From Boys to Men: A Conversation with FUNERAL KINGS writer/director twins The McManus Brothers
After Funeral Kings screened to a full house in J.A. De Seve Theatre at Fantasia, the brothers McManus, Matt and Kevin, as well as their co-producer Michael McGarry bumped into me first at one of the usual end of the night Pub gatherings, but then more randomly a second time well into the A.M. at a divey Lebanese burgers and poutine joint along a seedier part of René Lévesque Boulevard. So, sleeping off booze and greasy indulgence, they were kind enough to join me for breakfast at Kafein Bar for java and chit-chat. The brothers are identical twins (3 minutes apart) who indeed, enthusiastically finish each other sentences. This is your fair warning (and apologies) if I have them backwards on one occasion or another. They were charming and easy going and quite comfortable to just hang out in a low-key sort of way. The abridged transcript of our conversation below which contains only the mildest trace of *spoilers* regarding the film.
Kurt Halfyard: So this is your first feature film, and you mentioned last night that it was an expansion of a short film you made a few years ago? How the Funeral Kings the feature come together?
Matt McManus: So the short film was based on a story my Dad told me about when he was a kid and he was an altar server. He would altar serve funerals and be able to cut class afterwards and he go across the street and get a milk shake or something kind of harmless. And we pushed it kind of further and said, well, what if he was a really bad kid and cut the rest of the day and were mischievous and that kind of thing.
Kevin McManus: And so with the short, that was the premise, one day in the lives of these kids and one of them happens to find a gun and they go out and shoot it. But since most of the short is the ending of the feature, we've made sure you cannot find it online. We don't want to kill the ending.
Kurt: You've got a number of other shorts films as well...
Kevin: Yea we made an apocalyptic outbreak short, starring Mike McGarry our co-producer on Funeral Kings. We shot that short all over an island area in Rhode Island, a kind of the touristy area, but off-season, so we had this big empty island and it was a blast.
Kurt: In Funeral Kings, Rhode Island provides a fair bit of character and background. You guys grow up there?
Matt: Yea, we grew up in Warwick, Rhode Island and we still love shooting films there, even though we are located on the west coats these days, it's a great place to be.
Kevin: It's the place we we shot all of our stuff in high school and before that. Certain places are friends houses and you get to utilize all these resources. I love shooting in New England because the people around there just let us used their places, people are really lenient about it. We just called the police station and they're like, yea, just come on and use it.
Matt: It was cool to to be able to shoot in high school and all these similar places for the feature. We can do it now professionally. To be at my buddy Andy's house and be there with lights and a crew and all those things, it was a drea.
Kurt: There is a lot of out-door daytime photography which is clean bright, high stop and photo real with no overt stylization or colour enhancement.
Kevin: We wanted to give it a documentary vibe to a certain degree. We shot it all hand held, because we feel like it would ground the performances more; like you were peaking in on these kids. We used the Red, which is 40 or 50 lbs and our DP told us he wasn't lugging this thing around everywhere for 26 days, so we had this complicated homemade rig and not just on sticks. We wanted that vibe, especially when working with kids. We go lucky with really talented kids, but I think that style helps you to get into the performances and believe it.
Kurt: How did you find the kids?
Matt: We audition in Rhode Island, Boston and New York, and ended up finding all the kids in New York. In the first audition we did we had all these kids, and we thought, crap, this movie is not going to work, because you need really talented kids...
Kevin: At one point we considered may we should age it up. Look for 16 year olds to play younger. After doing the short film, all those kids had gotten 3 years older, too old for the feature. We thought, maybe we can try to work with these guys again, but they had all just become young men. It just wasn't going to work. That juxtaposition of trying to be mature, and not looking it would have failed.
Matt: It would have been a totally different movie. Yea, it wouldn't have worked.
Kurt: When you are directing the kids, how much did you let them use their own manner of speech - was every curse word and whatnot - in the screenplay, or was it looser?
Matt: The one thing that tends to creep in there were extra F-bombs.
Kevin: It's the F-Bombs, the 'Man's and the 'Dude's. Every once in a while, I'm thinking, we didn't write 'Hey Man, Fuck that Dude" in the screenplay *laughs*
Kurt: It's how kids talk though..
Matt: Definitely. It's in the script, it's all over the script, but it still creeped in more. For the most part, it was pretty close to the way it was written.
Kurt: For a while I thought it was Andy's movie, but then at a certain point I felt it is pretty much Charlie's movie. Where are you guys on that?
Matt: Great! We kind of wanted that! We wanted audiences to realize that it really is Charlie's movie. We did try to steer it that way.
Kevin: Charlie is really an unsympathetic character. He is one of these kids that really is kind of a jerk at times. We were worried that audiences might get bored of this. But he is my favourite character and we wanted to tell the story through him, but we also wanted Andy to be kind of the everyman, the one most people would relate to. That most people could sit down and go, I wasn't that kid, I was kind of Andy, I was a nice enough kid...
Matt: So that you'd get attached to the group early through Andy but sympathize and empathize with Charlie as the movie goes on. It happens a little bit closer to the middle of the movie, and we kind of make that transition.
Kurt: There is one scene where Charlie has to meekly walk up to his friend Felix at the party, and ask him how to operate the pump on the Keg. He's very quiet, and the posturing drops a bit. It's really honest in how it shows sort of a pecking order between friends, when one kid knows something and lords it over the others. How much is your childhood, vs. what you think things are like with kids now?
Kevin: Well, it's obviously all from our perspective, but I think there is a lot of things that came up during the structure. Like at the party, there is all those little scenes of Andy and David together that I remember when I was that age happing at parties. And when Andy and Charlie get in a fight afterwards, Andy is holding it over Charlie's head that he kissed the girl and Charlie hasn't yet. The one guy that had kissed the girl got to act like a pro and tell it to the others. I totally remember exactly that.
Kurt: We haven't talked about Dave in the film yet. He is kind of the most do-gooder character, he is the newbie in their little posse, but in a way he is kind of the most actually badass in the bunch, he's done some things and possibly seen somethings beyond Andy and Charlie.
Kevin: The idea was that we wanted to have a kid that Andy and Charlie totally write him off. But really, he is the most mature, he is the kid who has been in a movie, and that's pretty cool, but he also has a skeleton in his closet, with his dad and all. He's ahead of the curve, but they treat him like he doesn't know anything because their world at that moment is all about posturing.
Kurt: In the reviews that came out of the movie's premiere SXSW, I noticed that almost everyone compares Funeral Kings to both Superbad and Stand By Me. How do you guys feel about those comparisons and what has been written on the film?
Matt: Well it's definitely flattering. Those movies are so terrific! The funny thing is that I had not seen Stand By Me before watching this, and we said, lets NOT watch this while we are writing, because we don't want it to creep into our movie. And then you go and watch Stand By Me, and you go, Our movie is NOT as good as that! But it's generous that people connect them.
Kurt: Well, since there is no computers or internet in Funeral Kings, you do get wee bit of an 80s Amblin vibe, kids on bikes and all that. You get the sense of freedom from 'screens' that might make the connection. Let me change gears. The first half of the movie is almost like a grifter flick, all the kids little scams, even after the whole altar boy dodge. Where does all those gags come from?
Kevin: Well they are not really from personal experience, I mean, we didn't rip off chinese restaurants when we were kids if that is what you are asking.
Matt: Not too much. We were altar boys too, but we never did the funeral serving thing. That came from the previous generation. Them going around town was a hybrid of our experiences. We lived on the main street there and we just walked down every day, going to the same spots every day.
Kevin: Those kids walking down those streets are the same streets we used to walk every day. All the time. Those kinds of things are straight out of our childhood, but we weren't as bad of kids.
Kurt: Well, when you make a movie you can make yourself more badass, and do what you want. *Both Laugh* There is a balance of the trivial, their cutting class, then there is the heavier stuff with the gun and some drug dealer stuff that is a fair bit more serious. Can you talk about the balance between the two. When they are pointing a loaded gun around and goofing off, it's pretty damn tense.
Kevin: Well, we felt we have to have some of the light stuff to ease people into the movie, liking the characters and getting into it. Having a real connection to them so that then you can really pull off some bigger stuff. So that people care if something goes wrong.
Matt: Yea, I think he summed it up. I'm thinking of the video store in the film. When we were their age we went down to this place and totally saw these weird sketchy employees, probably illegal business going down and we are the only two customers in the place. And this guy always had a corvette out front, and always had all these gold chains and gold everything. His hands were covered with these big gold rings.
Kevin: *Laughs* they''d be talking just loud enough, "Man! I don't want to go to jail" and then the other guy would be, "It's business. business." And we were all, "we have got to get the hell out of here!" *Laughs* But then we got our video, and the guy says to us, "McManus? I'll remember that name." It's one of those things, where he might be a drug dealer, but he is also pretty small potatoes, and in the movie, he can say anything to the young kid, and the kids is probably going to believe it. So you can push it further and just scare the kid.
Kurt: Well, on that note, how did you get Kevin Corrigan in your movie (note: to play the video clerk slash drug dealer)?
Kevin: We had this whole list of people we knew that knew other actors, and Corrigan was at the top of the list of who we wanted, but after a buddy of mine and I wrote out all the connections we realized we didn't actually know anyone who knew Kevin. But we reached out, and I guess he took a liking to the script and came on board. That day was so awesome. We were so psyched when he came out to shoot, and he came out was super cool and worked a couple days and got it all done.
Matt: It was awesome, and he does a great job.
Kurt: He has that skeevy vibe in general he does so well. Have you guys seen the film, Some Guy Who Kills People, where he stars? I love the characters he creates.
Kevin: No, but that's great. The role of Iggy required somebody to be both intimidating and funny at the same time. That's hard balance to find. Some of the guys on our list could easily do one or the other, as in this guy is really funny, but I don't know if he can be intimidating when he has to give someone a talking to.
Kurt: Yea, that talkin' to moment is kind of the Funeral King's Christopher-Walken-in-True-Romance speech. But it is kind of ridiculous too. Even with the guns lying around. Is there any scene or point in the writing where you felt that something was too far, something you thought of, but then decided that wasn't where to take these kids?
Matt: That was basically the drug dealing scene, we thought, should we actually have Charlie talk to Iggy? But then we thought, if we went a certain way, then people would "think, oh, this is how the film would have to end." It would have to end with some sort kind of climax with them. But we felt we have to get them close to danger, but never really touching it until the very end.
Kurt: The movie edges towards personal responsibility, but you guys avoid the trap of going all heavy handed in telling the audience what is the right or wrong thing to do.
Kevin: Yes. We felt it was more honest to that age where you feel guilt about something and you come around, but not really give up dirty thing.
Matt: All these kids want to do is grow up. These boys want to be men. But what time does that happen? For Charlie, it is basically learning that you don't become a man until you have something that you feel bad about that you don't want to tell anyone about. And for Andy, it is to be responsible and do the right thing. But they now have secrets.
Kurt: You guys have kids?
Kurt: One thing that hearkens back to an era that may still exist, it may not, but the one thing when I watched this, I realized that parents today, especially well to do suburban parents, tend to be a little more insular with these kids. Here, the kids are certainly not bubble wrapped. There are few scenes with the parents. There is the scene with Charlie's dad, who feels like a '70s parent to me.
Kevin: I feel at a certain point, once you hit 14, the parents are like, "I trust the kid, he'll be all right. Let him do his thing." And that's when you have that freedom and you just do it.
Matt: I think us growing up too. You'd be close to your parents in stuff, but mainly you take off and go to your buddies place. You find a lot of time to hanging out with your pals and that is the time when mischief happens.
Kevin: Even things like using really bad language not around your parents express that part of being 14. Being independent for the first time and how you handle that.
Kurt: So do you have something lined up after this?
Matt: We have a couple things.
Kevin: We are dying to get back on set, but we haven't quite decided what we are going to do next. We shot this one two years ago and we're itching.
Kurt: I noticed that the Dylan, the actor who plays Andy, at the Q&A looked a lot older there than he did in the movie.
Kevin: This is nerve wracking. You are sitting there ready to shoot this thing. And once you are done you realize, oh my god, we cannot do any reshoots.
Matt: Or ADR.
Kurt: Because their voices broke?
Kevin: Yes, because these kids are older! Alex Maizus who played Charlie has such this baby face that by the end of the shoot, the first scene in the film and the last scene in the film, he is developing a mans face! We knew that two months down the line we are going to be screwed. And we did have to do reshoots, there was no way around it. So we hopped on a place immediately back to Rhode Island to get them. Then when we got back to L.A. we realized we needed another, and had go back out in February.
Matt: And thank god they didn't have a growth spurt between that!
Kurt: Andy's freckles are really prominent in the movie, but I didn't see them when talking to Dylan yesterday at the screening. Was he wearing makeup or can you grow out of freckles?
Matt: I was shocked when I saw him yesterday too, because I didn't see those freckles when I saw him again. We were outside, for almost all of the shoot, so maybe he just got freckles during the shoot.
Mike: It was a hot summer.
Kurt: The film does sort of feel like one of those 'endless summer' movies with boys.
Kevin: Yes, it is supposed to be the first couple weeks of school where the weather is still hot, but you are stuck in school, until you cheat your way out!
Kurt: Thanks very much guys.