Interview by Cole Groth
Joshua Dela Cruz plays Josh, the third host of the Blue's Clues franchise. He stepped in for the role during the rebooted Blues Clues & You! show, which currently airs on Nickelodeon and Paramount+. Donovan Patton plays Josh, the second host of the Blue's Clues franchise. Both have inspired children everywhere by leading in this classic franchise.
We at disappointment media got the opportunity to speak with Cruz and Patton about the experience of being a Blue's Clues host, and what it's like to work on the big screen.
disappointment media: At one point during the movie, Steve eats a “thinking pretzel,” and now I wonder, do you have anything in your life that helps you think?
Joshua Dela Cruz: Listening to music definitely helps me think. I have a difficult time dealing with procrastination and just general anxiety about failing to do something, so I'll put on ambient music whenever I have to sit at my computer and work. It's something that we do for our dog when we leave because we love our dog. And I was like, “well, why don't I try it?” It does the trick.
Donovan Patton: I always find myself listening to two different things: the Beastie Boys and Run the Jewels x Aesop Rock have these instrumental albums, which aren’t quite ambient, but those albums are super great for me. It's either that or Bach Cello concertos, and as long as they don’t have words, then I’m good.
disappointment: Well, is music your ‘thinking pretzel,’ like Josh, or do you have anything else that gets you thinking?
Patton: If I'm trying to work and get stuff done, I’ll usually listen to music. I also find that taking a walk or hiking helps. When I write, I always have a pencil in my hand. I don't usually write on my computer because I'm very analog. I’ll usually write in a notebook, and the good part about that is that I can just chuck a notebook in my bag or my pocket and go for a walk. And then, if I'm not listening to something with words, like a podcast, my brain will go places where it'll help me to get some stuff done.
disappointment: Donovan, I know that your character returning is significant for the fans, especially since this is a movie. What was your thought process when you first got that call that said, “Oh, hey, we want you back in the movie?”
Patton: Well, I was so excited just to be a part of it. Having done Blue's Clues on my own, seeing Steve do it, then watching Blue's Clues & You!, and working with Josh on it made me think about what those guys would be like in the real world. Like, how would they even just get a coffee together? You get to see that happen in this film, so I was super excited. I'll also work with these guys on anything because they’re so much fun. We work together so well, and I didn't even know how great Josh was before I saw him in this film. He’s so talented and fabulous, and he’s excellent at acting, singing, and dancing. It's fantastic to watch Josh be, to use the dog pun, "unleashed."
disappointment: Josh, what is the best part of being a part of the trio of Blue's Clues leads?
Cruz: There are only two other people who know what it's like to do this job: Steve and Donovan. The coolest part is that we're cousins on the show, and I watched them while I was growing up with my little sister and my cousin, and now we're pretty much cousins in real life. It's like a family reunion whenever we get to work together, and to Donovan's point, I will do anything as long as Steve and Donovan are there. I love them to death and learn so much from them whenever I get the chance to work with them. This time around, you'll see Steve and Joe as you've never seen them before. You're going to laugh; you're going to smile. If you don't have kids, you're still going to have a great time, and that's because of them. And I'm so, so excited for people to see this.
Blue’s Big City Adventure releases exclusively on Paramount+ on November 18th.
Interview by Cole Groth
BD Wong is an acclaimed actor who's known for his roles as Dr. George Huang on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Father Ray Mukada on Oz, Dr. Henry Wu in the Jurassic Park franchise, and Captain Li Shang in Mulan. Brianna Bryan is the voice actress behind Rainbow Puppy, a role from Blues Clues & You! that she's reprising in Blue's Big City Adventure.
We at disappointment media got the opportunity to speak with Wong and Bryan about what it's like to be a part of the Blue's Clues franchise, and to inspire children everywhere.
disappointment: What's it like to join the cast of a beloved franchise like Blue's Clues?
Wong: It is so great. I've had the experience a few times over my career where I get to be a guest star on a sitcom or a television show that’s very important and well-revered. When a franchise like this is so beloved, you feel special to be a part of it. It's a unique experience. I felt like I was aware of the importance of this, and I had my investment in what the show means to people. I was not let down by how the crew created this movie; how they behaved, thought, and collaborated was so wonderful, so I loved that part. It made me realize that, yes, you can meet your heroes. From the top down, the whole cast and crew have created a tone of exceptionally positive energy and mindfulness that I think you can feel when you watch the show. We’re doing something fundamentally important, and I don't like to overstate it, but this franchise has done so much good for kids worldwide.
disappointment: Brianna, you've voiced the character of Rainbow Puppy on the Blue's Clues & You! and now you're playing her in a movie. BD just mentioned the environment around the production; what was that production experience like for you?
Bryan: For me, the production was more similar to the regular show, whereas it was very different for Joshua. I got to be in the studio again, so it all felt like a natural progression from Rainbow Puppy being introduced and going through smaller adventures. Now she gets to be seen in a new light. The experience behind the scenes was in the studio; I was solo, just like I usually am. In this film, I sang my heart out and danced around the studio. I'm very animated, so I enjoy being in that space. But who knows? I mean, we don't know what the future holds. Someone mentioned a potential cameo at one point.
Wong: Haha, in a Rainbow Puppy costume?
Bryan: Yeah, in that costume. It was pretty similar for me on the production side, although it’s just a different experience to be in the magic of making a movie. Delivering Rainbow Puppy to this big screen was such a great time.
Wong: Shooting the movie on location, let alone locations in New York City, makes this a new experience than the show. It's a vastly different enterprise for the filmmakers, and that must have been wild, especially for Josh.
disappointment: BD, I mentioned I had this interview with one of my friends, and as a gay man, he excitedly asked, “You're interviewing BD Wong?!” Which reminded me that you’re already such an inspiration, especially to those in the gay community. How do you think this movie will inspire kids of every background?
Wong: Well, thank you, because I wanted to be part of it because I've felt very comfortable and trusting of their understanding of diversity and inclusion. Throughout the show's history, their commitment to inclusion has grown, especially in the Josh version of the show, and they have a fundamental understanding of representation. For this new generation, there are clues they will take with them through their lives of how important it is to accept all people. It’s important to show them to have open hearts and minds and be optimistic about differences. So, I am aligned with this whole mission. Because the kids are so young, I think getting this message across is super important.
Bryan: Yeah, and just to add to the awareness of it all, I think placing these messages where they’re meant to be seen is very important. If you don't get the message, you don't, but it's intended to give you an awareness of differences in the world the way you might see it in the classroom.
Wong: ...which is exactly what representation is. That's all it is. It's got to be there for a person not to be invisible.
Blue’s Big City Adventure releases exclusively on Paramount+ on November 18th.
Interview by Cole Groth
Matt Stawski is an up-and-coming director who directed some of the biggest music videos of the early 2010s, including "Hey, Soul Sister," by Train, "When Can I See You Again," by Owl City, and "[Forget] You," by CeeLo Green. Blue's Big City Adventure is his second feature, and perhaps his biggest project yet.
We at disappointment media got the opportunity to speak with Stawski about what it's like to direct a live-action/animated hybrid film. You can check out Blue’s Big City Adventure on Paramount+ starting November 18th.
disappointment: I was doing a little perusing through IMDb, and I know that you've directed some very influential music videos. How did your experience with music videos prepare you for this film?
Matt Stawski: From doing music videos for years, I learned how to shoot a performance, get all the different angles, and the musicality of it all. If you look at CeeLo Green's "[Forget] You," it's obviously inspired by Motown. And I'm originally from Detroit and the oldies. It's all we listened to when we were young. So I'm always thinking of taking genres, whether it's swaying, jazz, or doo-wop, and researching the dance style. So for this film, we looked backward for choreography and then took it and put it into a contemporary space. So making music videos and working with choreographers got me ready for this. When the days on set were with Blue - when we were doing the musical numbers - it was like clockwork, and we hammered stuff out quickly. So that experience helped the preparation for that.
disappointment: Well, speaking of the production style, what's it like to work with the live-action/animation hybrid?
Stawski: I have experience doing a lot of green screen work, and I’ve worked on many projects with animation comped into live-action situations. However, this was the first time we had these motion-tracking balls on set; there's a blue one and a gray one, which is how they capture the lighting. And that gives all the actors their eye lines. So this was the first time we had multiple actors interacting with different eye lines on set at one point. You know, in the film's final scene, you'll see the director of the play, BD Wong’s character, with Josh, Steve, and Joe. In that scene, there’s a total of, like, 12 animated characters all around them. I'm glad we didn't do that scene first because that was a heck of a scene. But yeah, shooting with all the different eye levels was interesting because we had to make sure the heights were aligned and that everyone was interacting with the animated characters as best as possible.
disappointment: Earlier, you mentioned Steve, and one of the critical scenes of this film is when he opens his door and looks back at the audience. It’s such an important scene, and I want to know how you approached it.
Stawski: It was essential to have a big reveal, so we made the high contrast, noir Godfather aesthetic. When he opens the door and addresses the audience, Steve is talking more or less to the adults because they were young in the 90s growing up with him, so he's speaking at a different height since he's standing up. Eye level is fundamental in Blue's Clues. Steve, Donovan, and Josh never talk down to anyone, and he stands up when he opens the door. His mannerisms and phrasing are very much oriented to talking to the adults while Josh is still talking to the kids. So that was a fascinating contrast between Steve and Josh in a Blue's Clues movie in 2022.
Blue’s Big City Adventure releases exclusively on Paramount+ on November 18th.
Interview by Sean Boelman
After a successful debut at the 2022 Sundance Film Festival in the midnight section, Carlota Pereda’s Piggy has had a successful festival run, with stops along the way at such festivals as Fantasia and Fantastic Fest. A bloody coming-of-age tale, the film is an expansion of Pereda’s award-winning short of the same name from 2018.
We at disappointment media got the opportunity to speak with Pereda about her film, discussing things like the film’s themes, complexities, and execution. Check out the full interview here!
On Creating the Short From the Feature
disappointment media: So of course Piggy is an expansion of your short film with the same name. What was it like exploring more of this character's story?
Carlota Pereda: Well, for me, it was a joy because I loved Sara so much. I just had to find out more about her, about who she was as a human being. For me, the main goal behind the whole movie is to find out who she was, and to let people experience life through her eyes for a while.
disappointment: Yeah, absolutely. I think one of my favorite parts of the film is the world you build and getting to expand that from the short to the future was really exciting. How did you build this world?
Pereda: I tried to stay as true to the character as possible. And for that, it's always more interesting when you draw from the things you've seen, and this is all people I know, this is all situations I understand. I did a lot of research about people who have been bullied, I've been bullied all my life. But I wanted to know what it was to be bullied now. And so I did a lot of research about families. And I talked with people in the village and all the villages around it about how life was in a small village. And that let me choose how her life would be, how her parents would be, all drawn from situations and people that I knew from experience.
On the Film's Complexity
disappointment: I think that something that was really unique about this film was that there's kind of like, several different antagonists, but none of them is really a villain, because there's the kidnapper, there's the bullies, there's the mother who's a little abusive, but like I said, no one's really a villain. How did you want to show this complexity?
Pereda: For me, that's what life is about. It's about the grays. You know this is normalized violence. And this is how we deal with it. And everybody's tainted by it. So I didn't want to say this is the good guy, and this is the bad guy. I mean, we have our heroine who is also not morally pure. And for me, that's the complexity of human behavior.
disappointment: I also really liked the atmosphere of the film, you know, it's kind of grimey, and it's set in the Spanish summer, and it's got this kind of retro feel. Can you talk about building that?
Pereda: Yeah, we shot the movie in Panavision, but we turned it into 4:3, because we like the aesthetics of Panavision, but we like the the organicity but we didn't like the aspect ratio because the aspect ratio has to be focused on the human body and to be as claustrophobic as possible. And also for me summer, it makes you think about your childhood, for some reason. But at the same time, summer is when you feel the body most. You cannot escape your body because it's so hot, the body is always present. Gor me the body was obviously very important, and how we're basically all trapped in our body. The fact that it is shot in Extremadura which is a very poor area in Spain, that doesn't have trains to go there, you can only come by a bus that goes only a couple of times a month and by car . It's very poor, and the cars are very old, and people live the life they lived all their lives, but at the same time, you have their mobiles with latest generation models and supermarkets moving in. Things are changing and there's always a violence when in a change, you know, when the tradition smashes with modern world capitalism. So for me that was really interesting. And that really added layers to the claustrophobic atmosphere.
disappointment: And you mentioned this but one of the main themes of the film is obviously body and body image. What made you interested in exploring this topic?
Pereda: I've been interested all my life, I guess because I'm a woman and you know, you're always judged by the way you look from the moment you're born basically. Of course, it happens with men as well, but we women, it’s especially in your face. And I always struggle with that, that we should be judged by our looks before anything else, and it's always something that has enraged me all my life for some reason.
On Subverting Expectations
disappointment: Usually when you think of body horror, you're thinking of stuff like Cronenberg, like grossed out stuff but that's not what this is, this is kind of an unorthodox, unique approach to body horror. Can you kind of talk about Piggy's place in that genre?
Pereda: I don't know. It's an interesting take. It could be body horror because it's from the people's point of view, it’s in the eye of the beholder. You know, because really her body is beautiful, and it counts like her case and then is a weapon, you know, so it's like, making a twist on the body horror, you know, somebody whose body is really very powerful and helps her in when she needs it.
disappointment: And I think the other genre that this kind of subverts expectations with is like, like a coming of age film, because you know, you have a lot of coming of age films that are set in the summer. And this is not that. It's very different. How did you kind of set out to integrate those tropes, but still subvert expectations?
Pereda: Oh, that was a lot of fun. For me, I love Korean movies. And the way they subvert genres all the time. They are such an inspiration, the work of Director Bong is a huge inspiration for me. When I started thinking about expanding the world of Sara, for me, it was always going to be a coming of age, where she decides who she wants to be, where she's gonna have a love interest which may not be the best for her. But yeah, that's one of the reasons behind the color palette — we chose the color palette of the coming of age story. I thought it was fun to have that contrast with the genre.
disappointment: And like you mentioned, this is a film of contrasts, creating those juxtapositions. Do you want to talk about your use of juxtaposition in the film?
Pereda: For me, the audience is one of the main protagonists of this film. Because we, as an audience, always bring our spin or experience into everything of fiction that we see or we read. I wanted to subvert the audience's expectations and prejudices against Sara, against genre, and against the whole theme of the movie, and to really make them involved in the moral decisions. And for that I had to play with all those things.
disappointment: Something else I really liked about this film was its structure. You have this high intensity first act. It's kind of like the recreation of what was done in the short film. And then you have this more character driven second act that's a bit quieter, and then everything kind of goes unhinged in the third act. Do you kind of want to talk about building that unique structure?
Pereda: First, I always thought that I'm gonna make a movie where the horror is in the real things, in the real people. And in the genre, that's not the scarier spot. Second, I had to figure out how we normalize violence. You know, something happens, and then life goes on. And there's comedy and there's levity. And there's love and there's sex, and there's everything. And then the third part is reality, it blows you in the face, and this is the consequence of everything we've seen.
disappointment: Something that you mentioned that I kind of really enjoyed about the film was kind of the dark sense of humor that the film almost has, especially in the third act where it kind of is kind of twisted. Do you kind of want to talk about the incorporation of humor into the film?
Pereda: I don't understand life without humor. I think there's humor in everything, and there's absurdity in everything. And for me, it's just part of the human experience. Without that, I don't feel there's realness to anything.
disappointment: Something that happens throughout the film is this idea of catharsis, what do you think the role of catharsis in the film is?
Pereda: Catharsis is important if you want to forgive, you want to move on. I wanted the movie to be cathartic for Sara, the character, and also for the audience and to really make them be part of the experience and come out later thinking, "What would I have done in her place, would I have done the same thing, and if not, why?" So for me, the idea of a bit of catharsis is just to kind of explore that circle of violence that we see through the whole movie and in the village, their behavior towards her and everything that goes on, you know, Sara goes on from having no voice to screaming.
disappointment: I think that the ending of the film, you know, it's not a traditional happy ending, but it's also not necessarily a depressing ending, either. It's kind of somewhere in the middle. Is this always how you envision the ending of the film being?
Pereda: I kind of toyed with the idea of going a bit longer, not different, but having a bit of a coda, so to speak. But you know, the movie ends when it ends, and I never shot it. I mean, I didn't even write it as a play form, but kind of outlined it. Because, you know, it had to be there. It had to be that way with that image. I'm a very visual writer, I write what you see. And for me, it just had to end with that. It just kind of rounded everything visually.
On Finding an Intricate Balance
disappointment: I think there are some really exceptional images in the film. I mean, obviously, the image that was used for the poster here in the States was of her, kind of walking down the road kind of bloodied. Did you have a favorite image in the film?
Pereda: Well, for me, my favorite scene in the movie is the washing machine scene. And I think that would be my favorite image.
disappointment: And why do you think that is?
Pereda: I don't know. I think because she's just great in that scene on camera. And I like the idea of making a comedy, and that the moment that the movie turns into a real thriller is about a washing machine. But at the same time, it's a comedy. And I'm just glad that it worked out.
disappointment: You mentioned how great Laura Galan's performance in the film is absolutely fantastic. How did you discover her?
Pereda: It took me two years to discover her for the short. I didn't have a casting agency then, so I just went on by myself. I watched every single Spanish movie, I went to theater schools, I went to high schools, I even approached people on the street. And then one day, I was losing hope that I was gonna make this short, because I didn't find the actors that I wanted. Because the ones I found were teenagers that didn't have the arms to really go through what I wanted to do and how I wanted to do it, because I didn't want it to be a bad experience for them. And I didn't want to have to shoot it differently. Then I went to see this play where she was on stage only for a couple of minutes. And she was great, but she was a bit older, and I had my doubts. I didn't want it to be like Grease, you know, where everybody is very old in high school, even though I love Grease. But I asked my producer, and they saw her in something else a long time ago and she was great. So I met her, and she arrived and she was like a 14 year old. She was lovely. And I asked her to see if she could try the last look on the short. And she nailed it. And she completely understood the character. And it was so freeing that she was older because we could really talk bluntly and like good friends like how we would do it, and especially why and what is she feeling and all those complexities that I would have had to do it in a roundabout way directing a teenager.
disappointment: And you mentioned the complexities of the character several times. Obviously there's the part of the character that obviously were supposed to empathize with her for her struggles, like her being bullied. And then there are some things that she does that are morally gray. What do you think were the challenges, both for you, as a writer to write this and as a director to guide Laura through this performance?
Pereda: You know, guiding Laura is just a joy. Basically, you just have to hold her hand, which is what I did, literally most of the scenes. Before I said action, we would be together holding hands and embracing and then we said, "Okay, let's go now." And it was a joy. I mean, we did work a lot with the screenplay. We rehearsed some of the scenes, but also we rehearsed the relationships with the other actors and the other characters. And the screenplay was said as voice. You know, normally, you just write the actions and that's it. And you're not supposed to say what the characters are thinking, but I did that. So there was always this guiding voice she was feeling through in every single scene. So we discussed that a lot to try to create a clear character arc, because she doesn't talk that much. So it's just a testament of her amazing acting job that you can really feel what she's thinking without saying a word.
disappointment: Something else that you mentioned earlier that I want to circle back to is that this film is very disturbing in several ways. I mean, obviously, you have the traditional horror imagery, you have the kidnapper, the killer, who's doing all of these gory, violent things. And then you have these horror images that are more related to bullying and body shaming. How do you kind of go about building horror in these two very distinct separate ways, but bring them together?
Pereda: For me, the first part has to be more horrific that the last part, you know, and it had to be real, and we couldn't hold back. And it had to be told from her point of view to really make the audience be in her place in her shoes while that was happening without cutting from it. The other part, when we are bullying the girls, that was different. I knew I didn't want to glamorize violence. You know, I want it to feel real and raw. There are bad things happening to girls and I didn't want that to be glamorized. You know. And the last thing is that I think that reality is what brings them together, the fact that we're not making a joke of it, it's something that happens. There can be some humor, but we're not laughing at them.
disappointment: Something that is common in a lot of depictions of plus sized individuals is that they are the butt of the joke. But Sara, in this film, was very much not the butt of the joke. Do you want to talk about the unique responsibility of having this plus size heroine?
Pereda: There's always a political statement or a moral statement when you shoot. Always. And if you don't do it, it's because you haven't thought about it. And for me, it was very important that this is Sarah. And we shouldn't tell her about the way she is, and you think that she's brave because she's wearing a bikini. It makes you think why you think she's brave. You've seen a lot of girls wearing a bikini, and then you think she's brave, why? For me, it was important to show her, like the error of this and stop thinking of her as a victim, stop thinking of her as a plus size girl, and think of the heroine she is. Of the girl and who's becoming a woman. It was important to show the complexity and the beauty of her as a character. We don't see it. And it's also kind of kind of a bit upsetting that we don't see that more often.
disappointment: Obviously, you know, the film is very disturbing. But it's also very sensitive and the way it approaches this topic, because it is a very complex, touchy topic for many people. What was it like finding this balance between being disturbing enough to hammer the point home, but being sensitive enough to where it was tasteful?
Pereda: We did talk with a lot of victims of bullying. It's also the screenplay, but the camera work, the way you move the camera, the way you depict the body is always going to comment on something. And we didn't want to comment on anything. So we were always very watchful that was not going to be the issue because that would be absolutely against the point of the movie and against the point of us as filmmakers.
Piggy is now in theaters and on VOD.
Interview by Sean Boelman
In the genre community, Peter Strickland is one of the most beloved filmmakers because of his films' unique use of atmosphere and satire. His newest work, the high society satire Flux Gourmet, is perhaps his most idiosyncratic film yet — a truly bizarre blend of gastric distress, dark humor, and commentary on the art world — but it’s downright fascinating to dissect.
We at disappointment media had the chance to speak with Strickland about his film and some of the techniques he used in creating this surreal fantasy. Check out the interview below and be sure to see Flux Gourmet, in theaters and on VOD now!
On His Distinctive Use of Sound
disappointment media: Sound is an important part of all of your films, and I would say it's especially important in Flux Gourmet. What do you like most about sonic experimentation in your films?
Peter Strickland: Well, I suppose a little bit just came from watching Eraserhead at quite a young age. I was 16. And that was a huge epiphany for me, because I think prior to that, I was watching, you know, Tom Cruise films, which I still love, but it's just a very different approach to sound in something like Cocktail. And suddenly, sound was not illustrating something, it was actually expressing something. And there was just a complete reversal of how I thought about sound, how it conveyed a state of mind and it really just opened up something that I really wanted to explore, that I felt I could do something with somehow. So yeah, I think I'm still chasing that feeling from watching Eraserhead all those years ago.
disappointment: In this film, particularly, I really loved your use of experimental music. What were some of your influences for the soundtrack of the film in that regard?
Strickland: Well, it's gonna sound very self reflexive, but we had a band called The Sonic Catering Band. So a lot of it came from what we did. But also, I was listening to Luigi Nono. And we actually played his music for the trips to the shops, especially. I think when the guy who did the eventual music, Roger Stevens, he was using all these gongs and he fed into this 2600 modular synthesizer, the same synthesizer that I think that Ben Burtt used for R2D2. And I think a lot of it also came from bands like White House, Throbbing Gristle, Robert Ashley, even Butthole Surfers. A lot of people were taking found voices coming back from radio phone-ins or whatever, but usually detailing something very disturbing, you know, horrific abuse and so on. So really quite shocking stuff. But there's something very haunting about the quality of the voice, this found voice, and I wanted to try that with the scene in the film, the scatological scene, but I didn't want to have anything where someone is a victim. I wanted to do something else. But it was still very intense. So I wrote something for that and the mixer's friend. He got an actor he knew to record something in German, and we treated it as if it came from some kind of radio phone-in. And so yeah, I think bands like that.
On Flux Gourmet's Unorthodox Satire
disappointment: So in the film, you juxtapose this high society institution, with shock value with an almost ribald nature. What made you want to set out on this satirical approach?
Strickland: I guess it's a world I know quite well, both the funding world and being in a band, something I felt quite confident in. Obviously, what you're seeing is not the real world. But I was interested in the whole power play in these arguments and how ego, just like in everything in life, especially politics, how ego just destroys everything. It's very important to take the most ridiculous thing, you know, a tiny change in the flanger. That's all they wanted, it wouldn't make any difference either way. But they lock horns over something so small. So in a way, the flanger was a MacGuffin to explore. Yeah, I guess I was interested in ego, in deceit and how and how people self curate themselves, especially now in the world of social media, how you present yourself, the nature of doing a biopic about yourself, and I wanted to look at the lies, the deceit behind all that.
disappointment: And in a similar way, the film has this, you know, very absurd sense of humor on one hand. And then on the other hand, it's very solemn. Why do you think that this balance between the two modes was important to you?
Strickland: Well, I wanted to look at stomach issues. We've seen them played for laughs all the time. Fair enough, fine. But I wanted to look at it differently. I think for a lot of people, it's not a joke. It's something very, very, very, very serious. I'm not aware of that having been done before. So as you say, to take something which is normally done as something vulgar or something "frat boy" or funny and give it this laconic, solemn feel. And obviously, it's pitted against all the bickering you see, between the band. How that gels together? I don't know. I'm hoping it works for one audience. But you know, what I'm more concerned about is an audience being with Stones's character, whether they laugh or not at all. The bickering doesn't bother me. But, you know, if they laugh at the Stones character, I feel I've somehow failed. ut someone told me after seeing the film, they said, "Oh, you know, your fart jokes were not very funny." And it's like, "Okay, that was the idea."
disappointment: I think that one of my favorite parts of the film is the character work. So you have like, Stones in the film is spatially with the characters, you know, a few steps aside, but also kind of intimately voyeuristic. And I feel like that is also what we feel as the audience. How did you kind of go about building this?
Strickland: Very much. He is a narrator, he is a window into their world. But obviously, we're a window into his world. I think what fascinated me was when I make films, sometimes you have, they call them the EPK person, the electronic press kit person, someone who's there to document us filming. And their job is to be invisible. And those characters always fascinate me. Let's take the invisible person, let's put that person on center stage. And he clearly wants to be invisible. That's the whole thing. One, that is his job to be invisible, and two, because of his stomach issues, he's even more motivated that way. And somehow, it's like a centrifuge is just going to suck it into the center by the manipulations of Fatima's character. So that was the thing, he's invisible, but he's unwitting. He ended up in the band, basically, so it's just charting that journey of being someone who is just doing a job, but there's this idea that he is someone who, like a lot of these characters, they're all aspiring directors, or aspiring novelists, and all of us have to do jobs, which are commercial jobs. And I do commercial jobs. I write for other people. So I'm very much used to the idea of putting on a different head. You know, he's there like a tailor. So yeah, I'm just interested in those characters really.
Flux Gourmet is now in theaters and on VOD.
Interview by Sean Boelman
The Overlook Film Festival is well-known among the horror community to be a great showcase for some of the most exciting genre films that you will see all year. One of the films that was set to make its World Premiere at the festival was Swallowed, seasoned horror director Carter Smith’s extraordinarily queer horror flick, and it is quite the film to behold.
We at disappointment media got the opportunity to sit down with Smith in advance of the film’s premiere to talk about the film, seeing penis in horror films, queer representation in horror, and how making indie horror is different than making studio horror. Check out the interview below and make sure to see Swallowed when it comes to a festival near you!
On Seeing Penis in Horror Films
disappointment media: So first of all, there's this extraordinary artwork I've been given right before this interview began. What is the nature of this?
Carter Smith: There's an artist that I follow on Instagram, named Christian Santiago and I'm just in love with his drawings. He does these sort of intricate, large scale drawings that are all kind of queer horror based. And early on, I was like, "If I send you the script, would you maybe like, draw a picture? Would you like to do a piece for me?" And so I send the script and he's like, "I want to do something from the bathroom scene. And so this is what he came up with."
disappointment: That's awesome.
Smith: So you have to include this so people know what we're talking about, hahaha.
disappointment: I was talking about the film yesterday with some people who hadn't seen it yet. One of the selling points was that there is an exceptional amount of penis in the film.
Smith: There is. That was very important from the inception.
disappointment: Why do you think that was important?
Smith: I spent so many years as a young gay kid, like looking for penis in the horror movies that I loved. And it was never there. I did it to provide for the younger generation.
disappointment: And you know, I think that that's something that is really special about indie horror. Like, you've worked in both studio horror and indie horror. Do you think that indie horror gave you that freedom to make those creative choices?
Smith: Yeah, I mean, there definitely wasn't anyone saying that I couldn't do something. You know, like when I made The Ruins, there was a scene in the hotel when they're hungover and they're getting ready to go out. And it became a huge discussion and conversation about even showing a guy's butt after it. But yet there was like, mandatory nudity for one of the girls. And like, I don't agree with that at all. And so it was nice to, you know, sort of have a flip side of that, where I could do whatever I wanted.
disappointment: Yeah. Do you think that there's this double standard in terms of horror filmmaking and you know, showing female nudity versus not showing male nudity?
Smith: I mean, I think it's changing. People are getting a lot more comfortable with seeing dick. And, you know, it's always been butt, but I feel like audiences have gotten a lot more used to seeing at all.
On Queer Horror
disappointment: So obviously, this is a very queer horror film. What do you think is the importance of queer genre cinema?
Smith: Just seeing yourself in the films you love. Seeing characters that act like you and look like you and talk like you and love like you, that's super important. And that kind of can't be discounted for young people watching films, seeing themselves is so important. And I mean, sure, you can watch like, you know, awkward coming of age, sort of traditional queer movies. But like, there hasn't traditionally been a whole lot of representation in real genre cinema. So given the chance to, "Okay, go do whatever you want," which this was, I was like, "Okay, this is what I want"
disappointment: What do you think some of your favorite queer genre films would be?
Smith: I mean, I do have a soft spot for Nightmare on Elm Street 2. If for no other reason, just because seeing Mark Patton in that movie was the first time that I felt like I saw myself. You know, I was a teenager in bumfuck, middle of nowhere, Maine. And there was someone who was like, "Oh my God, he dares to wear that yellow shirt that I wish I could wear to school, but I don't, I can't." So that was a really big one for me. Now there's lots more. Like, I love Erlingur Thoroddsen's movie, Rift, the Icelandic movie. I think also, there's this tendency now that films don't have to be only a queer horror film. Like it can have queer characters that that's not the source of the suffering. It's not the source of the evil. They're just sort of part of the story, which I find really interesting. When it becomes less about someone being queer and more about them just as a fully developed character in an otherwise horrifying movie.
disappointment: Yeah, I definitely agree with that. I think that that is kind of the next step for representation. And I think you do a great job of that in this film, how you know, the characters are fundamentally queer–
Smith: But that's not what it's about. I mean, it kind of is, because it is sort of a love story. I mean, there is that element to it, but it's not front and center in a way that you might expect.
On Casting the Film
Boelman: And you talked about Mark Patton, he's in this film. I absolutely loved his performance. I think it's probably my favorite part of the movie. What was it like getting him to be in the film?
Smith: You know, I wrote the part for him. And having never met him and only after seeing Scream, Queen!, and then, when I wrote it, I was like, "This would be fucking amazing for Mark," And I just sent him a message on Instagram. And was kind of relentless and kept messaging him, and got his email and sent him the script and sent him a package. And he didn't get it at first, what it was all about. He didn't even realize that I was actually offering him a part in this. And when he did, he was kind of taken aback and he was scared to death of it in a lot of ways. Because, you know, it's a pretty juicy part. And in the way we were shooting it with a micro budget, tiny crew, remote, remote, remote. It had a lot of challenges. But he was a trooper, and like, fully showed up. And it was kind of amazing.
disappointment: There aren't a lot of movies that have those juicy parts for older queer actors. Can you talk about this film and that role's significance in that regard?
Smith: I think that so much of queer cinema, especially, is focused on youth, and coming of age, and like these beautiful boys on swim teams longingly looking across the pool. And that's part of a queer experience. But you certainly don't stop being queer when you're in your 50s and 60s and 70s and beyond. So, I think that, it just kind of goes towards telling stories that are fleshed out with real characters that just happen to be queer. And then it's not necessarily like, why they're in the story, but that's just part of who they are.
disappointment: You also have Jena Malone in this film. Yeah, she's great as well. I was actually watching the film, and I'm like, "I wonder when Jena Malone is going to show up?" And then it just dawned on me that it was her because like, her performance was that transformative. Can you talk a bit about her performance?
Smith: That’s awesome. Again, she was someone who I wrote with it in mind. The whole project was conceived to be something that I could do with a very small crew and with things that I had access to. I knew that we were already friends from doing The Ruins. And so I knew I could text her, because we talked about doing something and it just hadn't come together yet. It was very much like I wrote it with her in mind, this kind of badass, tough, I don't know how you would describe her character exactly. But she also was someone that, because she's been on sets for so long and she's been working for so long, she helped, in a way, everything that we did, she elevated it. Everyone was like, "Okay, we're on our A-game." Even if it's like Jose's first movie that he has ever been in, for him to be able to watch her and how she works was incredible.
disappointment: You mentioned Jose Colon. And Cooper Koch is also a relatively new actor. How did you find the two of them?
Smith: Jose, I found. I am also a photographer. I shoot this series of portraits called "All the Dead Boys," and he was someone who I'd photographed for it. And I just found him super interesting. And took the photos, like went off. A couple weeks later, I was editing and it was the same time I was sort of starting to think about the script. And I just had these pictures out. And I was like, "Oh, his name is Dom. He seems like this sweet, potential redneck rural, straight guy with a heart of gold who his best friend might fall in love with." So it was very much written for him which was, which was super exciting for him, but also for me, because I was writing to what I knew. And he was amazing. And Cooper, I had actually met Cooper a couple of years before just sort of briefly. And that was the one role that we ended up like having people put themselves on tape for and actually did a proper little bit of casting. And he was just incredible. It was clear from the very first moment I watched his tape.
disappointment: That's a very hard role, obviously. How did you work with him to get through those difficult moments?
Smith: I mean, he was pretty game. Everyone knew what they were signing up for it and everyone sort of knew, this was gonna be a really tough shoot. There's a lot of material here that is potentially tricky, and we're gonna roll up our sleeves, and we're gonna get dirty and slimy, and everyone sort of had to sign on to work in that way, before I felt comfortable, saying, "Okay, you're on Team Swallowed." If you have a problem helping to carry our catering in or out of location, we don't want you. You have to, you have to pitch in and help.
On the Film's Aesthetic and Atmosphere
disappointment: The whole film has this grimy aesthetic that's very very discomforting. How did you come to build this aesthetic?
Smith: The whole aesthetic is very rural Maine, which is where we shot and which is where I grew up. And just the overpowering beauty of the natural setting in the forest, that was where a lot of it started. And like the camp that we shot at, that's an off-the-grid camp that my dad and he forced me to help him a little bit when I was a teenager. I went begrudgingly, and thank God I did, because now we had a camp that I could shoot at. But a lot of it is for the most part in daylight, so like the sliminess, it's a good texture. Imagine, like when you see a really slimy, weird slug, and it's covered with debris and bits of fur, dead leaves. And there's something about that contrast that I was really fascinated with.
disappointment: Something I really loved about the film is that, you know, you've got this atmosphere that's really uncomfortable and unsettling, but you don't really use jump scares. So how did you kind of go about, like, making that tension throughout the film?
Smith: I mean, jump scares, I'm not a fan of for the most part anyway. For me, building a sense of dread and unease is always my favorite thing to try to figure out how to do any and every way possible. I think that once you realize what has happened in the film, and what has to happen afterwards, that's uncomfortable for most audience members, I would dare say. So, as much as anything, it's the psychological aspect of thinking that you have to face what these characters go through, it immediately makes people uncomfortable.
disappointment: There's a lot of minimalism to the film as well, I would say. You don't show a lot of the creatures, which I mean, part of that, I'm assuming, is probably budget constraints that you couldn't show a lot. But it also makes it more unsettling, I think. Those quick flashes of it let you imagine it.
Smith: And they're super simple. The creature design, everything about them is very simple. And from the beginning, I knew that we were going to be limited. We'd be shooting in daylight and we did want to do everything practically. So I knew that was going to be the box that we were playing in. And that maybe we might get a little bit of digital help afterwards if it was necessary, but it wasn't planned that way. It was planned to be 100% practical. And I had met Dan Martin, the special effects designer, here at the Overlook a couple of years ago at the closing party, and we just hit it off. And he ended up doing the creature work on this. And it was super fun to do something practical. Like I've done digital stuff, and I've done some practical stuff, but like a practical creature, I guess if you want to call it a creature, was really fun. Because it was practical, there's a lot of clamps and springs. And then you get these cramps in your hand from puppeteering. I still have carpal tunnel from puppeteering the creatures.
disappointment: I also really liked the cinematography, the aspect ratio was very small and I would say claustrophobic. Can you talk a bit about that?
Smith: I knew I wanted it to feel super claustrophobic. Not only are they sort of trapped for the second half of the movie in this little cabin, surrounded by nothing but open space, I liked the idea of shooting in that aspect ratio. And because also, a face looks so good in that ratio. To me, a close up works so much better when the film is in 4:3, it looks so great in 4:3. And, you know, widescreen or 16:9 or any other formats, it starts to be less impactful in a lot of ways. And knowing the room that we were going to be in a lot of the film, I was like, "Okay, I'd rather have a frame full of face than a frame with 1/3 face and two thirds of this room that's going to get boring to look at." And Alex Wolf Lewis, who shot the film, he's actually a documentary shooter. This is his first narrative feature. He's very much used to kind of going into a space, not lighting it, following whatever happens and shooting it that way. So that's how we approached it in the film.
disappointment: On one hand, this film is very grounded, you've got the thriller elements, like the crime elements that are very grounded. And then you have this kind of sci-fi/horror thing in it. How did you find the balance between the two to make it so unnerving?
Smith: I always felt like the, the natural, the sci-fi element to me it's actually not that sci-fi because it's 100% plausible, right? There are, there are so many versions of natural animals, venoms, that people have been taking, ingesting, using, injecting for hundreds of years. So, to me, it's less sci-fi and more a strange northern Maine drug subculture. But I knew that none of that stuff would work if the rest of the film wasn't pretty grounded, both in character and reality and the textures, all the locations. It was all very real. And that's kind of what we set out from the beginning to make sure so that when things go a little crazy and get a little less real, you buy it in that world.
Swallowed premiered at the 2022 Overlook Film Festival, which ran June 2-5. It can next be seen at the Fantasia International Film Festival in July.
Interview by Sean Boelman
The Phantom of the Open debuted at last year’s BFI London Film Festival to great acclaim. Written by Simon Farnaby (Paddington 2) and directed by Craig Roberts (Eternal Beauty), the film tells the unbelievably true story of Maurice Flitcroft, a man who entered the British Open despite not being a professional and ended up scoring the highest round in the history of the tournament.
We at disappointment media got the opportunity to talk with Farnaby and Roberts in advance of the film’s release. We talked about golf movies, the Flitcroft family, Paddington 2, and more. Check out the interview below and make sure to see The Phantom of the Open in theaters beginning June 3.
On Golf in The Phantom of the Open
disappointment media: So what are some of your favorite movies that feature the sport of golf?
Simon Farnaby: Oh, good question. I mean, Caddyshack is probably my favorite. Yeah, but Craig and I disagree a lot over Happy Gilmore. I usually love all the films that Craig loves, but I really hate Happy Gilmore. And I think I hate you because I don't think it's a golf movie. I think it's a hockey movie.
Craig Roberts: Yeah. I think you're right. If you look at it that way, it's brilliant.
Farnaby: But I'll tell you something, which is that I grew up around golf and I love golf, and always sort of wanted a good golf movie that did golf some justice in terms of this sort of competition of it. I mean, Tin Cup got pretty close. But I always went, "Why do these courses look so shit?" Like they don't look like that. Championship courses look a particular way. And they never ever look like that on screen. And when we shot this movie, I realized why. Which is because no members will let you shoot on their course, no matter how much money you throw at them. Because they just don't want their golf club to close for even like half a day.
Roberts: And it makes it difficult because you also can't get the equipment onto the greens. That was certainly a challenge.
Farnaby: So I really had a lesson there on why they look like that. I mean, actually one of the courses looks great. On the Lynx course, Danny Kent looks amazing. Although the wind was howling, and no one could stand up.
disappointment: Something in a film like The Phantom of the Open, you actually kind of have to make the sport scenes look unprofessional, because it's about someone who is not very good at golf. Was this a challenge?
Roberts: Well, it's just him that's not very good. So I suppose the biggest challenge with golf is that if you love golf, which a lot of people do, then it's fantastic. But then a lot of other people don't love golf as well and they find it boring. So for us, it was about keeping it interesting and entertaining. And you know, somebody who stood in the middle of a green field can get boring very quickly. So we just wanted to make sure, I suppose, that the camera moves and all that just matched his energy, you know, and his drive. And that was difficult keeping that going.
Farnaby: Actually, you know, showing bad golf is easier than showing good golf because of the shortness of the shot.
Roberts: That's true actually, yeah.
Farnaby: Sometimes what people struggle with watching golf on TV is that you can't see where the ball is going. Because they hit it so far. But Maurice didn't do that. So we didn't have to deal with that problem.
On the Flitcroft Family
disappointment: Something else that I loved about The Phantom of the Open is that just as much about family as it is about golf, how did this theme resonate with you?
Farnaby: Yes, it was. You know, Maurice and his wife, Jean had a very special relationship and the boys, you know, the twins and Michael, Maurice's stepson. So, in a way that was, as a screenwriter, the thing to get right. It's not really about golf, it's about a family, you know, and those characters and how they interact and what their sort of family philosophy is, and all that sort of stuff. And then when Craig came aboard, Craig was really into all that as well. And even more and going look, let's get this relationship right. And then getting Sally Hawkins, who can really hold up. In real life, Jean was Maurice's rock, and Sally managed to do that sort of brilliantly. So yeah, it's a good spot. It's very much about family.
Roberts: The way I look at it is that it's about somebody who's trying to defy the odds that he's given. You can't do that without his family at all. And certainly without Jean. I think as confident he is that he wants to do it, I think she believes in him more than he probably does as well. So that's a really powerful thing to have, you know, and it's helped many, many people throughout history. I think that's important to reflect.
disappointment: So one of my favorite bits in the film was the Fantastic Flitcrofts, the dancing twins. How did you go about incorporating this absurd and charming duo into the film?
Farnaby: Well, it was a great thing to have because they were genuinely world champion disco dancers, you know, Maurice had this philosophy that you see in the film of you know, just try and it doesn't matter if you fail. And they, in a way, are a part of that debate because they did try and then they succeeded. But they succeeded at something that had a very short life span, which was disco dancing, which died in the mid '80s. So it was great to have that because a film is kinda like a debate, sometimes I think, and it's good to have all the different elements of that. And they were part of that, and it was real, I was lucky enough to meet them. I mean, James is still alive and is in the film, actually. But I met Jean and James together when I first did the research for the movie, and they're really amazing characters and actually danced everywhere that they went and make a cup of tea and they go and dance.
Roberts: Christian and Jonah, we were very lucky to get them to be honest. We were about five weeks out from shooting, and I was panicking. But as soon as I saw the video, they sent a kind of an improv dance and then some acting self tape. And first off, they look like I don't know if you know the band The Last Shadow Puppets? It's Alex Turner and Miles Kane. And they kind of look like them. Like a funny version. Loved that. And then I Skyped with them when they got out. And I just love their energy so much. It kind of you know, that's how Boogie Nights feels.
disappointment: And I mean, as a whole, I think the cast in the film is phenomenal. I mean, you have Mark Rylance, Sally Hawkins. What was it like working with the cast to bring the Flitcrofts to life?
Roberts: It was a dream. It's the hardest part of the process, getting that right. Because, you know, you can shoot on the best cameras in the world. But if you don't have good actors, your movie's doomed. If you have a great actor or an iPhone, it's going to be a better movie. So getting that right is hard. But really satisfying once it comes together. When it came together for me was actually when we did a bunch of rehearsal for that. I never really rehearse to get it right. It's kind of to get it wrong and get all that out, really. But when it came to the first thing we had as a family, it was the scene where everybody was talking over each other. The dog was barking. And I kind of said to the actors that I kind of want it to feel like Uncut Gems, that Safdie Brothers movie. Just complete chaos. And weirdly, because they all could just talk over each other. I think it was very freeing for them. You could feel the chemistry and they all came together in that moment.
disappointment: So do you have a favorite alias that Maurice Flitcroft used?
Farnaby: Oh, God, I mean, Arnold Palmtree obviously, and I do think Count Manfred von Hoffmanstel. Like why put Count on it? And what Count has ever played golf? I mean, I've never seen Count in front, like that was an odd one. But Gene Paycheki--
Roberts: That's pretty good as well. I like Hoppy. Gerald Hoppy.
On Paddington 2 and Heartwarming Stories
disappointment: Mr. Farnaby, Paddington 2 is a pop culture phenomenon. It was even a plot point in The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent that came out this year. But did you ever expect that film to be such a smash?
Farnaby: No. Actually, I haven't seen the film yet, The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. [to Roberts] Have you heard about this?
Roberts: No, I didn't.
Farnaby: I'll show you it in a bit. I've got it on my phone. And somebody sent me a clip of it. And both Paul King and I had a little chat and said it was almost the thing that made us most proud of the movie. Because like you say, it's become pop culture. And I had so many texts, and for so many people, that's their favorite bit of the movie. But we knew that the plan was to try and make two better than one. That was the goal we gave ourselves. And it was quite a hard thing to do, because it was really loved the first one. And so we really gave ourselves a tough job. But you know, it took us about two years to write it. And I think we put in a lot of effort. So it was nice to see it sort of come off. Maybe that's just how long you need to spend writing films.
disappointment: Well, like Paddington 2, I would say The Phantom of the Open is like this heartwarming, crowd pleasing, inspiring story. What stands out about these types of stories to you?
Roberts: Well, for me, it's escapism, isn't it? That's the important thing. I think cinema at its core, sure, should reflect society and all that stuff. But I go to the cinema to escape and to feel good. It's the kind of the Spielberg/Kubrick debate where you can go to a Kubrick movie and come out questioning the world and yourself, or you got to a Spielberg movie and come out and feel great and warm. And at this time in my life, I want to feel warm. And I think that's what's important.
Farnaby: Yeah, and I like characters that sort of reflect our fears, but don't have the same sort of reactions to them. For example, you know, I think we're all slightly frightened of failure, you know. And I say this to my daughter who's eight all the time, she tries things and is sort of scared to fail. And it's really important to go, it doesn't really matter if you fail, or like, somebody said, "Failing is success, part one," or something I don't know. I think I just said it, I forgot the quote. Craig and I even talked about The Big Lebowski, we both love The Big Lebowski, and that's got bowling in it, and this does golf. And as a character, he's sort of confident in his own lifestyle. And is fine with it, you know, and Maurice just went for it. He had this character that was like, "I'm gonna take my dream, and I'm gonna go for it, no matter what people think of me." And that's something that I think we like to see, you know, because we're so frightened of it ourselves. And we like to see people doing that and we can laugh and cry at that person, because it's a real hero's effort to do that, you know? Whereas most of us just go, "I'm not going to try anything in case I fail."
On Executing the Film
disappointment: Mr. Farnaby, you adapted the script from the book that you co-wrote, what was that process like for you?
Farnaby: Yeah, it was fine. Because I'd written the screenplay before I wrote the book, actually, and the screenplay was not very good. And then I did the book. You know, everyone should write a biography first, if they're gonna do a screenplay, because you just find out so much stuff. You know, you've got to do 50,000 words on one person. And then it's just a case of, I call it kind of like curating those elements into what I know about crafting screenplays. So it's actually a much easier process than doing straight fiction, which can go in any direction. And you just have to keep going down blind alleys. But this had lots of elements. I mean, the main difference to the bullshit screenplay I wrote, and the final one was, was finding an ending, because it's quite hard to write a sports movie where the person doesn't get any better at the sport. But what he does is find success in another way. And his sort of trip to the USA, was something that nobody knew about. It wasn't in the obituaries. And it wasn't in the newspapers. And that was all from digging in and going and doing research. And that gave us the end to the movie without giving too much away. Yeah, like you say it was once I'd sort of gone through the pain of researching and writing the book, the screenplay was fairly straightforward.
disappointment: I want to talk a little bit about the dream sequences in the film. I thought they were gorgeous. What went into creating those?
Roberts: Well, they were there already to be honest, they were in the script. The whole Starry Night aspect of it was there. So it was basically finding a good team that could execute it and bring that to life. And finding the right color palette for it all really. It was important, I think the escapism of it all. He wanted to, you know, to break out and do something that the people were telling him he couldn't do. So I think they're important to have in there. And when I read it, that's what really attracted me to the script. It kind of felt like The Big Lebowski, him walking up the steps. So that was really fun.
Farnaby: Yeah, I mean, Craig's being very modest. I wrote those because I wanted them and it was like a Billy Liar type thing. But that's why I'm not a director, because I wouldn't have had a clue. I was like, that's what I want. There's a dream sequence. But I didn't have a clue how to do it and actually created it brilliantly. I mean, even when he's on the tee and he hits his shot. And you see it from the ball's eye point of view. I was like, I have no idea how I was gonna do this, but I believe Craig pioneered a new type of shot, right?
Roberts: I didn't need to, I took it.
Farnaby: Oh you stole it?
Roberts: Yeah, from Simon's favorite film. I took it from Happy Gilmore. [They laugh]
The Phantom of the Open hits theaters on June 3.
Interview by Sean Boelman
Written by and starring Joel Kim Booster, Fire Island is a rarity in Hollywood: a film about queer people of color made by queer people of color. In celebration of its upcoming release, we at disappointment media got to talk with the film's director, Andrew Ahn, and one of its stars Tómas Matos, about the film, its significance, and the wonderful dynamic between its central characters. Check out the interview below!
Fire Island streams on Hulu beginning June 3.
Interview by Sean Boelman
Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy, two of the minds behind Bojack Horseman, Undone is a fascinating sci-fi adult animation show on Prime Video. Season one posed some interesting questions, and now season two expands upon them in thought-provoking ways you wouldn’t expect.
We at disappointment media got the opportunity to talk with Rosa Salazar, lead actress and producer of season two of the show, also known for starring in fan-favorite Alita: Battle Angel. In the interview, we talk about acting for performance capture, the complex themes of the series, and more. Check it out below!
On Working With Performance Capture
disappointment media: So you've done quite a bit of work at this point with motion capture performances. What about motion capture performances do you like working with?
Rosa Salazar: So Jon Landau, who produced Alita who's just like an OG producer, would kill me, if I said motion capture. [She laughs.] I'd get a stern phone call. "It's performance capture!" That's what he would yell at me on the phone. It's been drilled into my head at this point. So performance capture is what I did on Alita and rotoscope animation, I would call it also performance capture. It is more motion capture than performance capture, because they don't have two high definition cameras five inches from my face. But what I love about acting, and then grouping that work with CGI artists, rotoscope animators, and traditional animators is that I get to exist freely. Those two methods are incredibly different: performance capture for Alita and rotoscope animation, the acting is very, very, very different. For Undone, it's so amazing, because we don't have makeup touches. We don't have someone coming in and straightening out your shirt. We're not worried about the wrinkles on your shirt, or the unkemptness of your hair. We don't have a lot of wardrobe changes because it is a cartoon, after all, a cartoon closet. We wear the same thing every day. There's no major light changes. There aren't incredibly intricate camera changes. So you are totally free to exist within the moment. And with rotoscope animation, it's incredibly challenging physically, emotionally, mentally. Just to compare, on something like Alita, it's such a behemoth. It's such a slow moving beast, you have a lot of technology, people running around doing certain things, you have major changes in camera and location, and you have a lot going on. So you have a lot of downtime. Something like Undone, you have zero downtime. You never sit in your cast chair, you have a 30 minute lunch, and you go right back to work. And when you are working, you are working. On something like Alita, maybe you do an eighth of a page, four pages, and that's working with someone like Robert Rodriguez, who knows exactly what he needs, doesn't waste time. And on something like Undone, you could shoot anywhere from 10 to 20 pages a day. So on any given day, you can go on an emotional roller coaster of breaking up with your boyfriend, seeing your dead father, having a falling out with your sister, having a falling out with your mother, getting into a car accident, seeing the expanse of the universe, all in one workday. When you go to your job, do you have to do such a crazy emotional upheaval day after day after day? I mean, it's incredibly challenging. And because we have no downtime, you are working at a rapid clip. So that's what I love about it. I love that it's uninterrupted. So you're really in the flow, and you really get to this meditative state with it, and it's just divine.
disappointment: So in interviews for season one, you talked about some of the challenges of shooting that performance capture type performance in the rooms of green screens. Was it any easier or different to approach Season Two after having the experience of season one under your belt?
Salazar: Yes, it was different. So Hisko Hulsing, who is the amazing director behind Undone, puts it the best way. He's like, "Season one, it was like no one really knew what we were doing yet. We were building a car while learning to drive it." And then it came out, it was very special. We're like, "Okay, we got this!' And then season two, he's like, "Man, now we have a Maserati. Let's put the top down and put it on cruise control!" And then the pandemic hit. So we had to, you know, build a new car. So It was different doing season two, even though we had all of this intelligence that we accrued from doing season one, we had to bob and weave with the changing landscape of time. We had to be fluid, but that is the nature of Undone is sort of learning how to drive the car while you're building it anyway. So even the education in doing that, and doing the unknown really dovetails nicely into the work itself. Now with COVID and season two, things changed dramatically. We were stripped down from like 20 people on set to around six to eight people on set. We had just the actors, the cameraman, our AD, Patrick Metcalf. All of our producers and our directors and our animators were on Zoom. We had our COVID Officer, Ron — shout out to Ron, he was awesome. And that was it. And it was me and Angelique [Cabral] mainly on the set, just us and so it created a more intimate vibe, and honestly, I think, more efficient vibe. Because you don't have people walking in and out of the room. It was like a pressure cooker. But having done season one, we could do season two, had we not done season one? I'm sure we could have pulled it off, but it would have been a lot more of an endeavor.
On How This Season Takes The Show Further
disappointment: You mentioned the intimacy, I really felt this in the new season, how it kind of expands upon these themes that are very tender themes like mental health, generational trauma. Why do you think it's important for these themes to be discussed in projects like this?
Salazar: Catharsis. That's why it's important: catharsis. Very plainly put, to tell other people that you are not alone, that this is a human condition. And we take it a step further and say, even if you could go back in time, yesterday, last month, three years ago, all the way back to, let's say, my father's father's father, an indigenous man in Peru, and you could go all the way back, the same problems would persist. It is a human condition, no matter how far back, no matter the context, no matter the time period. It's important to remind people that we're human, that we're fallible, that we have secrets, that we make decisions, that we make choices and our choices, whether the intention is good, or what have you, those are choices that are made for a reason. And I think it's important to talk about things like choices because people spend a lot of time and regret, and shame and guilt. And I think it's important to highlight that we're all just doing our damn best out here. And when we talk about things like mental illness, I think it's incredibly important. Look at the way we talk about Kanye West. Look at the horrible way we talk about a man who is openly unwell. We call him crazy, we call him insane, then we will turn around call him a genius and the greatest of all time, but then we make fun of him for having very public mental breakdowns. The conversation, I can't believe it, is just beginning around mental health, mental illness, and it's just really, really important that we discuss it in general. I can't believe it still has a taboo around it when most of us suffer. And I think it's important to show a character like this, who is mixed race, who is a woman dealing with some sort of behavioral illness. I mean, we're still on the fence, right? Is she unwell or does she have shamanic abilities? We're still asking that question and to me, in my opinion, It's somewhere in the middle, like it's a combination of the two. I love that Undone forces these questions. Maybe you can't have one without the other. We talk about Kanye again. Maybe you can't have this genius without some level of like, if you can perceive so much more, if you can see more and feel more, then wouldn't that lend itself to a creative brain? Or can we be well and still have this magic? And I think we're still scratching the surface of that question, not even the answer in Undone. And that's what I love about it. And that's why it's so important, because it really isn't about answering the question. It isn't really isn't about being like, "And this is mental illness, educationally." It's more about being curious.
disappointment: So for season two, you also served as a producer on Undone. What kind of inspired you to take this step into being a producer in addition to starring in the show for the second season?
Salazar: Well, I think speaking of representation, I think it's incredibly important when you have a Latin female lead of a show going into its second season, knowing all of the work that you already put in as the lead of a show, to get recognition for that was a huge boon for me. And also just mad respect for Amazon, mad respect for Tornante, and all of the producers in the team for recognizing the hard work that leads of a show do. I mean, you are the anchor to the ship, and as a lead, you are already doing so much. So it was a big, big sign of respect from Amazon, and I can't thank them enough for recognizing that work and for really putting their money where their mouth is, and being like, here's someone we absolutely respect, who does great work for us. I do go above and beyond and they're like, "And you should be recognized for that." So it was really Amazon who did that. I may be freelance as an actor, but I'm not someone who just rocks into work and is like, "Hey, what's up," like, I really throw my entire self and body into it. And so that was really Amazon, recognizing that and saying, "You deserve this." And it's incredibly important to, to represent that. this is totally off, you know, topic, but when I was watching Only Murders in the Building, to see executive producer Selena Gomez made me cry every time. I mean, it's incredibly important. And it affects me and I'm in this business working at a high level and when I see that, I get really inspired.
Season 2 of Undone streams on Amazon Prime beginning April 29.
Interview by Sean Boelman
Filmmaker Riley Stearns’s follow-up to the critically-acclaimed dark comedy The Art of Self-Defense, the sci-fi comedy Dual debuted at this year’s Sundance film festival. It stars Karen Gillan as a woman who has a double made of herself when she is diagnosed with a terminal illness, only for her to make a miraculous recovery and have to fight her clone in a duel to the death to determine which of them gets to continue to live.
New Zealander actor Beulah Koale (Hawaii Five-O) co-stars in the film as the boyfriend of Gillan’s characters, getting some unexpectedly hilarious moments to play with. We at disappointment media got the opportunity to talk with Koale about his role in the film and what he would do if he found himself in Stearns’s uncanny sci-fi world.
On What Drew Him to Dual
disappointment: So Dual is your first major foray into the sci-fi genre. I mean, you could kind of count Shadow in the Cloud, but that's set more in the past, versus this is like in the near future. What drew you to the sci-fi genre?
Koale: What drew me is mainly fear. Because I'm not very comfortable in that genre, or comedy genre as well. So yeah, when I'm scared of something, I always run towards it. It's a rule that I have for myself. So that's what initially drew me to work towards it. And then seeing that Riley [Stearns] was doing it and seeing his films from before, I was super attracted to that. I wanted to work with him because he has a very particular way of seeing the world through his eyes and only he can do it. That style that Riley has, it's very Riley Stearns, it was a challenge in itself. A great challenge
disappointment: You mentioned how it's also a deadpan comedy. What do you think was the challenge and also the reward of dealing with this deadpan style of humor in the script?
Koale: Yeah, it is both a challenge and reward because it's kinda like walking into a new dojo, turning up to the Master's house and learning a new technique. And the tricks that I learned from the other directors don't really work here — it doesn't work at all. And Riley, puts you in a very vulnerable place. Because you think you have it all figured out, then you turn up to this and you're like, "Nah, man, none of those tricks work. Just say the words and connect with the other actor." And it was such a great experience, just being in that vulnerable spot. Every time he called cut, I wouldn't know how to feel. Like I felt like it went well. But then I also didn't know because I wasn't used to it, so I just looked over to the monitor and was like, "Was that it?" And Riley would be like "Perfect. That's it," and I was like, "Okay man."
On the World of Dual
disappointment: If you found yourself in a situation where you were terminally ill, would you want to have a double of yourself?
Koale: I probably wouldn't. Because I feel like I'd suffer from a very severe case of FOMO, even if I'm dead. Like, imagine being on your deathbed looking up and your family standing over you crying while your clone is standing there behind you like, "Yeah, come on, buddy. Can't wait for you to go." It would be weird.
disappointment: But say that you did make a miraculous recovery like Karen Gillan's character does in the film, and you had to do a duel to the death. What weapon do you think you would choose?
Koale: I would love to just like fight him with my bare hands. Fight myself, and just be like, "Alright, buddy, let's just stand in the middle of the field and see who wins." You know, that would be my most preferred option. I think the audience would love it. Like, isn't it crazy in that world, that's just like another Saturday night football match? You know, just like everyone's in the audience, "Oh, here we go. Another fight to the death. Let's see how it goes." I feel like I would bring some excitement. You know, we're using no weapons and just see who wins in the end?
disappointment: Yeah, I think that would be fun in a kind-of macabre way.
Koale: Yeah, it's pretty dark. [He laughs.]
On Making Dual
disappointment: You co-star in the film with Karen Gillan, who's obviously great in the film, but she's basically giving two distinct performances. What was it like acting alongside someone who was doing that, with two sides?
Koale: Yeah, for me, it was very easy because I just had to act against what felt like two different people. For Karen. It was great to like, being on the outside watching her trying to figure it out. Because when she was acting opposite herself, she had to know how she was going to react to herself. So she had to have it pre-planned. So it was very interesting watching from the outside, watching Karen figure this out and logistically work it all out. But, man, I just love acting. So it just meant I got to have twice the fun in one film.
disappointment: So what would you say was your favorite scene that you had in the film?
Koale: The favorite scene for me personally from the film is definitely that Aaron Paul and Karen Gillan dance-off. When they do that little dance routine, that destroys me every time. Favorite one to shoot... There's a particular scene where me and Karen are sitting down at a diner and I'm apologizing to her, you know, for kind of taking sides of the other Sarah. And in the background, you see the trees going. And we didn't have a wind machine, but when all the chaos in the words, and what's happening, in the subtext, you see the trees just start going crazy in the background, and I was like, "Whoa, that's art. That's why I do this job right there when you get those magic moments.”
disappointment: I think that one of my favorite scenes that you had in the film was the scene after you are with Sarah's double at Sarah's mom's house and then you guys go outside and have that argument. How many takes did it take for you to nail the inflection joke?
Koale: It took me a couple, man. It took me a couple of takes because, you know, I didn't know how to do it. And Riley was kind of like, teaching us and I was like, "Just say it how you want it to be said, dude." And you know, I can't do exactly what Riley does, because I'm me as well. So it did take me a couple. But I know that line, it always gets me, "She says, 'Peter,' [higher] and you say 'Peter,' [lower]," It kills you because it's true as well. You know, when someone says your name in a particular way, it hits you differently. Like, "I liked that. I liked the way you say my name."
disappointment: This film as a whole is definitely a lot less serious than a lot of other films and shows that you have appeared in the past. Did you approach this differently than some of your more serious performances?
Koale: I approach all films exactly the same with a clean slate, and then I figure it out from when I start prepping. And yeah, this film in particular, I had to put a lot of trust in Riley because he knew what he wanted. So I trusted that the advice he was giving me was what was right for the film, which, you know, was right because the thing went to Sundance and it's a great film. And if anything, I took away a new bag of tricks for myself. And you know, I enjoy this comedy deadpan world, you know. I was scared of it initially, but now, I hope to do more of it. Because there's so much more that you can find in comedy, that type of comedy that you can hide things under and I feel more vulnerable and doing comedy sci-fi than doing a drama in a weird way.
Dual is now in theaters and streams on AMC+ beginning May 20.