Interview – David Russo and Little Dizzle

I originally met David Russo years ago, after his short film Pan With Us had won an Honorable Mention at the Sundance Film Festival. He was a friend of a friend and had joined us for a night out, where somehow David and I wound up arguing over art and critics. His position was the necessity of the former and the irrelevancy of the latter (he was the artist, I was the critic) and I took up the defense my profession, or at least my own approach. Curiously, it was one of the best conversations I’d ever had. It reminded me of why I got into the profession and what criticism should aspire to, searching out the great and good, looking for inspiration, celebrating what you find interesting and valuable. And it was enough to make a brief connection with an artist whose work I have continued to appreciate with each new film. His short films are beautiful pieces of cinematic sculpture, personal visions carved out of the world, and he brings that sense of craft and beauty and imagination to his feature debut, The Immaculate Conception of Little Dizzle.

Visions of fish
Visions of fish

I’ll let Russo’s own words describe the film: “Male janitors becoming impregnated by experimental cookies that get warm in your mouth when eaten, and then giving birth to blue fish that only live mere moments afterwards. They have to pull together to become midwives for one another, and then deal with the loss and loneliness of miscarriage.” It’s of course about much more than that, including spiritual hunger and the drive to create and the strange life of late-night janitors (drawn largely from personal experience – Russo was a janitor himself for eleven years). Some of the most vivid parts of the film are the side-effects of male pregnancy: cramps, cravings and visions like drug trips, the latter created by Russo in his distinctive, largely hand-made animation style.

Russo did not come out of art school or film school. He started making films for himself while still working as a janitor, slowly developing his art and his techniques, but rarely sharing them with audiences. “I NEVER wanted to be a feature filmmaker until I went to Sundance six years ago,” he explained in an E-mail interview I conducted with him back in January, while he was finishing post-production on Dizzle in preparation for its Sundance debut. “I enjoyed having a successful, professional career as a ‘Film Artist,’ but I guess the warrior side of me just needed even more of a challenge.”

The script for Dizzle was written in 2001, right before the invasion of Iraq, but the inspiration in many way came from a particular experience from his janitor days. “One night I found a miscarriage in one of the women’s room toilets. It changed me. Soon I got to thinking: what if something like that happened to men?” When Russo was awarded a “Start-to-Finish” grant by NWFF, he pulled out his script.

In preparation for a profile of David Russo and Dizzle that I wrote for the Seattle Weekly, I sat down with David and his wife, Celia, for a long brunch interview. You can read the profile on the Seattle Weekly website here. Only portions of the interview made into the feature, so here is the complete interview, wrestled into a kind of shape that makes it sound more organized than it really was.

You spent a long time trying to get this film off the ground. How did it finally get produced?

There’s a lot that I want to say. We spun our wheels for about two years until Peggy Case came on-board as producer. And then it lurched into production without anyone seeing where it came from, really. It was amazing. Because it was just a last ditch effort that we went to L.A. and held auditions. Just a last ditch effort. Well, we don’t have any money, we’re just going to go down there and make believe that we have money, so I got a hold of my commercial agent, got a beautiful office to hold these wonderful auditions, I saw hundreds and hundreds of actors, worked with each and every one of them. It was an opportunity for me to show to potential investors that I can relate to actors just fine. I was able to change and make performances no problem, it was wonderful. And after that, the thing just lurched. We had to shoot only three weeks after it was greenlit, because of the availability of certain actors, and it got greenlit out of nowhere. I wanted to shoot this in the winter or the autumn, I didn’t want to shoot in the middle of summer, a night movie, are you kidding, where we’re having to shoot graveyard during the solstice? It was a nightmare. I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to, I didn’t want to, and then just, bang. If I had it to do over again, I would have had six weeks of preparation and not just three, because it was chaos. I am amazed that we pulled it together. Think of all the locations that are in there, all of that had to be done. All the casting had to be done in that three weeks. So I was probably down on it for good reason, I probably understood that we were just spinning our wheels, but it was going and auditioning actors that really gave it the traction it needed to at least get done in some form. We never did raise all the money, but who does?

And you got it featured in Sundance.

Sundance really was a wake-up call for me, that I don’t want to make independent films. I found it far more conservative, far more conservative, far more cynical, far more in a rut that I ever thought independent films should get. The independent films that I adore are the real unique little pieces. Slacker is an independent film. That does something that no film has done before and no film has done since. And now independent film, just like Hollywood, has come up with its formulas that are related to how we market. How can we market? Is this marketable? I can’t tell you how many times you have to hear how much some distributor or whoever loves this film. Unmarketable. You’ve got an Christian toilet film for intellectuals. There’s not market for that. It’s like, fuck market. You perpetrate visions and that’s a good way to go, because I know you can revisit my film ten years from now and it still will have some relevance to what is going on ten years from now. It’s not part of a fashion, it’s not part of a fad, it came from my soul, it’s sincere as shit, it’s not designed to be a product, I think it will survive over time. Again, it’s Dizzle. You have to let it go. It might look dead for several years, but I honestly believe someone will pick that up and discover it who needs to. It will never be a hit, but I just think there’s a certain amount of people who have a religious experience while watching it. Those are the people who will find it eventually.

That’s the problem working in a medium that is so expensive. You need other people to provide the money and they say, I’m giving you the money so what do I get?

That’s the balancing act. I lost a lot of control on Dizzle. I wanted it to be shot on video on a very low budget, I wanted a $100,000 movie, and it was decided that we would go in another direction, because [producer] Michael Seiwrath was really keen on going for the state incentive, which means you need to have a half million dollar movie, spend a half a million dollars in the state, and you get back twenty percent in cash. And I lost a lot of control because there we were, going into production with only half the money raised, and then any potential investor got to look at our malformed, crazy thing that came out of production and go, ‘I have an idea…’ Never again. I’ll only make a film if it’s got distribution up front. That’s how you perpetrate them. As much as we adore films like Being John Malkovich or anything Terry Gilliam has done or Trainspotting, these are films that had a degree of distribution before they were made. In that is freedom because their dicks are in the fire. They have to market this thing. They don’t know how to but they’re going to do it. But when it’s this roulette game that independent film is, I think it’s a bad way to go. So I think the future is in video. It’s low risk. A million monkeys and a million typewriters making features on video, some of them will be great, some of them will be horrible, most of them will be horrible. But we’ll see. Right now that industry is losing money hand of fist and they deserve it because they forgot about the movie experience. And once you’ve forgotten it you’ll never get it back. People go to the movies for an experience. They didn’t know it, they didn’t think about it, but we don’t go to a movie to watch the fucking DVD.

In your short films, you told stories conceptually, you didn’t have traditional narratives. So you had make a film in a very different way for Dizzle. You had to tell a story, develop characters, there are certain amount of things that have to be done to explicate a story for an audience. How did you change your creative and production process to meet t his type of filmmaking?

The first scene I wrote was Methyl giving birth. That’s where I introduced myself to the characters, with that scene. And it just so happens that it’s, I think, the best scene in the entire movie. The rest was Celia [Russo, David’s wife] because I didn’t know where to begin with narrative. I am not a storyteller. When I journal write and all that, I am not doing it narratively. When I’m going back to all my years being a janitor, I accessed all my old journals. None of them are remotely anything like a narrative. So Celia, being a great reader and an intelligent person, just took it one step at a time. ‘If we have a scene like this, then the scene would need some sort of anti-hero,’ or something. ‘What would that be like?’ So I would cogitate on that. She really walked me through it. And whenever there seemed to be a missing segue or something, she’d say, ‘We need a scene that establishes this.’ And then I would have no trouble writing. I think what people probably didn’t know about me is that I love writing for voices. Somehow, I don’t know where I learned it or how it came to be, but I love hearing the various voices in my head talk to each other and dividing up little characters and having them yap. I just love listening in. So that part was really easy. It was getting into a story structure where I needed help. And I got help. And the rest just sort of takes care of itself, because I’m not that much of a freak. I used to be an actor, I used to perform Shakespeare in the park and I got to play wonderful, great parts, and I know stories and I enjoy movies and I read books. I think it’s much harder to be a high concept artist and bring people into the experience than it is to be a storyteller. I think we’re wired to appreciate stories, or at least go with them. Even if they suck, we just go with them.

I think we’re wired to look for stories, and to impose stories when we don’t see them on the surface.

Your brain is a pattern addict and what we call stories are basically a pattern. And that is something that our film, probably more than most, it has a tough row to hoe, because it wants to be a conceptual think-y piece, but it also wants to be a legitimate story. I know that if I just present people with an hour and a half of what I do in my shorts, it’s too saturated, it just makes you sick. ‘Too much art, too much art.’ I didn’t want to be that kind of filmmaker. I just wanted to have that much of a simple story – conception, gestation, birth, act one, act two, act three – simple story to carry people along. This is why I think the film, and this is an empirical fact based on the response that I have gotten, is that people like it more the second time, because they’re battling the pattern of storytelling at first. They’re leaping ahead to know what genre is going on, even if it’s unconscious, they’re trying to figure out what is the story. So we’re kind of defying some rules but we’re also obeying the grand scheme.

It’s frustrating to have made an art piece that looks like a motion picture. And it is a motion picture and I do love movies and I wanted to give people a movie experience, but it is about, like good art, it has to be a little bit about the artist, the creator who made it, and what they were thinking and who they are and why they make what they do. And everything in Dizzle, for better and for worse, has a foundation in a real thought. It is a movie of real intention. There are no accidents. There are mistakes but in terms of its design – the characters, the effects, the allegory that’s going on, the subject matter, the religious part – it’s all a part of a design to create something for people’s memories, something to chew on. I enjoy chewing on movies. I do not like to be spoon fed what I’m supposed to think and so I just try to give an intelligent viewer something to think about if they care to. If you want to show up for toilet humor, you still might not go away unhappy. If you’re a frat boy who just shows up wanting blue poop humor, hey, we serve it up in the third act.

You talk about giving the audience ‘an experience’ and, as you say, we are always looking for the story. Is it easier to break people out of expectations and give them an experience that they are not expecting when you go to something like the animation sequences, where the story they are telling is not literal?

Here’s the great answer: I don’t know. The movie is a great excuse for me to create little moments of what I hope are appreciation of this non-story, like the bottle sequence at the beginning of the film, and I’m thinking of the fish sequence, I’m thinking of the shower sequence. These are tangentially related to the plot. Well, I came up with a plot that involved visions because that’s a part of human life and we don’t recognize it enough in movies. I fucking hate that. I hate that movies ignore the fact that our brains are constantly creating little visions. The only difference between Joe Schmoe having his visions and OC or Dory having their visions while they’re pregnant is they pay attention to them. OC perpetrates his visions. He wants to. That’s what an artists is. They’re no different than anyone else. That fish sequence where we go off, it might not have a whole to do with the story other than he’s having a vision, but it’s my chance to do my homage to bar art. I love bar art and I love having two beers, three beers, and all of a sudden some piece of junk that’s up there at the bar transports me so much more effectively than any museum experience I’ve ever had. Why don’t movies indulge in the visions people have all the time? So it seems like a diversion to say that, ‘All right, we’re all going to go to a fish place now because Dory’s having a vision,’ and believe me, I work on it. In Dolby Digital Surround sound, that voice, that beautiful woman’s voice singing, it starts to slowly surround you in all the speakers creating an acoustic chorus effect that will envelope you. I just love sound. It’s half of the movie for me. If there’s one masterpiece part of Dizzle that I’m so satisfied with, it’s the sound. I love it. I made mistakes everywhere else, but with the sound I think we did about as good as we could do it.

Dory in the shower
Dory in the shower

You really go somewhere during that fish sequence if you’re in the right environment. That’s a great excuse to make a feature, just that moment. So I equipped my script to contain little areas where we could take a break. We could let it go off the rails. I could go, ‘Hey, I want to do some digital stuff, but I want it to be like something unlike I’ve ever done before.’ And the shower. I have all kinds of psychotic visions in the shower myself. The shower is an amazing place. Some people get through it by singing or whatever, but if you think about it, in the morning when that water hits you, your neurons are doing all sorts of fancy tricks. Hopefully people don’t see it as a time-wasting diversion but they just go, ‘Okay, this is what it is, we’re going on a little journey, let’s enjoy it for what it is, I trust that the filmmaker will get back to the story in due time.’ But it beats the shit out seeing a guy go like this (mimes a scene of cowering in terror at some horrific vision). That would be how more of a comedy-comedy would deal with it but I want to see what he’s seeing.

It’s a combination of having these miniature films within the film that really are super close to my heart and spirit. The salmon are telling us something. Everyone knows it. Being in the Northwest you can’t get away from hearing about the state of the salmon and the orcas and we know that there is a native American culture here that paid serious attention and devotion to the processes of the salmon and when they stop returning, shit’s going down. And we’re at that period now. So the fish that comes out of his ass and the fish visions that they have, in my own mental process, that’s why it’s that animal, because the fish are telling us something. Maybe humans are on the cusp of going away and maybe we deserve it. And if we can change, it has to begin with contrition. We have to admit to ourselves that we fucked up and that’s the most un-American thing you can say. Hey, I fucked up, we fucked up, we’re doing a bad job with the planet.

*****

You appear to be very particular about your tools and the control you have while using them.

Film has always been a personal medium for me. Some people write with journals. I have always made little films that shoot right out of my soul and I’m making them with my hands. That means the equipment is as important to me as the concept. And I can’t visualize something thoroughly that I can’t make. It’s the one gift that I’ve been given as an artist: I don’t imagine what I can’t create. So knowing the technology is really important to me and it inspires me. It’s like a carpenter: you have to know your tools.

You made your previous films on film, except for New York: Alki, which was made on video. So what was your process of learning digital tools for Little Dizzle.?

I’m not so much of a filmphile that I’ve avoided digital. I understand it perfectly. It’s not that complicated. It’s actually very liberating. I like the idea of the digital intermediate. I love the idea of shooting on film – all the effects are shot on 35mm for Dizzle, all the live action is shot in super 16 – and then you dump it all into the digital domain and from there it’s just a matter of sculpting what you want. I depend on other people that know how to push the buttons and know that technology, but just to understand the concepts involved in the technology is what’s important. So it was really easy.

Did you shoot it all on film or was any of it shot on digital video?

All of it on film. There wasn’t a single frame that was shot on video. So it was just a matter of all the live action in super 16 and all the effects in 35, so they have a different feeling. But it was workshopped on video as part of 911 Media’s Artist in Residency program, where I shot about forty percent of the film for practice on video over about four days.

Was this with your feature cast?

No, that was with a workshop local cast and I didn’t know what I was doing. But I knew that if I was going to attempt anything narrative, I had to understand what pitfalls were waiting for me. I still made a ton of mistakes with Dizzle. My wife knows me well enough to know that I’ll never forgive myself for some of those mistakes, but without that workshop it would have been really bad. We had to shoot the whole feature in nineteen days so the chaos, the constant going wrong of things and the chaos, you had these L.A. actors and some of them have very difficult egos and to have to manage that. I had a D.P. and we didn’t agree on just about anything, so we were fighting constantly. It was a really tough shoot. But I was prepared for it because of the workshop, where I learned that independent, low budget filmmaking is all about surfing the chaos. No matter how much you prepare, something is going to go wrong and you just can’t be phased by it. You just have to work through it.

You could apply that to almost any communal activity, anything where you get larger groups of creative participants and more money and more pieces that have to come into place, the more things can go wrong.

Well, yes and no. Natasha Lyonne, who is probably one of the smartest people I think I’ve ever met – she’s a devastatingly intelligent person – I had a little bit of a tough time controlling her. She wanted to do a certain character a certain way that I didn’t quite agree with and there was just no turning her around. But once she got into the filming, she realized that she had taken a wrong turn and she pried all of the direction out of me that she was kind of ignoring and I think saved her performance. And I said ‘I think I’m just a bad director because I see you making this choice and I see it’s making you uncomfortable as an artist, as an actress, and I want to help you. It’s frustrating, I must be a bad director.” And she said, ‘You’re not a bad director, David. You need a big budget.’ (laughs) And I kind of understand what she’s saying. Believe me, I don’t think money solves all the problems, but I need an experienced crew. I became a real director after Dizzle because I made three commercials, bang-bang-bang, while I was in post-production in Dizzle. Three good, nice-budget things where I’m bringing in my dream cinematographers and my dream assistant directors, people who have been in the industry forever. To watch them work is an awesome joy because then as a director you get insulated from all that stuff that does go wrong and you can concentrate on just what you need to concentrate on. I’m not proud of the commercial work but it was the best film school. I wish I had had that experience right before filming Dizzle. It is extremely distracting at first, especially being the kind of filmmaker I was, that always worked by myself. You have a line of people that’s eight deep around you at all times that want answers to all these questions and you just do the best you can.

You have a very physical presence in your short films. Not just as the director or the animator or the sculptor. You are there holding the art pieces, one of the tools of the process and one of the expressive elements of the art. Your hands, your body, your voice are all defining parts of those films.

That’s why Dizzle was such a great step for me. The special effects you see in it are the result of an evolution. Initially I went to what I knew best, which is putting myself in things. There I am: animator, doing things for special effects. I had spent months and months trying some of these special effects and making things and I threw them all away. I realized that I’m a presence enough, I don’t need to be in front of the camera as much as I am. So I started to hide myself – for the first time ever – from the effects.

But you did give yourself a cameo as a cookie taster.

Believe me, that was unintentional. Because I was not dressed for it, I was wearing all red. I guess about half of our extras didn’t show up so we were literally short on people. I was a little disappointed because I thought if I belonged anywhere, I should have been the preacher at the beginning. Then I found Alan Johnson and I was really glad I wasn’t in it. Alan, I love him. I thought he did a fantastic job because he gave the religious side of the movie credibility right off the bat, that we weren’t just there to burn on Christianity, we were not just there to burn on religion in general, that there is an epiphany that Dory goes through. He’s obviously going through a Christian phase and he believes that he needs to humble himself and work and I believe pretty genuinely. I like Alan a lot.

It’s not just Christianity. He’s trying out all the major religions. It starts out with him reading the Bible on a lunch break and my first thought was that he was a passionate Christian, but in fact he was exploring religion. And then he goes on to explore Judaism and Islam and so on. He’s searching, he really is looking.

All the script doctors that we consulted in the four years of development realty had a problem with that, that we never explained his religious hunger and why he is trying on religions. We don’t explain it, we just watch him move through them. And it was really hard because you can’t explain who some people are seekers and when you try, it becomes stupid. You impose something dumb on the script when you try to explain spiritual hunger. We’re at the dawning age of unintended consequences. Any intelligent person who has watched culture in the last twenty-thirty years, there are big changes happening. And I think the generation behind us has to find some sort of spiritual foundation if they’re going to make it through all the messes that we’ve created. So I think Dory represents that hunger but he doesn’t know where to put it. I think someone said, ‘He changes religions like he changes socks.’ Yeah, he does, but the hunger down there is genuine.

He’s opening himself up to them to see if they will fill that void.

For every religion that I have dipped my toe in through the course of my own life, I felt that same way. I go in with my whole heart, but it’s still a trying on, it’s still something very foreign and it’s as easy to take off as it is to put on.

It’s interesting that these script doctors wanted an explanation because that need is in fact part of who he is, what defines him. It is one of the reasons we follow him.

I hope so. It doesn’t make any sense in terms of the scriptwriting formula that you leave that unexplained. I understand that, but I do like the feeling of religions just washing over us, until he gives birth, and then something happens that makes him just slightly more whole, whole enough that he can help a friend of his pray and really mean it. That’s my biggest achievement, I think, in Dizzle, was the prayer. That it didn’t come off as a burn. I’ve watched audiences cry during that scene. They go with it. And it takes a whole movie to get an audience to break down their defenses. All that toilet humor, all that comedy, all that what seems like meaningless character development, it’s really important because audiences have a defense against religious movies. And I think that if you start with a prayer that’s real and genuine, the audience would go, ‘What kind of movie am I in? Oh my god, am I in a Mel Gibson thing? Is this another Passion of the Christ?’ And I want to get past that, because religion, fortunately or unfortunately, is a part of our future, it’s a part of our culture, and it will only become more so. And it is becoming more so.

So I created Dory to be that kind of guy who would wander in and go, ‘Oh, wow.’ And then just as easily go into a Mosque and, with just as open a heart, get his ass in the air and his nose on the ground and pray to Allah. Or walk into a Buddhist temple and go, ‘Okay, now I’m going to pray.’ Or stick on a bald cap and jump around with the Krishnas. I think it’s a great form of tourism: it’s carbon friendly, I don’t think enough people do it. If you want a new experience, instead of going to Rome or to Hawaii or the Bahamas, walk into a Mosque and say, ‘I want to understand more about this religion.’ Come with some respect and you will go places and it will benefit you in ways you would never imagine. It really was fun to learn about Judaism. Always a mystery to me – what the heck is this? – and come out with such a great respect for those people, the essence questioning that I never knew existed.

I find that the prayer is not a religious but a spiritual moment, and it’s a gift to Methyl. Dory’s been trying to apologize to him for half the movie, but when Methyl’s in real pain and real need, Dory sees that need and he gives him compassion and comfort. And it’s a real gift.

I think so. And I think Dizzle is a gift too. When that Little Dizzle is flopping in the sink, I don’t know if the audience will ever get this, but it’s a self referential moment. That’s my movie in there. I know I’ll make a misfit movie and I need to find meaning in making a misfit movie. And I love the line when he says that the life inside him is ‘as pure and perfect as any of your creatures,’ this little malformed guy, and ‘forgive this world for not being fit for such a miracle as this.’ There’s a lot of marginalized artists who would understand that line on a level that I think would surprise people. ‘Forgive this world for not being fit for such a world as this.’

Speaking of marginalized artists, what do you think about OC, a man who really, really wants to be an artist?

Very simple. OC and Dory represent two parts of myself. I didn’t know where to begin so, like a good beginner, you start with yourself. I’m going to write a movie that’s basically dividing up sections of me. OC is the artist that I’ve always wanted to be, the one that really believed in what he was saying, maybe not that talented but it didn’t really matter. He believes it and is not a depressed guy. OC is the manic side of myself. I sit around for months waiting for twenty minutes where I can feel like OC and come up with kernels of ideas that I can spend years pursuing. That’s who OC is. He’s the optimist, a generative artist that people like being around, almost like a bonfire. You just like warming your hands near him. I’ve always had a great admiration for artists like that and it usually it has nothing to do with their work. There was a lot of creativity going on in my formative years in the late eighties and early nineties in the Seattle music scene. For every musician that people have heard of there’s three hundred that people haven’t heard of. OC is an amalgamation of a couple of people I know.

He’s the most fun character to be around.

This is a janitor movie
This is a janitor movie

He had to carry the movie. We’re really going to go places with this movie. This is a janitor movie. We’re not going to evade that this is what a janitor does. Now if I just start thrusting people into what janitors do, this is just a gross-out movie. So I needed a charismatic, welcoming presence to come in every five minutes or so of the movie and just help it along. Because Dory, God love him, he’s a straight man. He’s not interesting in and of himself to carry a movie so OC is a very calculated, designed part of the script. It says, I want to take people into this in a way that they’ll go, ‘Huh, I could see becoming a janitor of somebody ushered me into it that way.’ And that’s how Dory gets ushered in as well. He’s based on a real guy who trained me as a janitor. I was a janitor for eleven years and I was trained by an OC.

Along with the idea of male pregnancy is the chemical pollution of the human body with products that pose as food. These cookies are addictive, they are pumped full of chemicals, they are poisoning the body and are doing things to the body chemistry that no one really understands.

Our bodies are chemical dumps. And it’s not so much that anything in the cookie is really poison. My bullshit pseudo-science explanation, the exposition that Matt Smith has to deliver, they think it has something to do with the gene-altering insecticides, something in the corn syrup. It’s the relationship of all these chemicals. We wonder why we’re all growing tumors right and left. It makes perfect sense. The water we drink is a feat of science, just our normal drinking water, recycled over and over. Think of all those hair chemicals and stuff that goes down the drain.

You also put some of the responsibility on the men themselves. When Dory goes to the doctor, he starts to laugh as he says, essentially, ‘Let me get this straight: you’re eating too many cookies and you’re getting cramps. And you want me to do what?’

(laughs) I love that scene, I think it’s one of the most well executed scenes in the whole movie. You have a great character, Marshall is hitting on all cylinders in that scene, he’s giving me kind of a young Bud Cort kind of vibe in that scene and that’s who Dory is. So credulous, so wanting to believe. And Bergsman tells that joke and it was Marshall who gave me that punchline that I never would have dreamed of as a screenwriter. ‘I got a joke for you. A man walks into a doctor’s office and says “It hurts when I eat too many cookies.” And the doctor says…’ And Marshall added, ‘What?’ It was the best line. Unfortunately he dropped character right after he said it so I couldn’t let that moment hang. I wish I would have wrote that.

Richard Lefebre, who plays Weird William, is such a gentle guy, always in the background, so going with everything, and it’s in the scene on the roof as they watch the fireworks that you get to learn a little about him, and even then he just drops a couple of facts and lets you draw your own conclusions.

Richard Lefebre as Weird William
Richard Lefebre as Weird William

He’s enlightened. He’s the closest that we come to an enlightened person, a self-actualized, full functional human being. One who was a soldier and who didn’t get fucked up by it. You can tell it changed him. He also has a line that I’m surprised I don’t hear more. Because I wrote this two months before the second Gulf War started, so I knew we were going to war again and it was an interesting time to write a script about marginalized people. But Weird William, man, he says the truth. He said something that I’m surprised more soldiers don’t say, which is, ‘I knew what I was fighting for.’ That it has to be some sort of bad thing that you’re fighting for oil, that you’re fighting to secure cheap energy into the future. That’s what you’re there for. I don’t know why that has to be controversial. I don’t know who really believes we give a rat’s ass about Iraqi freedom, whatever that is. I mean, we created a theocracy there now. Is that really what we cared about? Why don’t we just say it? Hey, maybe oil is worth fighting for. I don’t know if I believe it myself, but it would help me if in that argument we could be honest about it, so that somebody saying, ‘No, oil really is worth it.’ ‘I don’t think it is.’ ‘No, it really is.’ So I’m surprised. He’s my hero in that he knew that and he still found meaning in whatever horrific things he had to see.

You have a great line, I don’t think I have it down exactly, but in the first act when Dory finds the blue poop in the toilet and calls the others down because he thinks there’s something alive in it, OC takes a picture of it and Dory turns to him and asks, ‘You guys name your dumps?’ And without skipping a beat, OC replies, ‘The great ones name themselves.’

I’m so glad you remember that because that was one of those.. Now I don’t mind telling you, and this is something that I find very interesting, eighty percent of our footage was out of footage. Twenty percent was unusably out of focus. That scene was a complete salvage job. We had nothing to choose from. We had one angle and it was blurry. And because I wasn’t getting dailies, because the processor was being shut down and overhauled during production, I didn’t find this out until post-production. So we had to Frankenstein that scene together in strange ways that weren’t necessarily intentional. But I love that line. It should be funnier, I wanted to give it a pedestal. ‘You guys name the turds you find?’ ‘The legendary ones name themselves.’ And they do. I’ve been there, I’m a janitor, I know.

And Vince Vieluf delivers that line perfectly. He doesn’t to deliver it as a joke, he just responds to the question as if it’s obvious.

I wanted a little more embarrassment out of the janitors because sometimes when you’re a janitor, you’re just so used to doing disgusting things and unusual things that you forget how weird they are, so when Dory says – this is what was lost in all the blurriness in the shots we couldn’t use – ‘You guys name the turds you find?,’ I wanted a little more embarrassment out of the janitors and OC just saves it with, ‘Hey, the legendary ones name themselves.’ It’s not meant to be a joke, it’s just, we didn’t name them, but Fluorescent Pete and The Pure White Turd, come on. You gotta talk about them, what are you gonna say? It’s just easier to name the things, like Dances With Wolves.

*****

When I spoke to you in the phone earlier this week, you said you were working on an IMAX 3-D film.

Yes. The Blue Man Group is making a 3D IMAX film about the brain and somebody who knew somebody who knew their producer saw my film at Sundance and so that producer arranged a screening for them in L.A. and they flew down from New York to watch it and they really liked it and we met each other and we’re very similar people. They’re super interesting people. I was really pleased that weren’t huge dicks. And they’ve been looking for a director for two years now. I was apparently the 52nd director, but we hit it off. So I’m making their movie. We’re just in the tiniest crossing t’s, dotting i’s of the agreement. So now I have to meet a distributor and basically pitch the movie to them, because I’m taking apart their film, basically deconstructing the script which they’ve been developing for the last year and a half.

Was one of the reasons they came to you your use of animation in your filmmaking?

Yeah, yeah. They’re basically looking for a fourth Blue Man who is a filmmaker. They know that they need a little help. They’re artists and they’re drummers and I love the fact that they don’t pretend to know more than they do.

So they’re looking for their Terry Gilliam.

They are. That’s exactly what they’re doing. So I was glad that, regardless of how Dizzle does, it’s nice to sink my teeth into another learning project. Because I’ve learned, because I’ve met a lot of the technology, and it’s fascinating stuff. I realized my whole life that I’ve been fighting two dimensions, that lot of my shorts and a lot my most treasured moments of Dizzle are just begging to be three dimensions. So it should be pretty liberating. I think there are seventeen or eighteen 3D features coming out this year, so it’s a trend. So I will at least learn how to do it.

I know that you have said that you made a lot of mistakes on the film. I don’t need to know those mistakes, but I’d like to know if you now want to, having learned from this, make another narrative film?

Maybe. Right now, I’m proud of myself that I’m being baited to do another Hollywood film… I was really proud of myself to say, ‘No thank you. Not now.’ I really wanted to be a dental hygienist. I was ready to change my life after Dizzle. I realized I don’t have a lot to give, I feel like a fuck-up and failure and loser. I see this movie and it’s not as good as I want it and I don’t know that I deserve another chance at narrative. I think I’d be a lot better at it now. So this Blue Man project is a way to stick my toe in again and then reassess where I’m at the end of it. Because there’s way more ways to serve humanity than show business. I’ve made every film I’ve ever wanted to. That’s the beautiful part about not being a prolific creator. It’s not because I had all these ideas and I couldn’t do them. I made every single little project that I ever wanted to and Dizzle was the last one. What’s beyond it, I don’t know. I know I don’t want to be a writer-director. I think they’re a scourge and I don’t want to be one of those guys. I had to do it for Dizzle because I couldn’t find a writer who had a script that I found interesting enough. But if a script does come to me and there is a producer or two working on it, then maybe I’ll reconsider. That’s a long answer but it’s very truthful. I’m conflicted about it. I know I’m not making anymore art films. I think I’m done with that too. That’s why I was really like, what can I do going into my old age? And I really think dental hygiene is something I would enjoy. I really had a religious experience four years ago with the first good dental hygienist I ever had and it was a revelation. They make their own schedule, they get paid well. If they want to work one day a year, they work one day a year. If they want to work six days a week and twelve hours a day, they do that. And there’s no men. There’s almost no men in that profession. Unlike nursing, there’s no fricking men. So it’s one of those reverse sexism things where I could go in and be welcome. I could have my choice of the best schools.

Are there any narrative filmmakers that you look at and say: that’s the kind of filmmaking I’d like to do.

No, I don’t think so. I like Kubrick a lot, I like David Lean, and I wish I was more unique and go, ‘Oh, hey, I want to be like Terry Gilliam,’ or ‘I want to be like Michel Gondry.’ You know what? Those guys are lacking in some ways for me. As brilliant as they can be, they also really lack something. So I don’t think I have a ton of heroes. But boy, Kubrick was something else. I wish I could come up with somebody more unique. But if I ever want to make another film, he’s somebody that I think is a real master. Because in a studio system, he created individuals of films, a film that’s an individual. Stanley Kramer was a huge influence on me. In junior high school, I took a class from Stanley Kramer at Bellevue Community College. I talked my dad in to driving me out there every week and learning from him. He was like Robert Redford before Robert Redford. He was working outside of the studio system, making films independently and selling them the studios. Making individuals, films that just didn’t exist before. So hopefully, if I get another chance to make a narrative feature, it’ll be something like that. The Blue Man thing is a continuation of film school, a continuation of my art, and I get to try my ability at bringing together… This film has eight core creative people, real artists at what they do, from all over the world, and I have a reach on all of them, so I get to exercise that part of myself that isn’t making the stuff, that isn’t going, ‘Okay, here’s how you do this, give me some manual labor, we’ll make it happen.’ I get to give other creative people a forum to go nuts and just make sure it’s structured in a way that fits with the movie. I’m really looking forward to that, that administrative part of filmmaking. If I can manage that, I think I might have a very enviable career. It’s possible.

Your comments suggest that you aren’t seeking a career in filmmaking.

No, no.

You’ve said that you used to be an artist whose medium is film and with Dizzle you’ve become a filmmaker. But you are still an artist and every film is, as you said earlier, a piece of art.

Now I want to be more of a mentor to artists. Like I said, if I can be the guy who works, who can communicate with these studio guys and these distribution people and these investors and executive producers, if I can be the guy that can create a project where all these younger artists, that’s the most intoxicating part about being a filmmaker that I’ve learned. Now that I’ve said everything I wanted to say, maybe I can help give them a forum to say what they want to say or do what they want to do, that’s what’s going to be the next new phase. But no, did I ever look for a career in this? Hell, no. I’m just picking low hanging fruit. The Blue Man thing dropped into my field of vision and the more I looked into it, the more interesting it became. I like the fact that it’s so hopeless, it’s so crazy, it’s so outlandish, but they’re also accomplished people, so I’m taking it. I didn’t look for it, but I’m taking it. Maybe something else will come along that I’m not looking for. I don’t want to define myself as a filmmaker, I’m just a person who has a job like anybody else.

What’s your job?

Right now it’s making films.

The life of a janitor: Vince Vileuf as OC
The life of a janitor: Vince Vileuf as OC