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.
By Sean Boelman
In anticipation of the release of their newest film Black Box, disappointment media got to sit down and talk with actors Mamoudou Athie and Phylicia Rashad. In the interview, we discuss the film's script, the dynamic between the rising star and the acting legend, and the role of people of color in Hollywood. Check out the interview below and watch Black Box streaming on Amazon Prime beginning October 6!
Review by Sean Boelman
In anticipation of the release of their newest film The Secrets We Keep, disappointment media got to sit down and talk with actors Noomi Rapace and Joel Kinnaman. In the interview, we discuss kidnapping movies, what drew them to the script, and Rapace's return to the revenge thriller. Check out the interview below and see The Secrets We Keep now in theaters and on VOD beginning October 16!
By Sean Boelman
In anticipation of the release of their newest film The Secrets We Keep, disappointment media got to sit down and talk with actors Chris Messina and Amy Seimetz. In the interview, we discuss what drew them back to indie cinema after their blockbuster breaks, their collaborations together, and why ambiguity is key in a film like this. Check out the interview below and see The Secrets We Keep in theaters on September 16 and on VOD beginning October 16!
By Sean Boelman
The newest film from cult-favorite Troma Entertainment and its leader Lloyd Kaufman, #ShakespearesShitstorm, makes its debut at the virtual edition of the Fantasia Film Festival. And in exciting news for fans, this is the only screening of the fest geoblocked to both Canada AND the United States, so Troma fanatics in both countries can check Kaufman’s interpretation of William Shakespeare’s The Tempest out!
We at disappointment media got the opportunity to speak with Mr. Kaufman about his new film in a conversation that got surprisingly political, talking about the making of the movie, how Troma has evolved over the years, and some of the issues regarding free speech that have been weighing on his mind! Check it out below!
On His Shakespearian Influences:
This isn’t Troma’s first re-invention of one of the Bard’s plays — Tromeo and Juliet came out in 1996 — and Shakespeare’s work was transgressive in its day. This is what Kaufman had to say about what he feels the iconic playwright would have thought of this version of the tale:
“I think Shakespeare... I know enough about Shakespeare that he would love this without a doubt. In fact, I’m sure he was… almost all of these guys were blacklisted and censored. We’re living in an age in the United States where we have free speech as long as we don’t say anything. And the move has been stronger and stronger towards the oligopoly and the world of media and YouTube and Amazon and the phone companies who control the media now. They’re in a nice little club and they’re slowly kinda doing what the Chinese guy is doing in his country: getting rid of independent thought. Thank the Good Lord for Fantasia Film Festival!”
On the Challenges of Making #ShakespearesShitstorm:
#ShakespearesShitstorm is arguably Troma’s most ambitious film yet, but it still retains that iconic do-it-yourself feel that helped Troma’s first films become cult classics. Here’s what Kaufman said some of the biggest difficulties were in making the film:
“I think the making of the film was very challenging because we had to get whales. You know, it’s a fifty million dollar movie made for less than half a million U.S. American dollars. Maybe half a million, I don’t know, about that amount. And it’s a fifty million dollar movie, so it was very very very difficult. And because our first rule of production is safety to humans, it has to go very carefully and be very very very well-organized, months in advance. It was a very difficult film to make. We also had to film in Albania for eight days with a wonderful crew there who were all Troma fans and the movie went very very well. Justin Martell and Pat Kaufman, my beautiful wife, and John Brennan produced the film and I think we stayed on budget. It went very well. Everyone on the movie was a fan and very very enthusiastic about working on something that they truly believe in. It wasn’t a job for them — it was art. They were paid, but it was art, and they were paid about ten percent of what they would normally get. So it was a very devoted group, every actor. I mean, people came from Europe and all over the map to work on this movie. And they paid their way to go to New York to shoot, and Albania too. We had people from Iceland, from England, France, Japan, and Canada! People from Canada! All coming to take part, and it was really a very joyful, loving group. And the film is without a doubt the most interesting film that I have directed, and thank you to Fantasia for premiering it.”
On Making a Literal Shitstorm
It’s hard to watch #ShakespearesShitstorm without wondering about some of the logistical challenges of working with artificial poo. Kaufman broke down the process of creating the eponymous shitstorm:
“On Toxic Avenger, we had a team who worked 24/7 making the slime. You know, now you can get slime, buy it at your supermarket or the toy store. But we would have to go 24/7 boiling agar agar, which is a seaweed component. A lot of work. So this time, thirty-five years after Toxic Avenger, we’re manufacturing. Doug Sakmann, who has worked for Troma starting when he was sixteen years old, now he’s very old, and he was in charge of the special effects, and his team would literally be making excrement for 24/7. And like blood, you have to make different versions for different things. So the Albanians, I asked them to put corn in the whale excrement and they loved that, they thought it was very funny. And I think if you notice in the movie, I love it when you can actually see the whales’ fecal bloom there’s corn going in it, which is fun. By the way, a fecal bloom is real and a very important nourishment for the oceans. Apparently the plankton, the things that a lot of fish eat enjoy it, and whales get together as a group and go to the bathroom. So everything in the movie is based on truth. Everything in #ShakespearesShitstorm. It was a lot of work. Tapioca pudding, oddly enough, I think that was one of the main ingredients. And when we had to go into the water, the scene where we’re coming out of the water after the ship was sinking, it was freezing and it was raining. But the special effects team put all that artificial... I think it was artificial... shit on us, and it was warm, it was very warm, right out of the oven. I’ll never forget how nice that was because it was cold, we were all shivering like crazy.”
On How Troma Has Changed Over the Years
Troma’s films have been popular with fans for over thirty-four years, and a lot has changed in the industry in that time. Kaufman discussed how his artistic process has changed (and in some ways hasn’t) since he burst onto the scene:
“Well I think that Michael Herz, my partner, and I want to make movies that become classics. And to the extent that Toxic Avenger and Class of Nuke ‘Em High and Surf Nazis Must Die (which we did not make) and Cannibal! The Musical (which we helped make) by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, they’re all now mini-classics. And many two-hundred million dollar movies, they have disappeared, will never play again. Our movies are still getting theatrical bookings for movies made forty years ago. We are getting a lot of help from our fans. Troma is a fan-fueled company, forty-seven years old, and we’re only here thanks to our fans.”
“And regarding the making of the film, that has become a much more pleasant thing because equipment is smaller. It’s more fun, you don’t need as much lighting. And it’s almost fun to make a movie that’s digital. And it looks better! The first movie we did was Return to Nuke ‘Em High and the second half of that Return to Return to Nuke ‘Em High. Those were my first digital movies and I have to say, I don’t think I would ever want to go back to celluloid. Even though it has in its third syllable, the syllable ‘Lloyd’, I’ll stay with ‘digi-tal’.”
On Making a Movie on a Low Budget
#ShakespearesShitstorm, like the rest of Troma’s films, is a low-budget comedy. Here’s the advice Kaufman has for filmmakers trying to make their own movies for as little money as possible:
“In the digital world, you can make your art for half a million dollars. That’s the exact same amount that the original Toxic Avenger cost back in 1983, and #ShakespearesShitstorm is actually made for less than Toxic Avenger. We still don’t know the exact budget, we’re going through the receipts. But the point is, you can make a movie for less. So you can see how it doesn’t get any easier. It gets easier to make the movies — you don’t really need the money, that’s what’s so cool. So you could be a nurse, do something with your life that’s useful. You know, teacher, we could use some more teachers these days. You don’t have to be a Harvard law school graduate to go to William Morris Agency and Xerox scripts. You can make your own movie for five thousand dollars and have a real job, do something good for humanity, and then you know, do what Troma does, distribute them yourself and after a few years you’ll maybe have enough movies that bring you enough revenue so that you can be a full-time movie maker. And you can go to the conventions and go to film fan expos, things like that — New York Comic Con, San Diego Comic Con — sell your stuff, have fun, and build up a fanbase. We have millions of fans, and it’s mainly personal contacts, doing what anyone could do. But it’s very hard to live. And I don’t know if it’s possible to start a real independent studio that performs all the functions that Troma does now. I think it would be very hard to do it today, I don’t know, I think it would be virtually impossible to do it today. Maybe with a lot of money you could do it.”
On the Limitations of "Free" Speech:
#ShakespearesShitstorm addresses some issues of the limitation of free speech. Here’s what Kaufman has to say about the real-life implications of the issue.
“The main conglomerates, the media conglomerates, are now owned by phone companies or electrical parts makers, like Sony. They aren’t movie companies, and that’s not art. There’s art, and there’s nowhere near art. It’s a business, and it’s committees and there are very few artists that can leave their mark on the movies because their budgets are so high. And there are very few independent filmmakers who can break in because the rules that used to protect the public, and I’m talking about the United States, against some monopolies have all been done away with. The big guys have even been able to gobble up the competition, the independent movie companies, or just put them out of business. Because they own the theaters, the big guys own the theaters, control the theaters, all the rules against monopolies are done away with. And now, the Federal Communications Commission in America is gonna get rid of net neutrality on the internet, which will allow phone companies to speed up and give themselves a speedy highway and charge, there will be no more free and democratic internet. The price will go up for the fast superhighway for the elites, and then us, maybe even Fantasia, unless we can pay for the speed, we’ll have to go onto the bumpy, constantly buffering road which the public will not want to go on. Also, the courts are giving the giant conglomerates the right to slow down your so-called “content”, your art — they call it content, which is disgusting — your art will be slowed down. Fantasia’s art could be slowed down. But AT&T, who own Warner Bros., their art will go fast. They’ll be able to make art look worse than their stuff, which is not what is supposed to be. It’s a very complicated thing, I’ve been chairman of the trade association for independent studios and we lobbied in Washington against the Comcast merger and against the lying but didn’t succeed really. We did get Comcast to at least speak with independent producers, but as time went on, like China, they didn’t abide by their contract.”
Troma’s YouTube channel was taken down for violating community standards, and Kaufman is obviously not happy about it. Here he talks about YouTube’s double standard:
“You know our YouTube channel was deleted, supposedly for community standards, but when they started there were a small number of filmmakers, artists, “creators” they called them, like Lorne Michaels and me they invited to use their space down in New York. It’s a studio, a regular studio, mixing consoles and sets and equipment and cameras. And I was invited because of my movies. Now maybe ten years later, because of my movies, they kick off eight hundred thousand fans and our channel of three hundred free movies for some kind of community standards. Meanwhile, what community has not honored Troma and me, from Moscow to Shanghai to the American Film Institute to the British Film Institute, Cinematheque Française, festivals in Spain, Italy, Portugal, the government of Portugal! The Portugese taxpayers paid for half of Mutant Blast! What community hasn’t accepted and praised and honored Troma over our forty-seven years and my fifty years? The only one I haven’t gotten any kind of award from is Antarctica, and I guess that’s penguins there. You know, they marry for life, and maybe they’re a little prudish. I don’t know, the penguins don’t seem to be too excited. But every place else they love us, so I don’t know what YouTube has against us. I think it’s because the big guys have got so much control that any competition, their algorithm is there not just to remove any violence and nudity but to remove independent art. And if you go, you can dial in just about every obscene word and YouTube will have plenty. In fact, right now YouTube is giving us some nice pedophilia. Netflix has a movie called Cuties and the poster has a number of five-year-old boys and girls dressing in pole dancing costumes. And so I put #NetflixPedophilia on my socials. And so YouTube is clearly hypocritical. You can see people getting their heads chopped off by the Arabs. You can dial in any kind of perversion and there’s plenty of it on YouTube. And porn! And CNN: lots of decapitations, lots of people getting blown up and bleeding and war crimes. But meanwhile, we’re the ones that get kicked off. So I don’t know what community we’re transgressing, whatever we’re doing, who we’re bothering. Anyway, that’s a big issue now, we have freedom to say anything we want, but as long as we don’t say anything. That’s how it is in the United States. And when we settle for Biden, #SettleForBiden, it’s gonna be just as bad, ain’t gonna be any better.”
#ShakespearesShitstorm streams online (geoblocked to Canada and the U.S.) at 9:30pm on Saturday, August 29 as part of the virtual edition of the 2020 Fantasia Film Festival, which runs August 20-September 2.
Interview by Sean Boelman
In anticipation of the release of their new film Ordinary Love, disappointment media got the opportunity to speak with filmmaking duo Lisa Barros d’Sa and Glenn Leyburn. Starring Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville, the film is a quiet romance looking at the relationship of a couple after one of them receives a life-changing diagnosis. In the interview, we discuss the film’s stars, its unique approach to the subject matter, and more. Check out the interview below and see Ordinary Love in theaters now!
disappointment media: As the title suggests, the film is about an ordinary couple that love each other completely. How do you think an “ordinary love” like this can also be seen as something extraordinary?
Lisa Barros d’Sa: Starting with the title, I think that love is ordinary only in that it is universal. If we’re fortunate, we all get to experience it at some point in our lives. If we’re fortunate, we all get to experience it at some time or another in our lives. That doesn’t mean that it doesn’t contain the epic: the painful, the joyful, the tragic too. I mean, one of the most extraordinary things about us as human beings is our capacity to love and connect with others in the way that this film shows. And this film we feel really utilizes one of the great strengths of cinema which is to magnify tiny moments of human life and of human interaction and reveal them in their magnificence on the screen. So this is the story of all the small moments and events that go to make up any relationship, any love, any connection.
disappointment: Liam Neeson and Lesley Manville do an extraordinary job in their lead roles. How did you know they were perfect for these roles?
Glenn Leyburn: Liam was actually somebody we had been talking to for a couple of years previously about a different project and we actually ended up being introduced to him by Bono. Our previous film was about the punk rock scene in Belfast in the 1970’s, and he ended up introducing us to Liam about another project, and that project for many reasons hasn’t yet come to fruition. But when we read the first draft of this film, Ordinary Love, and we just heard Liam’s voice in place, and you know how when we got to know him a little bit, we had a pretty good idea of the type of material he was interested in, and we sent it to him, and luckily he did connect with it the way we hoped. Liam was the first part of it, he signed up on that first draft, and as far as Lesley is concerned, she was someone who is in demand for many, many years, and we always wanted to work with. And we knew Liam was a fan as well, so obviously the dynamic between those two would be very important, and initially we thought we weren’t going to be able to get Lesley because she had quite a long theatre commitment, but we were able to find a window, a very short window in the middle of that, and all the plans kind-of aligned.
d’Sa: We felt that they were very similar sorts of actors and that proved to be. They’re both actors that you believe every moment that they’re on screen. They share a sense of humor, they’re both low-key, they’re not starry people, there were no egos to contend with on set. Just very intelligent people and so we had a feeling they could gel on set and create this beautiful chemistry and we were thrilled to find that they effortlessly, it seems managed to create not just their own character, but this other entity that they hold between them, this thirty-year marriage, to be able to conjure that, go into that depth in a relationship, is something that few actors would’ve been able to achieve so beautifully.
disappointment: You talked about the honesty of the script, I think that in a film that is so heavily based in dialogue, honesty is the key to believability. How did you work with the actors to emphasize the honesty of the script?
d’Sa: Well, as you say, it starts with the script. This is a script based on events that happened in the writer’s life, Owen McCafferty and his wife Peggy went through a similar year to this when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, so we start from a place of authenticity and that was always one of our goals in making this film. We wanted it to feel not like a sensationalized, overdramatized piece of storytelling, but something that was true to those small moments that build a journey like this. These actors understood the tone of the piece immediately, through the writing, through our conversations. Everyone shared that desire to make the piece feel as real as possible. There’s a lovely tone in it as well which incorporates not only looking at the tougher things these characters go through that we can all go through in life, but also the lightness and warmth and humor that we all often instinctively try to bring to these sorts of events. Every time we are working on a project, we focus a lot on the tone, and that has to carry through performance, that has to carry through the way we dress the set, it has to carry through the pace of the piece, the way the camera operates. And I think we all got to the same understanding.
disappointment: In addition to being this story about a woman who is dealing with this diagnosis, this is also the story of a caretaker who is equally affected. Why do you think this story is important for showing both sides of the diagnosis?
d’Sa: We started from the point of understanding it as a love story. Love stories often explore the threat of what might separate this couple. And in this case, what’s threatening to separate them is this illness. And as much as they want to go through this journey together, inevitably what is happening is in only Joan’s body, so their experiences are completely separate. And so the story is really about something that pulls them apart and how they struggle to come together and in doing so, we’re telling a story about the vital connection between these two people that keeps them both afloat.
disappointment: Ordinary Love releases on Valentine’s Day, and while it’s not something that you would normally expect to be a date night type of film, I think there’s something very romantic about it. How do you hope that audiences will fall in love with this film?
d’Sa: The thing that stood out to us about this film was that it was a love story and a really unexpected, unusual love story with some real insight into relationships. Unusual in that it’s not really about the start or the end of a romantic relationship, but what happens at the heart of it. So for us, it feels like the perfect time to release this film because it is a beautiful love story between two people. It’s a middle-aged love story, which is something we rarely see and about a couple who are not bored with each other, they’re not looking elsewhere, but they still have this very vital relationship. They make each other laugh, they have plenty to say to each other, you know there’s a real electricity between this couple. But at the same time, the story isn’t sentimental about how we deal with each other when we’re in that kind of intimate relationship. This feels like the perfect movie to see if you want to explore the themes of love on Valentine’s weekend.
Ordinary Love is now playing in theaters.
Interview by Sean Boelman
In anticipation of the release of his newest film Waves, disappointment media got to sit down and talk with acclaimed writer-director Trey Edward Shults. In the interview, we discuss some of the film's real-life influences, the role that music plays in the film, and more. Check out the interview below and see Waves playing in select theaters now and expanding nationwide on December 6!