Fantasia 2016 Q&A: “MAN UNDERGROUND”
MAN UNDERGROUND is the perfectly-pitched, deadpan comedic first feature of directing team Michael Borowiec and Sam Marine. In this unique, contemporary take on the alien conspiracy genre, George Basil is impeccably cast as Willem, a conspiracy vlogger who decides to make an autobiographical film with the help of his editor friend Todd (Andy Rocco) and small town waitress-turned actress Flossie (Pamela Fila), only to have the project lead him into some dark emotional terrain.
Basil carries the film with his natural delivery and absolute dedication to his odd and troubled character, and the well-written secondary characters round out the dialogue with catch-you-off-guard charm that saw the film emerge with the New Flesh Award for Best First Feature at this year’s Fantasia Film Festival.
Esinam Beckley: What was the process like for creating this story?
Michael Borowiec: I’ve always kind of had this idea in the back of my head about doing a movie about alien conspiracy theorists. We’re both really into that stuff. We both have a lot of scripts, and ultimately we were just trying to make our first feature something new that we could afford, where we didn’t have to strain ourselves. We started by sitting down and I threw out the alien idea.
Sam Marine: Yeah we had a lot of ideas back and forth. Scripts we had already written, or ideas for scripts we wanted to write. Nothing really clicked until he mentioned this alien conspiracy idea. Right after that I was on board. We wrote the script, and I think the rough draft was written in six weeks. The rough draft was pretty close to what you see in the finished movie.
EB: During the rough draft did you also develop Willem’s character?
Michael: So what we did is we watched a lot of alien conspiracy theory videos. Specifically, people giving lectures. How they acted, presented information and their mannerisms.
Sam: They always have a piece of evidence that seems hazy, and maybe legitimate. So we started by writing out what these lectures consisted of. What kind of scientific evidence they might have, but kept it vague.
Michael: In terms of the character development, we based it off a lot of these real conspiracy theorists. Some of them that we watched were very loud, bombastic people, who were kind of aggressive with what they believed to be the truth. That’s how we wrote it. During the auditions everyone did it the way we wanted. When George Basil auditioned, he did the complete opposite where he was very subdued and quiet.
Sam: Super quiet! We could barely hear him during his audition. I thought that was just brilliant. He’s kind of an interpretive guy who also is capable of snapping.
EB: A Lot of actors try to do what George pulls off so well. It doesn’t always work. It’s like he’s out of his natural element. When he attends the party in his neutral colored suit, disgruntled demeanor, bushy face, and tries to use the candle holder as a whisky glass.
Sam: We were very lucky to get that, George is fantastic!
EB: So you guys held auditions to find your three main actors?
Sam: We found Andy Rocco who plays Todd through the UCB comedy scene in New York. I had heard his name a lot, but I never met him, and wasn’t familiar with him at all. He was sort of more random audition. Pamela who plays Flossie, she and I have worked together in the past. I cast her as the lead in my thesis film in college. George Basil who plays Willem was a comedian from my college humour days that I knew. I had worked with him on a short film that I helped produce.
EB: You have a really intelligent grasp of deadpan humour. Is this just an outcome of George’s natural acting gestures, mixed with your dialogue? Or, were you consciously creating that throughout the film?
Michael: The dialogue absolutely helped with the subtleties of it, but I think it was mainly George’s ability to nuance reactions of things with very small looks. His comedic acting background really helped. He was in the moment and being deadpan. He was constantly reacting off of what everyone was saying, so it gave us a lot of material to work with, rather than just someone staring off.
Sam: I also found myself producing content for the comedy world after college. I kept going from there. I always set out to write dramas. I think both Mike and I ended up infusing a sense of humour to some extent.
EB: Have you been to the Fantasia Film Festival before?
Michael: No! This was our first time.
EB: What was the experience of the screening like for you guys?
Michael: It was incredible! We were really blown away by how well the festival is put together. How well it’s run, and how nice everyone was. They really cared about all these movies. It was a terrific experience.
Sam: People really went out of their way to come talk to us which was fantastic. Programmers who worked for the festival, and anybody who was involved were really supportive, and warm. It was kind of overwhelming. We also had a packed theater. It was so exciting for us, it was a fantastic experience.
EB: What are each of your personal inspirations?
Michael: I draw from a lot of different things that inspire me. I love books and literature. I’m very into existentialism, and existential novels. I think that’s kind of what our movie is and has a lot of. How people interact with society. How they interact with one another. What their purpose is. Every time I go to make a movie…in all honesty, the first thing I think is how can I make WHAT’S EATING GILBERT GRAPE? It is such a great movie. It encapsulates everything I want in a movie.
Sam: I’m trying to think of influences that would have to do with this particular film. Going into it we were coming up with the concept of shooting a low budget feature. We were looking a lot at really low-budget movies, or a certain aesthetic. I would say BLUE RUIN was one. Alex Ross Perry’s work was a big influence. I also read existential literature. I’m more of a John Paul Sartre kind of girl. For me comedy has been a weird influence in a lot of what I write. I think a lot of awkward moments come from watching South Park growing up. People just staring at each other. If we’re going to talk about sci-fi influences mine would be THE THING.
Michael: That’s a good one. It’s a hard one for me to say.
EB: This is your first feature-length. What was the experience like of going from what you did before to making a full length film?
Michael: Sam was producing a lot of short films for people, and I had produced my professor’s feature-length movie right after I graduated. It was a very low budget movie. Made for like $15,000. For me it was kind of like oh wow you can actually do this for very little money. It was very intense. More of a marathon than I’m used to. The shoots are pretty much the same, but you don’t stop after 3 days. We had to go on for 16 days.
EB: Are you working on anything now? Or both working on independent projects?
Sam: Right now I’m co-writing with two other women, a comedy series. It’s going to be kind of kooky and weird. It’s called I ADORE DOLORES. Mike’s actually helping out with it, and supposed to act in it as well.
Michael: While we were editing the movie, I’ve been working on a new script of mine. It’s a horror script. I’ve been just trying to get that into development.
Sam: Yes, always hustling, haha.
Michael: We were talking about collaborating on a new script actually. It’s something that we are thinking about a lot, because we really do enjoy writing and working together. We just found out…today they announced it…that we won the best first feature!
Sam: We’re pretty thrilled about that. We were very, very surprised. You spend like two and a half years questioning every decision you’ve made, and then you have people watch it finally.
EB: I’m sure it’s extremely nerve-wracking working on something for so long and putting it out for the public to poke at it. Especially with anything comedic. What if you just find it funny and no one else does?
Sam: Oh yeah every single screening we’ve had people laugh at different moments. It’s never consistent. I mean there’s some consistency with the jokes, but it will be astounding how we’ll watch one screening, and hear people laugh at a certain point, then not laugh at other jokes. It’s hard to anticipate, but it’s freeing in a certain way, because now I’m not going to think so much about it, and trust my instincts.