now.”
Nadler explained that making a documentary was so different from his other projects because of the moral decisions you make.
“You just never know if you’re making the right call or not because you’re dealing with real people,” he said. “I think I just tried to do my best in the editing room to remove any personal bias and to present the story as best and as comprehensively as I could for someone who knew nothing about this story, coming into it for the first time.”
I would say that Nadler used a truly profound and unique lens to tell this story, and its implications and critique of the creative world lingered in my mind for many days. Co-Creators: The Rat Queens Story was worthy of being told, and thankfully someone like Nadler was there to capture it.
“The most rewarding part [was] finishing it and getting accepted to premiere at DOXA. I literally cried when they sent my official selection email because it was just this sense of validation that the last four years of my life weren’t a waste of time,” Nadler said.
“For the first time I felt like maybe I can actually do this. Maybe I actually am a filmmaker.”