- CINEQUEST FILM FESTIVAL - Camera 12 Theaters - San Jose, CA - Thurs. March 5, 2009
- Billy Was A Deaf Kid read the title of a film featured at Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, CA. The synopsis was about the quirks and awkwardness of relationships, while also being touted as a comedy. The premise was interesting, but the audience commentaries were varied indeed. From hated it and excruciating to funniest film I've ever seen and familiar, there was no one decisive comment for Billy.
The filmmakers and us practically kept bumping into each other almost hourly during the festival (they were crafty in their marketing ploys, and yet so innocent). Hailing from Salt Lake City, they were amongst the nicest batch of filmmakers attending the festival (not to knock any others). Other than giving out the requisite postcards and fliers advertising their film, the gang brought along a prop from the film - a couch with wheels, that was used to do couch rides down a hilly street. With this, they offered couch rides in front of the Camera 12 Cinemas, and photos of people sitting on it (now put on their Facebook account for posterity).
We finally sat down for an honest chat to get some ideas and questions across. Its always interesting to speak with filmmakers who create art on the spur of the moment. That meaning the film had no direct script to follow, but a series of ideas and goals towards a finished product. For myself personally, not a favorite means to an end, but it is artistic all the same. But there were some definite comedic moments, in the form of pranks and antics that the characters engaged in, as well as some dialogue that could have just as well been filmed with a hidden camera. Also, to mention, that both lead actors - Rhett (Archie) and Candyce (Sophie) are actually married, which adds to the realism (also Rhett and Burke are brothers). Thus, my description of Jackass meets a home video. And so we talked and shared... while sitting on the now legendary couch.
K2K: We're sitting here with...
All: Rhett Lewis. Candyce Foster. Burke Lewis.
K2K: How did you even begin with this film? What was the motivation, as it were?
RL: I would say that the motivation behind it was largely based on our real lives. When Candyce and I were dating, for me, it was a hard relationship. I was frustrated a lot because I didn't feel like I was getting 100% from her.
CF: But that's not it. That's not the only part that based on the relationship.
RL: That was the catalyst. Then we threw in a lot of fun things that we did, like riding the couch down the street. From there we just built these characters based on our own personalities. We kind of examined the dumb things that we do, and then unflattering things about ourselves. I think that's hard to do, because not everyone wants to see the unflattering side of yourself.
K2K: Who wrote the script?
RL: Burke and I both did. And Candyce. We don't credit her, but she's a huge part of the script, just working on material.
K2K: But you'll credit her on the DVD.
RL: We need to.
K2K: What kind of input did you have, in writing?
BL: We just took different episodes of our own lives and threw it in the movie. Kind of mixed a lot of ideas together. I think even the name of the movie [Billy Was A Deaf Kid] was a poem that our dad wrote when he was a kid.
K2K: And your role in the film production?
BL: Well, we both wrote and directed. I ran the main camera, as cinemaphotographer.
K2K: One camera shoot?
BL: Mostly. A lot of the scenes were one camera, but a lot we had a second camera as well.
K2K: What kind of camera?
BL: The Panasonic HDX-200.
K2K: How close is the film characterizations to your own personalities?
RL: I would say that they're really close to our personalities. When I was watching the film, I never thought my character was in the wrong. I saw his perspective. Everyone started saying, You're a complete jerk in that movie. I thought, Oh no, that's how I really am. So there's some things I wouldn't do. I wouldn't push the relationship to that level. Maybe. I'll tell you in a couple of years.
CF: I have something to say about that. I would say that it's very similar to our personalities. Putting us in those circumstances, that's probably how we would react, even if we've never been in those exact circumstances, it's similar to how we would be IF we were put in there.
BL: I have a point to say, just to give them credit - They do argue a lot in the movie, but a lot of that was done in the editing room. They didn't necessarily argue that much while we were shooting it, but that's kind of how we focused it while cutting it. So it looks like they hate each other, but we kind of did that in editing more than they did in real life.
K2K: Since it's based on your real lives - During the making of the film, did it bring up any things from the past that you maybe didn't want to revisit?
RL: The whole photo thing is from our relationship. [A scene in the film of Sophie not getting rid of an exs photo. - Ed.] That is 100%. That was a three-month chunk out of our relationship. Every day I'd ask, When are you going to take that picture down? She'd say, I don't have any pictures up. I'd say, You have one right there on the wall. She actually did take it and throw it on the floor. Alright!
CF: But we did not proceed to the kitchen to dump soda on each other. That did not happen.
RL: That's a good example of how we took an example and morphed it, pushing the relationship to its boundaries.
K2K: Now, you might take my comment here badly, because its based on yourselves... I saw your character as emotionally disturbed. Stunted mental growth, like you were 12 years old, and had problems emotionally letting go of things. Such as pushing your sister. That's something that a 5 year old would do, knocking her to the ground because you're frustrated. On that scene alone, what do you think?
RL: That's an excellent point. That's kind of my personality exaggerated. I'm sure there's someone out there who's done much worse things to their sister. I don't know. We just felt like, my character, and everyone has a hard time communicating sometimes. He just vented in that moment. He did something he didn't want to do. If you watch, right after I push her, I walk up to her, like, Uh, what do I do? You want to say I'm heroic and bend down to pick her up, but I think most times in life were not that heroic.
CF: I think that's interesting because everyone has had that moment in life where you say something, or do something, then right as you say it, you think, Oh, why did I do that. It's a pride issue.
RL: Another theme I want to say, the film touches on it, but doesn't just come out to say it, but you never think you're doing something wrong. Rarely do you ever realize that you're wrong. You always think you're right.
BL: One thing we tried to do, and I don't know how well we pulled it off, but I always hated the movies where there is the said good guy, and the said bad guy. A lot of people hate Archie - the main character - so it's like Rhett was saying, everyone has their idea of whats good and bad, but that person usually never thinks that they did something wrong. So even Archie, at his worst, had no idea or didn't realize that he was being a jerk to Sophie. He didn't realize that pushing down his sister was necessarily a bad thing, it was just what he thought he should do at that time.
K2K: You touch on communication issues about people. You [Candyce] spit soda in his face, and he dumps it back on you. I didn't feel that either of you communicated the idea fully, as you would in real life. You did spit on me, so I dumped this on you. Instead, it was more about just having done it, and your own abusive habit.
CF: I noticed something for the first time today, during the screening. In the scene, she spits the soda in his face, and as they're talking about it, she, I, said, You just took it the wrong way. How else was he supposed to take it, she just spit in his face.
RL: I say, How do you want me to take that? People go back and say, Oh, she's the victim. She didn't do anything wrong.
K2K: Then again, you [Rhett, as Archie] were holding her down during that scene. In California law, at least, that's a crime. That would be false imprisonment, and abuse. We have big domestic violence laws in California, especially crimes against women. You would probably go to jail for doing what you did in that scene.
RL: That explains some of the reactions we got about that scene. That's domestic abuse!
K2K: I didn't actually see your film as a domestic abuse film. I thought you were emotionally stunted. Also, as the scene is set, in small town America, people think differently than they do in other areas. In the big city, if you can't communicate, you're dead. You won't get a job, you'll never get anywhere in life. We watched a short here the other day about a small towns barbershop that had local musicians jamming in it. They were bummed that the small town thinking way of life was disappearing. It's just how you're reacting to each other. You're not going after her with a knife. But here [holding her down against her will] is a crime.
CF: The more I watch the film, the more I really don't like my character at all. I see them both as being abusive to each other, instead of just him picking on her.
K2K: I didn't understand why [Archie] would be upset with Sophie for not giving 100% to the relationship. It was more a simple jealousy issue over a photo.
RL: As we think back on it, I remember in my personal life, I was so frustrated all the time, about that one thing. It just frustrated every aspect. I always felt like, in the film, she wasn't caring about anything I was talking about. We didn't come out and say, This is what we're trying to get across. We wanted to be very subtle. My character, I've seen this as I was watching, maybe the reason why he does all the couch stuff, and the carwash stuff, is... I remember with Candyce, when we were dating, I wanted to show her, I'm fun. I'm spontaneous. That's what you like, right? Look what I'm doing. That just doesn't work.
K2K: This film was marketed as a comedy.
RL: Well, it's got comedic elements, and some in-your-face drama. I don't really know what place it fits in, but I think that's a really good place to have a film.
K2K: It's not a coming of age film, but it has that interaction.
BL: I mean, it's no Canary. (laughs, as Canary filmmaker, Alex, walks by) The thing is is how many times in life can you have a conversation that's really funny, but then it can go really serious the next minute. That's one thing we really wanted to show in the movie. You say something you thought was funny, but she might take it the wrong way. It's the same thing we wanted to say in the movie. There are some definite funny parts, but some definite serious parts. Its misleading to say it's just a comedy, or a drama.
K2K: I'd call what it had as incidental humor. It was serious with funny moments.
RL: But that's not a genre, incidental humor. If it was, it would be great.
K2K: Calling it Billy Was A Deaf Kid, when it's really not about Billy (another character).
RL: We just like to play tricks on people. It's a mystery. The reason for Billy. We liked how it was misleading. But then it goes back to Billy playing the catalyst. He kind of forces the relationship. Towards the end, when Sophie tells Archie, Take the radio off. No. Take it off. No! It pushes the relationship again. All these things I never thought about until I'm saying it right now. (Ponders) When we started shooting, we had a completely different idea of where we thought it would be. Along the way, through all the editing, we were pushing in new directions and changing things. It was really organic. It was a cool experience.
[At this point, daily Cinequest film viewer and writer, Jason Wiener comes by to offer his thoughts on the film.]
RL: Candyces favorite word is wiener.
CF: It is. It's my favorite term for the male genitalia. Wiener.
K2K: whats your favorite word for the female genitalia?
CF: I don't think I'm going to say.
K2K: You think you're going to offend me?
CF: Yeah. (Whispers) Vagina.
K2K: That's a medical term. So, going back to Canary, which I'm sure everyone knows my thoughts on... Would you say that your film is a bit on the existentialist side, kind of like [Canary director] Alejandros films seem to be?
RL: What does that even mean? I didn't bring my dictionary.
K2K: Meaning, you not having a script and making it up on the spot to see where it goes, like life.
RL: We don't actually have a traditional screenplay. The way we work is different. People have looked at it and asked, How can you not have a script? But I don't think there's any one right way to make a film. We had structure. We had ideas and thoughts. We worked through it. But did we have like a 90 page screenplay, word for word? No, no. I couldn't work that way. I don't think Burke could either.
K2K: By existentialist, I mean that you're supposed to figure it out yourself. We all see life a different way, and it's up to the viewer to interpret it. Your film could have gone that route, and people could have hated it for that too, but you actually had a focus. That kept it going. It had a purpose. You start to get the film as it goes along.
RL: We're heavily influenced by John Cassavetes, and Mike Leigh. They were the pioneers of that type of filmmaking, focusing on personality and relationship, rather than event-plot.
K2K: How did you like shooting that way?
BL: People think we copped out by shooting that way because it was easier. It was much harder than it seems. I know Candyce doesn't like me saying this, but in one scene where they're sitting on the railroad, talking. There was a line Candyce said. It wasn't going very well, we were shooting for a couple of hours, and it was starting to rain, we weren't really getting what we wanted. The line in the movie that we used says, I think this is a waste of time. She was actually talking about the filming being a waste of time. It just was not going well. So it made it into the movie. We were all really upset, and it was kind of the mood that came across well in that scene. That's kind of the whole idea of the movie. A lot of the takes in there are bloopers. Rhett's laughing during the cop scene. We had a few takes where they werent laughing, but it wasnt real. So we used the laughing takes. It was, in a way, a lot harder to work from outline, as it was a lot more work on the actors.
K2K: I know I offended a lot of people in the audience during your Q&A when I said that I saw the film as a cross between Jackass and a home movie. To me, the home movie was the actual filming style. But youve seen Jackass, right? Thats how that started was stupid pranks taken to extremes. So, aside from your own personal stuff, was there any influence that you got from that film?
RL: No. I dont even watch that program. I never saw the movie. All the stuff with the couch, we really did those things.
K2K: How old were you two when you started actually dating?
RL: I was 24.
CF: I was 19.
RL: We've been married for four years.
CF: Together five.
K2K: And that's one of those Mormon things, arranged marriage and all? (Facetiously)
CF: I'm just one of his many wives.
RL: Yeah, yeah.
CF: I'm just kidding.
RL: And we have horns too. Horns are cool.
K2K: I thought only Jews have horns. [As joked about in Borat.]
RL: No, I've been told that Mormons have horns. And we do, we really do. They're covered by our hair.
K2K: No, I think it's a guy with many wives means horn-y. Its the proper word.
RL: Oh geez!
K2K: They really say Mormons have horns?
RL: That's what they say.
BL: I read it on the internet, so it must be true. Wikipedia.
RL: I shave them down.
K2K: So back to the pranks for anyone who hasn't seen the movie... The couch. You really did go down a hill? Couch surfing to the extreme.
RL: Yeah, yeah. Uh huh. (with arms behind his head, sitting proudly) In real life we took the couch down the driveway. It wasn't a steep hill. It was a steep driveway, but not the 26% one block run down the hill.
K2K: How did you shoot that scene? That's a long part of the film, and there seems to be an amazing lack of human life during it. No cars, no people, one cop.
CF: It was not planned. It just happened.
RL: Serious. We had a permit.
K2K: This couch is clean, right?
RL: Yeah. It went through a car wash.
BL: Three times.
CF: We got permission from the cops, so they wouldn't stop us. But they didn't block off any roads.
[We took a break as some film fans came up to talk with the filmmakers.]
RL: We've had a lot of great insight from viewers, who have picked up on stuff that we never even thought about. So it's cool. Its really connected with people from the audience.
K2K: What are some of the better, and worst responses that you've gotten? And don't include mine, although I wasn't harsh.
CF: We've gotten such mixed responses that it's been really interesting. Some people said, That's the funniest movie I've ever seen. I laughed my head off. and they take it as a straight comedy. Then there are other people who said they hated it and didn't see the point in it.
RL: In our first screening [at Cinequest] it was sold out. I couldn't even get a seat. I had stood up to tell the lady to turn it up a little bit, and someone stole my seat. So I was standing in the bickering the first scene, a few people just stood up and walked out. A man grabbed my shoulder, shook his head, and left. That's all he did.
CF: He felt bad for you or something.
RL: Yeah, right. You poor, poor man. One reviewer wrote that she absolutely hated it. I asked her to introduce herself, which she did later, and we ended up being friendly. I later read that she still hated the movie but, They're really nice people.
CF: Then people also don't know how to take it necessarily. They say it either touched them, or they saw someone they knew. That reminds me of my sons relationship.
RL: I had one lady say to me, that she had never been so touched by a film, and it affected her so much. Because her son and his girlfriend are going through a similar kind of relationship. So she thanked me over and over for making [the film].
K2K: People are funny. You never know what you'll get.
CF: All of our screenings have been different. Its interesting because a lot will be the same. Sometimes either the whole theater is laughing their heads off, or it's totally silent. Its weird.
K2K: In fairness, maybe that's what I didn't like is that it wasn't totally funny. There were funny parts, but I had expected a comedy. When you expect something, you know. There were a few other films screening here that were talked up as comedies but absolutely were not. There are a bit more bleak films showing here this year.
RL: Its the economy.
K2K: Tell me about some of the other pranks. You actually went through the carwash?
RL: In real life, we went through a carwas with the windows down. In the movie, yeah.
BL: The funny thing about that is we shot that in early May, in Utah, at 8:00 in the morning. I dont think youve ever been to northern Utah in early May, but there's still snow on the ground. You can't really tell in the movie, well, you kind of can, but to be sprayed with freezing water at 8 in the morning... The guy who played Billy [Zachary Christian], he actually rode a little scooter - like a Moped - to the shoot. And he had to ride it home completely drenched in freezing water in 15 degree weather. He was completely freezing for the whole rest of the day. He was bitter shooting that.
K2K: You filmed this near your homes?
BL: At the time, yeah. We don't live there anymore.
K2K: Where was that?
BL: Logan, Utah.
RL: There's like 40,000 people who live in Logan. They whole valley has about 100,000 people. So it's not very big. Its an hour north of Salt Lake.
K2K: During your Q&A [at the film screening] you all were laughing about the carwas scene, Oh yeah. It was kind of funny. Zach said, Not for me. They all had helmets, and I did not. He looked miserable in the movie.
BL: In real life he looked even worse. He just stood there with eyes all bloodshot, looking like torture.
RL: And he got the wax. The wax cycle.
K2K: You mean, like a Brazilian wax? (everyone laughs)
RL: No, in the carwash. He got the soap, the rinse, the wax.
K2K: You guys got waxed?
RL: I think it was mixed in with the soap.
CF: I think we had to do the wax, because if you didn't select the wax, then the drier didn't come on. They only had two options, a plain wash, or everything.
K2K: You guys got waxed, and yet the hair remains.
RL: Yeah, that's why the couch is a little bit faded. Its lost its luster.
K2K: How much abuse have you given this couch?
RL: A lot.
K2K: How did you guys get here? You obviously drove.
RL: This was our carry-on [luggage, on the plane, referring to the couch].
CF: I flew.
K2K: Aah, Princess flew.
CF: Yeah, Princess.
BL: And it rained and snowed on the way over here. When we first got here, the couch was like a sponge, full of water. It had to dry for two or three days. We had the cushions over the heater. We thought, No, it's not going to rain. Its California.
CF: We had to clean squashed bugs off of it.
K2K: What else did you do in the movie again?
RL: We climbed in the dumpster.
K2K: Oh yeah. That revolted me more than the spitting. You can't pay me to go into a dumpster.
BL: That's what a lot of people have said. One thing that's interesting, that a lot of people don't realize, are that the shots in the dumpster with Archie talking to Billy, and me shooting, we were actually IN the dumpster. Most people think we did that on a stage. No, the four of us, and the lights, and the mid, and the camera, were all in the dumpster.
K2K: You really are guerilla filmmakers.
BL: Well, you've got to do whatever it takes. You know?
RL: It was an hour to shoot that scene, while sitting in the garbage.
K2K: So you didn't even clean out the dumpster before getting in?
CF: Well, I'm a germ-freak. So we got clean cardboard and laid it out. It was a manufacturing facility, so it wasn't household garbage. It was like plastic and stuff. It did still smell bad.
BL: You may not know this, but Rhett has lost his sense of smell. Literally, he can't smell. He's lost it for a couple of years. In any case, I don't know if he could smell that day, but the rest of us were suffering, and Rhett was, Oh it doesn't even smell in here.
K2K: The dumpster scene was truly a vile scene.
BL: That's interesting because we didn't realize that while shooting it, but people have said that since showing it to people.
RL: Were all about authentic performances, so it had to be a real dumpster.
K2K: Who was the cop?
RL: He was a real cop. Again, authentic performances.
K2K: Who was the sister?
RL: Really my sister.
K2K: She's hot. I mean that in a nice way.
RL: And she's married with four kids.
CF: She's very cute.
K2K: So you used real people.
RL: Yeah, we like real people. Rather than fake people, we like real people. We tried using mannequins, but it wasn't working.
K2K: Did she know you were going to push her?
RL: I don't think she knew I was going to push her that hard.
CF: She fell on a bunch of cushions, so it's not like she hurt herself.
RL: That's gotten a lot of reactions.
K2K: Well, it was mean. It was childish and immature.
RL: I've seen films where someone gets their brains blown out, and everyone just said, Eh. But this, it's like the audience gasps. It was just a push.
K2K: It was that emotionally stunted thing. You were 27 in the film, and that is not the behavior of a 27 year olds reaction.
RL: Yeah, I think it really affects people.
K2K: Its just that lashing out thing. Its like your inner child coming out, as the reaction.
RL: Hmm... these are things we didn't really think about. That's why I think its so fun to talk with viewers.
K2K: I just saw it as you having problems with your emotions, not actually domestic abuse.
CF: I agree with that.
K2K: Its good to know that youre actually a nice guy though.
RL: I am a nice guy.
K2K: Do you ever get into punch-outs?
RL: Not yet, but if we do, itll be in a movie.
K2K: Whats your next project going to be?
RL: A lot of people have asked us this question. Were toying with a superhero crime-fighting movie, focusing on a relationship again. That intrigues us. A man who wakes up one day, frustrated with his life, he wants to do something crazy. So he tries to become an actual crimefighter.
K2K: Like the real vigilantes right now? They have a website.
RL: I know theres some of that going on right now. That would be the comedic aspect of it. There are a couple of things that need to come through for us to do that, but no matter what, well be shooting another film in three months.
K2K: In the same style of filming?
BL: Very similar. But I dont think its a good idea, in art, to do the exact same thing each time. You try something out, then try a new technique, a new style. You learn something else. You shoot it different, you edit different, you act it different, you write it different. Thats just human nature to progress.
K2K: I think Candyce should be in the next film. Exploit her. You have to have the cute one in there.
CF: (laughs) After the film, the old ladies are saying, I really didnt like the film, but youre so cute. Well, at least Im cute. Thank you very much.
K2K: Are you going to move into other genres in future films? What do you guys like?
RL: We like the Duplass Brothers. They did Fluffy Chair and Baghead.Really cool guys. Joe Swanberg. Aaren Katz. Cassavetes. I like Wes Anderson. Hes very funny. Not just comedy, not just drama. We like to straddle the line a little bit.
K2K: Well its cool that you guys are genuine people, without ego. Its good to see people like that making movies.
RL: Thanks. We love what were doing and we love connecting with the audience.
K2K: Any final words?
RL: Youre awesome, Phil.
CF: Youre awesome, Phil.
RL: Thanks for shaking our hand on the red carpet on that first night. Yes! Well, we didnt know anyone. Oh, lets say Hi to that guy. Hes got a camera.
CF: Will you take a picture of us?
RL: It was funny, because [iNSIDE CINEQUEST] was doing the bit on Wake [the opening night film], we just snuck in and stood behind them, so were in all their images. Then when they got done, we went up to the camera crew and said, Hey, we want an interview. They asked, Well, who are you guys? We said, Well, we think were pretty special.
CF: Thats what we needed to do. We needed publicity.
And with that, we all went off to see some movies, since thats what Cinequest was all about. None the less, we would see each other again, within a couple of hours.
- Written by Philip Anderson