That’s Life tells the story of a guy (played by Trevor Lawless) who goes to his family's cabin in the countryside with a plan to kill himself, only to have his brothers (David Harris and Shea Norman) unexpectedly show up and try to talk him out of it.
The film uses dark comedy to explore some difficult questions around mental health and suicide and, as director Dan Nicholls explains, the topic is highly suited to recent times.
“The main character is kind of hitting an existential crisis where it seems the future is just bleak,” Nicholls says. “But, it’s an easy place to see oneself, especially these days when it’s getting hard to imagine what a five-month life plan is going to look like – let alone a five-year one.”
After being handed a draft of the script by Lawless (who wrote in addition to starring), Nicholls says he connected immediately with the thematic content and jumped at the opportunity to sink his teeth into the work.
“It was refreshing how open and frank the dialogue was. It’s a topic we wouldn’t normally see in a film, let alone one with three bros drinking beers and swearing while they’re talking about being vulnerable,” he says. “It was the type of conversation I wish I could have with somebody, but it’s not exactly easy to get a group of guys around and be, ‘Hey, I’ve been thinking about killing myself. Let’s rap about it a little bit.’”
“It was exciting for me just to be able to collaborate with these three guys because I knew it was a chance to do something funny.”
He adds he was further drawn to the project by the unique and interesting characters played by Lawless, Harris and Norman. The trio also came with an established comedy following from producing the Beer Me Guys channel on YouTube.
“It was exciting for me just to be able to collaborate with these three guys because I knew it was a chance to do something funny,” Nicholls says. “There are moments where their deliveries or actions elevate the film in ways that I couldn’t have thought of beforehand. Maybe it wasn’t written that way or intended to be filmed that way, but it’s perfect. These guys are so good.”
That’s Life was produced on a budget of just $3,000 (CAD), and was shot over two days at the end of November 2019 in Pemberton, British Columbia. Of course, just as the team was turning their attention to the edit, COVID hit and “everybody’s priorities became keeping the lights on.”
“When you’ve got a small indie budget and you’re relying on favors and goodwill, you have to understand that people have to make a living and you have to prioritize that,” Nicholls says. “I’m not going to stomp my feet and be like, ‘No, please give more attention to this project.’ You need to give attention to yourself before can you give attention to anything else. But, then, as we all know, this whole thing went on and on.”
“I’m constantly trying to make my sets a safe environment for people to do their best work.”
As it turned out, the pandemic meant that post-production didn’t progress until almost two years later, with the film finally debuting in 2022. Despite the disruption, Nicholls admits the experience taught him greater patience and helped him become a better director.
“I look at every time I get to direct something as a chance to grow and put into practice the things I’ve learned from other projects,” he says. “I try to make sure that not only am I as solid as possible on all the technical and performance aspects, but also in my role with the crew and the other departments, so I’m constantly trying to make my sets a safe environment for people to do their best work.”
That’s Life recently reached the end of its festival tour and will be available to stream on the Beer Me Guys channel this summer (subscribe to their channel via the link at the bottom to get notified). With regards to the film’s run so far, Nicholls says he has enjoyed the experience of watching it with live audiences and seeing how people latch onto the story.
“It’s fun at any festival because you never know who else is going to be in your line-up. Sometimes there’s a touching documentary before yours or a film about genocide and then we come along saying the f-word every second word,” he says. “But, really, I hope audiences are entertained more than anything else. I love it if they can come out feeling a way that they didn’t expect to feel walking in.”
In addition to making audiences laugh, Nicholls says he hopes the film helps draw attention to suicide and mental health issues and encourages people to open up to those around them and support each other.
“I’ve always had the attitude that I shouldn’t be afraid to speak about these issues because I don’t want to put any stigma on them that they shouldn’t be discussed. This film has been an opportunity for me to really put my money where my mouth is,” he says. “When I speak about the film, I always say, ‘This is what it’s really about and here’s why we want to talk about it.’ They’re very difficult subjects to face head on and they’re not pleasant at all, but the dialogue needs to exist.”