Interview by Sean Boelman
After winning the NEXT Award at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, the animated adventure flick Cryptozoo was quickly snatched up for a summer release. From the team behind My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea and featuring a voice cast including Lake Bell, Michael Cera, and more, this is definitely one of the most visionary animated movies of the year.
We at disappointment media had the honor to talk with writer-director Dash Shaw and animation director Jane Samborski about the film, its influences, and the nature of independent animation, among other things. Check out the interview below and watch Cryptozoo!
On the Film's Influences
disappointment media: What were some of the stylistic influences on your animation in Cryptozoo?
Dash Shaw: Well, you know, a bit a big part was Jane, who painted most of the cryptids in the movie, the way that those are modeled, is kind of after the French movie Fantastic Planet by René Laloux, in that they're like painted pieces, and it's technically stop motion, but it doesn't look like stop motion, because they're each done by hand.
Jane Samborski: Another thing that I know was a big pillar, when Dash was writing the project, he had a fellowship at the New York Public Library. And one of his fellows was working with counterculture newspapers from the '60s, which even ones from all over the world had this very consistent thin line look. Pre-internet, it was just in the air and so that and the desire for much more specific drawings in reaction to the broadness of the previous film.
Shaw: The Winsor McCay short, The Centaurs from 1921. That has a great sexiness, adult quality.
Samborski: And then also, I mean, the whole film has a collage look, so we're bringing together a lot of disparate ideas and really trying to honor the work that each of the individual artists did, but still create a cohesive whole and then you know, playing and making it exciting and just following where the art leads us.
disappointment: So there was definitely a very strong mythological foundation in the film. You based a lot of it in real mythology, what was your research process like for this film?
Samborski: You know, I always end up talking about every single creature is from a real mythology. We did not invent anything for the film. My research project was largely internet-based, as so many are these days. I was specifically looking for the older images from the cultures of origins. Everything does get run through the Jane paint filter you know, I am the artist that I am, so things that I make look like I made them. But those older images are just so wonderful and strange. And you know, it was a great place to start.
Shaw: And like when I started writing and I came across the Baku, that's when it really became a movie idea. Because movies can be so dreamlike and so the Baku as a centerpiece of a movie sounded like a good idea. And you know, like Hokusai had drawn a Baku in the 1800s and there's an experimental manga anthology called Comic Baku, so I had heard of it that way.
On Making Cryptozoo
disappointment: So do you have a particular cryptid that was your favorite to animate and why?
Samborski: I have two. I am in love with the Tengu and the Camudi. The Tengu being kind of the bird creature that tears apart the helicopter, and the Camudi being the giant Angular snake at the end. And what really excited me as an animator in both of those cases, is that I was able to take not just the visuals from the source material, but the actual motion. The Tengu has that sort of stylized Japanese woodblock posing, and the Camudi has the angular movement of the South American stone carving. Which I'm in the weeds as an animator, that's where my heart is.
Shaw: You know, I like that because Jane has her paintings. And then, I do most of the human characters when they kind of crossover and it's these humanoids like, like Gustav the faun so like, Jane painted his legs. And the blurring of the boundaries, I think is, I hope, an interesting part of this movie and just these kind of moments, I think are what I think of.
disappointment: So something that stood out to me about Cryptozoo is that it tackles some pretty weighty and important themes. Do you think there is a single most important message for audiences to take away from your film?
Shaw: You know, that's the kind of thing where when you say it in a sentence, it immediately feels like it's somehow deflating, like, you know, making a sentence kind of summary of a movie. You want the movie to be like, an hour and a half, like experiencial ride that's kind of full of contradictory feelings, and it has a wide range in it. So um, so, you know, leave the unicorn alone. When you come across a unicorn, leave it alone.
Samborski: Yeah, I mean, I think we just want to have the conversation. You know, if there were easy answers to these problems, we would have found them already.
Shaw: Leave the unicorn alone.
Samborski: Leave the unicorn alone.
disappointment: So Cryptozoo is a female-led globe-trotting adventure. I kind of saw Lauren as almost like a female Indiana Jones in a way. Where did this inspiration to tell this story in this way come from?
Shaw: Yeah, it was making that network of characters that all had a different relationship to kind of the idea of the Cryptozoo or the Cryptozoo being a potentially good idea: Joan, Lauren, and a cryptid herself, Phoebe. So I had that network. And you know, Lauren, traveling the world, getting all of these cryptids and it being connected to her childhood, which I think many people have that feeling with mythological beings. But I felt like I couldn't start with her like she's like Lara Croft, or like you said Indiana Jones. And it felt like, not the way to enter the story. Especially she's much more morally ambiguous than then those characters. So I wanted to start with two people who don't know anything about cryptids, you were just stumbling across it. And that kind of became the beginning and the bookend of the film.
disappointment: The voice cast of Cryptozoo is obviously magnificent. What was it like working with and recruiting all of these stars?
Shaw: It was totally great. And, you know, Lake Bell, like I said, the movie, that character looks that way because of Lake, you know. And the first movie she wrote and directed was about voice acting, voice recording and female voices in particular. So that felt interesting.
Samborski: She had skin in the game. It wasn't some weird side project she was picking up.
Shaw: You know, for these movies, like, I might record an actor for two days. And then Jane and I are drawing and painting for four years. So I knew that Lake Bell would approach this with some extra personal motivation. And I mean, Angeliki Papoulia as Phoebe is totally incredible. Of course, I love all of the Yorgos Lanthimos movies and, and she really…
Samborski: She brings the heart.
Shaw: Yeah, the heart. They're really like this soul that's like kind of shooting out inside of a very artificial world. Grace Zabriskie. You know, if you know Grace Zabriskie from other movies, I think it's really fun to kind of see her soul shooting out of this drawing.
On Making Independent Animation
disappointment: So something that makes your films really special, both your films Cryptozoo and My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea is that they're independent productions, which is getting kind of rare in feature-length animation. What do you think is special about independent animation projects like your own?
Shaw: Well, a key inspiration for me was, was when Disney released Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, they put it out as a two disc set. And one of the discs was just the storyboards by Miyazaki. And I love the Nausicaa movie. But also you're seeing those storyboards are like the dream of the movie. It's like the hope for the movie, and Miyazaki draws in quite an idiosyncratic way, compared to many anime artists, he has almost like, part European or a lot of different sensibilities inside of him. So then it goes through a production line that equals something that's quite consistent. With an independent film, you know, it's very obvious on Cryptozoo that we had a very unusual production line, and that we allowed for idiosyncratic voices, that it wasn't like it went through a machine to equal a consistency. And I really think that formally, at least, or it's even hard to say, formally, because I hope that, like the figure drawings, the beginning of the movie, it is a formal unusual thing, that characters are off model. And it's more like observational art school figure drawing of seeing someone in different sides. So that is a formal thing, but I do hope that it's an emotional thing where it has that thing that figure drawing has where people have contradictory personalities inside of themselves that you're sensing through these drawings. Doing it independently really allowed for that. It made that possible. I mean, you could talk about it for a long time.
Samborski: I mean when you are figuring things out from scratch, you're desperate to figure out how to do it. And so you, you're wishing someone would tell you how to do it. But in that act of experimentation, you're maybe finding a solution you never would have found if you haven't gone through and established. And there's flexibility that's gained by small teams, there's inventiveness. There's a big risk of failure. So you get some pros and cons. When you're really lucky, it ends up greater than the sum of its parts. And we really hope that that's what's happened here. It feels like it has.
disappointment: So I personally found it very exciting to see your style evolve from My Entire High School Sinking Into the Sea to Cryptozoo. What did you change about your approach for your sophomore feature?
Shaw: Thanks for saying that. Yeah, I mean, it was very, like conscious, a lot of very conscious decisions. We had most of High School Sinking drawn before it had been cast. So you know, I didn't think we would get good actors. And that was kind of like very built into the initial script and how I was kind of envisioning that movie. But when it came time to Cryptozoo, I thought maybe I could probably get good actors for this. So I promised myself I wouldn't design the characters until after they had been voice recorded. So also, like the main character of High School Sinking has this kind of dot eye thing that's like a Charlie Brown, kind of Scott McCloud idea of the main character being a bit more blank, and that you could project it onto them. But in retrospect, I thought it was kind of the least interesting character in that movie, that I liked the side characters more, which is a problem that a lot of first movies have, actually. So when it came time to Cryptozoo, I was like, all of the characters have to be interesting looking, they have to look great on screen and be full of unusual ideas. You know, fewer drawings, but better drawings, more specific painting, more complicated, a story we can travel all over the world, it's like, a lot of things I hoped to kind of course correct from the first one. But then there are things, like I really liked the last half hour of High School Sinking when it's really a disaster movie and an experimental movie at the same time. And I thought that part was rockin' and good. And so I really tried to lean into that with this one. And I tried to lean into the parts that I liked about the first one.
Samborski: You know, I think one of the big questions for us as a creative team in High School Sinking is can we even do this?
Shaw: Yeah, it was kind of part of the motivation.
Samborski: Yeah. How can we movie? And so with the second one, we knew we could movie and so we're like, how high can we shoot?
Shaw: How high can we movie?
Samborski: Yeah. Can we have huge action scenes? Can we hire people and have them help us animate it? And so it was just, you know, I think that's where a lot of the growth for me was is just how do you even make these things happen? And there's like a technical component. That's hard. There's a human component. It's hard.
Cryptozoo is now in theaters and on VOD.
Interview by Sean Boelman
Few names are as synonymous with the J-horror genre as that of Takashi Shimizu, the creator of the Ju-on series (better known in the United States as The Grudge). His newest film, Howling Village, takes a Japanese urban legend and makes a horror movie out of it, full of the director’s iconic haunting visuals. We at disappointment media got the tremendous honor of talking with Shimizu in advance of the film’s release! Find out what we learned below!
disappointment media: Howling Village is based on a real urban legend. What inspired you to make a film out of this?
Takashi Shimizu: The producer approached [me] about some strange things that had happened in this Inunaki Tunnel and what may have happened in the tunnel, a lot of it has been taken up on the internet, and everybody has chimed in with their own version and their own ideas. And basically, [I] took all of that and started to put it together into a script.
disappointment: Superstition is a key factor in many of your films, including Howling Village. What draws you to exploring this theme in your films?
Shimizu: There are superstitions and superstitions do have some basis in reality sometimes, and sometimes they don’t. And a lot of people who are superstitious think about their superstitions, talk about them, and that [grey area] gives a lot of room for the doubt that needs to exist for a good horror movie.
disappointment: The setting is almost another character in Howling Village. What about these locations stood out to you?
Shimizu: Every place has a certain kind of existence, if you like, an existence of its own. But obviously, some places are kind-of boring. [I] like these forgotten places, where people used to live, and to sort-of imagine the people that lived there, what they did, and to give existence to these places that a lot of people wouldn’t think exist anymore.
disappointment: Your films contain some iconic creepy images. How did you create some of the imagery in Howling Village?
Shimizu: [I] was a terrible coward as a child. [I] was scared all the time, so basically that’s where [I’m] making up all these images from.
disappointment: Different countries have different styles of horror. What do you think makes Japanese horror so unique?
Shimizu: Other places, they basically create monsters and so on — and not to say that Japan never does that — that sort-of scare you directly. [My] sense of Japanese films is that it is the sense that something is terrifying, less than the actual terrifying thing itself, the creation of an ominous quality.
Howling Village hits theaters August 13 and VOD on August 17.
Interview by Sean Boelman
Indie horror filmmaker Richard Bates Jr. has made a name for himself on the festival circuit as a writer/director of genre-bending midnight movies that have quite a lasting impact on their fans. His newest film, King Knight, stars an ensemble cast led by Matthew Grey Gubler in a story about the leader of a coven of witches going to his high school reunion. In advance of the film’s Fantasia premiere, we got to talk with Bates about the film, mixing genres, and more. Check out the interview below!
On the Recipe for Midnight Movie Success
disappointment media: Your films generally have a great deal of success on the festival midnight circuit. What is it to you that makes a great midnight movie?
Richard Bates Jr.: I really am drawn to midnight movies about family and sort of people who feel alienated who find each other and form families and groups and whatnot. Like I want it to feel like a party in art school. Everyone's included.
disappointment: So in your films, you really like to blend horror with other genres it seems. In King Knight, it's comedy. What do you like about making films that mix genres together like this?
Bates Jr.: Well, I mean, I'm really drawn to it in sort of all art forms right. Like, you know, I loved growing up listening to Frank Zappa. You know, a Frank Zappa song could be ten different genres. And then, you know, in college, I would love listening to Girl Talk albums, mixtapes, the mash ups, right. A song is like 15 songs. And so I really liked that. And I tried to do that, with my movies. I think the most genres I ever packed into a movie was Tone-Deaf, depending who you ask, could have been too many. But I'm always sort of drawn to that. With King Knight, I would say, I really just kind of set out to make a movie that would make me happy and hopefully make other people happy. I really had my version of a comedy in mind.
disappointment: So you were talking about how you've done a lot of different genres in your films from ghost movies to slashers and witchcraft. Are there any other horror subgenres that you find yourself wanting to riff on?
Bates Jr.: I mean, depending on what I want to write about. What I want to write about influences where I'll go with the genre, you know what I mean? There's absolutely nothing I wouldn't riff on if I felt like it had made sense with the material. Because I typically don't try to think about that, when I do my first pass of a screenplay, then I work it in, you know, systematically afterwards, because when I do my first draft I’m thinking more about the characters, and act breaks. And sometimes it's very sort of experimental act breaks. I mean, like a movie like Trash Fire, right? The whole point of the movie is, it can be too late to change. Dr. Phil is wrong, so get your shit together, and it's a movie and two acts because of that. The other ones are a little different, certainly King Knight has three acts, but it's a comedy. So you find yourself being a little bit looser with it, you know, particularly in the first act.
(L-R) Josh Fadem as Neptune, Johnny Pemberton as Desmond, Angela Sarafyan as Willow, Mathew Gray Gubler as Thorn, Andy Milonakis as Percival, Nelson Franklin as Angus, Emily Chang as Echo and Kate Comer as Rowena in the comedy KING KNIGHT, a King Knight LLC release. Photo courtesy of King Knight LLC.
On How He Makes Movies
disappointment: So King Knight is a film about a coven of witches, but it's definitely an unorthodox witchcraft film at that. What are some of your favorite films about witchcraft?
Bates Jr.: You know, I'm very passionate about the religion, Wicca. I made documentaries on it, it's a lot of my library. I would say I enjoyed watching Practical Magic. And I mean that sincerely. I don't know that there are a ton of movies about witches that I've ever been particularly drawn to. So it's probably why I made this. I mean, quite frankly, you know, once I was done with Tone-Deaf and I was trying to figure out what to do and with things just so ominous in the world, I just tried to write a movie to make myself happy, and will hopefully make other people happy. And at the time, I'd been pitched this director for hire thing, a witch movie about an evil witch, and I realized then that I wanted to make a witch movie, but I really liked witches, I didn't want to do that. And so I kind of took Pecker, the '90s John Waters movie where, you know, it's like, it's perverted, and it's edgy, but it's so sweet. And it keeps you coming back. So most of my movies are pretty cynical. So I really tried to strip this of any and all cynicism and love every character in it, quite frankly. And a lot of my friends are witches, and I had them read it just to make sure that it was all in good fun without being inconsiderate. So the idea at the end of the day is I don't want to preach either. I don't want to tell people witches are better than you. No sort of holier than thou reverential thing, the idea is just to treat them as they should be treated just as characters in a comedy. And then hopefully, by the end of it, you fall in love with them as people. Because as far as religion is concerned, truthfully, we're all searching for the same answers to the same questions.
disappointment: You've worked with some genuine legends in your career: Malcolm McDowell, Ray Wise, Robert Patrick, Barbara Crampton. Is there anyone else on your bucket list of people you want to work with?
Bates Jr.: Well, I would say, definitely Bill Murray. You know, it's tough, though, I'll tell you, I really try not to think of cast until I'm done writing, and then I will just pour over, I will only think of cast, right, because it's the most important thing to me. So the actor that I would want to work with would have to be a dream actor for the part, you know, and maybe fit in with our sort of troupe that each movie we kind of add to, because it helps, you know, when you make these sort of tonally incongruous movies, that you sort of get the references, and it's like a circus. So when I cast King Knight, I got to cast every single actor who I wanted because I paid for the movie with my own money, and then I took out a little loan to finish it. And I got to have full control over casting, I mean, I even negotiated the actors contracts with their agents. So I just had complete trust in all the actors. So it allowed me to not have to worry about micromanaging, I got to direct in a very sort of exciting way where it's sort of blanket directions. Act one, "I don't care how ridiculous the line of dialogue seems to you, or how preposterous the scenario is, you're not acting in a comedy, you're acting in Sophie's Choice." And everyone got it and committed to it, and then act one to act two, right? That shit was like, "Okay, guys, now it's the spirit quest, I want you to imagine if Nickelodeon remade The Holy Mountain." And this group gets that kind of, more obscure references and stuff. And so it's exciting. And we kind of form a little family of our own.
disappointment: There's something really special about watching horror comedies in specific in a communal setting. And while the circumstances right now have obviously prevented that from happening, virtual festivals, like Fantasia, have worked to really replicate that. Why do you think your films make for such a great shared experience?
Bates Jr.: Well, I think that there are certainly elements of a provocateur in each and every one, and it's fun to sort of react to things like that with groups, right? I will tell you, I think comedies best with a crowd for sure. I know that when I made Tone-Deaf, I really made it specifically for the theater. And now you know, it really never got to play at too many. And maybe it's my own fault. But really, when I imagined Robert Patrick breaking the wall I wanted people in the theater to feel like the villain was chastising them. I wanted it to feel like it was him versus the audience. And that movie was shot so wide that I designed it specifically for theater, whereas a movie like King Knight, I sort of designed for all experiences. A movie that maybe you watch with 10 friends around your VHS player type thing and you find this special little weird thing and you don't know that a lot of other people know about it, but it means so much to you. You know what I mean? That that's my hope at least, that's my sort of dream with a movie like this, that it makes some kids feel empowered, or less alone, or something.
King Knight is screening at the 2021 Fantasia International Film Festival, which runs August 5-25.
Interview by Camden Ferrell
In anticipation of the release of his film Nine Days, disappointment media got to sit down and talk with writer-director Edson Oda. In the interview, we discuss the film's ambition, working with such a star-studded cast, and more. Check out the interview below and watch Nine Days in theaters now
Interview by Sean Boelman
Having directed the indie darling Blindspotting and having since released the Disney animated hit Raya and the Last Dragon, filmmaker Carlos López Estrada’s second feature Summertime (which was made before Raya) is finally making its way to U.S. audiences on a wider scale. We at disappointment media got the opportunity to speak with Estrada about his wonderful mosaic of spoken word poetry set in Los Angeles in anticipation of its release. Check out the interview below!
On Spoken Word Poetry
disappointment media: This is your second film to use poetry as a medium of storytelling in film? What do you think of the use of that as a whole?
Carlos López Estrada: You know, my life has surprisingly led me into this community of spoken word artists. And it was unexpected, it was not a community that I belong to. Like, my upbringing was so far from that, I was born in Mexico City. But I sort of, like, found a place in it, and I am so happy to be surrounded by so many wonderfully talented artists, a lot of them young, and they've all taught me so much about creativity and about art, about activism and organizing, and like the responsibility that we have with our work as artists, as creative people. So I've kind of taken it as like a personal mission to just do anything within my power to help support this community because it's given me so much. And I feel like so many other people, like myself can benefit from learning about them. So, you know, Summertime is just an excuse to do that, to try to introduce as many people as possible to them.
disappointment: You mentioned some of the young talent in the film, and they're amazing. How did you find these specific people featured in the film?
Estrada: So we worked with a nonprofit organization called Get Lit from Los Angeles, and they work with local high schools, essentially promoting literature through spoken word poetry. And because they work all across the school district, the makeup of the group is like incredibly diverse and eclectic, and from every single neighborhood of Los Angeles. So I was introduced to the organization by a friend, they invited me to a spoken word showcase. And from there came the idea to try to adapt that experience into a movie.
On Capturing This Community in L.A.
disappointment: One of the things that really stood out to me about this film was that there were so many characters, but they were all very fleshed out and felt lived in. How did you work to create these?
Estrada: I'm so glad that you say that. Because that was definitely what we wanted to accomplish. It feels like that because the poets really put their personalities into them because they created the movie with us. It wasn't like I came in and gave them a script and said, "Hey, learn your part and let's develop your character." This was really them sharing their poetry. This was them giving us an insight into their lives. Like many times we shot in their houses, we shot with their family members, with their friends. And they're the authors of the movie, it's their film, and we got to create it around them. So that's really sort of why I think it feels so real, is because, you know, they're not playing characters. They're just playing versions of themselves, and they're exploring things that are important to them.
disappointment: What was the difficulty of telling so many stories in a single film?
Estrada: So many difficulties. Well, first of all, just because we had the summer and only the summer to workshop the movie, because many of them were graduating high school, and were sort of like going all over the place afterwards, whether it was work or whether it was school. So if we wanted to make the movie with this group of people, we had to shoot it over the summer. And this was April when I first met them. So that gave us only a handful of months to develop, to script, to rehearse, and to shoot the movie. And there were so many people involved. So it was really a series of summer workshops every day for about two and a half to three months, we met, sometimes as a group, sometimes with individuals, sometimes in smaller groups. They would bring poetry, we would put it up on boards and find a way to put it all together. Like figure out what locations we wanted to shoot in, in a map of LA, figure out where each poem would fit and how we would move through it. So there was no one formula of like, "This is how we did it." I feel like every interaction with each of the poets was different. And every scene required such different tools. Like, we were in a new location, we were with a new cast you know, many times the tone of the movie shifts a little bit depending on who you're following. So I think that it's chaotic, but I think that's what hopefully gives the movie its personality.
disappointment: Do you have a specific performance or performances in your film that you would call your favorite?
Estrada: Um... there are so many. I mean, there's one by a poet named Marquesha, towards the end of the movie, where she confronts an ex=lover about, you know, some kind of like trauma that had been built up in her. And that scene just hits me every single time and filming that scene was such a memorable experience. And Marquesha is just such a brilliant, brilliant poet and performer, so I would say probably that one, but I do think I've gotten really close to the poets and I feel like every single scene comes with like a history of how it came together, how we shot it, what it meant to the poet, so it's multifaceted.
disappointment: So there are a lot of scenes that are based on individuals, but there are also a lot of them that come together, like the scene in the burger joint. How did you capture this feeling of community within the poets?
Estrada: I mean, I think it was mostly what you just said. Rather than like creating it, it was just capturing it just because this community already existed, these poets had been performing with each other for years, some of them grew up together, some of them have known each other for over 10 years. So there's a bond and there's a familiarity there that is really sort of like the essence of this community. And we just tried to create that as much as possible. through the poetry through the scenes, bringing them together, and also on the shoot. Like the poets would show up on set on days that they weren't even shooting, they would just show up to hang out, they would run lines with each other, they would rehearse the poetry, they would give notes, like performing notes, to each other. So it was in front of the camera, and behind the camera, there was a real feeling of community that I think is really sort of like the magic behind the film.
On the Meaning of Summertime
disappointment: The film is obviously a love letter to Los Angeles. Do you have a favorite part of the city of Los Angeles? Like just a favorite thing about it?
Estrada: Oof, that's... what is it, what is, what is it? I think I love locations or events that present opportunities for this kind of intersectionality. So whether it's a Dodgers game, or whether it's a protest, or sitting out in the park, like in Echo Park, and just like being hit by all these different stories and kinds of people with different cultural backgrounds and ethnicities. I feel like, a lot of cities do that, but LA just is so vivid, and the amount of languages that you get to hear, the amount of kinds of music that you have to hear, if you drive across the city, the kinds of food that you're exposed to. So I don't know, I think that's what I love the most about the city, just when you're out in public just like being in this constant state of getting hit by stimuli and learning so much about people whose cultures are foreign to our own.
disappointment: Several of the performances in the film deal with some very weighty and timely issues. What were some things that you hope that this film contributes to the conversation about?
Estrada: I just feel like it's a place where so many important voices, so many important stories intersect. And I feel like what that initial poetry workshop did for me, and what I hope the movie does is just generate a lot of empathy in people who watch because I feel like many times, myself included, we get to experience life through a singular perspective that doesn't often leave room for other voices to affect or impact. And what I think the movie does is show you one city, especially a city that I think a lot of people feel like they know really well just because it's been documented so much in movies and media. And it gives you so many different layers and nuances to something that we believe to know well, so it shows you 27 different points of view of how to understand the city differently, and how people in the city are existing, the problems that they're dealing with, the things that excite them, things that confuse them. So I feel like what it did for me is that it really brought the city to life. And it showed me nuances and layers to it that I believe are so important. So I hope that people who get to see it have a similar experience and that they welcome this chaos and learn to embrace it and appreciate it and enjoy it.
disappointment: One of the things that really stood out to me about this film is how there's so much Latino and other people of color representation in the film. Why do you think that minority stories like this are so important to be heard and seen?
Estrada: Just because they haven't been heard and seen for a really long time. And I think we're entering an age where that is not excusable anymore. And I feel like people are just really committed to bringing stories that haven't occupied the mainstream into the mainstream. And, you know, I'm definitely one of those people. And I feel like for the same reason we were speaking about earlier, I feel like we live our lives with such a singular vision that is not very often challenged, or, like complemented by other points of view. And I feel like just pushing to make movies and to bring stories to light where perspectives are different from our own, and perspectives that haven't really been given as much importance as others are being highlighted are just so important, because it makes our life and our point of view so much more layered and interesting. So I don't know, I find that to be sort of a big part of who I am as a person and as an artist, and I feel like I'm here because people that I looked up to did the same kind of work and inspired me a lot. So I'm hoping that by doing this work, you know, I can also pass that along to other people who may also be as passionate about this as I am.
disappointment: This is like a community that isn't really highlighted a lot, a lot of people don't know about it. What do you hope that people come away from the film knowing about this community?
Estrada: I hope that their interests are piqued and that they find ways to get engaged and find ways to follow and find ways to support these artists, the organization that we're working with, and I mean, this one's very particular to LA, but also the spoken word community, in the States and across the world is like growing and growing and becoming more prominent. And, you know, we saw in the inauguration speech this year, we see it more and more in movies and TV. And I think, you know, if people watch the movie and and get excited about this, this sort of art form, then I think they should try to look at their local organizations, see what are the personalities and the names and the people that are supporting these artists and become involved. Because I think, at least for me, it's been a very rewarding experience.
Summertime hits theaters on July 9.
By Camden Ferrell
Few people have had as consequential an impact on music as Brian Wilson. Through his work with The Beach Boys and his solo work, he has crafted a legacy that has lasted generations. He is the focus of Brent Wilson’s newest documentary Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road which is premiering at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival. We at disappointment media got the opportunity to attend a virtual press conference with director Brent Wilson, Rolling Stone editor and Brian’s longtime friend Jason Fine, as well as the one and only Brian Wilson. Here’s what we learned.
Brent Wilson met Brian Wilson while working on his previous film Streetlight Harmonies, and after becoming close on set, Brent wanted to make a movie about Brian. Brent mentioned that Brian has had many things written about his career but this “incredible third act [Brian] was having in his life” hadn’t properly been captured yet. He wanted to create an “intimate” film that would show us a different side of the musician. He then got the thumbs up from Brian and his wife, Melinda. From there, Brent was recommended to meet with Fine who wrote multiple articles about Brian and was also great friends with him.
For his article Brian Wilson’s Better Days, Fine drove around L.A. with Brian for 3-4 days, and Brent wanted to capture that type of conversational intimacy. When asked about how it felt filming, Fine mentioned that aside from the myriad of cameras in the car, it all felt “natural”. Fine said that he and Brian have been driving around L.A., listening to music, and going to eat for years, so there was no pressure when filming the movie over the course of three weekends. Brian has a lot of history and memories embedded within the city, and Fine noted that driving around with him felt significant due to Brian’s past with the area. Throughout the interview, they banter and reminisce a lot about the restaurants, the beaches, and even a party with Paul McCartney.
When asked why he agreed to the movie, Brian said he didn’t really know; he just made up his mind on it. Although, he does concede that Fine’s involvement was also a factor in his decision. Throughout the film, Brian and Fine are driving and listening to music. This music includes some of Brian’s work as well as the music of his brothers Dennis and Carl. He enjoyed the experience of hearing this music with his friend, and it was clear in these moments in the interview that Brian and Fine had such great chemistry and camaraderie.
As filming wrapped, there was roughly seventy hours of footage. When asked how one condenses that much footage to ninety minutes, Brent simply responded, “painfully”. While they all laugh at this remark, Brent proceeds to talk about how it genuinely hurt him to cut so much footage. There were a lot of “beautiful” moments that he wanted to keep in, but he also knew his film had to breathe. He talks about the “quiet” moments of the movie where Brian and Fine aren’t talking and how it was important to the final product. They spent three months sorting through footage before even editing the movie, but Brent mentioned that focusing on the juxtaposition between their interesting conversation and the more reflective silences was a tough but proper choice.
Fine remarks that seeing Brian in this casual environment, the viewer gets to see the “courage”, “humor”, and “strength” he has as a person. He says people know the music, not the man, and that this movie provides a window into how much of a joy it is to spend time with Brian. Throughout this interview, it is clear that Brent and Fine have such a profound respect for Brian and that this movie is a testament to the love and admiration they have for him as an artist and as a person.
Brian Wilson: Long Promised Road is currently seeking distribution.
[GIFF 2021] Brothers Justin and Christian Long Talk Their Feature Directorial Debut LADY OF THE MANOR
Interview by Sean Boelman
The 2021 Gasparilla International Film Festival opened with a special screening of the new comedy Lady of the Manor, the feature directorial debut of Justin Long (Dodgeball, Jeepers Creepers) and his brother Christian, which was filmed locally in the Tampa Bay area. Before the screening, we at disappointment media got the chance to talk with the filmmakers about their debut and experience filming in Florida. Check out what we learned below!
One of the unique things about this film is that it is a collaboration between the two brothers. There are clearly certain pros and cons to working with one’s sibling on a film, and here is what Justin and Christian Long had to say about that:
“I think we just have very similar sensibilities and we get along as friends. So I feel like we just see things very similarly in terms of comedy in terms of creative things,” says Christian Long.
“Trust, I trust you. It's like any other relationship. It's usually the simple things, you know, those are the important ones,” says Justin Long.
The film follows a stoner who, after getting a gig as a tour guide in a historic manor, befriends the ghost of the former lady of the residence. This is what Justin and Christian Long had to say about coming up with this story:
“You know, we really love buddy comedies from the '80s and '90s. And I don't know, besides, it came to us we realized it was such a good opportunity for that type of buddy comedy, but with two women, and we just felt like we hadn't seen that in that way. So we just wanted to, you know, sink our teeth into that,” says Christian Long.
“But, you know, though it involves a ghost like Christian said, we wanted first and foremost, we wanted it to be an odd couple comedy, and a ghost comedy second. And then when we started attracting these actors who we loved, I mean, we were such fans of God, Melanie Lynskey and Judy Greer. We had seen them in so many things, but never seen them do something like this. And so that was part of the thrill was getting to just watch some really great actors be funny,” says Justin Long.
Comedy can be a very difficult genre to pull off because of its unique complexities, especially when it is a filmmaker’s first film. This is what Justin and Christian Long had to say about tackling their directorial debut:
“It's just our favorite genre. And especially for these times right now, I feel like I want to see, just personally I love movies, and as an audience member, I want to see comedies. And like Christian said, they're the movies that we grew up on. We grew up on the classics. What About Bob? and Planes, Trains and Automobiles, The Odd Couple. You know, great odd couple comedies,” said Justin Long.
“I don't think we're aiming for directing a drama,” said Christian Long.
“It'd be disappointing,” says Justin Long.
If their debut is any indication, we can look forward to seeing more great things from these two brothers in the future. But for now, everyone can make sure to keep an eye out for Lady of the Manor, which comes out everywhere on September 17.
The 2021 Gasparilla International Film Festival runs from June 10-13 in Tampa, FL with in-person and virtual options available.
Interview by Sean Boelman
In anticipation of the release of their film The Paper Tigers, disappointment media got to sit down and talk with actors Alain Uy, Ron Yuan, and Mykel Shannon Jenkins. In the interview, we discuss the meaning of family, the film's great action sequences, and more. Check out the interview below and watch The Paper Tigers in theaters and on demand beginning May 7.
By Sean Boelman
The Underground Railroad is Oscar-winning filmmaker Barry Jenkins’s first foray into the medium of television, and his touch can be felt all over the series. We at disappointment media got the opportunity to attend a virtual press conference featuring director/showrunner Jenkins and cast members Thuso Mbedu, Joel Edgerton, Aaron Pierre, William Jackson Harper, and Sheila Atim. Check out what we learned below!
The series is based on the acclaimed novel by Colson Whitehead. This is what Jenkins had to say about adapting the source material: “I think the biggest thing for me, one I love the book. I thought Colson had created a really great opportunity to maybe even recontextualize the story of our ancestors by focusing on this young woman Cora. You watch the show, and, you know, there's this version where maybe without seeing it, you assume for 10 episodes, Cora is trying to vanquish the condition of American slavery. But what she's really after is she's trying to reconcile this sense of abandonment she feels towards her mother. And I thought that was a really interesting way to come at a story like this to present this very, I think, truthful but also just massive in scope and scale journey that was ultimately about parenting and about a daughter's relationship to her mother.”
For Jenkins, a serialized format was the only way to tell this story. Here’s why: “When you go into a movie theater, it's a very captive experience. You kind of have to surrender yourself. You're in the middle of a 30-seat aisle. You turn your phone off. I wanted the audience to have the opportunity. You can pause. You can play. You can skip. You can choose whom you want to watch this with, or whether you want to watch it alone. So that was part of the reason why I felt like it had to be a series.”
In bringing this story to life, Jenkins utilized some terrific imagery and symbolism. Some of the most memorable moments in the series bring the eponymous network to the screen in a literal sense. This is what Jenkins had to say about that: “The first things we did were all the trains and the tunnels. And I told Mark Freidberg, our production designer, because I'm working from this childhood memory, ‘This can't be fake. I want real tracks, real trains, real tunnels. I don't want blue screen, and I don't want CGI.’ And so we found a private rail network and we built our tunnels above them. And so much of this project was trying to contextualize what it would've been like to be my ancestors which is a very difficult thing to do and just because some of this history has been lost, I think that's why we're creating these images in our image now.”
Still, Jenkins does not shy away from the horrors of what he is presenting. When asked if the world is ready to see his vision, he said: “I do think the audience is ready for it. And if they aren't, I think that's fine too. You know, I think the thing that's really beautiful about putting images into the world is that, when someone is ready to find that image, it will be there. And I think in creating this show it honored our ancestors. I think we were respectful of ourselves, respectful of the text, and respectful of the audience. So, I do think folks are ready. I wouldn't have made it if I didn't think they were.”
The Underground Railroad streams on Amazon Prime beginning May 14.
Interview by Sean Boelman
One of the highlights of this year’s Midnighters section at the virtual SXSW Film Festival is The Spine of Night, an ultra-violent adult animated fantasy epic featuring a star-studded voice cast. We at disappointment media got the opportunity to chat with Morgan Galen King and Philip Gelatt, the directorial duo behind the film, about their process of bringing their vision to life. Check out the interview below!
On Animating the Film
disappointment media: I think one of the things that really stands out to me about this film is that it's really epic in scale, but it's an independent film. And so what were the difficulties of making something this ambitious on a smaller scale?
Philip Gelatt: Yeah, I mean, so one thing to acknowledge about that, off the bat is that what allowed us to do this independently is basically the sheer amount of time that it took our animation team led by Morgan to do the animation. Like it took about seven years, to be honest, from when we started to when we finished. So, you know, and we knew that going in, you know, we knew that we were setting out to make something epic in scale and vastly ambitious on a visual level and a narrative level. And just sort of knew, I think, and I think we probably verbalized it, but I think we all sort of knew on sort of like an internal subconscious level that the way it was probably going to get done was brute force. And so that's sort of, you know, how it happened. Yeah, I mean, I don't know if I have anything else to say on that, other than just like that sort of the like, what it takes to do something like this independently is just a lot of grit, I guess.
Morgan Galen King: I mean, I think it was, you know, it was definitely an act of endurance. You know, I remember when we were finished shooting the motion reference in 2014, March 2014. You know, like I was, I think we were driving to the train station, so I could go back to Philadelphia to start the animating. And I was like, "Well, I sure hope we can be, you know, I think three, maybe four years." But as it gets into year five, and year six, like we are, we are really in this now. And when we're tipping into the latter half of the decade of production. So it was, yeah, I mean, for sure. Brute force is the answer to pulling that off, I think.
disappointment: And so did you have any particular scenes or images that were your favorite to animate, or that were the most memorable to animate?
King: Well, I think anyone who has ever gotten a chance to animate a lot of ultraviolent gore, it just tickles me, I mean, I'd like to think the film treats the gore in a fairly serious manner. But as an animator, keeping track of like, the weight of organs and the spatter of blood, and all of that is just like,it feels like a juggling act, it's a very active animation when you're working with that much fluid. It's always the most fun to draw.
Gelatt: I thought you were gonna say one of the scenes of just endless people talking to each other, like scene 11 is the scene in the throne room, and it's the longest scene in the movie, and it took Morgan and the other animators forever to do. That's like a negative thing to think back on. Not the positive thing of the gore. Yeah.
On the Film's World
disappointment: And so another thing that really impressed me about the film is just the level of detail that you put into the world building, both in the writing and the animation. What informed your process of writing and animating the world of The Spine of Night?
King: I mean, Phil, you're saying, we were talking earlier about, like, how much coding influenced the psyche? Do you want to talk to touch on it?
Gelatt: Sure. I mean, from a writing perspective, you know, the chance to build a fantasy world is so much fun. Like, it's so much fun, but it's also there's a lot of responsibility, right? Because you want the viewers to, you know, you're bringing them someplace strange, and you're asking them to engage with it, visually, and also emotionally. And then also, like, intellectually. You're asking a lot of the viewer, so when you set out to write something like that, you know, you want to be detail oriented, but you can't be too detail oriented, there's this whole balancing act that you have to do. So when we set out to do it, you know, I think we had in mind, like our favorite examples of the genre. And like, for me my favorite example is the 1982 Conan movie, because it is, like, it just just feels like a tangible world that has like a real history and like, the armor looks like it comes from different cultures. And it's just like, I just love it. So I don't know if you can really see that in this movie. But it certainly was massively influential, at least in terms of, I think both the writing and the visualization of the movie, in terms of, you know, how you go about making a grounded low fantasy, feature film. Because we're not doing dragons and elves, and you know, like, there's no minute tear off, there's like, it's a very different flavor of fantasy than that Tolkien stuff. So you have to be a little bit more focused on the, you know, the tangible aspect of it, I guess. Not to not to insult Tolkien, but you know.
King: I think that's pretty much right on point. I mean, like in terms of creating a detailed world that feels fleshed out, I mean, there's obviously some fantasy genre tropes in there, I think. But like, we wanted to really sort of push off a lot of them. And I think, like Phil was saying, like, to go to, like, lower fantasy, like Conan, that is less about like fantasy races, but also to not really do like, Game of Thrones, you need a family tree guide to follow the lineages of what's happening. I think, you know, I think we're sort of trying to find an area that was not like either of those.
disappointment: I think you also leave a lot of room to be explored. Are there any more stories you want to tell in this universe?
King: I mean, I think we certainly have considered it. Like we've talked about, you know, a lot of ideas over the years. Over the course of seven years of working on this, I think we've kicked around ways we could do all sorts of things with it, because it does sort of, I mean, act as a hub through the middle of a bunch of different timelines. So like, if people really wanted to, I think we could tell all sorts of stories that interconnect and spill out of this setting. For sure.
Gelatt: It's a tricky question. Like, as Morgan says, We've certainly discussed it. Both sequel ideas and spin-off ideas. I think there's also part of the fabric and the DNA of writing the movie and making the movie was the hope that people would imagine some of those stories themselves, right? Like we sort of left a lot of these dangling narrative bits and like, dangling characters almost. And the hope with all of them wasn't like, "Oh, we could do a show about this, or we could do a show about that". The hope for the viewer to lean in and put themselves in the world and imagine the other stories that could exist there. Like, that's always sort of been my favorite thing about fantasy fiction is both the story, but then also the details of the story leaves out that let me fill in myself. Which isn't to say we don't have stories we want to tell this to say we wouldn't. Like we're saying, I don't think it's the type of fantasy world that we would want to go through and make an appendix and a huge family tree about. That wasn't the style we were after, as he said.
disappointment: Did you have one of the heroes in the film that was your favorite?
King: I love them all so much. even the ones that are kind of jerks, I like all of them. Well, I mean, Mongrel, the Barbarian character that Joe Manganiello voices is a character that I've sort of been doing things with on and off for over a decade now. In like, sketching stuff, so I mean, I've always loved that character. I just think he's like a fun distillation of like, it's Conan but the mustache, he's a eunuch. He sort of wears like a He-Man thing, he's like a meta-barbarian to me.
Gelatt: Mongrel the meta-barbarian. It's great. Yeah, it's a spinoff series right there. For me, I mean, I also love them all. Faye, the scholar in the second sequence I think, is always going to be my favorite. Because, like, Mongrel is a meta-barbarian. Faye to me is like a fantasy version of Indiana Jones, right? Like she's like, she's like what if Indiana Jones were in Conan the Barbarian? And that's just like a really exciting idea to me. And Benny Gabriel who voices her and who was the live action reference for her, I just think she's so massively talented. So there's like, affection there, both for the behind the scenes stuff, and also for the character itself.
disappointment: And you mentioned the cast, you guys assembled an amazing voice cast for this film, what was it like signing them on to this project, and then working with them?
Gelatt: Signing them on to it was exciting and terrifying. Like in that, terrifying, because you know, you want to get a large voice cast, and then they say yes and you're like, "Oh, my God, now I have to go record with Patton Oswalt," Then you're like, "This is maybe gonna be weird," but then it's not weird. It's great. So it's fun. And we tried to pick, tried to approach people who we thought would appreciate, you know, what the movie is. And I think we did find that. So yeah, I mean, it was a lot of fun. I mean, they're a great cast, and they're a great group of people, and they all seem to really like, get it, which is nice. Like, it's nice to like, you know, have them sort of engaged with it for what it is.
King: Yeah, I'd say two things. I mean, it's great. The final voice cast is just a dream come true in a lot of ways. I mean, when you get to tell someone "Oh, yeah. Also, Lucy Lawless is in this movie.," and, "Oh my God, Xena is in this movie." It's I mean, that's tremendous. But as Phil was saying earlier about Betty Gabriel too, this has been such a fun process in that she was there when we were shooting the motion reference, because we actually filmed so long ago that we were filming before Get Out, which is sort of her big breakout role. And so, you know, it's been fun too to have her be able to be a part of the cast as the years have gone.
On the Rotoscope Animation Medium
disappointment: So what about this process of rotoscope animation really stands out to you?
King: I mean, I grew up with a lot of these films that we're referencing like the Ralph Bakshi films. From a very young age, I was in love with us. Although it the style was never as big in the West, like, you know, Eastern European animation has such a rich history of it in a way that it never quite, I think the Disney cartooning approach was so popular in America that like a lot of this stuff done under the Soviet regime never made it over. But there was so much rotoscoping outside of that Western animation world and I love all that stuff, too. I think there's just a realism to it that I think for some people I've heard say tips into the uncanny valley, but I feel like when it's done well, at least, I think it sort of skirts around that into being its own aesthetic choice.
Gelatt: Yeah, it's like a very distinct flavor of animation that is increasingly rare, but I think it's just a particular flavor that I think is great.
disappointment: And so what do you think is the potential of the animation medium for stories like this that are grand, but to produce them live action would cost hundreds of millions of dollars? But you have this independent film that's just as impressive on a smaller budget?
King: Oh, I mean, I hope so. We certainly tried. I mean, I think we're really swinging for the fences. I think animation is, you know, like, so inherently geared towards this, you know, like, creating fantastical stuff. I think having done more like, you know, we animated shots of people just talking over drinks in a bar. And like, animation doesn't necessarily always serve that. So I think it really motivated us to keep the scenes full of fantastical ideas on a regular clip in a way that live action can kind of breathe more. And little nuances can tell a lot more in a live action thing, and in an animated forum, it's almost like, you're encouraged to make it epic and fantastical. Because it's well, it's just a lot more fun to draw and it utilizes the medium better.
The Spine of Night is screening as a part of the online edition of the 2021 SXSW Film Festival, which runs March 16-20, 2021.