- CINEQUEST FILM FESTIVAL - California Theatre - San Jose, CA - Sun. March 8, 2009
- Roger Nygard is one of those rare, creative type filmmaking geniuses who doesnt do blockbusters. Nygard does quality, consistently. Nygards name has spread far and wide on the cult film circuit for his film Trekkies (1 and 2) which, along with another film, Six Days In Roswell, cemented him as a favorite for quirky documentaries. Roswell was an interesting look at UFO fans and believers who gather together at the legendary site of the purported UFO crash in New Mexico. Following that, came the cynically hilarious Suckers. This was a comedy about a car dealership and the people surrounding it. What made this feature so hilarious is that it was based on true stories that Nygard had heard from car dealer friends (including a woman who sexes up a salesman in the hills, leaving him naked and stranded, in order to steal a vehicle). What makes Nygard so captivating is that all of his works have a definite originality stamp on it. His work is consistent, appealing, and approachable. His documentaries are almost entirely non-biased, but yet can lean in every direction, leaving a viewer totally open to make up his or her own mind on any subject. Nygard is adept at giving enough tidbits of information to both educate and leave a viewer with a yearning to learn more. The storytelling is whimsical and entertaining, while remaining factual.
We met with Roger Nygard at the 2009 Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose, CA. As it was, Nygard was no newcomer to Cinequest, having premiered his first feature film here, as well as subsequent films. The festival was featuring his latest release, The Nature Of Existence, as a world premiere first-view for the closing night ceremonies. This was one of the more anticipated films of the festival, and did not disappoint. Out of all of his films, this one definitely left room for discussions on all sides. Nygard happily chatted with the press and fans, encouraging everyone to go out and seek truths as he has done. While we chatted, we got to cover some of his past works, leading up to the current film. I spoke to Nygard just before going in to see the premiere. It was a nice talk with a great mind with an open spirit.
K2K: Were here talking to...
RN: Roger Nygard. Filmmaker. Documentarian.
K2K: Lets start with... What was your first film?
RN: My very first film was called, High Strung, which premiered here, at Cinequest, in 1991. Steve Oedekirk (Thumb Wars, Kung Pow) is a comedian who wrote it and starred in it. Thats where I met Denise Crosby (ST:TNG) by the way, who came up with the idea for my documentary Trekkies.
K2K: Trekkies, as opposed to Trekkers.
RN: Trekkies, one and two.
K2K: Ive seen all of them.
RN: I love you.
K2K: And the film about Area 51.
RN: Six Days In Roswell, about UFO enthusiasts. Yup.
K2K: I found that fascinating.
RN: Youve got some of my more obscure works.
K2K: Then the feature...
RN: Suckers, about car salesmen.
K2K: One of my favorite comedies that I had seen in years. How did you put that one together?
RN: A friend of mine sold cars for a couple of years. He used to tell me some amazing stories about what theyd do to the customers. I said, Youve got to put this into a movie. So we revealed all the secrets about what goes on behind the scenes at a used car dealership, in a narrative structure.
K2K: Including all the drug deals, and all that?
RN: Oh yeah. 95% of that movie is based on true stories.
K2K: Ive got a couple of projects in the works myself about subjects in my life that few people believe could have happened. So thats awesome to know that that was all true.
RN: Yeah, except for the shootout at the end. We added that for a little Hollywood wrap-up, but everything else is true.
K2K: The girl running off, stealing the car, after leaving the [naked] salesman [stranded]...
RN: Very true story. She went to Vegas, sold the car, gambled, and then lost - and then they picked her up.
K2K: So she got busted.
K2K: Who was she?
RN: A degenerate gambler. You know, thats what happens. She had figured out a way to get her hands on a car, use it, pawn it, and then gamble with the money.
K2K: And for those who dont know, she actually sexed him up in the car and left him naked [in the hills].
RN: And he had to actually walk back to the dealership in his boxer shorts.
K2K: What films have you done between then and now?
RN: I did an action feature called, Back To Back: American Yakuza 2, starring Michael Rooker and Bobcat Goldthwaite. And this new film, The Nature Of Existence.
K2K: Tell me about this new film.
RN: This is about answering all the mysteries of the universe. [When] I set out, I wrote a list of the toughest questions I could think of. I came up with 85 questions, which Ive now posted on my website - http://www.thenatureofexistence.com. Im asking people to help us solve these questions. I spent four years traveling the globe asking Hindus, Jainists, scientists, Native Americans, as broad a spectrum as possible of people, to help me answer these questions. I collected these responses and coalesced that into a 90-minute nutshell with all the answers to all these difficult questions.
K2K: Would it be safe to say that this is a comedic version of What The [Bleep} Do We Know??
RN: Itll be on the same shelf as What The [Bleep], The Secret, Religulous, and any movie that tries to ask big questions. You tell me. Youll decide for yourself what the similarities are. I saw What The [Bleep] and loved it. That was part of what inspired me - You know, Ive got some ideas.. I wish they would have asked this question, or that question...
K2K: Some of the featured people were a little bit... Some were very legit, while some were a bit off-kilter.
RN: The off-kilter ones often times give you the real entertainment value.
K2K: The woman [J.Z. Knight] who channeled the ancient warrior [Ramtha].
RN: Weve got a channeler as well, who channels an alien named Bashar.
K2K: Isnt that from Star Trek?
RN: Thats Bashir. I know my Trekkie stuff. You cant stump me on that one.
K2K: That was very close.
RN: That was very good. Im impressed. (laughing)
K2K: What has been your favorite film that youve worked on? The classic answer is always the next one, or the current one.
RN: Its always the current baby youre about to give birth to. But that does make you think about whats going to be next. I have an idea of whats going to be next. Ill give you the scoop, if you want to hear it. After trying to solve the question of What is the nature of existence?, I thought what could be the most incomprehensible subject matter, more difficult to answer that the origin of the universe itself. I thought, what about the nature of marriage.
K2K: I would have thought Whats the end of the universe?, or Whats the answer to the universe?. Which of course is: 42.
RN: Douglas Adams. Yup. One of my heroes. I would love to explore that concept next.
K2K: So [marriage] brings up Prop. 8 and all. My thought is that both sides have a good point, but theyre not communicating the right idea. Gays want a legal union, but want to call it marriage. Marriage is a religious term. Religions dont want to accept gays, and have a legal right to [deny them]. Gays still want that word, by butting into the religious side. They should actually back up and ask for something thats called something similar to that - like a Civil Union - to give them the same rights. Since thats really what they want. Insurance companies are against it more than anyone, because they dont want to pay out [to more legal couples].
RN: (laughs) I never thought of that.
K2K: They dont want to have to pay out to any more domestic partners. What do you think about the idea of a similar word, offering the same idea as marriage.
RN: The problem is that you cant own a word. If someone wants to call something marriage or, a horseshoe [for example], its kind of their right to use a word any way they want to in society. If you want to say we have a Catholic marriage, then thats very specific. You cant call something a Hindu marriage, when its a Catholic marriage.
K2K: Well, Catholics wont let Jews marry in their church, and Jews wont let, say, Buddhists marry in their church.
RN: They have good points. Im of a mind of live and let live, so long as theyre not hurting you. What business is it of yours what they do, or call it.
K2K: I was just thinking of a compromise to the fighting over gay rights to marry. Just so they get the same marriage idea, but without the religious context. Before that, you would just call it shacking up, or whatever people called it 30,000 years ago.
RN: I think that maybe we need an all new word that just doesnt exist yet. Its like calling it Cingular, with a C because we had to come up with a whole new word.
K2K: So after Ive been talking about my idea on the subject for a few months, it occurred to me, what about Atheists? They dont believe in God, so how do they get married?
RN: Huh! Yeah, well theyre using the same word too. A lot of religious terms have become used in secular use, and vice versa. Words are just words. They become loaded terms. I think we have to let go of a lot of emotional aspects of loaded words. If somebody else gets married, who you disapprove of, it has nothing to do with what you do. Right? Why does that threaten you?
RN: It has nothing to do with you. Live and let live.
K2K: So thats the next project is Marriage?
RN: Marriage. Its a really deep question, I think. Anytime theres a gap between our ideals and reality, theres a huge opportunity for humor. (laughs)
K2K: Oh yeah. Especially with marriage. Then there are the people who dont believe in marriage. To them its when youre with someone, youre with them, without the hassles of legal paperwork.
RN: And arranged marriages. If you really believe that marriage is sacred, then you should outlaw divorce. That should be what you focus on. Good luck on that, by the way, if someone wants to try.
K2K: With the other films that youve done, did you accomplish what you set out to do with each of those?
RN: Oh boy. I never finish everything I want to do. Its like, eventually you have to stop. Its like going on a bender, and you have to stop and do something else.
K2K: With The Nature Of Existence, is that going to end up being a 6-DVD box set like What The [Bleep]?
RN: On our website. Our website is going to launch new webisodes each week, on this topic. We spent four years interviewing hundreds of people. We have 450 hours of amazing footage, some of which is better than the movie itself, but just couldnt fit in narratively. Like the question of slavery came up. One of the questions that came up was, How do you reconcile a Holy Book, when that Holy Book sanctions something we no longer approve of, such as slavery? The Bible says [things like], this is how you beat your slave; this is how you sell your daughter into slavery; etc. Obviously we agree that that is no longer correct. So, the concept of slavery, Ive asked people about that. We had an amazing set of responses. [One was} Slavery would be a good solution for the homeless problem. Then you go, Wow! Well, thats an answer.
K2K: Or for medical testing.
RN: Yes. But obviously that would be hard to implement. But its fascinating to how people responded to that. I interviewed a pastor in a church in Texas. Hes a black Baptist. I asked him about the concept of slavery, because its in the Bible. He likened the plight of the Jews being enslaved, to the plight of Black people being enslaved, and being brought to America. It was their trial and tribulation that they had to go through, to emerge into whatever awaited them in the future. So he had found a way to accept slavery.
K2K: Now, is Nature Of Existence comedic like your usual stuff? You always have a nice twist.
RN: Real life is hilarious, I think. Tragedy. Theres nothing funnier than tragedy, when its happening to someone else.
K2K: Well, humor is tragedy. No one wants to slip on a banana peel, but we all like to laugh at it when its someone else.
RN: Right. If we cant laugh, well go insane.
K2K: Do you have any personal beliefs, religiously, that you entered [into this film] with?
RN: I like to call myself a Rationalist, which means Im open to any argument you can make. But I need some kind of support for the argument, other than some guy said so. Give me something, and Ill listen.
K2K: Have all your films shown at Cinequest?
RN: I think so. I think theyve shown almost every single film, except for the action picture [Back To Back], which was more of a commercial endeavor, less of an indie film.
K2K: What kind of mainstream stuff are you doing? Anything coming up?
RN: Boy, I dont even think in terms of mainstream. I think of what amuses me. And hopefully other people will agree. Maybe this film will become mainstream. Maybe itll have a cult following, like Suckers did. You never know.
K2K: One thing is that your name is now a cult icon. I know to look for your name in any film.
RN: I challenge you to walk into any car dealership and ask them if theyve seen the movie, Suckers. You wont find a car salesman who hasnt heard of it. Thats the cult following for that film, and they show it in their training meetings now. This is how to screw the customers.
K2K: Im curious how many people you meet, like the press as well, know your older works?
RN: Youre probably right on top of things as well as anyone Ive met so far. Its kind of rare that theyre familiar with the entire back catalog. I did an interview with somebody at the San Francisco Chronicle. He knew about my very first TV episode on a show called, Monsters, that starred Julie Brown, Kevin Nealon, and David Spade. That was my first directing job ever.
K2K: Any advice for upcoming filmmakers?
RN: If youre going to make a film, you need to just go out and make it. People sometimes says, How do I get started? I cant afford to make a movie. Its so expensive. My response is, usually, How much can you afford? Can you make a one-minute movie? Make that. If you want to be a director, start directing.
K2K: How do you like Cinequest? Youve been here plenty.
RN: Film festivals have a personality, that starts at the top. It depends on who runs the festival. Theres nobody better than Halfdan, Kathleen, and Mike. Theyre really the best. Theyve got great taste. Obviously, if they like my films, they must have great taste. They pick great movies. Their festivals are well-run, theyre entertaining, and theyre a pleasure to attend, whether youre in it, or just a viewer. I mean, there are a lot of festivals that are user friendly, and this is one of the top festivals.
K2K: Ill always look for any films that you make. Your name on a film lets me expect quality and consistency.
RN: Thank you. I take that as a big compliment to my work.
K2K: Thank you very much for your time.
RN: Yeah. Anytime.
- Written by Philip Anderson