Interview by Sean Boelman
When one thinks of the most legendary character actors working today, the name Udo Kier should immediately come to mind. Boasting an impressively large and diverse filmography, Kier is just as known for his off-the-wall and crazy bit parts as he is for his supporting roles in films by auteurs such as Lars von Trier and Rainer Werner Fassbinder.
His newest role, in Carlson Young’s twisted Alice in Wonderland-like fantasy The Blazing World, sees him more in the former category as this film’s White Rabbit. We at disappointment media had the opportunity to sit down with the iconic actor and have a conversation about the role in the film, in addition to his career as a whole. Check out the interview below!
disappointment media: You currently have 270 credits and counting on your resume. How do you keep up such an impressive output?
Udo Kier: Well, modern technology knows more about me than I do. I don't count my films. And when I talk to journalists, they always say, "It's almost 300 films," and I say, "Yes, 100 films are bad, 50 films you can watch with some good wine, and 50 films are good." And, you know, I think I did only with Lars von Trier, I did 10 films or 12, Fassbinder, and all. So there are good films, but, you know, as an actor, unless it's a director like David Lynch, you know, I'm a very lucky man, that I work with many people like Wim Wenders, like Werner Herzog, like Lars von Trier, they cannot make a bad film. They can only make a film people don't like, but it doesn't mean that it's a bad film. But there are directors who will tell you wonderful stories. And then you start working with them. And you feel something is not in my direction, and then you still have to make the film. And there are films I did I have never seen because I didn't have a good time making it. So why should I go and depress myself in the theater? So you never know.
disappointment: So you mentioned that you've worked with many accomplished filmmakers, but you also leave time for up and coming filmmakers like Carlson Young of The Blazing World. What do you like about working with new talent like this?
Kier: Because they have talent. You see, I myself, I have never been to acting school. And I became a professor. And the thing that I say to my students, when we had a speech, I always said, "Talent is something you cannot learn. You can learn a technique, but you cannot learn talent," which is true, then it comes to question about his style, how much you want. When Carson sent me the script, and the producer, I said, "Okay, I read it twice." You see, when I get a script, I read first my role only. And if it's interesting, then I read the whole script with my role in it. And if I'm not necessary to be there, it doesn't change the story, why should I be in the movie? So I read it twice. I liked it. And I said, "Let's meet." And we talked and spent the afternoon together, she came with the producer. And I liked her, I liked her energy. And I understood very quickly that she was not really out to make a short film, which she did, but she got her attention. People saw it, and then she found the money to make the feature film, which she had planned all the time. She hadn't planned to make a short film and then was a success, and made a feature film. So I liked her. The same thing happened to me with Todd Stephens for Swan Song. I read, he came here. We talked one afternoon, and we had details, and I made the film. So talent, I like because I know from the past, in more than 50 years, the internet knows more than I do about my life. I must say I prefer independent films. I mean, I made Blade, I made Armageddon. Imagine if I would have gone to the director and would have said, "I have an idea." They would have said "What? You have a script? What idea?" But when you are making independent films, you become as an actor, you become part of the creation also. And Blazing World it was like, I know it was fantasy and she chose me to be her fantasy. That was really a compliment, she could have asked a lot of actors. But she wanted me to be cast standing by the water, just go with my finger, "Come, come." And I liked when I went there, what was very important, I hadn't made any films because of the virus. And they guaranteed me it was 100% safe, which it was. Not 100%, let's say 90. But I went there to Texas. They tested me, I had to wait till the next morning, there was a property, a farm where everybody was staying. The food came three times a day, nobody was allowed to leave. And everybody was living there. And we made the film. And she was amazing. A young, delicate, young girl able to write, direct, star in it, and be there and listen to the actors and she's very, very creative. And that's why I'm very happy that I did the movie because she's very talented.
disappointment: You mentioned how some of your scenes in The Blazing World don't have much dialogue. What is either the challenge or the reward in acting scenes like this?
Kier: Well, you're making me a compliment, of course, I have enough possibilities to express myself without text. Text is just there to undermine something. You know, you can say, "Oh, I'm hungry." As you can also say, "Ahh, ahh, food! Food!" You know you can have your fantasy to go either direction. I don't need text as much. It's like Lars von Trier tells everybody, "Don't act." I mean, I made films with Lars where we had our self service table with Lauren Bacall, Ben Gazzara, James Caan, Nicole Kidman, Udo Kier, Stellan Skarsgård, and Lars comes up to us and says, "And don't forget, don't act." You see, it is like you don't need text. Sometimes actors they love text, I won't mention any names, and start with the back to the camera by the chimney and then they'll turn a little round and talk to the floor. And finally they come up and I always call them another Oscar speech.
disappointment: So what is different in your approach of how you act in certain arthouse dramas like what you've done with Lars von Trier versus fantasy movies like The Blazing World?
Kier: I prefer, of course, the fantasy because I can use my fantasy. If some director like Lars, a great director and friend, I'm the godfather of his first child and we made our first movie several years ago, but I know he doesn't like us to act. To do a drama. We just be there and have a good script and a good situation and we talk. But personally, when I did John Carpenter's film, you know and opened my stomach at the end and put my insides into the projector, like a sausage factory. I like that. Because it's so ridiculous. But you know, I don't play as ridiculous. And I don't think it's ridiculous. I think it's, you know, a person with a special mind.
disappointment: So you mentioned a bit earlier how you like to take these roles that are pivotal, but small? How do you make these turns so memorable?
Kier: Because the way I talk. You know, I always say, there is a way when you play a killer, you have a gun, and then you look at your partner, shoot. But I wouldn't do that. I prefer, if the director allows it, that the gun is in front of me. And I clean my fingernails and I say, "When I'm done, I'm going to kill you. Are you happy with your hair?" BANG! And people say, "That was evil!" To kill somebody is evil one way or the other. So now it's like, I read the roles. I mean, I in Johnny Mnemoic played the boss of Keanu Reeves, Ralfi. And, you know, then the Chinese people come and kill me. When you play, in short roles or small roles, not long on screen, it's very hard to keep the memory. For example, now with Swan Song, my life has changed. To get a page in the New York Times, writing, "On top after 50 years, Udo Kier finally becomes a leading man." And I was thinking, "Were they right? I made so many movies," but I had never been a lead in America. I had the lead in Germany with Dracula and Frankenstein, but never in an American production. And I was thinking why? And I know why. Because the people start with you and follow you till the end. Yeah, when I showed Swan Song, I hope people can tell me "Oh, you made us cry, you made us laugh," because they follow the personality. Or you have fantasy roles, like in The Blazing World, which are totally crazy. And he sings a song, "There are three keys. You have to open each one. But I'll tell you, they're not as nice to you as I am." You know, it's fun. And that's why when I do even commercial movies like Blade, that my teeth are going to be pulled out and I'm going to be exploding in the sun. And I said, "Great! What a great way of leaving a movie." So it's as always, I look for something interesting. I wouldn't do a movie where it's a boring part. I wouldn't do that. Never. Because especially now I'm getting older. Next week is my birthday. 77. Lucky number. I'm born on the 14th of October, two times seven is 14. So and, you know at the moment, I'm in Hunters, with Al Pacino, in eight episodes, I'm in six, and I'm still working on it. I'm flying next week to Prague to shoot three weeks and then I'm done. And so there you have it.
disappointment: Well thank you so much for your time. I really enjoyed speaking with you and I can't wait to see 270 more movies from you!
Kier: I know that's not going to happen, but I'm looking, because time is money, and time is to sin. I'm looking for something now for the next couple of years, which really nobody has seen. I want to, will I be able? I cannot answer that question, but I want to do something amazing. Really amazing.
The Blazing World is now in theaters and on VOD.
Interview by Sean Boelman
Japanese filmmaker Ryusuke Hamaguchi is having quite the year, with two films having toured nearly the entirety of the festival circuit. The first, Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, debuted at Berlinale and is an anthology drama centering around the idea of coincidences in relationships. The other, Drive My Car, is adapted from a short story by Haruki Murakami and won the best screenplay prize at Cannes. They are two very different but both wonderful films, and we had the pleasure of talking with the director about them. Check out our interview below!
On Drive My Car
disappointment media: What stood out to you about Murakami's writing and this story in particular
Ryusuke Hamaguchi: I can say there are mainly three things. The first one being that there are conversations that are happening inside a car. And I think this is related to the appeal of the characters themselves. These characters often are very internalized in their feelings. But through their conversations, through the time spent in the car, they start to get closer to each other. And I felt that this kind of relationship and the depiction of the relationship makes it easier to turn and adapt into a film. The second reason is a conflict with the character being an actor. And you know acting and performance is a theme that I've always dealt with in a lot of my films, so I felt very attracted to it. The third is the text, the dialogue that Takatsuki has in the original in which he says that in order to know oneself better, you need to face the other person directly. And that text from the original was something that personally moved me and I felt very convinced by that story and to me it was one of the cores of the story and I wanted to directly include it in my film.
disappointment: Even though the film is based on a short story the runtime is nearly three hours How did you find so much depth and detail in the source material?
Hamaguchi: So I think the answer to that question is related again to the characters which are Kafuku and Misaki. I really like both of these characters that are in the original. They're both characters who don't often make their emotions apparent. However, when they do say something about their emotions, it's very honest. And that's something that really struck me about the original. However, in the original story, I felt that where these two characters end up at the end of the story felt incomplete. I wanted to see where they actually do end up. And so when I was thinking about trying to get them to a certain destination, a certain place that felt more complete, it just ended up taking this long.
disappointment: So one of the highlights of Drive My Car is the cast. How did you work with the actors to deliver such emotional performances?
Hamaguchi: I think one major thing here is to choose the right cast to begin with. The performers who played the main characters, Mr. Nishijima and Miss Miura, both of them are wonderful actors. And it was also very delightful to be able to work with wonderful actors who also fit the side characters. I felt that something about the humanity that these casts brought to the character connected a lot with what I was trying to depict. And I think they all personally just gave depth to the characters to begin with. So you know, once I know that I'm working with a wonderful cast, my job I believe is to create an environment where they can all feel safe to perform, I see that as my number one job so that the performers can bring their best. And if I can actually provide that kind of environment, I know that my cast, the performers will do a wonderful job. And in order to create that I tried to have as much time to rehearse. And I believe one of the most important fears or worries that an actor can have is not knowing enough about the characters. And that creates a lot of worry. And so in order to try to get rid of that worry, the two things that I do are readings, but also giving backstory. So in terms of the reading, what we do is we have the actors read the dialogue, the script many times over and over and over without emotion until we get to the point where the dialogue comes out automatically. And once the actors are able to do that, when they're actually performing in front of the camera, they can really look at each other and it makes it easier for them to show emotion and think about other things. And regarding my point about backstory, it's so that I can give past relationships to the characters that are present. What I do is write a very simple script about the backstory. And even though in rehearsals we're just doing the script reading, what we sometimes do is to act out those backstory scripts. And what that allows is to give the roles sort of a memory through that relationship that was caused through those rehearsals of doing the backstories and that way, when they actually are on set and doing the main script, even though they had been reading that dialogue without emotions previously, once they're in front of the camera, they can sort of derive a natural emotion because they have this past memory from acting out the backstory. And I think that allows for a real emotional performance to come through.
On Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy
disappointment: What was the challenge of creating a film out of three thematically connected stories?
Hamaguchi: So I would say making these three short stories was actually a rather smooth process. If I were to talk about some challenges, I mean obviously there are challenges to making any film, but the thing about Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is that each production of each story was at a very small scale. And to be working at a small scale meant that it allows for the safety to spend a lot of time to make the film. Which for me also meant that there is more time to rehearse, and so with Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy, this isn't necessarily a challenge but what it allowed me to do was to test out what it can mean to have more time to rehearse.
disappointment: So Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy has a humor to it. Why do you think this was important for this film?
Hamaguchi: I'm really grateful that you mentioned humor in my films, mainly because I'm always thinking about humor to be part of my films. But I think the fact that the theme of Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy is coincidence really allows and makes room for humor to enter the work. Working with this idea of coincidence is a really strange existence within this framework of storytelling, mainly because coincidence itself exists outside of the logic of cause and effect, in some ways, is this very alien thing that is suddenly appearing into the story. And it has the power and the ability to change where the direction of the story is going. It can suddenly swerve the direction of the story. And I think that can actually lead to humor in itself. But when working with coincidences, I think it's not possible to just do that, because I feel like it's more because then the audience to the audience coincidences can be a reason for something to seem quite unbelievable. However, the Japanese title of this film is directly translated to be "Coincidence and Imagination". And so I had the title include coincidence, and I think that allows for the audience to be more open and accepting of the fact that coincidences will happen in the story. And again, I think this really also leads to a humorous element.
disappointment: So the second episode discusses the idea of story structure which is something that the film as a whole experiments with. Why do you like subverting expectations for storytelling?
Hamaguchi: Doing this where I have three different stories but then turning it into one film was a challenge in itself but also joyous at the same time. And I thought it was okay to have three very different stories, but I did want people to also come out of the theater feeling that they watched one film. So in that sense, I was very aware about the structure of the film in its entirety. In terms of the first story, I kind of saw it as an entry point. So the first story has a very understandable, very simple triangular relationship structure that's there. I would say maybe the end of the first story is the most ambiguous out of the three. That said, with the second and third stories, I was sort of pushing on the idea of testing out this idea of coincidence further in both the second and the third film, Regarding the second film, coincidence ends up bringing on a very bad result for the characters on the in the third film, however, the coincidence leads to a happy incident, happy feelings. And so if I had flipped that order of what you come out of with the two stories, I felt that the audience would be coming out of the theater feeling quite disgruntled. And I really wanted the audience to come out of the film feeling something happy.
Drive My Car and Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy are screening at the 2021 New York Film Festival. Wheel of Fortune and Fantasy opens in theaters on October 15 and Drive My Car opens in theaters on November 24.
Interview by Sean Boelman
A partnership between Amazon Studios and Blumhouse, Welcome to the Blumhouse is a horror anthology containing four feature-length seasons each class, all made by underrepresented filmmakers. One of the films in this year’s batch is Bingo Hell, a Latina-led horror film about a group of senior citizens banding together against a mysterious outsider who takes over their beloved bingo hall. We at disappointment media had the chance to speak with the co-writer and director of the film, Gigi Saul Guerrero, about her influences and working with some of the greatest people in the business. Check out our interview below and be sure to watch Bingo Hell and the rest of the Welcome to the Blumhouse films!
On Concocting Bingo Hell
disappointment media: In Bingo Hell, there are messages about a community being torn apart by gentrification, but they're also coming together to fight back. What do you think is important about this message?
Gigi Saul Guerrero: You know, I think, definitely we wanted to break that stereotype of the weak and the old. So it was important for us to have the senior citizens be the leads and the heroes of this story. We've seen that many times that older people get gentrified, and it's not in their control. And that's really heartbreaking. But not only do we talk about gentrification, we also talk about greed. So no matter how much money it is, no matter how much money can change you, the true strength of a community and friendships, you can't break that apart. So we felt it was a wonderful combination of strong communities, strong friendships fighting against gentrification and greed.
disappointment: One of the one of my favorite parts about the film is its visual style. I thought that it was really interesting. What did you do to develop this visual style of the film?
Guerrero: Oh, man, thank you so much. You know, I was really inspired by older movies like The Frighteners, Goonies, Batteries Not Included. You know, they definitely had such a charm. And this vintage wash that is so nostalgic, that really fit these older characters. Now, if you almost put Grumpy Old Men in a Rob Zombie universe, it's a great combination. So definitely still keeping that gritty grindhouse vibe that I'm really into, but now mixing in and blending it with some old school genre pieces. It just felt really fun.
disappointment: So something that was really cool that you did in the film was that you kind of blend fantasy and nightmare. What intrigued you about this combination?
Guerrero: Yeah, you know, I think definitely what inspired me to go that direction was, we all have fantasies of what we want. We all dream of not just a better life, but our problems to be solved. We all just want what's the next best thing. And I think sometimes we're blinded by reality as well as with fantasies. So definitely, with the themes of greed, I wanted that balance of what people think is happening, but what you truly are doing to yourselves. It can be very self-destructive if you fall in the peril of greed. It's self-destructive. And people stay in denial of that a lot. It happens. We're only human so why not really literally show that so gruesomely with the death seems of you know, these people have bigger dreams, but they're really only hurting themselves.
disappointment: And you mentioned the really gruesome effects on they're very good. What was it like creating those effects?
Guerrero: So much fun. I think the thing I was saying on set every day was, "More blood, more slime!" Every day, everybody's shoes were going back home very dirty. So for me, you know, I love it. Ever since my short films and everything I've worked on, there's so much blood. So definitely, you know, if I wasn't allowed gore — that's not the same as blood — so why not add slime in it as well. So nobody seemed to stop me. So I just went for it. It's so much fun. I haven't seen so much slime since Nickelodeon days. So we needed more slime.
disappointment: So the film also combines horror and comedy. What do you like so much about the horror-comedy genre?
Guerrero: You know, they go so well, hand in hand. It's such a nice parallel, I think with horror, we are bending and twisting reality so much that adding humor fits. Because you can really exaggerate not just death scenes and characters, but you can really take important subjects, such as gentrification, such as greed, or even like Jordan Peele does it with social commentary. You can take any of these topical subjects and actually get people to sit and watch for the 90 minutes. If we don't put more humor in our world, in our horror world, we're only going to suffer like we do with the news, right? So I think it's a really nice combination for escapism in filmmaking. And who doesn't love laughing when people just get splattered with blood? Like, if that's me, I'm that person cheering on.
disappointment: So what do you think made a bingo hall the perfect setting for a horror movie?
Guerrero: I mean, I'd be very scared, very scared of a group of senior citizens attacking me. They're the strongest, most stubborn people, you will not change their mind for anything. But also, it makes a perfect setting because we haven't seen that before. We all know the world of bingo to be almost like a boring game, or a game for seniors. No one's really done it. So it's really fun and exciting to do a fresh take on a horror movie.
On Having the Perfect Collaborators
disappointment: So you were able to find a great heroine in the Academy Award-nominated actress Adriana Barraza. What about her stood out for you for this role?
Guerrero: Oh, man, she's so strong. She's so captivating. And, you know, she really has that authenticity that Mexican, older women bring. They have this charm, this stubbornness to them that you just can't help but shake them, like, listen to me. And she reminded me so much of my grandmother. And I wanted that feeling of somebody so charming, so cute and cranky. That will give everybody the same love and an excitement to see their own grandparents on the screen. And I think that strength and that just genuine personality that Adriana brings was perfect. And also for her, she really was so enthusiastic every day on set. And she said to me, "Gigi, I've done a lot of TV. I've done a lot of movies. I've done a lot of horror movies. But never have I played the lead in a genre film. A strong Mexican older woman in a horror movie. Never did I think that would happen." So to me, that means a lot that Bingo Hell was her first one and hopefully more. You know, we need more, more strong Latinas like that. She's so incredible.
disappointment: And one of the most important things about any horror film is obviously the villain. Sometimes the villains are remembered more than the heroes. How did you create such a great horror movie villain in Mr. Big?
Guerrero: Let me just start out: Richard Brake is crazy good. He is that iconic horror actor that you know fans just love. He has such a unique face. And he is such a well rounded and crafted actor that you can throw anything at him. Now just like what you said, we wanted a villain that people will cheer for in a weird way, a villain that people are like, I can't help but love this bad guy. That's always so much fun. But I think with Richard Brake, he brought such great human characteristics of somebody that is easily manipulative. Somebody that can gaslight you, somebody that is like, down the street, the next door car salesman that just convinces you to spend your money. He has that charm. And so if a villain can be charming, scary, and just overall, really mysterious, you have a great combination in your hands. And Mr. Big is definitely memorable, and has some great quotes, too.
disappointment: So you've collaborated with Blumhouse multiple times now, between this and Culture Shock. What do you like most about working with them?
Guerrero: Well, I just like that they're open to these crazy ideas. So I'm thankful. But they're very welcoming to underrepresented voices, such as myself as a Latinx female filmmaker, they really do open the doors and have a home for us, which is fantastic because right now it's a really exciting time in the industry, where diversity is being so welcomed and recognized. So working with Blumhouse, I love that they're open to these ideas. I'll never forget that they said yes to the idea of Bingo Hell.
Bingo Hell streams on Amazon Prime beginning October 1.
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
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.
[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.
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.
Interview by Sean Boelman
Kathryn Newton and Kyle Allen are two of the brightest rising stars working in Hollywood today, and the new Amazon Original Movie The Map of Tiny Perfect Things allows them to act opposite each other. Telling the story of two teenagers who find themselves stuck in a time loop, it's a charming sci-fi romantic comedy that offers a nice dose of escapism. We at disappointment media got the opportunity to discuss the film with Newton and Allen. Check out the interview below!
On Time Loops
disappointment media: So The Map of Tiny Perfect Things is a time loop movie. Do you guys have any favorite time loop movies?
Kyle Allen: Ooh, ooh, ooh, pick me! Happy Death Day. Jessica Rothe, hashtag Desperado
Kathryn Newton: Obviously, that's the best time loop movie, Happy Death Day.
Allen: Happy Death Day for the win.
disappointment: That's a great one! So imagine if in real life, you were stuck in a temporal anomaly? What would you guys want to do all day?
Allen: Hmm. Kathryn would eat cheese fries. This I know.
Newton: I would eat Hot Cheetos, please get it correct.
Allen: Yeah, I would find a way to contact aliens. And then I would invite them to Earth. And then if they're friendly, we would have a tea party. And if they weren't friendly, I would fight them on the rooftops of New York City. It would be glorious.
Newton: I would still be eating Hot Cheetos.
disappointment: On a similar note, if you could bring one person into the temporal anomaly with you who would it be?
Newton: Kyle Allen.
Allen: Oh, geez. Oh, gosh. That's, that's embarrassing. Because I was gonna say Katherine Newton. Because you know, like track record. Experience. We already know we get along in a time loop.
Newton: We already know we kill it.
disappointment: So on a bit more of a serious note, the idea of a time loop kind of rings surprisingly true today, with everybody having to stay home. There's a lot that people can kind of sympathize with. How do you think this is?
Newton: How do I think it is? I think it's kind of weird that we made this movie right before quarantine started. We wrapped early because we had to go home. And I thought it was just going to be an allegory for what it felt like to be a teenager. You know, I always felt like when I was young, like I was eternally bored, in like this teenage wasteland, and my future was never going to happen. And this movie takes that and exaggerates what that is. And I feel like every day we're living that way right now. So I hope if someone sees this movie that they can take away that you create your future right now. You know, you can create a brighter day just right now in this moment.
Allen: Yeah, I think I think the movie talks a lot about really paying attention to where you are and the people around you in a very kind of closed circuit environment, which most of us are in right now. Which is forcing us to really deeply appreciate the things and the people around us, regardless of the state they're in.
On the Tiny Perfect Things in Life
disappointment: I think one of the other things that really resonated with me about the movie is that one of the messages is about enjoying the little things in life. What do you hope about this message resonates with audiences and what resonated about that message with you?
Allen: I think I learned to do just that. I mean, you know, the only moment you have is now and you know, the quality of your life is dictated by your ability to appreciate that moment. And so I think that's just a really great reminder, a lot of people know it, you know, but we need these things explained to us in a multitude of ways. You know, we need to experience it for ourselves. And I think this film really helps with that. And I think that'd be a wonderful thing for people to take away from it.
Newton: I really couldn't say it better. I think that this movie, we've seen time loop movies before. But there's also something about being young and experiencing first love and first heartbreak and first true grief that everyone can relate to, at any age. So I think that everyone's been there, everyone has been a teenager and not knowing what their future was going to be and not knowing who they are. And it's hard to learn that you're the only one who can really control that. And I think that this movie really does a good job of showing that it can be okay. You can move on. And you don't have to be done.
disappointment: Do either of you have like a favorite tiny perfect moment, either from the film or from something you just experienced in your life that's just a small thing you enjoy?
Newton: We had so many perfect moments on set.
Allen: Today, I was on my way to do these these interviews back from a doctor's appointment, and I was going up Highland, which is one that I've always gone up, you know, while I was going to acting classes and stuff like I was I would always go by them. It's a bunch of billboards, and I was looking at those billboards and I think to myself, like one day, it'd be one of those billboards. And today, I saw our billboard. And I was just like, well, that's a tiny perfect thing. But it was like a big perfect thing. You know, it wasn't that tiny. It was big, because it was so big, it's billboards. But I freaked out. That was great.
Newton: We had a perfect moment. Our last scene, our kiss scene where we kiss each other, the line is "Oh, let me try this one more time. I have a hair in my mouth." And we talked about it. We were like, "how are we going to get a hair in my mouth?" And I kid you not. We did it in one take. And there was literally a hair in my mouth. Magic.
On Pop Culture Easter Eggs
disappointment: So something else that I really enjoyed in this film was all of the pop culture references and Easter eggs that there were in the film. Do you have any favorites?
Allen: She tells Mark that he watches too much Doctor Who.
Newton: That is great.
Allen: I definitely like told myself that I was researching for this film, but the reality of which I just binged almost all of Doctor Who.
Newton: I don't know, I was gonna say something about how [Margaret's] into anime, but it's really not that big of a deal in the movie. I also love that we watch Time Bandits. I don't even know, does this count? Just like that they play video games, like whatever video game they're playing is like super of the times that we're in. You know?
Allen: They invented that, that game. The game you see on the screen is not the game that we were actually playing like they made that game in post. But we were playing this other game called Dark Souls. And we loved that game. We had to play it for like, probably like 16 hours. We were playing this game. So we all got really, really good at it. I thought that it was a really good time.
disappointment: You brought up Time Bandits. The big question is have you seen Time Bandits?
disappointment: Did you like Time Bandits?
Allen: It is a glorious film. It's got Sean Connery. I mean, like, it's spectacular. It's got Mesopotamia. It's got Napoleon Bonaparte. It's got giants. I mean, it's just a big win.
On Filming The Map of Tiny Perfect Things
disappointment: What drew you to these roles?
Allen: I would say definitely, you know, the team behind it, the creative team behind it is fascinating, you know. Weed Road, FilmNation, all of the people involved. They don't make bad movies
Newton: They only make good movies.
Allen: They only make good movies. And you know, obviously, Kathryn being attached, I was like, that would be an amazing costar to have. And then as well as the physical aspect of the film, I live for it. I absolutely live to be in those environments where so much is demanded of me on so many levels and the acting is physical, you know?
Newton: I was really interested in Margaret, I really wanted to figure out why she was the way she was because I related to her, you know, and I wanted to grow too. And when I first met Ian, he asked me what I thought, how the movie should be shot, like, what does the movie need? And I said, Well, you need me. And you need this, you need this kind of guy. And you have to believe that these two people are in love. Because at the heart of it, this is about a girl not wanting to grow up. So what is it that is pushing her to have this experience? And I really wanted to do that myself, too. I think you have to be ready to receive, you know, you have to be ready to change. And ask for more. And I think that Lev Grossman wrote a beautiful story, a beautiful short story, and then the movie, we got to dig deeper into these two people. And you got to find out who Margaret was. So I was just excited from a creative aspect to be open, like our director Ian was so collaborative in letting me do whatever I wanted. And instead of telling me what to do, he'd whisper like, ideas and inspiration. So it was just a really great process of making the film.
disappointment: The two of you have excellent chemistry together on scene. What did you like most about working with each other?
Newton: What do I like most about Kyle Allen? Hmm, let me think.
Allen: Hmm... I don't know. It's pretty tough. Pretty tough. It's really hard to find things that are you know, likable about Katherine Newton. Like, gross. [laughs] She looks out for you. She's not gonna let you mess up.
Newton: Aww, yeah. I've got your back. I felt like you had my back, too. I think my favorite thing is, you know how much Kyle really cared about the story. And he really wanted it to be perfect. He worked so hard on every aspect of the character, but also, we had a lot of scenes that were like routines like choreography. And I don't think that I would have been able to do it without someone as great as Kyle in that field like no one else could have done it. So he really supported me. And I think that Mark and Margaret are Mark and Margaret. We found a good harmony in this movie.
disappointment: And you mentioned the scenes with extensive choreography. They're really impressive. What was challenging about pulling those off?
Newton: Well, it wasn't just us that had to be a part of it. You know, Kyle and I worked really hard on creating that. But also our DP you know, Andrew Wade, he had to be a part of our routine too. We had to work with him. He was just as much part of the choreography as we were, not to mention the 1000 extras, who were also part of the team to create this big, magical picture.
Allen: Yeah. We had trained chefs in those kitchens. That was cool. In the kitchen scene where we're moving through the kitchen. Yeah, I mean, I don't know, I wouldn't look at it as like challenging. Like, you know, learning to drive is challenging. Just you know, cooking grilled cheese can be challenging depending on how exhausted you are at the given moment. Sorry, recent experience of mine. But I mean, I loved every second of it. Everyone showed up, brought their full selves. But like, I think those environments where there's like a million things you have to pay attention to, it's like, where I'm at my most comfortable.
disappointment: But also, both of you have like a very physical background — Kyle in dancing and acrobatics and Katherine in golf — how do you think that helped you prepare for those scenes?
Newton: Huge, I think you have to have such stamina and such focus that you need to have all of that working all the time. And there's no excuses. Failure is not an option, when you have three hours and the sun is setting, you know, you have to get it. But because we all love this movie so much, it was not hard at all. It was easy.
Allen: Yeah, I absolutely think, you know, having emotional and physical focus and awareness, the ability to do those things are absolutely vital to make to make those things happen. Because you have to learn things and integrate them into your body really quickly. As an athlete, like that's your job as an athlete, any kind of athlete has to do that. And that's required of you on set, you have to pick up like a physical task, you know, like a subtlety of movement, how to do I set this plate on it, you have to be able to do it very fast and integrate it very quickly, because there's a million other things moving around you. And you're also acting, you also have to be, you know, reciting dialogue as you do the physical act. So there's, there isn't enough time to, to practice it over and over and over and over again. We took time for some of those things, but a lot of it was on the fly.
On the Film's Message
disappointment: Something else that really stood out is that there are a bunch of little nuggets of wisdom spread throughout the film. Do you have one that particularly resonated with you?
Allen: Time is the thing that when you spend it, you don't get it back.
Newton: I don't understand that. Please explain.
Allen: I think it's recognizing the permanence of things. I mean, they're in an exception. And I think in life, you try and make these exceptions for things that happen to you or things you want to have happen. I sometimes I'll talk to people about, you know, dreams versus realities, like, I don't want to achieve my dreams. I want to achieve my realities, like I don't want to dream I want a reality, I want it to actually happen. And that quote, you know, time is the thing that when you spend it, you don't get it back, it just recognizes kind of the value of permanence, of you know, of not being able to go back. That means something.
Newton: You kind of said this earlier, Kyle about how Mark thinks it's about him. And then he meets Margaret and realizes it's about her, but I feel the same way about Margaret. You know, she's dealing with her grief, and she doesn't want to get off track. She wants to stay stuck. But then when she gets outside of herself, and she sees how beautiful things can be., she realizes that you can't just live for you all the time. Carpe Diem, you have to seize the day, you know, you have to make the day you have to make the most of your day.
Allen: That's one thing that that Mark realizes. And I guess, you know, Katherine said that Margaret realizes as well, is that you're not really living if you're not paying attention to the people around you, which I think is really evident in the film, as well. It's something that our characters learn to do. Not because they're rejecting it, you know, they're rejecting a bit, but they're also they're just young, they just don't know yet.
The Map of Tiny Perfect Things hits Amazon Prime on February 12.
Interview by Sean Boelman
In anticipation of the release of his new anthology Welcome to the Blumhouse, disappointment media got the opportunity to speak with producer Jason Blum. Featuring four films from underrepresented voices, this anthology challenges viewers to find horror in unexpected places. Check out the interview below!
On the Changing Nature of Film Distribution
disappointment media: So my first question is that horror is typically something that's seen as a communal experience. But right now, given the circumstances, obviously, seeing a scary movie in a packed theater isn't really something that's possible. What is it about these four films in Welcome to the Blumhouse that you think will allow them to thrive despite not having this experience?
Jason Blum: Well, that's a good question. Three of the four films were produced and bought and designed specifically for streaming. So we had different boxes we were looking to check. I think when you're looking to do a theatrical, scary movie, you know, there's certain guardrails that you've got to hit, even, you know, Get Out, or Split, or The Invisible Man, you know, there's got to be jumpscares, they've got to be timed in a certain way. And one of the great things about doing scary movies for streaming is that you're relieved of that, you can tell stories slightly differently, you can really lean into making the stories more unnerving and unsettling, as opposed to jumpscares. And actually, I think that it allows a broader canvas for our filmmakers. So in that sense, you know, one of the reasons I was really excited about doing this was the idea that I was going to get to tell horror movies that I didn't have to worry about opening weekend, which is a big relief.
disappointment: Welcome to the Blumhouse is the beginning of what should be a fruitful relationship between your company and Amazon Prime. What else can we look forward to from this collaboration?
Blum: I don't really remember what else is announced or not, but we have three or four projects. One finished movie that hopefully will come out next year with Amazon and then three or four projects in development with them, both on the series and the movie side. So I'm looking forward to doing a lot more with them. I was extremely happy with how this show was introduced to the world. I thought the marketing on it was great. I love the poster. And all of that 100% came from Amazon. I love the trailer. As a producer, you work so hard on these things, you want to feel like your distributor's taking care of it. And I felt very well taken care of by these guys. So hopefully, there'll be a lot more to come.
disappointment: Yeah, that's awesome. I look forward to it. And also Blumhouse has kind-of been at the forefront of the changing landscape of film distribution in recent months. What do you see as the direction in which the industry should be heading?
Blum: Look, I think everyone should adopt the PVOD model. I think that premium VOD, eventually is going to keep the theatrical-going experience alive and well and relevant. I know, that's a relatively controversial thing to say, but I believe it. And I think we have to give exhibition their fair share. And I'm sure that's, you know, what some of what the holdup is, but I really believe, not for all movies, but there are a lot of movies now that are going straight to streaming. And I think a lot of those movies would play in theaters if we could agree on, you know, this shorter window. And I think, I think in a world where all the exhibition chains and all the studios agreed to what that window would be, you'd see many, many, many, many more movies playing in movie theaters for a much, much, much shorter period of time. But I think you could potentially see more business in movie theaters and the consumer would have more choice. You know, consumers always complain. You know, the only thing that's in the movie theaters are tentpole movies and horror movies, our movies. I understand that. You know, it's largely true. And I think if we could get exhibition and studios to agree, that you'd have a much wider variety of movies. If every movie to play in the theater had to open to $20 million, you took that pressure off, you know, you could see a much greater variety of movies playing. So I'm very hopeful for it. It's almost happened, but it hasn't quite happened yet, but I have big hopes for the new theatrical window.
On Welcome to the Blumhouse
disappointment: I think one of the really cool things about Welcome to the Blumhouse is that three of the four films are directed by people of color, and two of them are directed by women. Could you talk about some of the work that Blumhouse is doing to promote diversity and horror?
Blum: Yeah, for sure. Well, this series was one of the big things we have. We have The Craft coming out later this month, directed by a woman, we had this movie called Run Sweetheart Run, which is directed by Shana Feste, another woman. So for instance, [since] the beginning of Blumhouse, we've been mindful of making movies about race and gender and ethnicity, and less mindful about the people behind the movies you know, looking different than I look. And in the last couple of years, I'd like to say, you know, before we had to, and certainly this, this started two years ago, I put a big emphasis on the importance of having the storytellers behind the camera represent our audience, and our audience is less than fifty percent white. And you know, this show is the best example to answer your question.
disappointment: So one of the things that ties these four Welcome to the Blumhouse films together is the idea of family. And so what about this theme really resonated with you?
Blum: Well, to me, if you task a filmmaker with doing something, you know doing a horror movie and don't give them a lot of money, as soon as you say money is no object, they start talking to you about what the CGI, what the monster is going to look like, or killing fifty people, right? But when you take money out of the equation, it focuses the filmmaker on making it tighter and smaller, and how do I scare people without special effects. And the way to do that is, the most effective way to do that, I think is you take what's most sacred to everyone, which is their relationships to their family, to their parents, or their kids, their husband, their wife, their brother, their sister, and you threaten it with some kind of exterior event. And I think you see that in all four movies to a certain degree. That you have some kind of human relationship and you have this exterior event and it threatens it and then you watch and see how people react. And I think that's very satisfying. It's very satisfying as an audience member, I find that always fun to watch and exciting to watch and satisfying to watch and satisfying to say like, hey, how would I do this differently? Or what would I do? And then also satisfying to twist things around like, you know, with The Lie you think the parents are great people protecting their daughter and they turn out not to be. With Evil Eye, you know, you think that she's this overbearing mother who's out of her mind and she turns out not to be. And I like that too. I like twisting, twisting things around like that, like our filmmakers did.
disappointment: One of the things that I think makes Welcome to the Blumhouse really unique is this idea of programming it as an anthology. What was the appeal of this to you guys?
Blum: There's a big appeal when you can go to the world and you can say, look, we have eight slots, I have eight slots for movies, they have to be scary, the filmmaker has to be from an underrepresented group. But otherwise, you know, anything else goes and the amount of incoming material we had was great. We had a ton of different things to look at, and a lot of really quality things and a lot of really talented people. And you know, my hope is that this series is successful. And every October you can see four new Welcome to the Blumhouse movies from us and Amazon, I really hope that's what happens. But that's the advantage of instead of looking for one offs and being able to say we have it, every year we have four of these to fill and it becomes a self-fulfilling thing. So then when a representative or an artist is like "Ooh, you know I have a movie that would fit Welcome to the Blumhouse, better send it to Jason." So you get more and more, it's you know, the opposite of diminishing returns, the longer it goes, the better it gets. So hopefully we'll be able to do it for many years to come.
disappointment: Another really cool thing about these films is that they partner rising stars with legendary performers. What did you like most about setting up these pairings?
Blum: You don't want to make everyone a kid right? Or just starting out, I should say. So you know a lot of times our talent on the acting side were actors of note who've had terrific careers. I think in a lot of cases, they would help mentor the filmmakers and vice versa. With Veena [Sud], a mentor to the actress in her show. And I think that makes for interesting work. You know, when you have people who were at the beginning of their career and people who were established working together, I think it makes for more interesting work, sometimes tense conversations, but it leads to great work.
On the Blumhouse Legacy
disappointment: A lot of people initially think of Blumhouse as a horror company, because that's a lot of what you guys do. But you guys also make thrillers and other horror-adjacent movies like The Lie, which isn't quite a horror movie. Why do you enjoy telling these types of stories?
Blum: I like kind-of exploring dark theme things on the TV company, you know, it's much broader, even than that we did The Loudest Voice, which is definitely not a horror movie, but about someone in my mind who was very horrible. I mean, Roger Ailes, you know, horrible guy. And why, I don't know, but I'm interested in exploring dark themes. I guess, I'm interested in shining light on people who are doing things that are wrong, and, you know, letting the public decide about it. And so that's kind of the filter that we look through to decide if something should be Blumhouse. It's mostly horror, you're absolutely right, but I think there's room for other things that touch on horrible issues. Whiplash is not a horror movie. But JK Simmons was certainly not a nice music teacher.
disappointment: You mentioned Whiplash, and with Whiplash and now Nocturne, you've produced two films about obsession in music conservatories. What do you think about this premise is so terrifying?
Blum: I don't know, I haven't mandated that. I haven't said to my people, like find other music conservatory scary stories, but I think people get passionate. It's like what I was talking about, you know, your tightest relationship is with other people. But I think that same passion exists, especially in musicians, you have to have, you know, something that most of us including me don't have to become a professional musician. And interfering with that drives people crazy. And that's a fun thing to watch.
disappointment: It was recently announced that you were going to be doing an adaptation of Firestarter. Are you excited to tackle this iconic Stephen King story?
Blum: Oh God, I really am. I mean, we've been working on this a long time. It's taken a long time for all the pieces to come together in the right way. But I'm a huge Stephen King fan and we've got a lot with him going on right now. And I'm really psyched. I love this script and I can't wait to make the movie.
disappointment: Yeah, I'm very excited for it. Blumhouse often takes pre existing material and puts a spin on it, like The Lie is a remake of a German film, you've got Firestarter, and you've got The Craft. So how do you focus on the filmmaker's voice coming through?
Blum: You tell the filmmaker to take the existing IP and make it their own. I think that's how you do it. I think the idea is not to rip off the first version of it but not to divorce yourself completely. Otherwise why are you using it, but to kind of walk this fine line in between those two things. But it's very important that the filmmaker find their own voice using whatever IP we're using. And we did that with David Gordon Green with Halloween, you know, we said, "What is David Gordon Green's version of Halloween today?" And he said, "Do I have to take into account all the rest of the movies?" I said, "No, you know, you have to take into account the first movie, what you do after that is up to you." He chose to take into account one and two. But I think you have to get the filmmaker in the world of the IP that you're dealing with for a while, and then tell them to forget it, and do your own thing. That's what I think.
disappointment: And low budget sci-fi is another thing that you guys do a lot. And so you did Upgrade and Black Box is also low budget sci-fi, but it's a very difficult genre to pull off. Do you have a secret to success for that genre?
Blum: The Purge is low budget sci-fi too. Uh, you know, I look at it like a low budget horror, which is if you take the sci-fi out of it, is there a drama that can work? I think that all three movies, that it's true that if you took the sci-fi out of the movie, there would be a drama that still works. Even in Upgrade, a guy coming to terms with recovering from an accident? I mean, and how the accident happened and losing his wife. I think that's the key. And we don't always succeed at this, but I think the key to making a good genre movie, whether it's horror, or sci-fi, or even action, is that if you take out the action, or you take out the horror, you take out the sci-fi element, if there's a great dramatic story that stands on its own without that, that's the key to making a good low-budget genre movie of any kind.
Black Box and The Lie are now streaming on Amazon Prime. Nocturne and Evil Eye stream on Amazon Prime beginning October 13.