Interviews: Jeremy Olstyn
At this past Mitten Movie Project in Royal Oak, I laughed by white ass off watching the audience choice winning mockumentary about a burnout who's addicted to receiving packages in the mail. I just had to ask H00ked's director, Jeremy Olstyn, just what in the hell?
TMS: So, you won the March MMP, which you damn well should have. How do you feel about H00ked returning in December for Best Short of the Year?
JO: Thanks for saying that. Oh yeah, I'm really happy to be in the Mitten's "Best of 2013" program. You know, in the regular program every month, there is certainly a friends-with-benefits aspect to the selection of the winner; I invite my friends in the hopes that they will vote for my film. And I promise them like, hugs and stuff. But at the Best-of, Connie [Mangilin, curator of the Mitten Movie Project] brings in other filmmakers to help select the winner, so simply having my friends show up won't be enough. Jury is still out on whether or not I can pay for those votes. I might have to upgrade from hugging to firm stroking... I don't know.
TMS: That's disgusting. How did you come to direct Gavin Bates' script? Why a story about a guy addicted to receiving packages in the mail?
JO: Gavin is actually a former student of mine that I reconnected with for a 48 a few years ago. In that project (Lot 464), Gavin was our lead actor. The dude is also a professional video editor and a very talented writer. And he's bald, so he kind of looks like he is from the future. In our capacity as what one might loosely define as "producers" (along with DP Charles W. Brandt and actor/score composer Rob Paul), we had a pitch session in my basement. But it's like a finished basement, so we were all very comfortable when we decided that the script for H00ked was the best concept to pursue.
As for the idea of being addicted to receiving packages, it just seemed funny and plausible. I had never watched Intervention until Gavin pitched the script. So he recommended an episode -- "Allison" I think it was called -- and this girl is addicted to huffing air-spray cans. You know, those pressurized cans you use to clean the pubes from your keyboard after spending an evening with the Suicide Girls? Anyway, even air-huffing sounded funny until I watched it. Intervention is a dark show, so we tried to ride the line between that sadness of an individual whose life is spinning out of control and the lighter nature of the addiction we chose. And dick jokes.
TMS: Speaking of Intervention, I did wish to comment on your remarkable emulation of that show's tone/style. Was that something you planned to replicate from the start?
JO: Well I only saw the one episode, but we did make a conscious effort to stay true to the genre. Because the original show is so formula driven, we tried to get our beats to sync up where we could. We shot in 30p to purposely look more video than film and Kathryn Ziegler (Production Designer) was pretty well thought out with the colors and looks she wanted to use. Her involvement in H00ked actually coincided with her switching her major from inferior design to film at CCS. Part of the fun for me was backward engineering the natural look of the doc style. But because we were scripted, there was that level of control that just isn't possible with documentary filmmaking.
TMS: William Hinbern was a lot of fun to watch. How did you and Hinbern end up working together? Just from the film alone I got the vibe that either you two had been long-time friends or that your chemistry as director and actor was very trouble-free on set.
JO: Billy was "found" by DP Charles W. Brandt; at the time, the two were co-workers at Best Buy. Billy is just one of those guys that is easy to get along with. Not only did he have a natural ease at playing the character, but he was really engaged in the story. Some of the best moments of character creation happened on the final day of shooting when we were riffing out some short inserts of "Tim" at rehab (none of which made it into the film). We had him talking about how he read The Secret, and how that helped him make progress in his treatment and in playing basketball. Of course, he misses every subsequent hoop. Hinbern and I talked about building a whole comedy short around The Secret. Then he moved to Milwaukee.
TMS: Is there any chance we'll get to see those inserts? Maybe an outtakes reel?
JO: If I can convince Gavin to edit together those inserts as standalone teasers, I think that would be cool. We had a trailer which screened at the February Mitten that was made at the request of another festival some months ago. When I actually watched it, I was really underwhelmed. I mean, I was really happy with H00ked, but the trailer left me with that special "meh" feeling that only a really lame trailer can provide. So yeah, I'm pressing for some new teasers built from the unused footage.
TMS: Was there much improvisation on set that made it to the final cut or were the majority of gags written into the script?
JO: Surprisingly, very little of the dialogue and gags were improv. The big exception was the interview with Inga, played by Hannah Soroka. In one of those inevitable, indie-filmmaking quirks, we had cast another actress who (I think) spoke perfect Ukrainian. But then she found out about the whole "mail order bride" angle, and apparently she was in the midst of working on a Ukrainian anti-mail order bride campaign... for real. So Hannah -- who I had worked with before on a comedy short called Menage Detroit -- stepped up. She also has Ukrainian heritage, but I suppose she didn't go to Ukrainian finishing school or something, so she didn't know all of the proper translations for the script. But Hannah is a great young actress, so I totally bought her presumably mangled translation. The English subtitles helped seal the deal.
TMS: Jumping from a comedy like H00ked into your next film which I hear is a drama, what's your process for moving the jokes to the back seat and getting serious-minded?
JO: I guess I see myself as more of a "story" guy than a "comedy" guy. I've got a feature screenplay that did fairly well on the festival circuit a few years ago (Wheat Kings) and a doc from 2011 that will be screening at the Mitten in August this year (Strong from Detroit); neither project would remotely qualify as comedy. It is more a question of how can I tell a given story in a way that is going to resonate with an audience on an emotional level. I think maybe that is one of the few advantages of being a low-level indie filmmaker. The industry isn't looking for me to produce anything, so I don't have to conform to any particular genre or type. Layers of the onion. Now that is some deep shit, huh?
TMS: So, you keep real busy then, it appears. What are your long-term goals as a film maker? Just keep getting into deep shit?
JO: Just keep telling stories. I've got a sci-fi comedy feature concept that I would like to write -- deep shit is actually one of the key elements of the project. While it would be nice to get one of my feature scripts funded and produced, as long as I can keep even a small part of my life open for filmmaking, I'm going to keep doing it. Besides, you know getting paid for it would just ruin everything. As a fellow filmmaker that has a broken down truck, I'm sure you can appreciate the sarcasm.
TMS: I totally can... To clarify, do the characters in this sci-fi comedy get into deep shit or is it more like, "Wow, that's some deep shit, man?
JO: Neither. I meant actual feces.
TMS: Hypothetically speaking, how would one keep up with Jeremy Olstyn's projects?
JO: JeremyOlstyn.com. You can also learn how to attend one of my yoga classes. Layers my friend. That's how we do it.
TMS: Thanks so much for your time, Jeremy. Shit's been real.
JO: And deep. Thanks for taking an interest, Jesse.
You can keep up with the award-winning director at jeremyolstyn.com
- interview by J.G. Barnes