Sundance 2013 Interview: WRONG COPS with Quentin Dupieux, Mark Burnham, Steve Litte, Arden Myrin and Eric Wareheim
The day after Quentin Dupieux unveiled the first half of Wrong Cops, his follow up to Wrong, I had the opportunity to sit down with Quentin and the cast to discuss this wonderfully wacky work in progress. The cast memebers present were Mark Burnham (Wrong), Steve Little (Eastbound & Down) Arden Myrin (MADtv) and Eric Wareheim (Tim and Eric Awesome Show).
You have a production style that is very run and gun. Minimal lighting, rigging, etc. This makes for a very fast paced shoot and energetic atmosphere, but along with the many benefits, there are also some compromises.
Quentin Dupieux: Unfortunately, that's the only way I know. When I started making short films when I was 15, I was dealing with this. I have a short film with just this. You know... that's just my way of thinking. If you gave me 15 million dollars tomorrow, I don't know if I could make a good movie with it.
And to the cast, did you find this process refreshing? Or, what were some challenges working in this way?
Eric Wareheim: It started off being a little scary, but once you realize Quentin is in charge and he gets the take and you see the way he is moving the camera away, you know you've got it. It's encouraging and you want to move on quickly. It's also a nice, short shooting day so you come back the next day feeling refreshed and ready to go, and that encourages you as an actor to say, "you know what, I'm going to give it 200 percent because it's a cool, chill environment."
Steve Little: It's kind of a technical thing, but sometimes you shoot something and it takes forever and I've even had, where they don't want you to move your chin too far this way or that way, which is kind of crazy, you know.
Arden Myrin: Yeah, I hadn't even though about that, but you need to replicate the way things were in each shot, but not having the lighting set up let's you play and go for it and you're all making something together.
So it's more like performing live in a theater?
Mark Burnham: I found freedom in the style. Like Eric, I was a little apprehensive about it but once you get the feel of it and the flow, then it's a freeing process. Not like theater, but more like fun film.
This movie has a lot of wacky, random details and ideas that you wouldn't expect to see. Like the rats being used to hold drugs, for instance. Last night after you showed the first 45 minutes, during the Q&A, you mentioned that you have an idea and it's funny, you use it but there is no meaning or deeper intent. I remember hearing an interview with David Lynch who talked about his process in the same way, but then would look back at his movies and find personal meaning in his choices that he didn't realize at the time. Is it similar for you?
Quentin Dupieux: Actually, in regards to the rats, ten days after filming, there was, on the internet, some drug dealers who were smuggling cocaine in fish. The police found cocaine in fish. So it's not THAT crazy. But yeah, it's super easy after a film is done to look at it and find meaning - but to me, it's like life. There is no meaning. I don't... I don't now how to say this, but I don't want to see meaning anywhere.
Your films are "art imitating life" and for you life is as random as your movies. It's interesting to see how that's reflected in your work. I suppose with the rats and fish, there is some life imitating art as well.
Quentin Dupieux: Life is random.
When you're shooting, and you are the camera operator as well, how strongly do you hold to your original intentions and ideas from prep vs. mixing things up in the moment?
Quentin Dupieux: I'm just looking for a good laugh, you know? So, when something works, we shoot it and then move on. When it doesn't work, then these guys (he gestures at the cast) bring something new and it's better. I don't know if we can say, improvisation because it's written and structured. We're not going crazy. "Oh yeah! Let's do this and try this." We're not doing that, just moving on quickly and looking for good laughs.
For the actors, do you approach your characters similarly - when you read the script and prepare for the role, vs. making choices on the spot, during the shoot?
Eric Wareheim Yeah, the feeling on set is you've got to respect the words. Every once in a while, once you feel like you've got it, you can give Quentin something else, just to crack him up, but that's the extent of it.
Arden Myrin: Eric and I play cop partners so we just run around and let go of what we thought because we didn't have to worry about it and we could see what weird physical things worked in a take or whatever. That's what we did.
Mark Burnham: My preparation was more stylistic and conceptual. I prepare for the scene that we are going to shoot without thinking about the details because I know that when we get there on the day, they are going to change anyway and you know, it was fun. It worked. It's suited for this style.
Steve Little: It's kind of weird because everyone asks the question about improvising and it's like, isn't everyone improvising? Like, maybe you say the line one way and then you mess it up and that is the better way. Maybe his camera... he's improvising with his camera so I feel like everyone is... even wardrobe is improvising. They have options and are like, "do you like this one or this one?" I mean, everyone is improvising a little bit.
Arden Myrin: You bring a strong choice and then Quentin kind of molds it and you figure it out together.
Mark Burnham: I can't tell you how many times I brought something to our days shooting thinking it would be funny and then it wasn't funny. So it's like, you gotta think up something. It's not necessarily improvising but it's still like what Steve says, it's a kind of an improv.
Quentin, something I really like about your movies is this idea of an expanding universe. Wrong Cops came out of characters you created in Wrong, kind of like a spin off. Last night at the Q&A you talked about this project being something that works in web, TV, film and music. Do you plan to keep going on this trajectory and explore more characters and ideas set within this world you've established?
Quentin Dupieux: Yes! It's endless, when you start thinking. I could write 200 episodes. It's like a super, wide open concept.
Arden Myrin: Yay! We want to do more!
Mark Burnham: When you see what is presented to the public from the entertainment industry, there is a market for episodic, cinematic work. Not Fast and the Furious Five, but that story, with those same people, continuing right where the last one left off. This is an idea that I'd like to explore more.
Like a more cinematic miniseries?
Mark Burnham: Just, continuing stories.
Eric Wareheim How about, Wrong Cops the Musical. I think this would translate to Broadway.
Arden Myrin: Yes! That nails it! With the high kicks!
Eric Wareheim Yes! Sold!
You would definitely have to make a number out of the gay cop calendar shoot scene.
Arden Myrin: Yes! I'll say!
Mark Burnham: The wheels are turning.
Arden Myrin: Like fifty gay cops dancing...
Speaking of music, you composed the score for this film and the music actually factors into the plot at times. How much of the music did you write before the movie? Do you write music and then edit to it or write the music to your edit? Do the actors get to listen to it on set?
Quentin Dupieux: Every possibility. There is no one way and there is every way. Sometimes I need a piece of music so I have to open a computer and do it quickly and sometimes I pick up tracks from my old records. There is no method, which I think is the best thing with music. It's about feelings.
Mark Burnham: I played my soundtrack while walking around on set. Just off my phone. It became annoying for everyone else, I think.
That's funny. It makes it seem, Quentin, that you are a ring leader in the center of a huge storm. I guess I'm mixing metaphors, but that seems appropriate here. I mean, you blur the lines between all of the facets of filmmaking. Was that post sounds or production sound. Was there music on set or was it added in later. Which aspect influenced and inspired this other aspect, and so on.
Quentin Dupieux: The cool thing is, I'm not crazy. I know my music is weird and not really mainstream and if you play some now, it might be annoying in the room but for the first time, this music feels super right with the visuals and for me as a musician, it's like, wow! I can use my beats! It's not even weird.
Arden Myrin: Last night, watching you (referring to Mark) teaching Marilyn Manson about records (a scene in chapter 1) it's just amazing!
Mark Burnham: When he says it works, it is really all encompassing. I mean, I based my gait, how my character walks, on that beat, which lends to Neanderthal aspect of us all.
The way you are releasing WRONG COPS is very interesting. You are putting it out there, chapter by chapter, but it's all part of one, singular, feature film. First of all, we've seen three chapters. How many more are there before this grouping is complete?
Quentin Dupieux: We shot seven.
And as one comes out, do you see that as done and locked? Or, are you going back and making changes and tweaking, based on the work you do in the subsequent episodes?
Quentin Dupieux: I just reworked chapter one. I changed a few bits although I don't think you'd even notice. But no, this is exactly like the writing. I'd write one chapter and then not even look back on it. I move on to the next and I'm doing the same with the editing.
Always pushing forward.
Quentin Dupieux: Yes, because I think these work on their own as short pieces - so if this small thing is done, if it's perfect, then we don't have to go back.
You released that first chapter about a year ago. How did the feedback from fans affect this second batch of episodes?
Quentin Dupieux: It was great getting that feedback. The first chapter worked very well on the web, you know and a lot of people enjoyed it. We had some weird Manson fans and now we'll get these guys' fans. It's interesting.
After you finish these seven, do you plan to continue with this project or move on to something totally new, right away?
Quentin Dupieux: I don't know. I have no idea but I love this concept of the chaptered movie and I'd love to write more and make more because there is something juicy about it. But yeah, we are planning on doing more at some point.
This sounds like it was a really fun shoot. To finish things off here, could you each give us a favorite moment on set?
Eric Wareheim Humping a car.
Quentin Dupieux: It's difficult for them because they are on set so little, Just a few days each.
Eric Wareheim And some of us didn't intersect, traditionally.
Arden Myrin: I just loved driving around with you (Tim) in the cop car, giving people the finger.
Eric Wareheim I liked doing that scene with your son.
Arden Myrin: Quentin's son plays my son and he's so cute and he did such a good job and it's a crazy scene! And he is so serious about it.
Mark Burnham: My favorite has not been seen by the public yet, but it was carjacking person with a fish.
That sounds like a perfect thing to end it on. Thank you guys so much for your time and congratulations on the first three chapters!