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CineVegas '08 Interview: "Happy Birthday, Harris Malden" with Sweaty Robot
by Erik Childress

The “Happy Birthday, Harris Malden " Pitch: Are you familiar with the television show "Lost"? It's super hot right now. Our movie can been seen as a spin off of "Lost" starring -- drum roll please -- Hurley. He opens a juice bar on the moon. We call it "LOST: In Space". Psych. Okay, okay, imagine this. Ready? Okay. Harris Malden is your average five year old South Philly kid. It's his birthday. Everything is going according to plan, and then BOOM! BAMMER! A fire breaks out! Oh god, oh god, the room is filling with so much smoke! Someone help! <Siren sound effects> Rooooo-dddllee, roooo-dddllle!!! <end sound effects> And when the dust clears, Harris' dad is DEAD and he can't grow his facial hair. CUT TO (for those of you who don't know, that's a motion picture industry term) the modern day. Actually "Happy Birthday, Harris Malden" is about a guy who fakes his facial hair by drawing on his mustache with a black magic marker. We don't really "wow-it-up" because it's not really that kind of movie. It's more of anabsurd drama about people going through a transition... in space.

How did Sweaty Robot get together?

SWEATY ROBOT: See if you can follow this convoluted Sweaty Robot continuity. Nick and Ben were friends in high school. Eric, Matt, Juan, and Nick met in College. Ben, using the Friend-of-a-Friend Program, became friends with Juan and Eric. Eric, Nick, Juan, & Ben don't really stop joking when they get together so they decided to find a way to channel it into short movies for the Internet. Those movies looked really bad. They got back in touch with Matt, a brilliant cinematographer. He reluctantly shot one of the early short films. Matt eventually liked working with Nick, Eric, Ben and Juan. Sweaty Robot was formed. They stopped making shorts for the Internet because no one watched them. They made HARRIS MALDEN. People watched it. Sweaty Robot is just a neat sounding name, but if you want to get deep you can say it's a metaphor for us: Tech savvy, nerdy, nervous guys that look really cute.

How did this film get rolling at the beginning? Give us a brief history from writing to production to post to just last night.

SWEATY ROBOT: The movie started as one of our first short films, made for a documentary contest. People liked it on a higher level than just 'that's funny.' It even won the contest. After a trip to LA, and a meeting with PaulSoter from Broken Lizard, we realized we weren't getting anywhere with short films, so we decided to make a feature. In April 2008, we came up with a realistic budget, settled on 'Harris Malden' as the premise, and started working backwards-- what did we have access to in terms of cast, crew, equipment and locations? We began a series of impossibly lengthy conversations, which eventually turned into an outline, which further developed our budget. In June, we quit our jobs, officially formed the corporation, and went into pre-production. Writing the script based on the outline took a couple of weeks, and we refined that every day, right into shooting the scenes. Principal photography began in August, lasting for a month. We immediately went into post, and started working again in October. We submitted the film toSundance in late October, and were rejected-- but then asked to world premiere the film at CineVegas by our angels riding white stallions, programmers MikePlante and Trevor Groth. We agreed, and have waited six painful months for our premiere to come, involved in post and very minor reshoots and pickups all the while. Finally, CineVegas is only days away, and we're super-duper-mega-pumped to world premiere our film.

How would you list each other's greatest strengths as either specific writers or performers?

SWEATY ROBOT: Nick Gregorio - Big muscles.
Juan Cardarelli - Ability to grow gigantic hair cut.
Ben Davidow - He isn't self-aware enough to tell how silly he looks.
Matt Sanchez - Isn't talented enough to be in front of camera, so he had to take up cinematography
Eric M. Levy - Remembers all of his lines all of the time.

Back when you were a little kid, and you were asked that inevitable question, your answer would always be "When I grow up I want to be …" what?

SWEATY ROBOT: Batman -- minus the 'parent's getting murdered' part.

What are you looking forward to most during your CineVegas experience?

SWEATY ROBOT: Hearing a theater full of people enjoying our film.

During production did you ever find yourself thinking ahead to film festivals, paying customers, good & bad reviews, etc?

SWEATY ROBOT: Yes. We got into a really big argument about how much of the budget to set aside for film festivals. It ended in apologies, compromise, and snuggling, like Sweaty Robot's other arguments.

Of all the Muppets, which one do you most relate to?

SWEATY ROBOT: Kermit the Frog. At once both a leader and terribly uncomfortable in his own skin. Or Statler and Waldorf constantly being obnoxious.

If you could share one massive lesson that you learned while making this movie, what would it be?

SWEATY ROBOT: We can eat a turkey sandwich every day for a month, and be perfectly satisfied.

What films and filmmakers have acted as your inspirations, be they a lifelong love or a very specific scene composition?

SWEATY ROBOT: We take an old school approach to film making; longer takes that involve much more character interplay. Some older films from the forties and fifties, like "Singing in the Rain" (minus the singing and the rain).

Did you watch any movies in pre-production and yell "This! I want something JUST like this …only different."?

SWEATY ROBOT: We drew little bits and pieces from other films, but our style comes from working with each other for such a long time.

What actor would you cast as your favorite cartoon character?

SWEATY ROBOT: James Marsden as Roger Rabbit.

When most comedy troupes make their feature debuts, they normally announce their arrival by being as outlandish as possible (i.e. Holy Grail, Brain Candy, Super Troopers, etc...). While Harris Malden certainly is a comedy, you also went for poignancy with a story along the lines of a Lars and the Real Girl. How did you develop what might have been a simple sketch into this particular approach?

SWEATY ROBOT: First, we'd like to point out that we're not a comedy troupe. We've never done live shows, and don't consider our most of our short films to be sketches. Even the short film version of 'Harris Malden' is more than a sketch-- it wasn't just a series of mustache jokes, rather a story about a guy with a little white lie. Developing that core into a feature just means taking the characters seriously, and telling a story about them that evokes humanity and emotion using comedy and drama. Sorry to get all serious on your ass, we just don't like being called a comedy troupe. We're filmmakers, and the cinematic craft doesn't take a back seat to joking around.

Are their Gilliam-like aspirations for you or would you be happy directing big budget TV spinoffs for the rest of your lives?

SWEATY ROBOT: Funny you ask, we're actually planning a big budget TV spin-off of Gilliam's "Brazil" right now. Boy, that's an amazing coincidence. In all seriousness we are interested in doing a variety of films that range from mainstream to a bit more indie. We are very good problem solvers and can make the most of any budget.

Say you landed a big studio contract tomorrow, and they offered you a semi-huge budget to remake, adapt, or sequelize something. What project would you tackle?

SWEATY ROBOT: The remake of 'The Hulk,' entitled "The Incredible Hulk" has re-envisionment written all over it. If that falls through then we've knocked around a couple ideas. We would love to remake "The Departed" but set it inHong Kong. But our real dream is to do "Three's Company," with Eric playing Jack. Nick and Juan playing Janet and Chrissy respectively, Ben playing Larry, and a Computer generated RalphFurley.

Name an actor in your film that's absolutely destined for the big-time. And why, of course.

SWEATY ROBOT: David M. Sitbon as Uncle Moses. Tour de Force!

Finish this sentence: If I weren't a filmmaker, I'd almost definitely be...

SWEATY ROBOT: Depressed...

Who's an actor you'd kill to work with?

SWEATY ROBOT: More importantly, who do we have to kill? That really motivates the decision. I've seen the Twilight Zone episodes, this scenario usually ends badly.

Have you "made it" yet? If not, what would have to happen for you to be able to say "Yes, wow. I have totally made it!"

SWEATY ROBOT: No. No, no, not at all, no. When we pull up to a premiere in our Ferrari that triples as a car, submarine and helicopter, then you'll know we've made it.

Honestly, how important are film critics nowadays?

SWEATY ROBOT: Roger Ebert uses clever language, film history, and a clear mix of objectivity and subjectivity in his reviews. Critics should strive towards something close to that-- but many just provide knee-jerk reactions, and personal denunciations.

What would mean more to you? A full-on rave from an anonymous junketeer or an average, but critically constructive review from a respected print or online journalist?

SWEATY ROBOT: A review from a respected journalist means more because that means someone in the mainstream media is thinking critically about our film.

On Nick Digilio's radio show on WGN Chicago he has a recurring list of both the best mustached and bearded performances in movie history. Great beards. Great staches. Give us your top five in each category.

SWEATY ROBOT: - Harris Malden in "Happy Birthday Harris Malden"
- ZZ Top in "Back to the Future 3"
- Hulk Hogan in "No Holds Barred"
- Sammy L. Jackson in "Pulp Fiction"
- Burt Reynolds in anything

You're told that your next movie must have one "product placement" on board, but you can pick the product. What would it be?

SWEATY ROBOT: Coca-Cola. If it's good enough for Spielberg...

You're contractually obligated to deliver an R-rated film to your producers. The MPAA says you have to delete a sex scene that's absolutely integral to the film or you're getting an NC-17. How do you handle it?

SWEATY ROBOT: A good film maker is never anchored to any one idea or scene. Adaptability is crucial in this industry. We enjoy the challenge of working under certain constraints.

In closing, we ask you to convince the average movie-watcher to choose your film instead of the trillion other options they have. How do you do it?

SWEATY ROBOT: Watch "Happy Birthday Harris Malden." Our moms like it.

---

Sweaty Robot’s Happy Birthday, Harris Malden will have its world premiere at the 2008 CineVegas Film Festival on Saturday, Jun 14 at 6:00 pm and screen again on Monday, June 16 at 7:00 PM, both at the Palms’ Brenden Theatres. Visit the 2008 official website


link directly to this feature at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/feature.php?feature=2500
originally posted: 06/10/08 20:27:33
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