It’s no secret that I’m a huge frothing fan of both Take Out, Seth Landau’s first full-length feature, and his latest effort Bryan Loves You. These films are fine examples of what independent filmmakers working with limited funds can accomplish if their hearts are truly into their respective projects. At a time when everyone and their dearly-departed grandmothers are making movies in their backyards with the digital cameras they purchased at Wal-Mart, it’s nice to see creativity, quality, and, above all else, integrity in the world of low-budget and no-budget cinema.
With Seth’s highly-anticipated creepfest Bryan Loves You looming on the horizon thanks to the good folks at Anchor Bay, the kind individuals here at Cinema Suicide thought it would be hella swell to pick the writer/director/actor’s brain about his latest cinematic endeavor. After spending a few interesting hours in my patented Interview Via E-Mail Machine, a series of thought-provoking questions were constructed using an off-brand word processor and delivered electronically to the man himself. These inquiries were then answered and returned in a timely and orderly manner. Ah, the beauty and the power of the Internet and its inhabitants.
How did this project come about? What inspired you?
I wrote Bryan Loves You during post-production on “Take Out”, the first movie I made that I’m in the process of getting distribution for. Take Out is a comedy about a guy who eliminates chain restaurants. I felt so worn out from trying to make something funny that I wanted to go in the complete opposite direction. Not be concerned with getting a laugh. So I think Bryan Loves You partially was borne out of comedic exhaustion. The story that I felt strongest then was the story of Bryan Loves You, which in essence is about feeling alone, like an outsider and like your world isn’t very safe.
What’s your writing process like?
I spend a few weeks jotting down notes about the story, the characters, any necessary research. Rather than film school and screenwriting classes, I was bred by the reporters and editors of the daily newspaper world. For five years during college and about a year after graduation, most of my time was spent reading and writing for dailies. So my mentality is ‘find the info, fact check it, and write it quick and concisely’. Anyway, so after my initial “notes” period, after the main and side characters have been mapped out and the story diagrammed, I sit down, listen to music via headphones (always via headphones because I need it to fully encompass me) and write the script pages from about 9 p.m. to Midnight, about the only times I can write movies for some reason. And the music depends on the mood of the scene. For example, if it’s dramatic and serious, I might go for The Pixies or Led Zeppelin. If it’s intense and angry, give me some System of a Down, Rage Against the Machine. If it’s funny, I might just go with my favorite band of all time, Faith No More.
What sort of budget were you working with?
For now let’s say small. In the future I’ll get more specific.
Compared to your previous feature Take Out, was this a difficult production?
In some ways Take Out was more difficult. It was my first time making a movie, and God knows I learned a lot during that show. But there was a bit of blissful ignorance that went along with that show, not knowing what you’re getting into. With Bryan Loves You, I knew exactly what I was getting into. And it was a higher budget and with higher profile cast and in some respects, crew. I’ll say this: I live very healthy as far as diet, exercise and the like. I rarely get sick. But every time I have a show, I’ll without fail get a cold or flu or something, even though I don’t alter my lifestyle that much. I think that’s a testament to how stressful a production is. It wears you down regardless of how strong you are going in. That’s actually one reason why I’m so obsessed with being healthy: I know the odds stacked against me and how difficult this movie business is. To do anything less than train like an athlete, both physically and mentally, wouldn’t work for me. Interestingly enough, one of my favorite TV shows, ‘Entourage’, puts that notion into play, as the “Ari Gold” super-agent character is often shown training to stay mentally and physically fit, whether that’s running stairs in Santa Monica by the beach, doing yoga in his office, et cetera.
What inspired the look and feel of the film?
The answer to this is simple but the execution during production was extremely complex. Basically to attain the reality we needed, we had to keep things very amateurish. But making a commercially-viable film that looks like it was culled together by the least artistic of federal government branches was … um … a challenge. Plus, working with the government to have some of the footage released. Ya know, there’s always red tape and legalities.
Who designed the mask and that creepy doll?
Jason Kisvarday our art department director got together with some of the people who were familiar with what went down in Arizona. Between his artistic eye and what he learned from historians, survivors and such, he came up with the Bryan mask we used in the movie. Same goes for the Carol doll that George Wendt talks to. Jason took the history as a basis and then let his imagination do the rest.
How did you manage to assemble the picture’s impressive cast of genre-related actors?
It was a combination of who ya know and the actors that signed on really taking to the roles. For example, Tiffany Shepis had not until Bryan Loves You played an administrator type, as she does in the mental hospital seen in Bryan Loves You. Tony Todd told me the part he played reminded him of some of the classic horror films he watched while growing up, so I’m sure there was a nostalgia factor for him. And it’s ironic that we landed Tony in particular, since “Candyman” was for me the seminal horror film of the 1990s, and in my opinion one of the best of all time. I saw “Candyman” for the first time at the dollar theater at the Superstition Springs Mall in Mesa, Arizona, back when I was in high school and working at a Foot Locker-type place in the mall. My friends who worked in the food court upstairs and I would sometimes go to a late show at the mall’s theater after we’d get off work on a Friday or Saturday night. Well on this particular night they wanted to see “Candyman”. I didn’t, thinking I’d be too scared and I was more into comedies anyway at that point. We got there late, as our jobs didn’t let out until like 9:15 p.m. or so, and the show probably started at 9:20 or something. So we sat in the front row, the only seats available. For many of nights after that one, Tony’s voice haunted me. “Hhhhheeeeeeellllllleeeeeeeennnnnn.” Remember that part in the parking structure? Cccccccreeeeeeeepy, man. Fast forward to present day and he’s one of my favorite actors to work with and someone I’ll always offer roles to. If I’m lucky, he’ll always accept.
George Wendt has one of the best scene-stealing moments in the film. What was it like working with him?
Because I grew up watching George in movies and on TV, I was extremely intimidated to be in a scene with him. And not only that, but the entire scene was he and I only. I don’t really know what to compare that to, but let’s say you are an actor fairly new to the game, such as I, and you have to be able to keep up with one of the best actors ever. Best way to put it is, if you’re making a movie, you want George on your team. I’m just lucky that he liked the script enough to say “yes” to the part.
You are credited as the writer, director, and star of the feature. Which is the most satisfying?
Actually, I keep my name as an actor pretty much under wraps, since no one knows who I am. Rather, we promote the known actors such as Tony, George, Tiffany, Brinke Stevens, Dan Roebuck and the others who have a following. Plus, I would never call myself a star in any regard. I’m way too self-mocking for that. In fact, look at my MySpace page as an example: under my “profession” it says “production assistant”. I guess a part of me will always feel closer to my roots, paying dues and working for nothing and such, than to be considered a “filmmaker”. Ya know, I’d say I’m really happy having a hand in all aspects. I like making the story, so that’s writing. I love directing. And I’m an actor first, since that’s what I’ve done for most of my life – whether that was a home video when I was a kid or scenes in drama class in high school. Hard to pick which is the best, which is I guess why I do ‘em all.
Is this your first foray into horror filmmaking?
Yup. First horror. I’d like to go back and forth between horror and comedy forever. I think they’re very closely related anyway. They’re both bred by adversity, mainly; and both involve a large degree of tension. The main difference in the moviemaking aspect of it is, do you want your audience to laugh and have a catharsis that way? Or do you want to make their hearts race and have them squirm and shy away from the screen and give them that kind of visceral thrill?
What aspect of the genre is more important to you: Shock and gore or unease and atmosphere?
Well, I think it depends on who it comes from and what it’s about. Usually I myself find the malevolence that people are capable of as the most frightening part of our world. Take something like “28 Days Later” and its awesome director Danny Boyle: that movie takes the theme of how violent people can be and extrapolates it times 100 care of the use of zombie-fying people with a “rage virus”. “Candyman” is a good example of a psychological-gore combo, one-two punch kind of a thing. On the other hand, Hitchcock and “Twilight Zone” eps are equally as scary, it’s just a different kind of scary that gets more in your head. Hands down to me, the original “Ju-On” is the scariest thing I’ve seen. More than anything, I think if something is done well, the viewer will feel the intended result.
Explain some of the controversy surrounding the film.
I’m actually not allowed to. However I will say that we’re trying to make sure the commentary for the DVD actually makes it onto the disc. We had an incident with one of our actors during the recording and we’re currently in negotiations with her family attorneys to cut some kind of deal and compromise.
Has the film played at any festivals?
I never submitted to any. I think the experience of Take Out being rejected by pretty much all of them left a really bad taste in my mouth. So with Bryan Loves You I decided to give myself more control of my career, and to use marketing to get the word out, rather than a screening at a festival. Not the smartest way to go about it, because it totally defies convention, but luckily it worked out for us.
What can we expect from the Anchor Bay release?
I wish I could give you specifics, because the little that I know regarding exactly where it will be released is really exciting. But alas, I’m not yet authorized. My man Chuckie Williams, who is an actor in Bryan Loves You and is also a producer of indie films, I think said it best. After Chuck heard about the announcement he said something along the lines of “Anchor Bay?! Dude, your film’s gonna be seen by a million people!” I don’t know how accurate that statement is, but I think the excitement that an Anchor Bay release provides is well encapsulated in Chuck’s proclamation. In short, a lot of people will have the opportunity to watch the movie. Maybe they’ll be brave enough to do just that this fall.
Any other projects currently taking shape?
Well until the fall release of Bryan Loves You, I’ll be workin really hard to promote it. And also secure distribution for Take Out. Those tasks will keep my plenty busy until about the New Year. I do have two more movies ready to go, one a horror and the other an action/comedy. I think you’ll like ‘em.