The American Society of Cinematographers

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Swiss Army Man - Directing
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What kinds of shooting choices did you make in terms of portraying the characters’ emotions?

Scheinert: One of the big discussions was when to make the audience feel what our protagonist is feeling. When to get really intimate and subjective, and when to get objective and further away? [The latter] would have two effects: We could either do that to make him feel really alone and lost, or for comedic effect, because the story is about a guy who is a questionable narrator — so when you’re right up with him, you kind of get sucked up into craziness, but if you step away and see his stupid clothes and ugly Crocks, and it’s just a dead guy and a bunch of garbage, you can remind the audience that you’re aware that this is crazy, and give them “permission” to laugh. That was on a scene-by-scene basis; we were constantly having to weigh those priorities. Are we in it with them, or is this comical? Aesthetically, that would dictate a lot of things — which lenses we were using, how were framing, and whether or not the camera should move.

It’s interesting that the same kind of shot can denote both loneliness and comedy. 

Scheinert: In some ways I think that’s what inspired us to make the movie. We thought it would be a very exciting opportunity to make something that’s lonely and funny — like, existential and perverted at the same time.

What does this movie mean to each of you?

Scheinert: My girlfriend makes fun of us a lot, because she’s had to watch us torture ourselves for five years making this. In a very roundabout way, it’s autobiographical about our weird collaboration and friendship — and she always makes fun of how it’s about Dan Kwan overcoming his shame. [Laughs.] Because Dan Kwan’s been a secret weirdo his whole life, but only in the last, like, five or six years have we come out of the weirdo closet, and been like, “You know what? We’re going to make the weirdest music video we possibly can, and then we’re going to have to talk about it at Thanksgiving with our parents.”

Kwan: On the one hand, [a project like that is] a strange metanarrative performance-art piece where we are trying to create something that shakes ourselves out, but it also questions why we make the things we make. But in order for that to work, and in order for the performance of it to work, it has to actually resonate with people and resonate with ourselves. And that aspect of it is all about shame, and how shame keeps us alone, and shame isolates us, and how shame creates lonely people. And [Swiss Army Man] deals with that on the most base level. Even the act of making a feature film about farts produces shame. That’s a shameful thing to do, and going into it, you know that; it’s like going into high school with a kick-me sign on our back, but doing that intentionally. If it boils down to one thing, it’s about shame keeping us from love — and how every act of making this film is a way of us fighting back, and not being shamed, and creating these characters who have so much to be ashamed of, but allowing them to be celebrated. We never know what our movies are about when we go into them, and they take a lot of existential debate and existential crises for us to come upon a solution, and something that makes sense.

Scheinert: I didn’t expect this going in, but making a movie about shame keeping us from love — where these characters are discussing all their most perverted, weird, existential and private thoughts — proved the point of the movie. We got to work with our whole crew so intimately for so long about this content that’s so weird, and we found love! It was a great shoot, where we worked with our old friends, and met a lot of new friends. I feel like the content of the movie affected the production of the movie in a way that made it all worth it. Because movies are hard, but I got to meet a cool script supervisor and a dope makeup artist and some awesome background extras.

Kwan: And Harry Potter!

Scheinert: Yeah, that guy! The thing that makes us the happiest is that grandparents at Sundance came up to us and liked it, because we tried to make a movie that would reach folks in every demographic.

Kwan: [The movie is about how] all people have weirdness inside of them, and everyone’s ashamed to let that out. It’s the universality of weirdness, and how weird and strange it is that we’re not allowed to be okay with that. There was an interesting moment where one of the critics who said that he really loved the film, and was unabashed about it, wanted to tell everyone to go watch the movie. He would be at parties and mention how much he loved the movie, [and would sometimes] get these comments from people who also liked it, but were secretly ashamed to admit it. He thought that was really interesting — where even the act of aligning yourself with the film became a shameful moment. He was excited to push more people to say what they really feel about the movie. Clearly the movie is not for everyone, but for the people who do really love and connect with it, it’s been really gratifying to hear how much the film means to them.




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