Hey all! McEric here,
So, you may recall I reviewed a flick called GROUPERS a while back, and shortly afterward I was able to interview the writer/director Anderson Cowan about film. Thanks to Depression, 50-hour-work-weeks, and a new Nic Cage every week, that interview gathered dust on my hard drive for the past few months.
Imagine my elation when I learned that the film is being released on Amazon Prime today, November 21st for streaming, though! I am legitimately excited that this movie is widely available because, you guys... you guys...
It's good. It's worth talking about, and you need to talk to people who've seen it.
I've flagged this article as spoiler heavy, because I'd seen the movie by the time I talked to Anderson, and he, you know, made it, so we were able to talk quite freely. If you want to read my spoiler-free review, click here. Otherwise, read the whole interview and really let the knife slide in as we close it referring to how difficult it was to review without spoilers and we pat each others' backs over the whole thing. It's truly perverse.
You've been warned.
Eric McClanahan: So, GROUPERS. I loved the movie. I loved the stylistic storytelling where it starts very narrowly with the core three and then it widens out and widens out and you see more and more of the physical picture of what’s going on. The audience gets to discover it at the same time as the characters onscreen so it’s very personal, collaborative, intimate. Thoroughly enjoyed the film. Tell me about the writing process, particularly this title: GROUPERS. Tell me what was the light bulb moment for that idea.
Anderson Cowan: Well the initial title was much more… less acceptable. Because the initial title was the title of her project in the draft that I wrote, which was lower case “b”, dash, dash, lower case “d”, and if you look at that on paper, it resembles two figures on their knees facing each other, and the dashes represent, basically, their penises.
But then as I continued to rewrite and rewrite and realized that this was going to be an actual production, that I was going to be able to raise the money and make this film, it occurred to me “Who the hell am I to have such an obscure, out-there title?” So I started wracking my brain trying to come up with an alternate title. GROUPERS came to me fairly early on because the main message I’m getting at is group mentality, group thought; how we all surround ourselves with like-minded people and in many cases are getting to places where we don’t even talk to people on the other side of issues that we don’t agree with. So we don’t even want to hear what other people have to say and it’s my belief that later on in life that makes you into a somewhat intolerant person.
EM: Something you touched on there, that we don’t talk to people who are different to us, but we’re so eager to be accepted and find connections that we often don’t even talk to the people that we claim to be close to. Like when it’s discovered that Dylan has homosexual tendencies and Brad exclaims “I don’t even know you.”
AC: Yeah, that’s exactly what I was striving for. And I even threw in the bit about him having contact lenses and they don’t even pay attention to each other or know each other at all. Barely on the surface. So he didn’t even know that his best friend had contact lenses and had to take them out of his eyes every night. Everything that I did with this movie, because I spent so long on it, there’s a tension behind everything. I think the one that gets lost a little bit; I mean everyone gets the homophobia, homosexuality being a choice or not and all that, but I think the group mentality bit got a little bit lost. But I don’t think it got lost with you at all. Later in the film, when the two gutter punks show up, they’re almost a version of Brad and Dylan if they didn’t change their ways later in life, they’d grow into these extremely intolerant miscreants.
EM: Yeah, and there was a disconnect with Hank and Frank, too, where they pal’d around all the time but didn’t share the same ideals. Whereas Frank was eager to throw a toaster in the pool and Hank had to keep shouting “No, we’re not doing murder!”
AC: Yeah, “we’re not doing murder.” A lot of people adapt to their group or their friends so that they can fit in. Personally, Eric, I’ve never understood the desire to fit in maybe because I didn’t fit in anywhere from an early age. But people who lie about who they are just so they can fit in make me sad and at times it makes me angry. So that’s kind of what’s behind a lot of my writing.
EM: Tell me more about the character of Orin. Obviously he’s the focus of the whole film and clearly the catalyst of this whole essay on homophobia in America, but he’s a very flawed character. Tell me about your choice to make him so… troubled.
AC: Well he’s based on, partially, me from my days in school where I felt comfortable being the outlier and being picked on and bullied at times. And I settled into that, for a period of time in my life, where I invited bullies to engage. And I fought back, and sometimes I won, and there’s nothing better than beating up a high school jock while I was wearing makeup and saying “You just got beat up by a dude wearing make-up!” But, I get that. I was also a counselor for over twenty years at a summer camp, and I’d have like ten or twelve teenagers in a cabin for a week and I’d immediately identify the kid that would try to annoy the other campers just so he’d get picked on because that’s what they’re comfortable with. So it’s drawn from reality. But I really went down that route because I didn’t want to be preachy. If he was a traditional, sympathetic victim it would’ve been a pretty preachy movie and that’s not the tone I was going for at all.
EM: Smart. Tell me about Durant. Where did that character come from?
AC: Durant is, actually, I’ve never talked about this in any of the interviews, so this’ll be cool. Another script that I wrote years ago has a very similar character, so it’s almost the same guy, so I sort of moved him over here. I knew I needed somebody who was more evolved to wrap up the movie, to end the whole thing; someone who has different friends, different interests, and is more well-rounded and can see things for what they are, better than the characters who are entrenched in their own belief systems that precede him. Durant, his backstory, which doesn’t get covered in the movie, is he spent some time in jail, some time in prison, and while we always hear about these prisoners who spend all their time in jail studying law and becoming lawyers so they can defend themselves, he knew he was going to get out and so spent his time learning real estate and getting his license so he could make that market work for him once he got out of the system. So I’ve always had that character in my head for various projects and was really glad that I got to drop him in to the end of GROUPERS. I think that he really helped me finish the story.
EM: Yeah, he really buttoned it up quite well and I enjoyed the connection that he and Meg had; the idea that they’re probably the most level-headed thinkers in the group at that point.
AC: It was like there were a bunch of yelping dogs at their feet and those two were having adult, well-thought-out conversations about things, trying to make it all right.
EM: I liked the Sonic Boom connecting different points of time throughout the story. Where did that idea come from?
AC: So I was trying to come up with different plot points that would happen in the various stories as we go back in time and we’d see these same events again and again but from different points of view, and… sonic booms I guess don’t happen as often as they used to, but I remember when I was a kid in school we’d hear them and used to get scared thinking it was an earthquake living out here in L.A. It’s always like two booms that rattles all the windows. And I just thought it’d be fun to have another “What the hell is going on?” moment in the movie that you’re completely confused about as a viewer then you get an explanation way down the road almost to the point that you’ve forgotten you were confused about that and you just let it go and it’s kind of a reward to pay it off towards the end.
EM: It’s a finely intricate detail, and I do appreciate that you give the explanation and it does pay off. I mean, the first time you hear it, you’re thinking “Wait, are they at a testing site? Are they testing bombs? Is that why the houses are abandoned?”
AC: I wanted to keep the audience a little off balance with something like that, but at the same time I didn’t want to promise something that I couldn’t pay off. That is something that I was concerned about, that people will start to think that aliens are coming around the corner and then that never pays off. But additionally everyone who read the script was really confused by it even after it got explained at the end, and I thought about pulling it out, but I also it ties in that I could say that’s why that neighborhood is more abandoned than some of the others ‘cause there are test facilities nearby going through all this stuff so it lost property value but that would be me making excuses for something I wrote in.
EM: Maybe GROUPERS 2: THE KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL. We can do that next.
AC: My God. [laughs] No.
EM: Yeah, terrible. Tell me, that final scene that Brad and Dylan share together: Dylan seems to be hanging with a new group; where are they, personally, at that point?
AC: That was one of the most hellish shoot days, by far. We paid a lot of money to shoot at a city college and there was one problem after another and we were very pressed for time. The setup is that is that they’re supposed to be at school, it’s supposed to be a flash-forward, or later on afterward and Dylan is now embracing his homosexuality identity and dressing in the tank that we’ve got on him in there and he’s being bullied, picked on, because everyone knows what they went through thanks to social media. So he’s been in the elevator and he has two new bullies, like the new Brad and Dylan, on either side of him giving him an earful and then the elevator opens and he sees Brad. Maybe for the first time since the entire fiasco. The two bullies see Brad and they get a little nervous, ‘cause Brad’s still like the head honcho at the school and they’re not going to bully his old friend in front of him so they shrink away. And then Brad and Dylan share kind of an awkward sad moment, kind of like they broke up, like they were best friends and now they don’t talk anymore. Brad walks by, and I like how they kind of touch shoulders briefly as they pass, and then one’s going down and the other’s heading elsewhere. They’re diverging. They’re breaking up.
EM: I think one of my favorite parts of the film is the last line, with the professor after Meg has submitted her project. “So… you put their genitalia in… what?”
AC: Yeah, that’s a call-back to Meg earlier. My concern is there’s a lot of meta-stuff in here with the way I wrote it. For example when Hank and Frank come on the scene and they’re getting the whole story that the entire audience already knows from Brad and Dylan, I’m kind of treading water there, and just hearing what we already know is a major no-no when you’re writing the script; you’re supposed to be always moving the story forward. I did it because I wanted to further humiliate the boys with this new character who is looking at what they’re going through at that point, and then Frank comes in and says “This is just boring. I’m going to go find a toaster.” And that was me saying “I know you already know all this stuff, audience.” And also, we had Brad earlier talking to Meg saying “Do you really think anyone is going to take this serious with a dick-trap at the center of your experiment?” and that’s me saying “Do I really think anyone’s going to take this movie seriously with a dick-trap at the center of the movie?” And she responds, “Yes, I think the smarter people will look past the dick-trap and see the larger point we’re trying to make here.” And then ultimately at the end the Professor, who is probably smarter than anyone in the room, can’t look past the dick-trap and see what she’s trying to say. He’s stuck on the dick-trap. “You put their genitalia in what?” Like that’s all he wants to know. Her thesis is totally lost. And that was my fear: that audiences aren’t going to be able to see past that. And that’s why I ended with that.
EM: Yes, it’s very self-aware and winking. I appreciated that. It’s a payoff to the audience for seeing the whole movie and saying “yeah, we know…”
AC: If they liked it at that point they can be like “Oh, I’m smarter than the professor. I’m more evolved than the professor.” So it’s a little reward.
EM: So what’s next for you?
AC: I wrote this in order to have one out there so I could make the other ones that I’ve been wanting to make for years and have been writing and retooling and this is actually the first in a trilogy that I’m calling The Comeuppance Trilogy and they’re connected only by their themes. In this one, the homophobes get their comeuppance. The next one that I really want to make is called THE BATTLE AT SKUNK SKULL and it’s got a summer camp backdrop and that’s where pedophiles get their comeuppance and it’s more of a horror/thriller, and I really want to make that movie. I wrote that one before GROUPERS and I absolutely love it. I don’t like much of what I write, I usually hate everything that I make, I think a lot of us are like that, but there’s something about BATLLE AT SKUNK SKULL that I’d just be so, so, so happy to make this movie. And then the last one in The Comeuppance Trilogy is like the big game hunters, like the guy who pays $100,000 to go shoot a big elephant in Africa, like those guys get their comeuppance in the third film in the trilogy.
EM: You can get that Jimmy John’s asshole; that guy makes me sick.
AC: And there was that dentist with the lion. When that happened a couple of years ago it gave me the idea to write this. There’s something really satisfying, when we know that individually we have very little power, but to sit down and write a story about someone you dislike and make them suffer is its power.
EM: Well, I think with the conversations this film is generating you should definitely get your opportunity to make your next film, hopefully the whole trilogy. And I hope to talk to you about those as they come out. Anything else you’d like to add about GROUPERS?
AC: Not really. I talk about movies for a living right now. I’ve been able to stay afloat during this whole process. My wife got pregnant right as I started writing and raising money for GROUPERS and my job at LoveLine ended and I’d done for that a decade and a half. So I had no job, my wife was pregnant, and I was like I’m going to start raising money for my first feature film and she was like “Why would you think this was a good time?” and I was like “Now or never…” So I’ve been talking about movies; the way that I’ve been paying bills was through a couple of my film podcasts, CinemAddicts and The Film Vault and my favorite thing to do on those shows is to find a small, independent movie of value that you may not have heard about and bring it to the table and say “You haven’t heard about this movie but you’re going to love it once discovering it” and that’s my favorite thing to do; I almost feel like a DJ like somebody who plays a new song and makes people like if for the first time. I love introducing people to new films and I was thinking along those lines while writing this film, too, like this would be a good movie you’d want to tell your friends about it. Because what you want to do, and you actually wrote this in your review, is you want to talk to people about GROUPERS after you’ve seen it. That’s how I wrote it. You want to unpack it and discuss it. You have to have other people who have seen it in order to do that, though.
EM: Yeah, in my initial review, I wanted to say so much about the other characters coming in and changing the story and what a wonderful discovery it is that you’re going to sit down and focus on these characters but then realize that they live in an established world and there are other people there. I really didn’t want to spoil it for anyone. I wanted them to discover that, too. And then get that conversation going. I really hope that happens. I can’t see any reason why it won’t. I’m really excited for the movie. Excited for you. And, yeah.
AC: Thank you, Eric. I really appreciate that. I appreciate you keeping all the spoilers out of the review; it’s a glowing review and it’s even better because you didn’t give everything away. It’s a hard movie to talk about without immediately… once you get past the 35-minute mark you can’t talk about anything without spoiling it, so I appreciate you dancing around that.
EM: Yeah, well I didn’t want to take that from anyone because I think this movie offers a lot to those who can have that discovery.
AC: Appreciate that, man.
GROUPERS releases on Amazon Prime today!
Until next time, see you at the movies!
-McEric, aka Eric McClanahan-