Good God! Where to start in discussing Jim Hosking's feature debut, The Greasy Strangler? Let’s try the plot. Um… Okay, The Greasy Strangler is about a father-son relationship: Big Ronnie and his chip off the old block, Big Brayden, roommates who mostly spend their days leading a walking disco tour through the sleazy streets of Los Angeles. It would be more fair to say that the tour is led by Big Ronnie, who one imagines was boogie oogie oogie king in his day.
All is more or less well until one day, the norm is rocked by a sexy disco cutie, who upon participating in the tour, takes an immediate liking to Big Brayden. Not to be outdone, Big Ronnie vies for the beauty’s attentions and attempts to steal her from his son. Considering that Ronnie and Brayden live together, this conquest turns out to be more than a little awkward for Ronnie - not so much for Brayden, who conducts himself as though he’s cock of the walk. When a series of disgustingly greasy murders begin to transpire, it is not outside of the realm of feasibility that the killer might just be Ronnie’s old man.
Yes, this is the plot of The Greasy Strangler, but it goes a long way from evoking the queasy exuberance of watching the film. I think the most immediate reaction to the film might be to the effect of, ‘how in all that’s holy did this get made?!’. I hope to answer that question through the following interview with the film’s many producers - the folks willed the greasiness to be. Present for the chat, we have Ant Timpson (AT), Daniel Noah (DN), Andy Stark (AS), Tim League (TL), Josh Waller (JW), and Elijah Wood (EW).
Their film may be the greasiest thing you will ever see, but if you can stomach it, The Greasy Strangler is also one of the funniest films of 2016. Enter at your own risk. Hopefully, you’ll be able to take a shower afterwards. I took three.
ScreenAnarchy: All right. I’ll start off with a question I'm sure you're getting a lot of: what the fuck?
AT: That's exactly the reaction we expected from a lot of the audience. We always knew it was going to be a divisive film and I think we were kind of excited to see it for the first time with an audience. It’s delivered in spades in terms of those who get it, love it to the ends of it. And those who don't get it we don't like, so yeah.
JW: The script was, 'what the fuck!' When we all read it, all of us went, "What the fuck," that's the reason why we all got involved.
TL: We made the script so if we're surprised by what we have, then ... "I knew I should have read that, damn it!"
What was the first story beat when you were reading the script where you're like, "okay, what is this?"
AT: Andy should talk about it because Andy's basically the founder of the whole project.
AS: The thing I think of as really interesting though is it's pure jib. It reminds me of all the reasons of why we started liking this stuff because it is honest. Jim's a very interesting guy because you meet him and would not think that was going to come out of that guy.
I mean, for me, whenever I work for anybody I never, ever, say, "we want you to do this." It's, "I really like what you do. What do you want to do?" Then they come back. "Oh fuck! Okay."
There were about three scripts that we had. They're very prolific and then this one kind of appeared from nowhere. It's like primal cinema, isn't it?
Absolutely. For those of us who haven't seen his short films and have no context of his work, what are his short films like? How would you describe his films prior to this film? Anybody?
TL: My association with Jim came from being a fan of the shorts. Our shorts programer saw Renegades, and if you ask him today what his top 10 films of all times are, Renegades is in the top three. The universe that Jim sort of established in his shorts is the universe, in a way, of the Greasy Stranglers: the visual language, the aesthetic, the type of casting, the detail to the set design.
AS: I mean the same actors are in it. It counts.
TL: If you've seen his shorts and then you read the script, you have a pretty firm idea of what this universe is going to be. It wasn't very surprising.
Are the shorts available for people to watch?
EW: Yeah, they are.
AT: They’re online..
Okay, very good to know. Alright, so once you guys decided that you were going to produce the film, where did it go from there? What were the next steps?
AT: The thing is, this sort of film would never get made. This film would not exist if it wasn't for this group of people and another couple of mad men - our friends down in Australasia, all getting together. We all know each other, we all knew that this film wouldn't be funneled through traditional means at all. It was really a complete buy-in to keep Jim's vision pure and honest from day one. Once we were all on board, it was like, okay, let's see how it goes and then speak the vision with the guys that were going to be handling it on the ground in LA for us because Andy was incredibly busy. Tim's obviously super busy. Then it was just Jim really just going through the process that he does which is this incredibly detailed, drawn out process of casting. It was a long casting process because of his eye for detail and who he needs for these characters and his universe, it has to be so precise.
Did you guys have anything to do with the casting process?
AT: Josh was there for most of the casting, yeah.
JW: We would kind of chime in on who we liked, who we didn't, but again, you can't really see inside Jim's head so it's impossible to be like, "you know, this person," because you feel like that if you do say that then he might be like, "no, that's a really poor idea."
Did you use traditional casting avenues?
EW: Yeah, it was.
JW: We have wonderful casting directors.
EW: There was a huge mandate very early on among us that we not cast anyone that people are familiar with. It's really important, because there was some talk early on about, "maybe we can get this person, maybe we can get this person," and we all felt like in order to keep it purely Jim's vision, he has to cast people that are unknowns and it has to be populated with the people that would normally be populating his world.
DN: There was one well-known actor that came in and went on tape for the father and his interpretation of the role was very sort of a classic actor's and it was great, but it was not part of Jim's universe. It was too clean, it was too professional.
TL: It was John Travolta.
And John Travolta was willing to have his eight inch junk hanging down the whole film? Or whoever that person was?
TL: It was his idea. That wasn't even in the script.
EW: But yeah, you were saying our casting directors, I interrupted you.
DN: You jerk!
EW: I'm so sorry.
DN: Yeah, we just have just great casting directors, Danielle Aufiero and Amber Horn and they just fell in love with the script as much as we all did so they were just all, "whatever Jim wants, whatever Jim wants," and they would keep calling in people and Jim would be, "oh no, no, no," and then at the end of the day he ended up going with actors that he actually knew but he didn't know that he was going to go with them originally; he really wanted to find the right people and it just so happens that he was surprised, pleasantly surprised, that they were actors that he not only worked with before, but knew intimately. Elizabeth De Razzo came through the casting process and she just kind of blew us all away.
AS: She was so involved, so involved.
AS: That role is such - what she brings to it - I think is really vital.
I get the feeling that if this movie opened in 1970, we'd be celebrating its 45th anniversary, like if it starred Edith Massey or something, it would kind of fit in with that world. Even the vendor has kind of Edith Massey's intonation. (Imitating Massey in POLYESTER) "Isn’t this outfit ra-sha-sha?””
JW: "I could lose my license!"
Exactly. And that's like the childish thing, again, that everybody is sort of - not necessarily off in the head, but a little childish.
DN: I think in many ways the film is outsider art which is sometimes used in a derogatory way, but so many filmmakers- the job of an artist is to document the things that are going on in their head and I think the vast majority of people who make things are mimicking movies, but then you get an occasional guy like Jim who is documenting some deeply personal and authentic universe that's inside his psyche and, because it's authentic, it's kind of bullet proof from a producer's standpoint.
Going back to casting, it's so necessary that nobody recognizes any of these faces so the film is just on another planet.
EW: Yeah, you're able to jump into the film as a pure universe without any preconceived baggage or any relationship prior. Yeah, absolutely. It wouldn't really work without that.
Can you talk about any moments on set where you're just like, "what am I looking at?"
AT: You arrived and they were showing off mirkins to you, like the actors were like, "Elijah's here! Let's go!" And everyone was just basically lifting up.
EW: "Look at this!"
DN: We should publish the email thread discussing (cock) selection.
EW: Which is like weeks now.
DN: Yeah, it's forever and ever and ever.
EW: "No, it's too wrinkly, it's not pointy enough ..."
JW: Jim didn't really know how exactly how to articulate to the makeup artist exactly how we wanted the cock to work, so it was kind of a hit or miss, like a test trial and error. This cock or this cock or this cock? "No, no, no, a little bit shorter."
What's with the red tip? What's he been fucking?
AS: Exactly, it's like angry.
DN: I don’t think any of us knew that they were going to go with the red tip, but then when we saw it on set it was like, “yikes!”
I mean those car wash shots, especially when the deep dry is going...
EW: It's really fantastic.
DN: We had to be careful though, because the way with the prosthetics and everything like that, it was hard and at one point it was like, "His dick's coming off!"
AT: We lost a lot of pubes in that car wash.
Was there somebody working at the carwash watching you guys?
IS: The garbage guy was so in love with the production. He was just like, "whatever you want." Yeah.
JW: What's crazy about Michael is that it's not like he's a breakout or anything. He's been a steady working actor for many, many years without ego. It's like this old school blue collar mentality to acting. He's like, "I'm just going to work, I'm just going to work."
EW: Yeah, he worked at a Department at Lucasfilm for Return of the Jedi.
TL: That dude has lived.
EW: Yeah, he worked at Lucasfilm for a year. He hated it, he said.
DN: He did run a dance club, right?
JW: He ran a club in San Diego.
Okay, I need to hear more about this.
JW: His life is unbelievably fascinating. That's why the stories, we were talking about this, when he tells the stories as like the night club owner, they seem so real- they just roll off his tongue. Because I think that's what Michael does. You'll be talking about something so random that there's no way that he could be connected to it, but he is. Then he'll tell you the story, "well, you know, Polanski and Jack Nicholson up in Portland..."
AS: Yeah, he's got a secret history of Hollywood, like off-Hollywood, like he's got incredible stories. He's a lovely, lovely man.
JW: I think I'd have to say my favorite moment is probably his Michael Jackson anecdote.
AS: Which was in the casting session.
JW: Yeah, exactly, he was a prostitute
Before we wrap, I'd love to hear a little bit about that amazing disco soundtrack, if you could call it that.
AT: Andy Hung of Fuck Buttons. His whole universe of music is like the universe of the films. His music is just the same as their emotional processing ability, so I think he just did a fantastic job.
It's also kind of parallels the 'greasy camerawork', as I like to call it - awkward zooms and the music is just a little off.
EW: That's my favorite part of the movie.
AT: When we heard the high pitched chipmunk sounds, we thought, "That's like the inner workings of Michael's mind."
AT: We're going to go after that chipmunk audience.
EW: I love the ballad, the slow song with the chipmunk. It's actually emotional; it's really beautiful.
AS: And also just the sound design with the pipes.
TL: The pipes in the old house?
AS: It just immediately makes you think of a clogged toilet.
EW: Before you even see it, he describes that he does that and then you immediately start hearing it and you're like, "oh my god." It occurred to me the first time last night, it's so brilliant.
I feel like I'm having acid flashbacks remembering your movie. It's making me want to see it again as soon as possible
AT: I think we've destroyed grapefruit for everyone from now on.