Interview by Sean Boelman
Working closely with series creator Michael Cusack, Koala Man showrunners Dan Hernandez and Benji Samit helped to craft an immersive alternate version of the Australian suburb Dapto. We at disappointment media got the opportunity to talk with Hernandez and Samit about the writing of the show, balancing its tone, and staying true to the real-life Dapto. Check out the full interview below!
On Creating a Show That Is Silly Yet Grounded
disappointment media: So Koala Man is full of episodes that have these silly, absurd premises, but you also kind of approach them with a straight face. How did you find this balance between the goofiness and absurdity with something a bit more grounded?
Benji Samit: Yeah, that was an important guiding principle for us in crafting this show and these episodes — that we never want it to go crazy just for the sake of being crazy. Yes, we go to zany, insane places on the show. But every time it's based out of a real grounded, character thing or story thing. There’s emotion at its core. We find that, as long as you can hold on to that through-line of emotion and story, then you can go as big as you want and you can still feel connected to what you’re watching.
Dan Hernandez: And I think that also combines with, when we were developing the show, there was a question of, “Well, how crazy should it go?” There's a version of this show that could be King of the Hill that is really, very grounded and it's not supernatural. But as we developed Kevin as a character, we realized what was funny about him was the fact that he doesn't have powers or that he's not in shape, but he does have this ethos that demands that he interferes with things. It became funnier and funnier to us to put him up against real threats that he should have no business going up against, like an alien, like cannibals, like Manimals. Every time it was like, we're sending this out of shape guy with no powers against something that should kill him in a second. And that was funny to us. And so the comedic element was the more you believe Kevin as a character, in his mind, like cutting the grass one centimeter and fighting an emu that has a machine gun are basically equivalent, just a problem to be dealt with, in his mind. And that makes him endearing and sort of difficult but also hilarious in his misbehavior and shit like that.
disappointment: I think one of those emotional through-lines that you talked about that was really powerful to me was the theme of family. How did this theme really resonate with you guys in the show?
Hernandez: Benji and I both have young kids. I think that becoming a father over the process of working on this show was actually extremely useful to the writing of the show. Because you start to think about things in a slightly different way. You're not really just focused on yourself. All of a sudden, you start to think about, “What is the legacy that I'm leaving for my kids? What are the things that I dislike about myself that I don't want to pass on to my kids? How are my bad behaviors going to affect them in the future? How did my own parents' behaviors affect me?” And when you really started to delve into that, that was a very fertile territory for emotional stories. At the same time, we wanted the show to be optimistic. We made a decision early on that this was not a cynical show, that this was kind of positive in a way, life-affirming.
Samit: We wanted the family to really love each other, you know. Kevin — Koala Man — he loves his town, and he loves his family. That’s his guiding principle. But then within the whole family, Kevin and Vicky love each other, even though they have their issues with each other, and the kids have their issues, everyone in the family has their issues, like we all do. But at the end of the day, they are 100% there for each other.
Hernandez: Even Alison, on her quest, she’s almost embarrassed that she loves her dad in that episode, and that that felt real to me on some level about being a teenager and being trapped in that idea of popularity. But you’ve got this person who’s on your side no matter what: your dad. And that was very moving to me. So that’s how we approached the family element. And we realized, if we grounded the family element in real human emotion, real stakes, that let us be as crazy as we want it to be on all the other stuff, because the stakes for them were very real.
disappointment: One of my favorite things about Koala Man is that everybody could walk away from the show with a different favorite character because the subplots are so developed and lived in. Do each of you have a character that you would call your favorite?
Samit: It’s a tough one, because they're all our babies, you know. But in terms of just fun to write, Spider, he can just get the punchline. So that’s always a fun type of character to write. I think Vicky is the emotional heart of the show. So she’s obviously a favorite of ours.
Hernandez: It's so hard to pick. I really enjoyed writing the kids, honestly, because I think it was fun to go back into that teenage place and try to project down through the years of what it felt like to be an awkward teen or to be wanting people to notice you. And so I think Demi Lardner is the secret weapon of the show. I think she gives an absolutely remarkable performance. Her voice is incredible. She's so funny. And she's someone that the world, that we in America we're not as familiar with. And I think that after this, I hope that people will be because she's awesome. So Allison was a real favorite of mine to write just because to be able to be a mean girl for a minute — that was a fun thing to do.
On the World-Building of Koala Man
disappointment: Something else that really stood out to me about this show is that there are a lot of jokes and elements in the series that are very specific to Australian culture and neither of you is Australian. So I'm assuming that writing the show just as much as it will be for the viewers is this learning, immersive experience in the culture. What do you think is one of your favorite things that you got to discover about Australian culture through the show?
Samit: I mean, there's so many little quirks. It was really fun seeing the similarities to America, but also the differences. Finding out about the emu war, finding out about showbags, the tradies. Skilled laborers being at the top of the social food chain was such a foreign concept to all of the American writers, but to the Australian’s they’re just like, “Oh yeah, no. An electrician is just the coolest guy in Australia.”
Hernandez: I thought what was very interesting was sort of the directness of Australian culture. Like tall poppy syndrome is the idea that anyone that gets too big for their britches, we don't like that, you kind of do your job, you kind of plug ahead, and you keep your head down, and you live a good and fulfilling life. And that’s what you do. And it was interesting to juxtapose that with a character like Liam, who actually does have a little bit more of an artistic impulse, who is interested in things like nerdy or geeky things, and his feeling of, “Do I even belong here? Should I be in Australia?” Which, ultimately, one of the reasons he runs away to Hollywood Island and in the finale is that he's in search of something more. And there are some people that really thrive within that culture, then there are some people that feel not understood. That really does come down to sort of cultural values and what is privileged there and how it's quite different from what's privileged here, even though it seems like it should be very similar. The nuance of it is totally, totally different.
disappointment: So I want to compliment you guys on the world building of Koala Man. I really love that aspect of the show. You balance the mundane suburbia with these fantastic events. How do you kind of go about juxtaposing this world in that way?
Hernandez: I think because Dapto is a real place and it really is Michael's hometown, that there's a feeling of reality underlying all of the show that yes, we're blowing it out into the most surrealistic, crazy, over-the-top version of it. But really, it's a real thing and a real place. And these are people and places identifiable to Michael in his own life and the streets that he grew up with. We've been fortunate enough now to talk to other people who grew up in Illawarra and Dapto. And they’re like, “Yeah, that’s what it’s like.” Even though there isn't literally a plant monster rampage in the city, the other stuff is just real. That's just what it is. And so we felt like that reality wedded to some of the classic world building that shows like Simpsons, South Park, Family Guy, where you have the town as a character, and you know the denizens of the town, and how they’re going to react. You know that Randy is gonna overreact on South Park, you know that Reverend Lovejoy is gonna be sanctimonious on The Simpsons. And once you start to get to know the geography and the interpersonal geography of the people and places of the town, it's fun to start to anticipate how they're going to react. What are they going to do? What is Spider going to feel about this? What is Louise going to feel about this? And that was really important to us because it made it feel very lived in. It made it feel like this is a place that functions, whether we as a viewer are watching it or not, and we really tried to cultivate that throughout the entire process of running the show.
Koala Man is now streaming on Hulu.
Interview by Sean Boelman
Hulu’s new adult animated show, Koala Man, created by Smiling Friends creator Michael Cusack has an A-list cast led by Australian and New Zealand legends like Hugh Jackman, Sarah Snook, Miranda Otto, Jemaine Clement, and Rachel House. But fans of the show will be equally — if not more impressed — by its breakout star: Australian comedian Demi Lardner.
We at disappointment media sat down with Lardner to talk about her character in the show, why she hopes Americans will be subjected to bags of random junk, and the theoretical assassination of one of her more famous co-stars. Be sure to check out the interview below!
On Why She Loves Her Character
disappointment media: I think that the character of Alison really has one of the most interesting arcs of any character in the show. What spoke to you about this character's role and growth in the show?
Demi Lardner: I love Alison. And the thing that I love most about her is that she's a weird little psycho. And her growth is uncomfortable, which speaks to me because like, when I watch people kiss in movies and emotions and stuff I’m like [she shivers]. But obviously, it’s a good thing. And I think the amount of discomfort she has with her own goodness is very cool to me. And also, I don’t have to act much when I’m uncomfortable with it, because I just am.
disappointment: I think something that's really special about Koala Man is that the subplots are just as interesting as the main storyline. Other than your own character, of course, do you have a particular character that you found was particularly compelling or your favorite?
Lardner: So I'm extremely drawn to Liam, just always such a wonderful, little dork. But in a way, his growth is also more supernatural and strange. But they sort-of parallel each other. When she’s like “Man, I hate having feelings!” he’s like “Oh bloody hell! I’m all magical!” I find that really interesting as a person who, when I was a kid, would grab my dog and say, “Hey, if you can talk, I will NOT tell anybody.” It's kind of like that if it came true, and it’s relatable in a way.
disappointment: And you kind of mentioned the sibling dynamic that your character has with Liam in the show. It's really unique and not stereotypical. Did you find that to be particularly interesting to work with?
Lardner: So I have five sisters, and no brothers. It's like the version of when I got old enough to be friends with my sisters. And again, being uncomfortable with it and being like, “Oh man, I like you. Ugh. This is stupid.” I enjoyed playing around with that. Most of the things that made me uncomfortable were the things I enjoyed the most.
On the Universality of the Show
disappointment: The cast is full of Australian and New Zealand legends in the acting community. What was it like to be part of this extraordinary ensemble?
Lardner: It's so weird. Like one of my ex’s mom's got in touch with me to be like, “It’s like Sarah Snook, Hugh Jackman, and YOU are listed in this article. And that’s it.” And I was like, “This is crazy. You show your son. Show him now!” It's really wild. And I've been told to stop threatening the really famous people. So this is a joke, but I am going to kill Hugh Jackman.
disappointment: So the humor in the show obviously has some very Australia-centric moments, but it's also widely relatable. How did you kind of approach the humor in this series?
Lardner: I mean, I'm a comedian. To get wanky about it, it’s another language that crosses the ocean. [She makes an exaggerated vomiting noise.] It’s a good thing to relate to people with, though. So the humor, it is super Australian, but it’s also just super funny and there’s no denying that. I think it’s a really natural fit, and also you get to squeeze in the C-bomb and as much swearing as humanly possible. We are Australian, after all.
disappointment: But even though it is very foul-mouthed, it’s also very wholesome in a way.
Lardner: Yeah. And that encapsulates a lot of Australian families, honestly. At least mine.
disappointment: On that note, family is a really important part of this show. How did that theme resonate with you?
Lardner: It’s really nice. I think it’s important for shows to have that. It makes me think of Malcolm in the Middle vibes, you know, when you’d watch that and be like, “God, these guys are insane! And they hate each other!” And then you realize, actually, they love each other more than anything on planet Earth, and that is really cool. Zeroing in on that kind of makes it funnier because you know that they love each other, but you have the full range to be disgusting because you’re safe in the fact that they’re safe with each other and their feelings.
disappointment: Your character arc in specific, it starts out kind-of normal high school drama and then escalates, and by the final episode it just goes off the rails. What was it like evolving with your character?
Lardner: Extremely uncomfortable. I really enjoyed it because it made me uncomfortable. I think it was cool to have her be mad that she was feeling things. It made it easier to grow her character because she was uncomfortable. It was cool to let this little mean freak cry. Like she's so nasty and annoying and awful and then just having her completely split apart with the feelings was an interesting thing to do.
On Why America Should Appropriate Australian Culture
disappointment: I think one of the more heavily Australian elements in the show was the episode about showbags which was something that was completely foreign to me as an American. Why do you think that they remain an Australian phenomenon and why did you just cheer excitedly when I mentioned them?
Lardner: They’re so exciting! They’re trash! There's nothing in them that you actually want! But it's a bag from the show. I think it was called the “super idiot bag” that everybody wanted because you would get like a fake ass in a pair of shorts. And you'd be like, “Oh, it’s like me bum’s out! Isn’t that so cool?” It’s nothing! You're never gonna use them. You're never gonna wear them and it’s just the worst chocolate you've ever seen in your life. But it was so cool. They look so good. Oh man, I need to go to the show. It’s so exciting and trash. And then such a burden. Because you're walking around trying to go on rollercoasters and the Ferris wheel and stuff and you're like, “What am I gonna do with my bag?” Everything’s gonna drop out. The amount of awful little mood rings and Bertie Beetle candy bars that suck and everybody hates that I've seen falling from people's pockets coming out of roller coasters. It's amazing. It's so good. And the reason they will never make it anywhere else is because they are literal trash. You can do nothing with any of it.
disappointment: So apart from the show bags, is there something that you hope that international audiences and American audiences will pick up on from Australian culture from the show?
Lardner: Yeah, two things. Sausage rolls. You don’t know what is in them. It’s impossible to tell. You don't have a beef sausage roll or a chicken sausage roll. No, there’s just stuff in there. And that’s great. And the word c**t. I think it’s my favorite one. And it does sound different coming from Australian mounts but I would love to be able to walk around New York and say it without people you know pointing their guns at me.
Koala Man is now streaming on Hulu.
Interview by Sean Boelman
Australian animator Michael Cusack is best known for creating the series Smiling Friends and YOLO: Crystal Fantasy. His newest series, Koala Man, is now streaming on Hulu and goes all-in on the Australian humor while still delivering a story that is universally enjoyable and approachable.
We got to sit down with Cusack to discuss having sex with planets (you’ll get it when you watch the show), Australian culture, and his inspirations and challenges working on the show. Check out the full interview below!
On the Show’s Specific Humor
disappointment media: If you could have sex with any planet in our solar system, which one would it be and why?
Michael Cusack: Ooh, that’s hard. That’s a good one. Uranus is too obvious. I'm gonna go Jupiter. Because it's a gassy planet. I feel like it would be nice and sensual.
disappointment: Would you right swipe or left swipe on earth?
Cusack: Whatever the bad one is. I’ve had enough of Earth. Let's move from Earth for now. I've had 32 years of Earth.
disappointment: So this show, as an American, introduced me to the wonderful world of showbags. Why don't we have showbags in America?
Cusack: I don't know. That was something that we said in the writers room, assuming that Americans knew about it, too. And then when Americans didn't, it was a shock to us. Like, that was a staple of our childhood, going to the Easter Show and more than anything, looking forward to getting like the showbag of whatever it was — the Pokemon show bag, the Dragonball Z one, or like the Mars Bar showbag. Like everything that you love had its own show bag full of the treats and goodies and toys of that same brand. And it was the best, but super expensive and overpriced. Yeah, I think hopefully, if anything, the main goal is this show introduces showbags to America and ruins your economy with them and makes kids’ parents absolutely broke.
disappointment: So do you think that, you know, one day we could get a Koala Man themed showbag?
Cusack: That would be the dream. I’d sell them myself. We should have done that as a promotion for this season, I just realized.
disappointment: And there was the prawn-themed showbag. Is that a real thing or is that a complete fabrication?
Cusack: That's fake too. But again, something I'm going to push after this call. I'll be making some calls and some emails, because the world needs a prawn showbag.
disappointment: I noticed that in your shows you’ve made several prawn themed jokes. Where does your interest in prawns come from?
Cusack: That's an Aussie thing, because at Christmas time, we don't have turkey or chicken. It's not the same as America in that aspect. It literally is just a bowl of prawns and a little ball of water to wash your hands with after you've broken the prawns. That's Christmas dinner. I had it a few days ago for Christmas at my mom’s house. It's just kind of a staple of Australia, prawns… they feel Aussie. So yeah, I had to stuff as many prawns in there as possible.
Crafting an Aussie Show for American Audiences
disappointment: The series has a voice cast full of all of these Australian and New Zealand A-listers. What was it like assembling this cast for the show?
Cusack: Really great. Really incredible. I really didn't think we'd be able to get anyone because I've got low expectations. But the showrunners on this show, Dan and Benji, and a lot of our American staff were extremely keen on aiming for the stars. And I was like, “What, we're not going to get the likes of Hugh Jackman?” But apparently we did and we could. So I am truly just still shocked. I think it was maybe because we had an Aussie show for American TV and it felt fresh. And hopefully it's a good concept that they liked and it seemed like they did and they came on board. Sarah Snook, Hugh Jackman, Hugo Weaving, Jemaine Clement, Rachel House, all these amazing actors, I can't believe it, they were just incredible. And they were a joy to direct. And they really, really elevated the whole project to something so much better than I ever would have imagined. It was great.
disappointment: And as you kind of mentioned, there are these very specific jokes and elements that are related to Australian culture, but the show also feels very universal. How do you strike this balance between the two?
Cusack: My thing is that it’s Aussie, but it’s not stereotypically Aussie. So when I say that, I mean it's not like, “Chuck another shrimp on the barbie,” kind of Aussie. Hopefully, it's not cliche. The show, at its core, our aim is still to make it character driven and plot driven. At the end of the day, there's a human kind of conflict. So ideally, it would be relatable and the Australiana is more of a garnish on top of something that is more about really the character and the story.
disappointment: One of my favorite things about the show is that I feel like anyone could watch the show and walk away with a different favorite character. I know it's kind of hard to pick, but if you had to pick one of your favorite characters, which would it be?
Cusack: I think it'd be Big Greg. I don't know. It's maybe 50% because it's always by Hugh Jackman. And also just the character I like. He's just so confident in his skin, and he has life figured out. He's a good role model to look up to. And I really like the dynamic between him and Kevin, it’s a funny back-and-forth. Because Kevin would dream to be Big Greg, and Big Greg would just kinda look down upon Kevin. That's funny. And Damo and Darren. I love Damo and Darren. And they come from the heart. They've been with me since about 2014 when I made a cartoon called Ciggy Butt Brain.
disappointment: And what was the inspiration to integrate these two characters into Koala Man?
Cusack: I always liked how Kevin Smith put Jay and Silent Bob in everything he did. I just thought that was nice glue that pulled things like Mallrats and Clerks and Chasing Amy all together. And they kind of are a bit Jay and Silent Bob-ish. And I made shorts called Damo and Darren years ago on YouTube, and that was set in Dapto. So I just thought if Koala Man is in Dapto, then Damo and Darren would be. So it’s just kind of the same world, I guess.
The Challenges of Koala Man
disappointment: So the episodes of Koala Man are longer than the episodes of Smiling Friends and YOLO. Did you find that the longer format was exciting? Scary? Challenging?
Cusack: It was scary and challenging, for sure. But I was lucky enough to have a lot of help. Dan and Benji as the showrunners, they're extremely talented and experienced in the world of TV. So they brought a lot of experience in that arena and we had a great writers room too. But yeah, it was definitely a challenge for me. It's a new learning curve to write for that length of time because, as you say, I'm used to the 11-minute format. But we did alright, I reckon.
disappointment: Obviously, this is kind-of a superhero show, but Koala Man doesn’t have any powers. Where did this more grounded superhero approach come from?
Cusack: I just thought that Australian humor is a lot based in reality — I guess, the depressing reality of natural things happening. So I just thought if there was an Australian superhero, it would make sense if it just was this middle aged guy in the suburbs that had no powers. Because that generation of men are very passionate about cleaning up the town and saying that the police aren't doing anything about it, and the government's not doing anything about it. There's just a reality to that archetype that's funny to me and fits in with the superhero mold. And what makes it even funnier to me is it's grounded and everything, and you know, he has no powers, but in this world, we do realize, he's got a nemesis and there are actual, real threats and supervillains and creatures with powers, but you have to dig a bit deeper to find them. It’s a fun world to play in.
disappointment: And the show blends those grounded elements with absurdist humor. How did you balance the two tones?
Cusack: It's really hard. Probably the hardest part about it actually was balancing those two tones because it was a little bit of having your cake and eating it too. There's a world where this show could have been like a King of the Hill, where it just was completely Koala Man with no superpowers and no one else with any powers and it was just 100% grounded. But I just felt like that was gonna get a little bit old. So offsetting that with that, it actually could have a supervillain from space just emerging felt like it could shake it up. And the way to kind of balance that is really just staying true to what the characters wants and needs are at the end of the day. If the characters have strong goals and strong motivations, then you can really get away with a lot when it comes to having fun with changing the tone. That was the big thing we kind of learned and stuck to.
Koala Man is now streaming on Hulu.
Interview by Dan Skip Allen
Antoine Fuqua’s new drama Emancipation, starring Will Smith in a story inspired by the picture of “Whipped Peter,” is considered to be a strong awards contender for several below-the-line awards. We at disappointment media got the opportunity to speak with several of the craftspeople behind the film, including VFX supervisor Rob Legato, costume designer Francine Jamison-Tanchuck, production designer Naomi Shohan, editor Conrad Buff, cinematographer Robert Richardson, and re-recording mixer Steve Pederson.
disappointment media: How did you get the look of the film and the splashes of color and make it look seamless?
Rob Legato: Part of what we did when we were coming up with the look for the film is that, instead of going full black and white, we would first adjust the different colors — red, green, and blue contributions — to that black and white. Like if you had a red shirt on, and you were to change the contribution of that particular color layer, you can adjust its gray value to anything that you want. You're able to kind of fine-tune match it and then mix a little of the color back in. And then on top of that, if we want to add a little red or a little green or a little from the foliage, we could do that. But so what we had is complete control as if it was all black and white. We could change any costume or any shade to whatever gray value seemed to make the most sense or look the most pleasing or match and then mix back color into that. So we were able to creatively create this palette that Bob [Richardon] would sit in with dailies colorist Benny, and every day make the subtle artistic adjustments. So that, mixed with the costumes and the art direction, we were able to very finely control it for artistic reasons. Bob would sit with the colorist every day and make these very subtle adjustments based on the drama that he and Antoine [Fuqua] had worked out. It was a fun collaboration. It was very fun to do it and come up with something because the look was so wonderful for the film, that we were very excited every day to come out of dailies and we would find something that we really liked that played the drama very well.
Francine Jamison-Tanchuck: I agree with Rob. My collaboration with Bob Richardson and Antoine and Naomi [Shohan] every day or at least once a week was to find out what these colors are going to do on screen — figuring out how much over dyeing it needed or if it had to be dyed at all, or aged, and how all of that blends in and just makes it appear to be seamless. So I think with Bob's wonderful photography, and with Naomi’s sets, with all of that came Antoine's vision of what that is and what that could be. And the sense of as Peter is running, and the way that he is going through a lot of the terrain and a lot of the sense of what he is encountering along the way, all of that has to be really reviewed on how that works and how that translates with the costumes and what happens with them along the way. I feel by viewing the film, it really did work. A lot of that is because of collaborating with all of the department heads and people who really know their profession, and just making it all work together. I think we all felt that it was a story that really had to be told and wanted it to be told realistically.
Naomi Shohan: The choice of the way color was used here that Bob and Rob have been discussing, there's kind of a distancing that happens with black and white that also creates intimacy. So there's this contradiction in terms that works very beautifully to allow you to both receive the movie and also kind of look at it as a time-out-of-time experience. I also want to say that everybody did a lot of research on this project. We all had a pretty good visual understanding, at least, of enough of what this world was in order to try to recreate it. Also, the landscapes that we used to film the movie are magnificent and Antoine had said that he wanted the movie to be both beautiful and brutal. As we explored them scouting for locations, they spoke eloquently to us. I think that the land had a little bit to say to us as well about what may have happened in the past, even our experience of how rugged it was to be living and working there. So the combination of historical research, the poetic distancing, and listening to the land — all of these things contributed to the unity of the end result and Antoine’s striving vision.
disappointment: On all of his appearances to promote the film, the thing he mentioned that stood out was that he didn’t want to take away from the people that made this movie. You all deserve being championed. Would anyone like to comment on him standing up for the people like you behind the scenes?
Conrad Buff: I think we all certainly appreciate it. We all know how much work was put into making this and how we all supported Antoine. You know, on the production end of things I was spared, of course, being in editorial and distant from Louisiana, but Antoine had so many challenges on this film. That sad incident with Will at the Academy Awards was like one more difficulty to overcome. So I know all of us certainly appreciate him acknowledging our work. He
couldn't have been more lovely in my dealings with him, which were primarily in post production.
Rob Legato: I only got to work with him a couple of times, but I got the impression just from working on this film, that his comment is how he really feels because he's appreciative every day. He was excited by the shots that Antoine and Bob would create that he would see playbacks of and all the contributions of everybody on the film productions on costume and everything. So he was, in my view, always in everyone's corner — everybody out collaborating, producing the movie. So I’m not terribly surprised that's the comment he would make about this and not wanting whatever happened to diminish the contribution he felt everybody made while we were making the movie. Not just as a response or nice thing to say afterwards, but as something that he feels rather deeply and as a performer, he's appreciative of the art form of everybody else who makes him look good.
Robert Richardson: I agree with you totally, too. I think that Will’s spirit is one of giving. He was remarkable to work with. He led us, he sat on the set on the most difficult days and waited out. He didn't go to his trailer, he was with us. We all appreciated it. And of course, he continued that, despite what took place. And he's a true gentleman.
Rob Legato: I remember when we were shooting the pit scene where we threw the older gentleman into the pit. I think he offered something like $5,000 to everybody who had to now lay in that pit in the hot sun. So he appreciated even that work that the extras were doing and the other people who were in it. He was always involved and always appreciative of the contribution and the difficulty of shooting this film, which was pretty difficult to shoot. High heat and thunderstorm and lightning conditions would interrupt shooting every so often. So he was a very generous man I have to say.
Francine Jamison-Tanchuck: I totally agree with everyone that Will Smith has got to be one of the kindest, warmest, just understanding people I've ever worked with in front of the camera. He was just a very gracious person and he was just so appreciative of everyone's work. Especially with the type of character that this man was going through all these months. He is a human being first and his acting and everything comes next. But he was so professional and such a gracious person and who knows how that affected him later. But as far as working with all of us and just working with him in the fittings and on the set, there was not one time that he did not have a kind word for anyone and everyone. So I feel that he is just really the epitome of professionalism. He is the epitome of what it is to be a humble and gracious filmmaker. I just feel very honored to work with him any day, anytime, and to work with all of these wonderful filmmakers that are here now. And I'd like to say a comment to Bob Richardson, Bob Richardson, I do not care what color you are. To me you had your vision and what you did on this film, just brought it all to a reality that the entire world needs to know about and needs to see. And for as far as I'm concerned, you are an American, artistic, incredible cinematographer that Antoine in his vision knew that he needed that hand in order to make this to bring this to the screen. And also Naomi's wonderful sets and Cindy, and add all of the collaboration. It doesn't matter where you're coming from, what your your skin tone is, your gender, your age — it is about really having the compassion and knowing and seeing that something's wrong in this picture. There's something wrong when one human being has to brutalize a mother. And so in having that vision and having that scope, you really brought it, everyone brought it out and just brought it to a reality. And I commend everybody. Thank you so much.
Steve Pederson: Being part of the mix, we're at the very end. And Will did come in for a playback when we basically had everything there, it was 95% done. Will came in and was so appreciative when the lights came up of what he had heard and seen. And it was very gratifying for us because we took inspiration, the slap aside, from what was on the screen. Thanks to everybody here and what you had done, we felt we needed to step up the sonic and meet that. It's such an important film, we had such a great time doing it. Will was appreciative and we're very appreciative of Will and what he did and his performance, that we all felt we had to rise to that level. And it was such a pleasure to meet him and to get his feedback and to see how he responded to our work.
Emancipation is now streaming on Apple TV+.
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.