It's a digital-age version of the timeless chicken-or-egg question:
Which came first, the fictional movie about the development of the real-life website, or the real-life website that's developed into the fictional movie?
Ask Robb Wells, John Paul Tremblay and Mike Smith -- better known to millions of profanity-inclined Canadians as Trailer Park Boys' Ricky, Julian and Bubbles -- to explain the timeline leading up to their latest big-screen effort, SwearNet, and the answer is anything but definitive.
"They both kind of happened simultaneously," Smith explains in a recent telephone interview from Toronto. "We wanted to start our own uncensored outlet on the Internet, where we could just make whatever we want to. And simultaneous to that came the idea of making a movie about (launching a website), so technically, I guess the movie came first, before the actual SwearNet was up and running, but we knew the whole time we were making the movie that we were going to get SwearNet going."
The movie was actually shot a couple of years ago, but its release was delayed by the appearance in theatres last spring of the third TPB feature, Trailer Park Boys: Don't Legalize It ("I don't think they wanted two movies of ours to come out at the same time," says Smith).
SwearNet, which opens locally today, is something of a departure for the TPB trio in that it's the first big-screen project in which they play fictional versions of themselves, rather than Sunnyvale's penitentiary-prone pals, Ricky, Julian and Bubbles.
The film follows these scripted renderings of Wells, Tremblay and Smith as they try to reset their career trajectory after having left Trailer Park behind. And what they find -- in a fictional scene that Wells says closely mirrors an actual meeting they had with their former broadcaster -- is that Canadian TV, in its current corporately integrated, merger-mega-sized, risky-show-averse form, no longer has an appetite for the boundary-pushing brand of comedy that they're interested in doing.
"Some of it was definitely based on what we were dealing with in our real lives," says Wells. "We were no longer able to do Trailer Park Boys, and every time we were out pitching other show ideas we had, networks just didn't seem to be into them as much. They all wanted us to tone down the language and content, and we felt very restricted. We felt this (website) was a way to do something the way we want to do it, and that's what the script originated from."
Only slightly daunted by this latest rejection, the (fictionalized) boys decide on another approach to achieving their post-TPB ambitions. Motivated by Smith's observation that their huge, social-media-savvy fan base would likely follow them onto any new media platform they choose to explore, the trio sets out to launch SwearNet.com, a subscription-based website that will allow them to create and distribute content without the hassle of network execs' concerns about graphic language and other behaviour that challenges the boundaries of taste.
In real life, the trio shot this movie and launched the actual SwearNet at a time when it seemed their Trailer Park days were behind them. Since then, however, Tremblay, Wells and Smith have secured the rights to TPB franchise from the show's original producers -- Barrie Dunn, Mike Volpe and longtime director Mike Clattenburg -- and have shot an eighth season of the series, which will be released on Netflix on Sept. 5.
Before fans get re-introduced to Ricky, Julian and Bubbles, however, they'll have to wrap their heads around the versions of Wells, Tremblay and Bubbles presented in SwearNet. In the TV series, tough guy Julian and dumb guy Ricky drive the show's mischief, while bug-eyed man-child Bubbles provides the heart.
In this new feature, it's Wells and Tremblay who keep the story grounded while Smith -- in what his cohorts describe as only a semi-fictional turn -- is the constantly crazed party animal whose misdeeds put their sputtering careers at risk.
"The Mike Smith in the movie is a complete disaster, a train wreck of a party machine," Wells says with a laugh. "In real life, it isn't quite that bad, but at times it sort of is."
Adds Tremblay: "Mike is basically a nightmare in real life, so we just thought we'd work with that."
Clearly, with the movie as well as with the website, the TPB trio has decided they're going to do things their own way from here on in. No boundaries on language, no boundaries on violence or sexual innuendo. No boundaries at all, other than one to exclude the input of those TV-industry types who used to tell them to tone things down.
"We just try to write things that make us laugh," says Tremblay. "That's the No. 1 thing in our writing -- if we sit around and laugh at an idea, it's definitely going to make it into the movie."