Kloipy interviews Phil Messerer for Underbelly Blues
Check the jump for the interview!
Kloipy: First off Phil, I wanted to say thanks for taking the time to answer some questions. I’m a fan of Thicker Than Water. Which was a tale of family coping with a daughter suffering from a severe case of vampirism. Although Thicker than Water had many humorous moments, it was also a very touching family drama. What was it about taking a new look at the now saturated market of vampires that made you want to put a very distinct twist on the genre?
Phil: Just that. It seemed like every vampire flick was the same. Over the top, overly dramatic, and over produced. And none of them really gave the genre a realistic treatment. I mean what would it really be like to have a vampire living in your basement. One that required human blood and consequently human sacrifices for nourishment. I wanted to make a warts and all depiction of the vampire predicament. Chances are there’d be very little room for romance. Unless you consider blood and guts romantic. It’s something I never really understood. What the hell is so romantic about mass murdering creatures of the night? You’re supposed to run from them not spread your legs. But Hollywood has different ideas.
There’s also a healthy dose of satire in TTW, something that I think raises it above pure popcorn fodder. The nice Christian family must grapple with morality. Family values win out at the expense of strangers’ corpses. Hence the title, Thicker Than Water. It’s a fun, challenging little flick. Author and vampire connoisseur, Gabrielle Faust, said that I tread a fine line between reverence and irreverence. This is something I think will permeate most of my work. I choose a genre or subject matter because I love it or am fascinated by it but at the same time, anything that falls under my radar will get the Messerer treatment – I will make fun of it.
Kloipy: Whereas Thicker than Water was a small cast, your newest film Underbelly Blues looks like it has a fairly large cast and scope. How was it to make the transition?
Phil: Actually it was easier, believe it or not. TTW was a very intense, concentrated production. It had a very small cast, whose dedication was paramount, who spent two years developing their characters. There was also a heavily dramatic element to the film that required a great deal of soul searching. It was tough. It was also my first feature and I approached it with a very control heavy brush. The entire film was set in one house, so I would have a controlled environment, the cast would be small, everything would be doable. But the film came out a little constipated for my liking. It had very little room to breathe. With UB, I decided to go in the complete opposite direction. I’ve always felt that ultimately, film is the performers’ craft. You are completely at the mercy of your cast. If they suck, so does your film. So, I decided to let them do their thing. And sometimes I think the best thing for a director to do is just get out of the way. I actually like the results much better this way. I let them improvise and even create their own characters. The only time I stepped in was to curb their craziness occasionally. But mostly, I let them run amok and I think they really appreciated it.
In terms of production, I also found it easier. UB has over 40 speaking parts and almost thirty prominent characters. It’s is easier because no one really has to devote more than a couple of days to the shoot. This is a huge weight off. And in terms sets, I figured we’re going to have to wake up every day, go to a set, pull out our gear and set up anyway. Might as well be a different location every day. We ended having over twenty locations and naturally this really adds to the production value, not to mention much more fun to watch. It’s funny but it turned out that the exact opposite was true, the smaller the production, the harder the shoot.
Kloipy: From the looks of the film it seems to be what Pulp Fiction would have been if it was directed by John Waters. How did the idea come about to you and co-writer Seamus Reed?
Phil: Well, Seamus is a stand up comic and he knows everyone in the Hollywood stand up comedy world. We knew that we wanted to make an adult comedy. We wanted the cast to shine and not feel like they are being constrained or censored in any way. So initially, we approached the funniest comics around and we asked them create their own characters. This was before we had a script or even an outline for a story. The only parameters we gave them was that their characters had to be criminals of some sort. Once we had a cast of suitably colorful characters, we began a weekly improv regimen that lasted a couple of months. I would shoot all these sessions with a little camcorder. After a couple of months, Seamus and I felt that we had enough to put together a little screenplay using some of the best moments that had come out of the improv. And really, I think that if I sat around for three years I could not have come up with the gold that these guys were giving me on the spot. I mean, they were mostly stand up comics anyway, I figured I might as well use their creative abilities. That’s how loose this production was. I encouraged them to contribute content at every turn. Afterwards, Seamus and I locked ourselves in a room for a couple of weeks and churned out a script that would loosely serve as the shooting script. Sure, we tweaked it a little before every shoot, but basically, it was all there. I mean, this is what film is supposed to be – a collaboration. I just took that notion to the extreme.
Kloipy: As an independent director, do you feel you have more freedom to create the original vision you had for a production without the constant direction from focus groups or studio influence?
Phil: Sure, creative freedom is an awesome luxury that studio filmmakers rarely get to enjoy. Both my films probably never would have made it past development stage if a studio was involved. There are parts of UB that completely throw the ratings system for a loop. Hollywood is in the business of making money. And consequently they end up whitewashing most of their products to make them more universally acceptable. And I understand that. When you spend 50 million, you want to see a return. So it’s almost our duty as indies to go places Hollywood wouldn’t dare to tread. I think I’m always going to push the envelope as much as I can and if I do ever make movies under the studio system, I’m sure I’ll butt heads with the best of them. But I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it. For now, I’m almost content making flicks on a budget. I mean, no matter how much money you pump into your special effects or whatever, you’re still not going to be able to beat a good script with a good cast. And those aren’t that expensive. That’s my feeling, anyway.
Another nice luxury that I have is that I don’t have to shoot the entire film on consecutive days. I can shoot on weekends, take a couple weeks off to plan the next shoot, edit what I’ve got, alter the script. I have found this to be very important. We shot UB in thirteen shoot days. But if they were consecutive, the film would have sucked big time. This is something I started with my first film and it’s the one piece of advice I’d want to impart to other aspiring filmmakers. Take your time. You don’t need to finish production in two weeks. Take two or three months with nice breaks in between every shoot day. Treat each shoot as if you’re shooting a series of short films. That is our right as indies.
Kloipy: With the constant barrage of Hollywood drivel and floating in a sea of remakes, do you feel there is still hope for a time where creativity and art can make its way back into the forefront?
Phil: Sure, the right people just need to be put at the helm. My biggest gripe with Hollywood is not even the fact that very little original content is given a chance. I understand that with the amount of money at stake, commercially proven formula is is the only thing getting green-lit. My biggest gripe is that I seem to keep seeing the same tired, untalented faces in every movie. And really, if there’s one thing that we have proven with UB it’s that you cannot throw a rock in this town without hitting some genius performer struggling to pay his or her rent. The real problem with Hollywood is the casting directors with their ten page A-list rolodexes who don’t give anyone new a shot. And I’m sorry but who made these people stars, anyway? One thing I vow to do is to continue to give new kids a try. I don’t want to work with stars. I want to create them.
Kloipy: Could you name a film or two that first made you look at the movies as more than just ‘entertainment’ and what was it that drove you to say ‘I want to do this someday’?
Phil: I’m a huge fan of the Coen Brothers and Early Tarantino. Why? Because they made character king. Most movies die after the first act because the plot just kinda takes over. There’s nothing to talk about except the bomb or the monster or whatever the film is ‘about’. The Coens never let a little thing like plot get in the way of good character development. Actually that’s not true. Development is not really the right word for a Coen character. As a matter of fact, not a single Coen character has ever ‘evolved’. They leave the film exactly the same as they enter. Something I’ve always found pretty cool. And when you think about it, there’s nothing more phony than character development. Who really changes during the course of two hours. The best characters come fully evolved and the film is just a stage for them to do their dance or whatever. Tarantino liberated dialogue. A huge influence on me.
Kloipy: Phil, again thank you for taking the time to answer a few questions. Before we go, what is it about Underbelly Blues that you would like audiences to know, and could you please let us know where to go to check out the film?
Phil: It’s just a really fun flick. We set out to make a movie that people can really enjoy and I think that we’ve succeeded. If you have a dark, mischievous sense of humor like mine, I think you’ll be pretty satisfied. It won’t be coming out for a little while. It’ll be doing the festival circuit for the next few months so look out for it at your local indie film fest. We don’t have a distributor yet but hope to find one soon and maybe even have a theatrical release. Who knows. Gotta aim big. Anyway, thanks a lot for spreading the word. Keep the indie dream alive! The technology is now here. There are no more excuses. Just pick up a camera and start shooting!
Thanks again to Phil for taking the time to give us this interview. Look forward to see more features from Phil in the future!
You can find Underbelly Blues at
watch the trailer here NSFW http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M5jOkXz29fo
Welcome back (sorta) Kloipy.
Great job scoring this interview, well done sir.
Good job on the interview Kloipy.
This Phil guy managed to sound like a regular normal dude and not an insufferable Hollywood half wit douchtard.
Xi, I am standing right here…
Ooh- Well done Kloipy and Welcome back.
This is all proper journalism and whatnot.
Did TTW ever get UK distribution? Because I still haven’t seen it.
thanks guys! It is a welcome back for me as I do have some free time now. Phil was really cool and down to earth guy.
Jarv- I don’t think TTW did get distribution. I’ll have to ask Phil and see when and if it will
Cheers Kloipy. It must be on the internets somewhere.
Great interview Kloipy, though since Tarantino just grates on my nerves now, I hope Messerer doesn’t do his dialogue quite like that. It was refreshing to hear his take on vampires/romance bullshit though….
Phil is a good guy–down to Earth as you say, Xi–, and although TTW was very low budget it wasn’t without intelligence and strong character development. I actually quite enjoyed what they did with it. Jarv, I think it might be on VOD, or if not, you could probably contact Messerer yourself and inquire about procuring one.
Good job Kloipy. Reminds me I need to get back on top of the indie film promoting thing.
Yeah, it’s also reminded me that I need to watch the rest of Len’s films.
Is he still threatening you?
Nah. He was nice last time out.
Wait until you review his next movie.
I’m being all constructive and whatnot.
I’m going to email it to him.
Swamp Zombies wasn’t that bad. Fist of the Vampire was, though. Boring Lesbianage!
Boring lesbianage is one of the worst sins possible.
Nice to hear he is improving though. I for one wish the best of any independent, low-budget filmmaker.
Swamp Zombies was that bad…. except for the hilarious shower scene. when she had to keep hitting that button to make the shower go
Thanks guys! Honestly check out the trailer when you get a chance- it’s miles different from TTW in tone and scope. Like I said in the interview Pulp Fiction meets John Waters
will do when I get home
great job on the interview, i think that phil deserve 2 be the new face of directors an writers on the hollywood scene “he would give Hollywood a new an refreshing look..
Thanks Capone- I hope that we do see a return to the more original days of film. Instead of the crap that is spewed out these days
Good job kloipy!
I have never heard of this dude or his movies, but that is what interviews like this are good for.
Again a good job there Noted_Sage Kloipy. By all means put up more of these.
Nice one, Kloipy.
I’d once again forgotten ‘Thicker Than Water’ and now consider meself reminded. Could do with a link to it…
Good interview too. The only thing I’d jump on is: ‘nothing more phony than character development. Who really changes during the course of two hours…’
Of course, a 2hr film could be staged over weeks, or months and so the characters change accordingly. But, in reality, you can change as a person in minutes. A word can change you in a second.
I actually agree with him. I never liked the idea of character arcs; I prefer character revelations. Xi knows this quote better and can correct me, but I always think of Patton’s quote “War is the acid test where the pure metal of courage is revealed” (or something like that). That is how I see dramas and horror movies and any film: the dramatic dilemma of the movie reveals the person’s true character, instead of changing the person’s character.
Of course some movies can have characters transform, and like you said Wolf, film controls time so two hours of screen time can represent 10 years, but usually I prefer people revealing their true selves versus having their character “develop.”
My least favorite thing in movies, is when they feel the need to inject a love story in the middle of the film for no reason. Can’t the movie just stand alone without having 2 characters unexplainably fall in love? that and the whole ‘we’re best friends, but now we hate each other over a misunderstanding, now we are friends again!’ UGH
You can have both, Conti.
I don’t think every film needs a character arc, I just don’t agree having one is phony.
I’ve just watched a Czech film called ‘Obchod Na Korze’ where the main character goes through a ‘reveal’ more than an arc. He doesn’t change over 2 hours but the situation he is placed in does. Watching the bloke cope with that is shattering.
thanks Wolf and Bando! Just realized this is the first I’ve posted since last Nov! that’s a crime in and of itself
Well this was a proper come back.
thank you Conti 🙂
Hey kloipy, is Phil Messerer going to read this thread?
I sent him the link and I know he’s passed it around, I’m not sure if he is going to be able to stop by and answer any questions though. I’ll hit him up tonight and see if he’d be willing to
Well done- feel better now?
PS- We don’t delete comments.
Yeah Jarv- and as I don’t post anything to gain some sort of ‘internet celebrity’ status, Nerd’s post just strikes me as funny
Fuck it. I’m owed an interview fro Len. We’ll see how it goes then
How funny would it be if this was the return of Glovedone/Braffed
How funny would it be if this was the return of Glovedone/Braffed
God I hope not.
here from AIBN I see. glad you liked the interview 🙂
Wait? Why you think this stink hole is from AIBN?
Koutch- he links to AIBN and he’s obviously someone who knows us somewhat. But I’m not pointing fingers at anyone from AIBN because I’m friends with most of them and not sure who this would be, or why the furor
Pah! Beat me to it.
I’d like to know who it was, because the deletion thong annoys me. Particularly as I had to approve it.
Awww ok. Well I can confidently say it wasn’t anyone from the Administration. But it may be a rogue Professional, that I cannot say.
Well said, Nerd!
Doesn’t sound like your own life-rethink went too well though. I say that as a friend.
I’m assuming nerd you consider yourself a “man” right? There is no proof of that since you ran away.
By the way numb nuts you just slandered AIBN since I’ve had articles published over there. That means I am “professional” by your incredibly narrow definition tiger. Way to surrender to your stupidity champ. Now stop fucking the cat your mom is suspicious, I say that as a friend.
He’s from AIBN, Xi.
I thought it was Danny stirring the pot again, but it’s a Chicago IP address. (Don’t ask how I knew that).
Who do we know is from Chicago?
I know the redirect goes to AIBN but that doesn’t mean it comes from there right? Most of the people left that post at AIBN were in Las Vegas over the weekend and none of them are from Chi town. And the few others left that didn’t go I’m pretty sure don’t live in Chicago.
Fair enough. Still, though, who do we know that would have been angry enough to do that?
I can’t think of anybody from Chicago. Actually I think TKD might live there but I am at least 50% sure it wasn’t him. It could just be some hanger on a wanna be. Or maybe her period was extra harsh this month.
Isn’t TKD from Philly or somewhere like that?
I thought TKD was from the Chicago area but I very well could be wrong since I am wrong very often.
I thought he supported the Giants or the Steelers or something. Mind, that’s not particularly a good way of working it out in America.
yep TDK is a Giants fan and I think he’s from upstate New York but might live around Chicago.
50% sure? Geez Loiuse Xi. If I was gonna rip into someone you would be 100% certain it was me. I don’t hide behind phony handles, and I like to think that my style is distinctive and devastating – yeah.
Nah, that weren’t me. I would have been funny, that tongue cleaner was just pathetic.
Yes, I live and work in chicagoland. I was born and raised in upstate NY. I am a Giants (NYC) and Steelers (Pittsburgh, PA) fan – in that order, although after what both teams did last week, I might as well be a Browns (Cleveland) fan. Oh the shame.
BTW, I watched Green Hornet tonight.
I kinda sorta liked – more like than not. It tried to be more than a formulaic superhero flick, and it sometimes succeeded, but it really needed to establish a truer identity – comedy, dramedy, parody something, instead it mashed em all up. Still it had some moments.
Knew it wasn’t you TKD.
Anyway, if I give you their address can you pop round and punch them out?
I was kidding TKD…mostly….
Don? Don Murphy? Izzat you?
where’s the guy who was sacrificed to the giant worm 2000 years ago when you need him?
Heh…funny. I just saw this comment. It’s refreshing to know you are our friend.