INTERVIEW: Hangin' Out with the Bunnies. The Hank & Mike Bunnies Rather.
How's this for a hook? In this interview, I got to type out "children", "drugs", midgets" and "sex" all in the same sentence.
Hank & Mike are Bunnies. Easter Bunnies. They're cute, they're furry. Annnnd, they're not putting up with your #%$& anymore. Y'see, they're recently unemployed. And pretty pissed off.
If you've ever wanted to watch a star rise, now is your chance. Years ago, running a small little comedy show, Thomas Michael, Paolo Mancini and Matthiew Klinck wrote a Hank & Mike sketch. Add a few years, films, awards and headaches later, and lo, it's a full-length feature. Only now, instead of running it on a small local cable show, the bunnies are now castmates with Chris Klein, Joe Mantegna and (almost) Wes Bentley. All of it accomplished on their own steam.
Gaining speed they picked up after shooting the hilarious film Greg & Gentillon (review here - And which is being released in theatres in a month, by the way) and taking the Discovery Award at the Calgary Film Festival in 2005, I interrupted their rise to their dream to chat about how the hell they're doing it and was also privileged to be the only one outside the film to be shown some raw footage. Exclusivity is grand. T'was the 14th of it's 18 day shoot that finishes this month here in Toronto.
I arrive before Thomas and Paulo (the bunnies) and have a (free) beer with Matthiew Klinck, the director - also the director for Greg & Gentillon... And the chatter begins....
ScreenAnarchy: So.. What the hell?? [I don't think I actually asked that, but it works]
Matthiew Klinck: Man, I've been interviewed so many days on this shoot, sometimes TMN (The Movie Network) is out, E Talk!, Space channel, CBC, Toronto Star people are out on set almost everyday and it's so weird how during production when I'm asked the question about what film I'm making or what is this thing? I... well, because before we started shooting I'd be able to answer that question and during editing, I'm sure we'll be able to as well, but during shooting, I'm so absorbed in the process it becomes one of those "you'll have to ask me later" kind of questions because it has something of absolutely everything.
TW: Now this was a short originally, right? You filmed it as a short already, yes?
MK: Originally, well, actually, not even originally that was the second phase. Thomas, Paulo and I started working together about 15 years ago and our first big thing we did together was a little Rogers cable show called "Why Be Normal?"
[At this point I respond with the typical holy-crap-I-havent-heard-that-name-in-long-time tone of voice]
TW: Oh! yeah, yeah! Holy crap....
MK:...And then The comedy Network started up and they bought the show, so we produced "Why Be Normal?" for them and very the first sketch in the first Episode, was Hank and Mike. It was a Monty Python type show and we did 2 seasons of it. And they became the most popular recurring characters in the show. The show ended a couple seasons later in two thousand and whatever and I decided I wanted to get out of television and into film. So I got together a little bit of money and put together a short, our first short and that was Hank and Mike.
TW: Okay, now is that what I saw last year? The trailer for the Hank and Mike short?
MK:That's actually a fun story, because there are 2 or 3 shots from the short IN the trailer, but the trailer is just us on one weekend back in 2003, 2004 we took a tiny crew and went out and shot JUST the trailer.
TW: Oh! So that trailer is it? Wow, well it works...
MK: Ha! It looks like a movie doesn't it?
TW: Yeah, I totally bought it...
MK: Yeah, it's totally separate from the movie, we just went out and shot single lines. Wed say: "Just say 'I'd hide them eggs in the ocean!"' and thats it, we didnt even shoot a scene. We only had 3 rolls of film.
TW: Well, it's very convincing...
MK: Thanks, I mean the short was okay, it did really well though, it sold everywhere surprisingly. It sold to TMN, it sold to Hypnotic which is owned by universal pictures, sold to Australia, the U.S., IFC, Movieola, y'know, sold all over the place and so I guess you could say it was successful, but I wouldn't say it's a great film, but hey, it was chosen by Telefilm to represent Canada at the Raindance festival in London, and it won a few awards. It's not a great film by any means, but it's a non-pretentious little short film...
TW: How short is short?
MK: 15 minutes on 16 millimeter shot over 2 days.
[Door buzzer. In walks Thomas Michael.. The tape shut off here so we could do our regular catch-up and hello banter and they started things up by chatting about the release schedule of Greg and Gentillon, their Discovery Award winning film that's just bloody amazing...]
Thomas Michael: Basically, what they're gonna do is release it in Montreal (in French and in English) first, at Cinema du Park and at Cafe [We're working on the name here]
MK: Cool, so how many days between French and English? Is it the same day?
TM: I think it plays the same day..
TW: What's this?
MK: Greg and Gentillon, it comes out in a month. In one month, it's out in theaters...
TW: Really? That's great! And there goes that question...
MK: Yeah it's unbelievable
TM: April 6th in Montreal and Alymer and it'll come to Toronto after that.
MK: All the better, let's put all our energy into Quebec and generate something there.
TM: yeah, he said as soon as the Montreal thing is done, they're going to do a Toronto and Vancouver run. They said they'll try it on one screen and they'll shoot for the Paramount, but likely the Varsity or the Cumberland..
MK: Yeah, Cumberland's great - lots of solid film fans... I think that's where I caught Y Tu Mama Tambien...
TM: Yeah I really like it there.
[Phone rings] [Look at that, Paulo, the 2nd bunny cant stop by because he has an audition. Ive never written a sentence like that in my life... Anyway... Shifting back to Hank & Mike...]
TM: Allright, let's get down to brass tacks Dave Lapsley... What do ya wanna know?
TW: Well, let's bring everyone up to speed here and fill everybody in on the deal with the bunnies......
TM: Are you just gonna remember all this?
MK: Yeah, he's got a recorder...
TW: I've been recording this whole time.
TM: Really? Even the parts [that I went ahead and deleted]?
TM: Oh.. Well, you might wanna delete those parts.
TW: Yeah, I think I was gonna do that anyway.
MK: Right, like I was saying a little bit earlier that it started about 10 years ago with 'Why Be Normal'. The characters were written by Tom and Paulo for that series.
TW: We just touched on this before the interview when we mentioned grants and stuff, now is it Thinkfilm you're with?
MK: It *was* Thinkfilm. We were with Thinkfilm, but then they sold to the U.S. and didn't qualify anymore as a Canadian distributor so now we're with Christal.
TW: So now that you're working with budgets and larger and larger projects, any advice for the 2003 versions of you?
TM: Well Jan 2003 was the first draft.. I think we were writing in the late fall - so advice. It's funny, I could give the same advice to the 2003 'us' that I'd give to us today or in 2008. For example, if this film was annoyingly unable to be made for another 5 years? Then 5 years from now I'd say, 'Well, thank God we didn't make it back then because the script is so much better.' Because today, the script is so much better than it was in 2003.
MK: Right. I've got another piece of advice is Don't Wait. Make *A* film. Don't necessarily make the film that you're waiting for your big money to get - Like Hank & Mike kind of needed the budget it has to get going. But the advice I would give anyoneout there, shoot it on video, do whatever - That's what we did with Greg and Gentillon, right? The reason that I woke up and said "I need to do this" is because I was tired of waiting on "Hank & Mike." I mean I was living in Toronto, trying to make living off tv, I wasn't really sleeping anymore, trying to make shows for sports networks which I didn't really like doing and things were getting very difficult. I was getting frustrated because we had so many false starts for Hank & Mike. Every few months we'd have a meeting or a phone call and they'd come in, and they'd literally tell us straight out: "The film is happening, It is a 'Go'." And Thomas asked them on the phone: "Are We Officially Greenlit?" And the answer they'd say was: "Yes".
TW: And this was when?
MK: Uhh, around 2004 - Right before Greg & Gentillion.
TM: And it was a lie. We weren't greenlit...
Mk: Yeah, we *weren't* greenlit.
TM: We got our hopes up and got plastered and we celebrated it. And that was our 2nd celebration. After that I think we only had one false start that sort of fell apart at the 11th hour and we had to push back another 2 months but that time was a bit different, it wasn't as devastating.
MK: It always felt that it was the kind of project that keeps getting pushed back. The last one was most devastating for me because I moved here FOR the movie, I turned down work and up and moved here, and when I'm here we learn it's not happening. It could be another 2 months or another year, so now what? I'm kinda screwed over here. - But as it turned out, they followed through to almost the exact day they said, it was a 2 month push and we went into full production.
[I share a similar story about scripts improving over time with changes made to a script in a stage tour I was in last summer...]
TM: Yeah, exactly. Because in theory, it would ALWAYS be better. But sooner or later you have to say "This is the script we're shooting. We could wait 20 years and have an even BETTER script, but at some point you have to start shooting. I mean I'm thrilled with the script we're shooting. For example, the ending of the script has been the most challenging part for us since day one and we're very confident with it, but we have our fingers crossed with it a little bit. And I think the ending is the most challenging part of any story...
MK: It's the toughest part....
TM: You've gotta wrap the story up in a little ball, all the elements have to come together in a satisfying way for the audience, the characters have to reach a point where it feels like some sort of destination.
MK: Yeah, you need something that justifies the adventure. It's very, very tough. And in such a subversive film like H&M - On one side, you're trying to tell a story that's different and that isn't necessarily pure, mainstream 'Hollywood', y'know, a bit of an edgy story. On the other hand, it's very hard to write an ending that is edgy, but that general audiences will also find satisfying so people walk away going "yeah, that was awesome.."
TW: Sort of like Darren Aronofsky being happy-go-lucky.
TM: Well listen, everyone's got a different perspective.. I personally like films that make me feel good at the end - I don't mind being depressed during a movie, but not at the end.. -- Mind you, 'Requiem for a Dream' is one of my favourite movies, so besides that...
but in a general sense, I like walking out of the room and having my life change in the slightest little way. The truth of any underdog story, is he does need to triumph on some level, but you don't have to have a Hollywood storybook ending....
MK: [laughing] But ours is.....
TM: Okay fine, ours is a little bit
MK: [Still laughing] Ours is a Hollywood storybook ending
TM: yeah, it is, but it's got a subversive, bastardized angle...
MK: And I think we were most concerned about the ending during the writing process because it's the part of the film that actually is the most Hollywood-ish and the rest of the film really is NOT. The rest of it is really a crazy, original adventure that goes all over the place. It's got everything - I mean, it is a comedy but it's got drama, violence, sex, children, drugs, midget, dancing, burlesque... It's got all this amazing stuff in it.
TM: People will not see this film coming.
MK: There's no way.
TM: When they see the trailer, -it was shot over a weekend- it gives an overall tone -The film will be very similar to that tone: a very dry, dark wit about it. I don't think anyone will suspect when they walk into this film, where this film will go. The dramatic scenes in this film are VERY dramatic, the comedic scenes in the film are VERY comedic and the musical scenes...TW:..Are very musical?
TM: Yeah, and I'm really excited about it because it's a really well-rounded film that way. It doesn't just ride that one genre line. It does have a commercial appeal to it, but it has a strong cult sense that I think the hardcore group will love...
TW: Now you're all from Aylmer and I mean Aylmer Quebec isn't really known as a star-studded Hollywood geyser....
MK: [laughter]I dunno.. Have you BEEN to Aylmer?
TM: What, the movie? or Aylmer?
TM: Oh, because the movie's a star-studded geyser.
TW: Oh, I'm not doubting that... What I mean is: Is the local fan base in Aylmer following this more closely, do you have any locals in the film?
TM: The thing about the local fan base in Aylmer as you call it [pause........ laughter]
TW: It's okay, we'll call it a fan base.
TM: Well, you've gotta remember that Greg & Gentillon hasn't come out yet. So, y'know close friends, family and that localized bleed are the only ones who have seen it.. Aylmer and the region as a whole hasn't heard of it yet, so there is no real hardcore local Aylmer group.. [ED Note: Which, as a Greg & Gentillon viewer, you totally would think was the case...] But there's a lot of Aylmer elements in this one, much more than you'd suspect.
TM: Oh yeah. Ahem.. lemme name 'em.... Obviously the writers and stars and the director.. The CTI, our friend Louis ('Greg', in Greg and Gentillon), our friend Ron who's from "Why Be Normal?"appears in the film, one of the key musical numbers in the filmhas a guitar player from Aylmer. I mean, total fluke, but still. And of course, we threw my mom in there as an extra...
TW: And working with a room full of children with projectile food was okay?
MK: Oh, it wasn't okay, it was awesome, I mean c'mon now. That was one of the best days of the whole shoot. It was amazing, I would have never expect there to be that many children and that many parents.. Like, literally, there's 57 kids in this cafeteria so it was PACKED. We shot it in the Mississauga court house. Which used to be a factory, but it's an active courthouse and the cafeteria is this little unused cafeteria off the side of these fully operating offices of this court....
TM: I would not want to be the people that had to clean up that cafeteria. That's all I wanna say. Because every square inch of that cafeteria was covered in chocolate. The ceiling, the walls, the floors, the tables, the chairs the windows, the pillars, the counters..
MK: The director....
MK: Did you see the thing on MTV? We had Mtv come on the set and you could see the remnants of the chocolate fight, you see the bunnies covered head to toe. It was a great report though... although they clearly used the trailer they found online for some of the clips which didn't look that great - but anyway...
MT: They always say "don't work with kids and animals" - but one thing I found interesting is we had a handful of actor kids and a vast majority of friends' and crew's kids and surprisingly the untrained kids really stood out...
MK: They all did an amazing job though, a really amazing job, they all followed instructions and they didn't get over excited. When we said "cut", they'd stop, it was really incredible. Even the A.D. said he's never seen such a well-behaved group of children.. And this is a group of kids surrounded by Mountains and Mountains of chocolate and chocolate syrup which they then threw at each other for minutes at a time...
TW: And where was this Chocolate factory of yours?
MK: That was in our studio space over at Keele and Dundas...
TM: It's actually an abandoned Canadian Tire.... We were really fortunate to find the space because it simply wasn't in the budget to shoot 'on location' at all of our locations, because in comedy you tend to jump around and travel all over. And we just bastardized the sets they had there and we shot a good... what, third?
MK: yeah at least a third...
TM: .. of the film in that one space.
TW: All right, you guys play with reality a lot. In Greg & Gentillon you have two guys being characters unbeknownst to everyone in the actual real-world of 2007 and in Hank & Mike you've got a world that accepts these two guys as being "characters" 24/7.Is that reality comparison intentional?
TM: I don't think we have a specific interest in saying "We are going to play with reality" I think G&G was it's own thing. But what I do find interesting, is in both films we touch on quite significantly is, in G&G for example, the two guys live in theirown world and in Hank and Mike the real world lives within their little world concept.
MK: Yeah, it really is kind of like an opposite.. I mean, the two aren't related but while Hank & Mike is a fantasy and a comedy, it is being approached in as realistic a manner as we can achieve. We're not trying to make a film that is fantastic and comedic for the sake of being funny and fantastic and playing them up, but rather we make a that is as grounded in our reality as possible but accepts those elements of fantasy openly.
TW Some people tend to identify with a grounded, yet fictional reality or character a lot easier. Emotions are a lot stronger when that character is a more concentrated reflection of their actual lives.
MT: I think the thing is, as long as in the first 5 minutes you establish the rules. The movie I use for an example is Being John Malkovich. Right off the bat, they establish there's a building with a 7.5 floor with a tiny door that puts you into the head of John Malkovich and spits you out on the New Jersey turnpike. Get that out right away - those are the rules and things are acceptable afterwards. Everything's set, and you won't have sudden, what people will see as ridiculous surprises like "Suddenly there's a wizard from nowhere!" or the building starts flying around. Get the rules established get the characters interacting within those.
TW: What events stand out that would've been easier to handle had you been able to plan for it?
MK: Well, there was one where Wes Bentley had to drop out of the film because he got really sick. So Joe Mantegna was supposed to be doing scenes with him but he had no actor to act against. He was just acting in a void.TM: We didn't know what was gonnahappen, we weren't too sure if we'd get a replacement .. or maybe we should just make him the personification of corporate greed.. Which may have worked if we had planned for that since day one, but on day, what was it? 8? 9?.. It threw the schedule around a bit. So here we are with Joe Mantegna, we're throwing scenes at him that he doesn't know, that he's not SUPPOSED to know and without even fliching or batting an eyelash, he's went: "All right, we're shootin' this? Let's go. I'm acting against that 'X' on a wall? Great, let's do it." And there's a guy who really impressed us and he really elevated all of us becayse we were ready to bite our arms off - because there was about 36 hours where we really had no idea what was going on or what would be happening. Because his character he acts against just flat out wasn't there and we only had him for 2 more days. But it all worked out....
TW: Did taking the Discovery award in 2005 help get any of Hank & Mike underway or were things rolling by then?
TM: I wouldn't say the award helped, but certainly Greg & Gentillon helped. definitely I think when a lot of people saw what we did with Greg and Gentillon on no money, gave people a lot of confidence in us. And taught us a lot about story telling. It's hard to tell a whole story in 90 minutes.
We started drifting off into comparing Ontario and Quebec movie markets in Canadian content (Quebec was surprisingly far ahead) when Matthew suggested I watch a small clip from the raw footage....
What I was shown was a hilarious clip of what was a very out-of-his-regular-element, practically hemorrhaging Chris Klein as he sang with passionately destructive force, the most tragic "Why-God-Why" love song I've ever heard in my collective memory. Not knowing the reason why it was happening, the patrons of the pub, which included a likely half-in-the-bag easter bunny moping around, just let him sing as if they were sick of listening, but too sad to care. Very funny clip.. The most passionate scene I'd ever seen Chris Klein perform, bar none.
Hank & Mike is still months away from being released, but Greg & Gentillon, their first feature length is being released in the next handful of weeks. We'll keep you posted on that closer to the day, which, ironically will be pretty close to Easter.