Believe It or Not, This Is a Comedy: an interview with filmmaker Brandon LaGankeMay 29th, 2012 | Posted by in Film Festivals | IndieFlix filmmaker | IndieFlix in the Media | Interview | Movie Reviews | New Releases | Short films
grungy Midwestern winter. A torn-up yard with a season’s worth of dirty snow, pushed into piles to await the fate the spring thaw holds for them. A boy drags a stick along a wooden fence, like boys have done for as long as there have been sticks and wooden fences. His forward progress is blocked by a man with hairy arms and bowed head sitting cross-legged on the cold, wet ground, his back against the fence, wearing a bunny suit that’s seen better days. The boy stops, apparently determined to figure out why a man in a bunny suit is sitting in the snow.
I’ll stop there. What happens next in this short-short (under five minutes) is a rapid descent into a very dark—and very funny—comic hell. You have been warned.
Here’s my interview with “Bunny Boy” filmmaker Brandon LaGanke. [Note: Brandon’s first question, before we started the interview, was if he was allowed to use the F word. This kind of set the tone for the interview.]
CC: The first question that popped into my mind after watching “Bunny Boy” was something along the lines of, what the literal fuck? How did this idea become so important to you that you had to commit it to the eternal medium of film?
BL: Haha. Yeah, I get asked that a bit. I wanted to make people hate bunnies forever. Partly kidding. At first, I wanted to tell a very simple story that was both shocking and cinematic. My audience was film festivals. I’ve been to so many fests and I hated watching 35 minute shorts. I wanted a short punch. Then, as I was writing it, I felt like it was a very ambiguous situation. Are these bunnies terrorizing this town? Is this one of many homes? Is this a wife and husband killing team? Etc. Then, add humor. Believe it or not, this is a comedy.
CC: Yeah, I get that; most of Hitchcock’s movies are comedies, so I don’t think of “comedy” as necessarily a limiting label.
BL: Totally. Plus my wife hates kids, so that influenced the situation.
CC: Why bunnies?
BL: Bunnies. Okay. I’ve always found them to be both creepy and cute at the same time. Which is sort of the tone of the piece. But why not a penguin—which essentially does the same thing? Well, two reasons: a penguin suit is hard to find, and two who the fuck wears a penguin suit in the Midwest (where the film is based)?
BL: Totally. Transparency is key in short filmmaking.
CC: There’s something about the image of a rabbit, let alone a guy in a rabbit suit, that offers a lot of potential as a cinematic image, to go all academic for a minute.
BL: Yeah, I wanted to make sure we cast a guy with hairy arms. Wanted to clearly make the connection that this is in fact a man under there and not a real bunny. I know many people who would think six-foot bunnies with trigger fingers exist if it were not for that hairy detail.
BL: Most of what I write is some sort of nostalgic childhood fear. Going to the Easter Bunny growing up in Ohio and sitting on that sweaty knee in the mall wasn’t the best experience.
CC: This is a pretty nasty dark comedy—or comic horror story—is that your thing? Do you see other kinds of stories in your future?
BL: It’s sort of my thing. Right now at least. I do lots of genres. For example I’m just now finishing a feature doc on a severely handicapped gospel singer who travels the world. But the film I’m currently in pre-production on is similar in its intent.
CC: Can you talk about the film in preproduction?
BL: It’s about a man, Harold, who constantly relives one event in his past over and over again. He stages a family that he holds hostage as if they’re a part of some play in his head. The thing is, you don’t realize what’s happening—that they’re not a real family unit—until the very end. There’s subtle details to trigger those thoughts but it’s not enough. It begs you to watch it a few times. It’s set in 1987 (but really it’s modern day).
CC: Is it a feature?
BL: No, it’s a short.
CC: You see it as a comedy?
BL: No, I think there will be some humorous parts but there’s no comedic punchline.
CC: Presumably it will have dialogue. There’s no dialogue in “Bunny Boy.” Are you finding it harder to write with dialogue?
BL: Yes, there’s dialogue. No, not at all. It’s easier to cast, that’s for sure. Casting a young boy who has to act purely through facial expressions is hard. We had a lot of great kids come in. Teymur [Guliyev] was the best. He authentically looked confused and curious when he saw that bunny. Kids try too hard. And a lot of them think they know what they’re doing and therefore are hard to [direct]. Teymur was a pro.
CC: You cast the bunny based solely on arm hair?
BL: Ha, yeah, and weight. Most importantly someone who didn’t care about getting paid and didn’t mind wearing a homemade bunny suit in the middle of the winter. His ass got pretty wet in that snow and I’m pretty sure the headpiece was itchy. My dad played the bunny. (Just kidding. that’s not funny on any level. Omit that.)
CC: OK, I’ll substitute Harvey Weinstein, he has pretty hairy arms.
BL: Robin Williams.
CC: How much of a problem was the snow? It’s clearly real.
BL: A big problem. We had to shovel it all out to lay the track. The owners hated us. The lawn got all fucked up. You’re not supposed to shovel snow on a yard. And then lay 300 pounds of track.
CC: Noted. How about continuity? How long was the shoot—were there thaws or snowfall during?
BL: It was one day. Didn’t snow at all. But light was a problem. We had to move. Luckily we had a great crew.
CC: Did you have two different bunny suits? Or is that why we never see the couple in a two shot?
CC: Did you buy it or make it?
BL: I had someone make it for me. A great costume designer made it from scratch based off an image I like from the early 40’s. A creepy bunny photo.
CC: How big a part of your budget was that?
BL: A few hundred bucks.
CC: How big was your budget overall?
BL: About $5,000. Shot on the RED. That was helpful; no transferring costs.
CC: How’d you go about raising your budget?
BL: Extra money from past jobs I had laying around. No one funds shorts. I hate asking people for money. It’s a problem. I really don’t understand Kickstarter for films. Pisses me off.
CC: Yes, a filmmaker has to spend most of his being a politician just to fund a project.
BL: A friend of mine raised $20,000 to release an album. That I understand. Short films, not so much.
CC: What do you think of as some non-film influences? Music, art, books,etc.?
BL: Music, tons. I don’t really read books. It’s another problem.
CC: I know it’s hard to name your favorite music, but what comes to mind first?
BL: I live in Brooklyn and I’m influenced by a lot of friends and bands that come out. I like Friends, Tennis (even though they’re from Denver I think), Bon Iver, tUnE-yArDs, blah blah blah. Wait, only one of those is from Brooklyn. Haha. But really what inspires me are locations. I think John Hughes had to work backwards from locations. Being in a great location, your mind wanders. At least mine does.
CC: Describe what you mean.
BL: When I visit a place. Holiday or simply passing though, I develop stories for that place. Also, I always start with the setting first. Such as, I want to make a Midwest story. Basically, locations inspire me. Let’s put it that way.
CC: Did you imagine the snowy yard first then, for “Bunny Boy”? Or just “Midwestern town, wooden fence, snow”? What was your original image that became “Bunny Boy”?
BL: I imagined a snowy backyard in the Midwest and I said to myself: “What could happen there? Oh, yeah. A boy could be shot by a giant bunny. Perfect. Done.”
BL: Another film I’m writing is about a Native American band from the 70’s called Redbone. Remember that song “Come and Get Your Love”? I’ve been talking with a few living band members. Gathering up all of their insane stories. Like, when they stayed in Hitler’s mansion in Germany. Or when Jimi Hendrix told them to start an all-Native American band. And I started that out because I wanted to make a film that was based on an Indian reservation.
CC: Is this a fictionalized script? Or a documentary?
BL: It’s both: narrative and doc. It jumps back and forth.
CC: You’ve mentioned a couple documentary projects. Do you see both in your future, narrative and documentary? Like Herzog?
BL: Everything. I never want to be pigeonholed. I make a lot of music videos too. And co-created a production company called Ghost+Cow films.
CC: Talk about making music videos. Does the format limit you at all? Making the images specifically to represent the music? Or is it like when poets say writing in meter can be freeing somehow; ike, the structure is taken care of, so you can concentrate on other things.
BL: Yeah, it’s an amazing way of perfecting your craft. I don’t find it limiting at all. The only limiting part is you’re doing it for someone else—a band, a label, a company. When given full freedom you can go wild. And it doesn’t always have to make sense.
CC: Right, you have to get someone else to sign off on it. Has that been a problem? Not to name names or anything.
BL: Sort of, yeah. You have to convince them that it’s their idea.
CC: What are some of your favorite dark comedies?
CC: You’re kidding, right?
BL: Haha. Depends.
CC: Unless you see it ironically, as a comment on reactionary misogynists—do I remember it wrong?
BL: I see everything ironically. I’m a cynical wannabe hipster.
CC: Have you seen Montenegro? Possibly my all-time favorite dark comedy.
BL: Never seen it. Tell me why.
CC: Most of the humor happens in little surprises, so I’ll try to be general. it’s made by Dušan Makavejev, whose previous films were all pornographic political satires. But Montenegro was relatively accessible—Ebert gave it four stars, for whatever that’s worth. But the director’s iconoclasm is there in the cracks.
BL: I will say one thing, in all honesty: I think there’s a huge market for beautiful porn. I mean well shot. Not in terms of narrative. That should never exist but in terms of production value. We have all the tools now. Why not find a way to sensationalize the art in the most beautiful way possible? Kubrick would have been doing it if still alive. Trust me.
CC: I agree. There are more and more good films not shying away from appropriately contextual explicit sex.
BL: Oh, one more [favorite dark comedy]: Nine to Five. Loved that film. It was so creepy, man—the environment. Scared me.
To see why the fact that Nine to Five scares him is a little difficult to grasp, watch “Bunny Boy.” Leave yourself some recovery time for afterward.