Q&A: Gentlemen Broncos
I recently headed over to the Fox lot in Los Angeles to check out a screening of the upcoming film from the creators of NAPOLEON DYNAMITE, GENTLEMEN BRONCOS. In the film, seventeen-year-old Benjamin (Michael Angarano) attends a writing camp, where he hopes his sci-fi novel about Yeast Lords and battle stags will get noticed by his idol and famous writer, Chevalier (Jermaine Clement). Little does he know that Chevalier's star is fading...he steals Benjamin's story and publishes it under another name. Like the hero of his novel, Benjamin must find a way to take his enemy down and get the credit he deserves.
After the screening, the audience got to stay for a moderated Q&A with writers Jared and Jerusha Hess, (Jared also directed) Jennifer Coolidge, who plays Benjamin's nightgown-designing mom Judith, and Mike White, who plays the Cock Rock-haired Dusty. The gave us some info on the origin of the story, the unwashed costumes Coolidge had to wear and whether or not Jared's mom ever dated Ted Bundy.
(Note: I'm abbreviating Jared and Jerusha Hess and “Jared” and “Jerusha” to eliminate confusion.)
Watching it again this evening, it reminds me how important books are, which sometimes we forget in this day and age...I thought we'd start off with just a very personal question. When you think back to your teen years, what books were particularly influential to you?
Jared Hess: Probably those Reader's Digest books about UFO's. Yeah. [laughter] To be honest, when I was a little kid, I really wanted...I thought I wanted to be a special effects guy. I really wanted to work at Industrial Light & Magic, or something awesome like that. So for Christmas, I'd ask for these special effects books. That's what I thought I wanted to do.
The purple throw up? Was that trick in one of the books?
Jared: These were just some early ideas I had.
And what about the rest of you? Jerusha? Mike? Jennifer? Any books from teenage years that influenced you particularly?
Jerusha Hess: My mom would make me read really scary novels like “Tess of the D'Ubervilles”. And she'd try to teach me about sex. And I was, like, eight. [laughter] And they were very disturbing
Mike White: Well, my second grade teacher was the mother of this playwright Sam Shepard and I had a big crush on this teacher. I mean, she was an older lady. She was a very older lady...and I got really into Sam Shepard when I was in third grade...
Jennifer Coolidge What a sophisticated crowd! I never got beyond, like, “Teen Beat”. Books? I mean, there was “Tiger Beat”...I remember a book called “The Outsiders” which had lots of really cute boys in it, and there was this really cute boy in it named Pony...[laughter]
I'd like to see the library that has all of these books together in one place. So what was the inspiration for GENTLEMEN BRONCOS? How did all of this come to be?
Jared: Jerusha has a cousin that lives up in Alaska. He's like fourteen. For a long time, he's been writing these, you know, really messed up science fiction and fantasy stories that had his parents concerned for a while. They were real gruesome, man. But...
Jerusha: They were really graphic in other ways too.
Jared: Yeah. But anyway, she doesn't really know that cousin that well. When she told me about him, we just thought it would be a fun concept to play with.
I understand that the mother role, Judith (Coolidge) was inspired in large part by your real life mother. What was that like Jennifer? How did you guys kind of work together to develop that character?
Coolidge Jared and Jerusha had arranged this luncheon at this really nice restaurant when we got up to Utah, and you know, Jared's mother is really beautiful and glamourous...
Jared: That was just for the lunch. [laughter]
Coolidge So I have to say, I didn't quite capture Jared's mother in this film. But she is an incredibly creative person who has been through a lot...she had so many amusing stories. I was very sad that the most amazing story I think I've heard in a long time...that story about Ted Bundy, was cut out of the film...his mother went on a couple of dates...she danced at a dance with Ted Bundy! [laughter]
Jared: She thought that after she saw an “Unsolved Mysteries” on Lifetime, she called and she said, “Jared...I'm convinced that Ted Bundy asked me to a church dance! He was a weird guy and I just had this strong impression that it was Ted Bundy.” [laughter] So we had a scene where Jennifer says that, but it didn't make a lot of sense. It was Mike's favorite scene in the whole movie.
Well Mike, last time you partnered was as a writer with NACHO LIBRE, and now here you are in front of the camera. What was it like, taking direction and being the one on the other side of the camera?
White: Uh, I mean, it's always fun to party at Jared's because he's pretty relaxed and just very funny. But it was hard because he...I think I tend to have an expressive face, and he was like, 'Just don't do anything. Just don't do anything.” Even if I was like, 'I'm not going to do anything,' he'd be like, 'It's too much. Just don't do anything.' By the end I was just dead. I did a real good job with the snake though. Peaches.
Jared: You bonded with him.
White: The snake was not a problem. It's just that Jennifer was freaked by the snake. She'd also start laughing, so we'd have to redo the scene. The poop stuff, it was like food, but it smelled really bad. That was probably the low point of the shoot.
I'm going to jump from there to the look of the film, because that creates such a vision in the head. But this film has such a distinctive vision, from the initial credits with the different book covers. How did you create everything from the book covers to the outfits, the popcorn car...what was your goal for this film?
Jared: Our costume designer is here, April Napier...she did such a great job. She discovered a business in Salt Lake City called the “Desert Industries” and her mind was blown. We got a lot of our costumes for NAPOLEON (DYNAMITE) there too. We shot the film entirely on location near Salt Lake City, Utah in a little town...and a lot of the natural places felt kind of, you know, just as they were. But originally, Richard A. Wright, our production designer, for the title sequence, he found all the books for that. They were existing book covers from other science fiction books, but we changed the titles to credits. He did a great job.
Jerusha: With the whole feeling of our movie, we kind of wanted to make Benjamin's world...we wanted the sci-fi world to mirror Benjamin's world. So, you know, he lives in this geodesic dome house that is pretty sci-fi in and of itself. And the clothes. I mean, those costumes that Jennifer's character makes. Those are a little far out too, so...it just lends itself to lots of funny things.
You look so beautiful, it's very nice to see you in your real clothes today. Did that help you at all with your performance? Some of those brooches took up half of your chest. How did that affect your performance?
Coolidge I think my favorite thing about this film is that everything was authentic. You had Desert Industries was sort of like a Salvation Army. Some of the clothes I wore weren't washed...[laughter]...some of the ones I chose myself, I thought were better stained. Things like that help. Sometimes when you're doing a character, you have all this fresh stuff and it doesn't feel right if you're really poverty-stricken and you don't have any money. So I thought that...it was all very gamey.
There are a lot of writers out there in the audience and I actually heard a lot of hooting and hollering and cheering for when Benjamin actually gets his dues, being the proper author, and I'm curious if any of you as creative individuals have had that experience of someone maybe taking something that was yours...
Jared: Not really. We liked the idea of kind of using this as a device to see the different interpretations of this seventeen-year-old's work and kind of seeing the different visions that Chevalier gives, and Lonnie Donaho (Héctor Jiménez)...but I've never experienced anything like that.
White: Well, I think everything is stolen from me. [laughter] In reverse, I steal.
The naming, [of characters] which I think is one of the hallmark scenes from this film. I always want to introduce everyone with an -anus or an -illium or a -teacup. Where did that come from?
Jared: Um, we went to film school with this guy named Steve...and he, at the time THE LORD OF THE RINGS came out, he made his version of the film called “Circle of Fire: The Dark Lord”. And when, like, X-MEN would come out, it was a film called, “The Mutants”. He's made like one hundred movies and all real lo-fi. You should check out his website. It's called utahwolfproductions.com. You can buy his stuff. I mean, it's unbelievable. He's real prolific. But he, one day I was talking to him and I asked, 'how do you come up with such great character names for your films' and he had all these theories, but it was mainly about the suffix. 'For instance Jared, you could do, take Nebakanezer and completely change that to, like, a king's name, Nebakaronious...weird crap. But some of those ideas are in the film.
GENTLEMEN BRONCOS opens in limited release on October 10th, 2009.