Gary Screams for You
A campus security guard discovers his wildest side when his obsession with a viral video prompts some very unruly behaviour.
Hi Nolan, it’s great to talk with you, how have you been keeping?
No complaints here.
Congratulations on having Gary Screams for You selected in the Short Cuts Programme at TIFF 2022, what has it meant to you both to be able to share this film at such an essential film festival?
It's an honour, there are so many cool films submitted every year and obviously anytime you set out to make a film Toronto is on everyone’s short list in terms of “man, if we could just get into ___”. Also I can drive my van there (Google maps could not find a way to get to Cannes).
How vital a role do film festivals like TIFF play in providing a platform for filmmakers to showcase their short films?
There are paintings the size of postage stamps and then there’s standing in front of la grande jette at the art institute. They’re both impressive in their own way. shorts and features, you’re working with the same medium– you have light and sound across time– but whether you’re telling a story in two hours or five minutes is going to fundamentally change how you use the form to tell it. You have tv shows doing it in sixty hours but very few venues to do something that goes start to finish in ten minutes. And I think that is where you see some of the boldest stuff happening, because you can afford to be bold– have to be, even. It's fun to be able to watch a bunch of shorts in a theatre and hard to imagine getting to do it in many other contexts… plus if you don’t like what you’re seeing, it’ll be over soon anyways.
Can you tell me a little bit about how Gary Screams for You came about?
I'm pretty sure this all really happened to Cody.
What was the most challenging aspect of bringing Gary Screams for You to the screen?
It's the story of Gary’s descent into madness, but of course we are shooting it out of order and so with each scene you’re having to reexamine– okay, how far gone is Gary here? It’s a challenge for everyone, art needs to make his apartment *just so* messy, makeup needs to know how dark the bags under his eyes are. But certainly the performance is the most challenging aspect of that because there’s so much nuance, and something that plays well on the monitor might not cut with what comes before or after.
It’s also a pretty expansive movie, an army of monkey people taking over Chicago… we asked them to shut down the red line for us, no dice. “But you did it for Batman!” we said. Nada. so it’s a bit of a high wire act of pulling off these big looking set pieces on a budget without ever making it look like you were working on a budget.
Once you started shooting how flexible did you allow yourself with the screenplay, did you prefer to stick to what Cody had written?
Actors had wiggle room to play within the context of what was written but at our budget you’re sort of constrained as to how much on the fly improvising stuff you can do– you’re struggling to make the days you have planned as it is. It forces you to pick and choose your spots in terms of where you deviate from the plan and really consider your choices. $50k is simultaneously a ton of money to make a short film and then not quite enough… it’s never quite enough, you’re always stretching your resources to the max and pressing up against your limits in that regard, so you’re always left wishing you had just a little more to work with… unless you’ve got Chris Nolan or Tarantino money. That's where total freedom is– having no money or having more money than god.
What would you say has been the most interesting thing you have discovered about yourself and the films you want to make after making Gary Screams for You?
I do not enjoy sending people screaming down a street at three in the morning half a dozen times, hooting and hollering bloody murder. even if i have a permit for it. There is a little bit of a subversive thrill to it though. So I guess I’d be down to do it again, is what I'm saying. But maybe the next one is “Gary Speaks at a Reasonable Volume For You, at Two pm, and none of the neighbours get mad at him or the guy saying action”.
How important is the collaborative nature of filmmaking when co-directing a short film like Gary Screams for You, and do you have plans to work together on future projects?
Obviously collaboration is incredibly important. a painting is a painting, a song is a song, a play is a play, but a film is everything. It's all that happening at once and them some, the work of a half dozen or a dozen artists playing at once– makeup, wardrobe, foley– and it all has to be moving in the same direction, ultimately toward one cohesive vision. Whether you have one director or two or ten there can only be one vision if the film is going to be successful.
Cody and I are currently developing a couple of feature scripts together.
Did you have any apprehensions about directing Cody?
No. We are good friends and I’ve directed him before in a short I made called Neighbourhood Watch, which is based on an episode of the podcast Knifepoint Horror, if you’ve heard of it.
Cody knew the character of Gary inside and out, though – he’d been living with him for 2 years by the time we wrapped. it would have been a bit intimidating trying to step in and direct him in that role if i didn’t feel I knew the character just as well, if maybe from a different angle. How the rest of the world sees Gary. Knowing what's in Cody’s head while also keeping one foot in the real world to provide him that outside perspective and sort of see the forest for the trees.
I sort of thought of myself as Cody’s Bernice, or maybe a shaman of sorts. Pulling him in and out of Gary’s world.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
"Because every dollar counts and there’s never enough time and you’re usually trying to fool people into thinking you had way more of each than you did."
How much has your previous filmmaking experiences prepared you for making Gary Screams for You?
You see what works well and what doesn’t. I've worked on shows and commercials of all sizes and you get a feel for, like, this is how it should be done, if you can afford it, this is how it can be done, if you must, and don’t do this or that. Name a job on set and i’ve probably done it at least once, it’s kind of like that old story about touching the elephant. A production of any size is a massive beast with five hundred moving parts and all you can do is make sure you’re part moves at the right time, and it feels like a small miracle each time the whole thing gets to the end of the day in one piece. But as a director that’s your job, to deliver the elephant not just safely but immaculately, standing on one leg and balancing a beach ball on its trunk and flapping the national anthem in morse code with its ears. So of course if you know what everyone on set is doing and where you all need to end up then you will have a much better time trying to get everyone working on the same vision.
I really cut my teeth in the indie world over the past five or six years– that’s everything from “we borrowed some C-stands and my mom’s making lunch” to a million dollars and flying out people you’ve heard of from LA. That’s where you really see the ingenuity and creativity come into play. Because every dollar counts and there’s never enough time and you’re usually trying to fool people into thinking you had way more of each than you did. Everything’s under a microscope and even a small issue can compound into a massive problem, because you can’t afford to just add days or whatever. But you spend enough fifteen, sixteen hour days chugging Red Bull on the back of a grip truck and eventually you get around to thinking, like, “ok, where did this production go off the rails?”, or conversely you pick up stuff that works really well and slip it into your pocket for the next time you’re directing.
Would you ever consider expanding your short film into a feature?
Are there any other aspects of filmmaking you keen to explore with future films?
Zizek claims that cinema is more real than reality, that it’s a space where we act out our psychic truth that would normally be constrained by a societal superego of sorts. And, you know, we spend more time consuming media than any humans in history– looking at screens, watching stories. It’s how we interface with the world, our ideas about the structure of our own lives come from these narratives. But at the same time, if you’re reading this on a phone or a laptop, you’re on camera right now. It’s not just a passive thing anymore. We find ourselves constantly performing these characters for social media with no private realm to retreat to, nowhere that you can “turn it off”, as it were. It's a massive shift in the way we live our lives and think about our lives and we’re just starting to grapple with the gravity of it. It’s driving people completely insane because our brains haven’t caught up yet, they aren’t evolved to live like this.
So I’m very fascinated with this, the erasure of the wall between cinema and reality, ourselves and our performances, and exploring these things through the lens of actors. I’ve written a script around these ideas, a love triangle between a couple of actors and a director at an isolated cabin up in the woods– very Persona meets The Evil Dead. A punchy little eighty-minute one location horror movie. It's very fun to write forty million dollar movies but it was important to me to have something that felt achievable, like I could grab some friends and go shoot it next week.
What has been the best piece of advice you have been given?
There was a point of despair during shooting one of my last short films where it felt like all was lost– a common occurrence during these things, I find – and I was beside myself. We'd tried some stuff and realized we simply weren’t going to be able to shoot the end of the film like I'd planned it, for a myriad of reasons. I'd sunk a lot (by my standards) of my own money into this thing and all of a sudden there was no movie. We changed course and shot it another way, but I was still pretty distraught. My good friend, Kayse Schmucker, who was ADing the film, told me: “the audience doesn’t know what was inside your head, they aren’t sitting in the theatre shaking their heads because we didn’t get XYZ shots. All they know is what they see on the screen.” A very AD thing to say, but true. So the movie wasn’t ruined, and in fact the new ending ended up being better, I think. and nobody has ever come up to me after and said “I can’t believe you guys didn’t get the shot of the exploding head”. Next time though. I still have the head prop.
Do you have any tips or advice you would offer someone wanting to get into filmmaking?
Probably don’t, but, if you must… hm… have fun? I mean at the end of the day you’re making movies. Be someone people want to work with. There's a dozen other people in their contacts that can do the same job you’re doing, so it helps to not be a miserable prick to be around for twelve hours a day.
And finally, what message do you hope your audiences will take away from Gary Screams for You?
The importance of other people, of love, of cultivating relationships and having experiences off the computer. The internet is a bit of an antisocial Skinner box, it’s designed to drive you insane, it corrupts everything that passes through it. Get in touch with your deepest inner self, the monkey brain that you share with people who lived five thousand years ago– but do it with and for other monkey people.