Douchebag
Excuse me, Maam. Would you be interested in spiritual enlightenment?


Theatrical Release Date: 10/29/2010
Director: Drake Doremus
Cast: Andrew Dickler, Ben York Jones, Marguerite Moreau, Nicole Vicius, Amy Ferguson, Wendi McLendon-Covey


Trailer:

Looking at the road while you drive is for suckers.

A movie’s title goes a long way in grabbing peoples’ interest. Whether it’s “Superman”, “My Best Friend’s Wedding”, or “Thankskilling”, many film goers will form an opinion about the movie based on the name.

Well, with the moniker “Douchebag”, director Drake Doremus and his team have certainly made a statement. Some may be offended (though I doubt anyone who frequents this site would be), some may simply toss it off as silly, but the most common reaction I’ve experienced when referencing the film is that people perk up their ears and are intrigued to discover the film’s premise.

Basically, it’s about Sam (Andrew Dickler) and Tom (Ben York Jones); two estranged brothers who are brought back together when Sam is about to get married. While having dinner, what begins as a playful notion to find out about Tom’s childhood love becomes a quest that the siblings undertake – consisting of a road trip and the baring of emotional scars that the pair have spent years trying to cover up.

In a round table interview that I and other members of the San Diego Film Critics Society held with Dickler (who just finished work on a documentary short for Malaria No More with Ed Helms and other comedians trying to increase awareness of the problem of malaria), we got the inside scoop on what happened behind the scenes of “Douchebag”.

The entire production was made on a shoestring budget, consisting of little more than the money necessary to pay for gas, food and hotels. In regards to the catchy name, originally the film was going to be titled “Mary Barger” but in an effort to better market the film, producer Jonathan Schwartz decided upon “Douchebag” after hearing the term as an aside in a conversation with Dickler and Doremus.

Moving onto the style in which the film was made, one of the easy ways to describe it is as mumblecore. However, as Dickler points out, that branding isn’t something they as film makers set out to do. “I don’t embrace it (mumblecore). It’s really for you guys (critics). Genres are a perfect way for you to describe it to readers. It’s a very quick way to describe something about a movie, it’s not always accurate.”

For those not familiar with the genre, Dickler describes it as “a movie with no budget, with actors that nobody knows who they are, they may not even be professional actors, a lot of improvising, made with minimal crew, simple locations and dialogue driven … But you could say that about (John) Cassavetes.”

Asked about the amount of improvising used, Dickler responds “We had an outline and we had talked a lot about the characters and what the story was going to be. It was always going to be a simple story and things did change but in that sense we had a plan. And we knew in each scene, the purpose of what each scene was going to be but we didn’t know what we were going to say, almost all the time. There were certain things, maybe a line here or there was written.”

The film was actually shot in about 15 days: an initial 8 or 10 days, then a year-long break over which Dickler was working as an editor on another project, 4 or 5 more days of shooting to address story or character needs and then after a test screening for friends and family, another day and a half of shooting to finish the film.

As is the case with many low budget features, the camera work was done in a hand-held style and, in this case, using only one camera. We asked Dickler whether they had thought about doing more established/steady shots utilizing tripods or other means:

“To go buy the tripod, no problem right? But when you then put a camera on a tripod, you’re setting up a shot … and there’s no time to set up a shot, there’s no time to block a shot. You’re in a location, maybe the sun’s going down, you may not have even known you were shooting. A tripod is no good, you have to be hand-held. We were encouraged to do whatever, and it made it difficult to capture something when you’re tethered to a tripod.”

Of course, being the lead actor wasn’t the only hat Dickler wore for the film. Although “Douchebag” marks his feature film acting debut, his established profession is that of a film editor. We asked about the challenges this project presented and what is was like to edit himself:

“It’s very difficult to edit improvised material. We shot with one camera and unless you do a two or three camera shoot … we thought about two cameras but it comes back to the tripod thing: Each camera has to be careful not to include the other camera. When you’re really running and gunning, it’s just easier with one camera. We shot with a Panasonic HVX, a consumer camera; there are different mounts, for lenses, but we didn’t bother. We just shot with the zoom that comes with it.”

“[Editing myself] was great, I loved doing it, the acting; it was great to see another side of film making and storytelling that I never thought I’d pursue or end up doing but when I got back into the cutting room with the material, it wasn’t any different than if I was cutting anyone else. I think it’s because I wasn’t an actor and the nature of improvised material … it’s difficult to make things work in the editing room and you have to just … I wasn’t self-conscious … it’s like, is this emotionally working for the scene? Does this work for the character? Does it work for the rest of the movie? Is it funny? Is this conversation timed right? Is it grammatically making sense? And the fact that it was me, it just didn’t matter. I was always fully aware that it was me, but in the editing room it was kind of irrelevant.”

Amazingly, as mentioned above, this is Dickler’s first acting job. Having met him now on two occasions, I can say that he is quite different from his character and that he does a remarkable job in the film. It’s impressive that he and Jones were improvising nearly all of their scenes; not only because their efforts seemed so spontaneous (because they largely were) but also because each moment gives the audience another glimpse into the characters. Sure, maybe Dickler’s editing had a hand in making everything seem so coherent, but with only one camera for coverage, there’s only so much he can do as far as smoke and mirrors go.

Assisting Dickler and Jones is Marguerite Moreau, who so beautifully acts as the bridge between the two brothers. She forces their hands and gets the process of reconciliation and forgiveness underway. While the bulk of the film focuses on the brothers and their road trip, she gives the film a home base from which to give context to their journey.

I’d be remiss in reviewing the film if I didn’t also tip my hat to Casey Inmoor and Jason Torbert (who some San Diegans may know as Goddamn Electric Bill). They did most of the music and while there isn’t an official soundtrack, the songs can be found online through your portal of choice. And while these gentlemen are giving the film a musical component, Christopher Baier is the ghost painter of the project, providing all the artwork we see as Tom’s in the film. Dickler mentioned to me that he owns two of the pieces and once you see the film, it’s easy to see why they would mean so much to him.

Boiling all of this down, “Douchebag” is a very good film, made because the filmmakers had the passion to do so – not because there was a giant paycheck waiting upon the project’s completion. Seeing the film a second time brought out a little more of the humor, though part of that may also have been helped by having a full audience as opposed to the initial press-only screening. A 4 out of 5, this is a clear example of the quality that benefits a film when those making it understand that the primary goal should be to tell a story, full of three dimensional characters, that doesn’t follow any pre-determined path because it says to in some screenwriting 101 book.

4 out of 5

 

And for those looking to help promote the film once you see it, or just looking for something fun to do on your iPhone, closing out the interview, Dickler mentioned that he and his girlfriend came up with a great marketing tool to help promote the film:

“We did an iPhone app. [It has] a soundboard of funny quotes from the movie. There is a texting tool that you can text your friend a still from the movie with a quote. It’s free. My girlfriend is an app designer and it was our idea to do it together; and the thing about an app, for a film that has no money, is that when you pay for a newspaper ad, it runs one time and it’s gone but paying for an app, it sits on the app store forever and someone downloads it to their phone and there are updates. And the idea of this app is to send a message to your friend and so then it helps promote and you can send it to Facebook.”

So for those of you with iPhones out there (sorry Android users), you can download the app for free and share a little “Douchebag” love with friends.