Simon Garrett, Gapar Noe, and Tim and Eric. On paper, these four filmmakers couldn’t be anymore different. Now, in the wake of this years Sundance Film Festival, these four individuals have found their Breakfast at Tiffany’s. While the reactions that V/H/S and Irreversible elicited from people were pretty horrific, with people actually being whisked away by ambulances, the reaction to Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie saw sickness replaced by sheer anger, as about a third of the audience walked out of the screening.
What’s interesting about the whole affair is the ear-to-ear smiles that graced the faces of directors Eric Wareheim and Tim Heidecker, who were clearly reveling in the moment. We decided to catch up with Tim and Eric while they were in town to learn about their reaction to their Sundance screening, and if I had been reading too much into Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie.
215: I know you’re probably sick about talking about it, but let’s talk about Sundance for a second. How satisfying was it to get the reaction you did?
EW: It was awesome to have our movie at Sundance. It was like a dream come true.
215: As you know, Sundance is one of those festivals where having a negative reaction to your film is more often than not better than receiving a standing ovation. Did seeing the negative reaction from the audience seem to affirm your goal for the film?
TH: Well, most film festivals are attended primarily by upper-middle class, white, liberal, PC types. So they’re not really the audience for our film. Some people went to see it, not knowing anything about it, and decided at some point that they had better things to do. That’s fine. I didn’t make too much of it.
215: It’s interesting that the film starts off with a satire of what Sundance films have become. Did you make the choice to start the film that way with the festival circuit in mind?
EW: We didn’t make the film for Sundance, but we like making fun of big Hollywood movies. The fact that anyone would give us a billion dollars to make one is a joke. We don’t come from a place where anyone would invest that much into a joke within the movie.
215: Another moment that stuck out from the beginning of the film was the Schlaang Chair: this elaborate device that turns the movie viewer into a totally passive recipient of a movie. Do you see this as how people actually watch films today?
EW: I think movies are shit. They’re either gimmicky or their regurgitated old ideas. So here’s another idea about, “Here’s this special thing to make this movie better.” It’s like 3D. It’s also just a classic, Tim and Eric “nightmare idea.”
TH: They have that now. They have these “shock seats” where it rumbles in an action sequence. People don’t know what to do.
215: Was the idea to make a movie an idea you both were adamant about, or was it suggested by other people?
TH: It was mix, right off the bat. We always wanted to make a movie, even before our TV show. We also had people telling us, “If you have an idea for a movie, let us know.” The timing was right, and the right people got involved. Funny or Die was the perfect company to partner with because they’ve made movies before, but they understood that we needed to be ourselves and do things our way.
215: Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems that the film makes a pretty strong statement about American capitalism and how things got to be the way they are in American society. Is the film meant to have a political statement, or is it simply to be enjoyed as a comedy?
TH: I think implicit in everything we do is the idea of “look around you, and look at the horrible culture we’ve created: the mass consumerism and the disgusting marketing of crap to everyone.” When we were coming up with the movie, there was the discussion about the decay of American society and how there are these malls in towns where things have gone to hell. It’s not overt, and it’s not necessarily conscious in the writing, but I think it’s there in everything we do.
215: You tend to use the mall as a setting in a lot of your work, particularly in Tom Goes to the Mayor. To what extent do you see “the mall” as a mini-metaphor for America?
EW: Originally we wanted the mall to be a small town, which is what we’ve been poking fun at since Tom Goes to the Mayor. The mall has a president, people who work there, people who live there, so it is kind of a small society.
215: Critics have always criticized your work as being mired in gross-out, scatological humor. Do you see that humor as a tool to achieve your artistic ends?
EW: The movie is a really dynamic experience: there’s laughs, there’s groans, and there’s shocking moments. It’s just one element of the movie we like.
TH: It’s weird, because that stuff doesn’t represent a lot of screen time, but people talk about it because it’s there to talk about. It’s just one tool in our toolbox to make people laugh or not laugh. It’s a side of what we think is funny, but it’s not the only thing we think is funny.
215: Is one of your goals to make the audience uncomfortable, if only for a moment?
EW: Yeah. That’s a lot of our humor: setting up weird situations and relationships that are awkward. Like the relationship between Tim and his son. It’s weird, it’s awkward, but there’s a very unique kind of laugh you get from that set-up.
215: In the film you send-up the New Age, holistic medicine establishment through the Schrim Center. Is this based on something specific you’ve come in contact with or is it a general skewering of the alternative health care system?
EW: It’s more general. In LA there’s lots of healing centers and things like that.
215: You mention taking experiences from LA and incorporating them into the film, but it still has such a connection to small-town, USA. How do you maintain the connection to your grassroots while working in LA?
TH: We grew up in a small town and spent the first 25 years of our lives in a small town. Those memories and those experiences aren’t going anywhere soon.
215: Can you set-up what Tim and Eric’s Billion Dollar Movie 2 might look like?
EW: Tim and Eric’s Trillion Dollar Movie! It opens in a jail cell. We’d like to make another Tim and Eric Movie soon.
TH: I think it would be breaking boundaries of what a movie could be if it could function as a movie and as a screensaver!