Arts·In the Making

The weirdness and the wonderfulness of working on a documentary about your best friend

"When I was first learning Final Cut and Walter would hang out with me in the editing lab, I never imagined one day I'd be working on a show about him."

'When Walter would hang out with me in the editing lab, I never imagined one day I'd work on a show about him'

Lindsay and Walter as drawn by Walter Scott (Courtesy of Lindsay Allikas)

Walter Scott — creator of the beloved Wendy comics, which follow the misadventures of a messy yet lovable aspiring artist — is the focus of this week's episode of In the Making. Stream the whole season now on CBC Gem, or watch it on CBC-TV Friday nights at 8:30 p.m. (9 p.m. NT).

Award-winning editor Lindsay Allikas has worked in film, television and documentary. She has collaborated with filmmakers Don McKellar, Patricia Rozema, Vincenzo Natali and Chelsea McMullan. Most recently she edited the CBC sketch comedy show Tallboyz, directed by Bruce McCulloch. Her most recent feature film, American Woman, was directed by multiple Emmy award-winner Semi Chellas (Mad Men) and just enjoyed a Gala Premiere at TIFF 2019.

But once upon a time, Lindsay was just a student in Montréal with a bestie named Walter Scott. This year, in a strange twist of fate, she was asked to edit an episode of In the Making that profiles him — now a world-renowned comic artist. Lindsay took the gig and spent most of summer 2019 editing a documentary about her best friend. CBC Arts talked to her about the weirdness and wonderfulness of it all.

How did you first meet Walter Scott and why did the friendship stick?

Walter added me on Friendster, which should narrow this timeline down to the three-month period where that was even possible. We were both studying Cinema & Communications in CEGEP and I guess we hit it off immediately. I moved to Vancouver and then Toronto, and we kept in touch through letters and occasional visits. We've spent most of our friendship in different cities, but we've always been able to understand each other. Perhaps it's because we both process our emotions through humour, and it feels like we're speaking the same language. We've reached the point when even the slightest head tilt or eye movement can crack us up.

What's the "secret sauce" that makes his work and the Wendy comics so popular?

Walter is, and always has been, an incredible storyteller. He's able to boil down any interaction into what's most important, absurd and interesting. I think his work resonates with so many people because of the empathy and tenderness he extends to all of his characters and the world they belong to. He's always interested in the underlying motivations for behaviour — not just what the characters do, but what drives them to do it and how they react to the consequences. If the humour is cutting, it's because of its honesty. It takes a lot of bravery to hold a mirror to your life and try to understand and interpret it through art. 

When In the Making approached you to edit an episode this season on Walter Scott, did you have any reservations about having to profile your BFF?

I was a little hesitant because I don't usually work in documentary. But the fact that the episode was being directed by one of my absolute favourite collaborators, Chelsea McMullan, and was about one of my best friends made it feel as though the stars had aligned. I couldn't possibly turn down the opportunity.

Walter Scott. (White Pine Pictures)

Were there any moments when you were stuck between your loyalty to your friend and making the best show? Any examples?

I certainly felt more protective of Walter than any other person or character I've cut. It's very easy to manipulate the way someone comes off on screen in the edit room. It was extremely important to me that we were able to capture him as a person without exploiting him or reducing his personality to some caricature. I tried to preserve his sense of humour, as well as his intelligence and honesty. 

The creator of the Wendy comics, which follow the misadventures of a messy yet lovable aspiring artist, debuts material from his new book in Montreal, the city where Wendy was born. 5:10

You animated Wendy for the first time ever in this episode — what was the biggest challenge in pulling her off the page?

The animations were so much fun. It's the first time Walter and I have been able to collaborate. Obviously he was very involved in the process and had to be somewhat flexible. As our story evolved, we needed the animations to do so as well. It was a balancing act to find moments that would feel right not just for the narrative of the show, but for Walter and Wendy in equal measure.

Was there anything left on the cutting room floor that you wish you could have included?

I could watch Walter cringe while Sean reads quotes from his teenage years all day long, but unfortunately the CBC is strict about episode lengths. 

When you showed Walter the completed doc, were you nervous?

Because of his involvement with the animations, I actually showed Walter a fairly early cut. I was definitely a little nervous. It's difficult to watch yourself on screen, and while Walter has been my date/emotional support at premieres before, he's never watched my work in progress. I didn't want him to get worried about how rough some of it was, but all worked out! Screening it with him actually gave me fresh eyes and I was able to see the story much clearer.

Lindsay and Walter as drawn by Walter Scott (Courtesy of Lindsay Allikas)

Did going through this with your BFF change your relationship with him in any way?

Well, it's certainly made me incredibly sentimental. I don't usually have much patience for nostalgia, but I kept pulling out old photos of Walter and his old zines to show Chelsea while we worked. It's a little spooky to think about how long we've known each other, but fortunately we're still planning to grow old together. It's also made us think of how much fun it could be to work together again.

Any regrets? Advice? Final thoughts?

When I was first learning Final Cut and Walter would hang out with me in the editing lab, I never imagined one day I'd be working on a show about him. We've both been pursuing our passions without giving any thought to them intersecting. So if there's one thing I took away from working on this show, it's to take a moment to appreciate how strange and wonderful life can be.

In the Making takes you on an immersive journey inside the lives and work of Canada's leading artists. Stream the whole season now on CBC Gem, or watch it on CBC-TV Friday nights at 8:30 p.m. (9 p.m. NT).