Thursday, March 14, 2013

Motivational Growth Q&A With Don Thacker Pt. 1

Here is the first half of my Q&A with Don Thacker of (soon-to-be) Motivational Growth fame. 

I've maybe mentioned the movie a couple of times on the blog... here and here

What follows is a pretty much (save for a few grammatical or spelling errors) unedited version of our Q&A. I've added a few little observations of my own to the mix, after receiving Don's e-mail, but I've placed these in parentheses. I should also point out that ALL of the images in this post, and the two other posts I link to above are NOT MY IMAGES. They are all images belonging to Imagos Films or Don Thacker, that I've culled from the internet. 

I'm sending you 10 (technically 11 ) questions.
Feel free to answer or not answer any of these in any way you choose. 

Let me start by pointing out that each of your 11 questions
 is actually, like, four questions. :P 
I am happy to answer them all.

(Okay, so I was hoping I could totally slip the whole "each of your 11 questions is like 4 questions" thing past without too much notice. They were at least organized in such a way as to give the appearance of same-topic musings, fit together with question marks at the end. My questions will be in bold, while Don's replies will be in standard text. -G.G.)

1.       Give me some of the background on yourself and Motivational Growth.

I am the director at Imagos Films, a company founded by myself, Alexis Thacker and Edward A. Chaves Jr. Alexis is our executive producer (and sometimes producer) and Edward is our CTO/DIT as well as an executive producer.

Imagos was founded in 2010 with the hopes of producing feature films. Motivational Growth is the first of these feature films.

Imagos Films resides in Seattle, WA, and employs a lead writer and composer. On the side we do hand-picked creative work for other industries. We're currently providing design and writing for an upcoming video game and our most recent commercial/trailer - for Pixeljam's new game "Potatoman Seeks the Troof" - has been met with cries of both "trailer of the year" and "what. the. fug."
You can see the trailer here:

Where did the “road to Motivational Growth” begin?

With an entirely different film, actually. When we were seeking feature funding we pitched a completely different film; a more expensive film. When the negotiations smoke cleared and the resultant super-indie budget was agreed upon, the decision to make a much smaller scope film was made as the budget wouldn't have done the originally planned picture justice, but would fit MG just fine.

As I am sure is the case with many other indie studios, we have a bit of a library of pitches/treatments to offer against potential budgets. MG was in there, to be sure, but it was just a kernel of an idea. A little nugget.

How has it changed or evolved from its beginnings?

The original Idea for MG was hatched at a 24hr deli in Los Angeles at, like, 2am over a bowl of matzoh-ball soup and half of a reuban sandwich. I'd saved up for a few days of PA work for this sandwich.

Things were bad for me back then. I was in a pretty dark place. I'd moved to LA in 1999 with stars in my eyes and was hit pretty hard by the harsh reality of a deeply competitive and mature industry whose single barrier to entry - the network - loomed large like some sort of monolithic iron wall tempered against incursion from young nobodies in a forge of broken dreams. Everything is very dramatic when you're 19.

So I'm in this deli with butcher's paper over the table and I pull out a pen and pad and fail miserably at being brilliant. All I can muster is "His name was Kent. He was my television set. He died sometime around week 67. Odd-- I'd always thought I'd be the first to go."

I had this television in my parents' basement back in Michigan - this little 13" deal with a built-in VCR that I used to spend summers playing Turbo Grafx 16 and watching bootleg anime on. I named it Kent. After the dude with the braces from Real Genius. In my head that this TV was my friend. I longed for him in when things got dark.

In those long summer nights in my parents' basement it was just me and that TV. I would have lost my mind if he'd died.

So that's 1999. Between then and 2010 everything changes. I've got a film company, that giant iron wall dissolves with the advent of a universally accepted system of internet communication and, well, I just grew up. I kept that line from the deli, though. And I'd pondered a story about a guy and his television on and off for the decade between that line and our decision to make MG.

When we agreed to do MG, I took that concept, as well as a number of others we'd worked into the story, and wrote drafted a script.

Then we made it. :)

There's a completely different story about The Mold - where he came from - but that's one I'm going to keep for now.

Where do you see it heading next?

In all honesty, I made a film that some people will hate, and some people will not be able to ever stop thinking about. Real world experience with screening it has born out the success in this regard. My goal in MG was to make something for people to discuss. Make something for people to dig into.

Also, though, make something that strives to make up for its lack of budget by adding value in as many ways as are possible. To go deep where it couldn't go tall. To offer a bent reality rather than an expensively impressive reality.

In that way, I hope it gains a faithful audience to whom it resonates deeply. I fully expect that this audience might be a smaller audience. I have been told that it has the makings of a "cult classic" or a "go-to midnight movie", and honestly I can't imagine a cooler outcome.

If there's one dude out there who thinks that MG is awesome, I've succeeded.

I know that's kind of dodging your question. I can't really speculate on where *I* see it going. I'm caught up with it right now. I'm flying it all over the world, to festivals all over the place.

I suppose in the immediate future I see it going to the Sun Valley Film Festival in Idaho, the Little Rock Horror Picture Show in Arkansas and ECU, the European Independent Film Festival in Paris.
That's just March, though. Right now it's difficult for me to see past March.

2.       You’ve worked with many cast members from Motivational Growth before on previous shorter film projects. What can you tell us some about the cast and your history with them? 

So, you've been doing your homework!

You get a B-. 

(To be honest, my “homework” consisted of poking around on IMDb for about 15 mins… I should totally get a D at best. -G.G.)

See, there's a time dilation effect in film. The short stuff looks like it came first because it was finished and released more quickly. I first worked with most of those people you're talking about on MG, though. It just takes 4 months of pre-production, a month and a half of production proper and 18 months of post-production for that to come bear fruit. In that time, one can produce things. Like award winning short films.
Adrian DiGiovianni (MG's Ian) is a rare gem. When we auditioned the role of Ian for MG we did so in a public library. We did this because I needed someone who wouldn't be afraid to be doing/saying uncomfortable things in front of people, even if those things were inappropriate. For Ian we auditioned the toilet monologue. As you've seen the film, you know exactly the monologue I'm talking about. It's not a public appropriate monologue.

While every other actor, regardless of skill, stood there uncomfortably or briefly pantomimed "bathroomy" things, Adrian asked me if he should drop his pants. I was sold.

I spent the next few weeks calling him in to feed lines to other people auditioning for Ian, to see how he held up under the pressure. I wasn't really auditioning those other dudes for Ian, I was paying attention to Adrian the whole time. He never lost energy. He never broke.

I knew I'd found a guy I could hang from the ceiling in his underwear.

There are similar stories for the other cast.
Danielle Doetsch, Ian's love interest, had no problem giving me a blood curdling scream on command (in the same public library), a scream I later capitalized on in The Catastrophe at Catalina (

Pete Giovagnoli made Box the Ox a giant at his audition, even though he's only, like, 5'2" tall. His performance was so solid that we used platforms and forced perspective to make him look as big as Box is in the film.

Ken Brown did an absolute TON of research for his part.

Everybody nailed it.

Since then, I have worked up personal relationships with almost every cast memeber from MG, and worked with most of them. I have since cast them in other projects, and will continue to.

3.       Without delving too deeply into dangerous “where do you get your ideas” territory, can you talk about the some of the inspirations you drew together to build the story behind Motivational Growth? Some of it seems like it must come from some pretty personal, dark places.

MG is unique to my process. It comes from a dark place, as I've said already. Nothing else I've written is like MG in that regard. I am a huge fan of high fiction. If two people having a dramatic discussion is interesting, two people having a dramatic discussion about robots is better. Better still is two people having a dramatic conversations about robots while in space.

MG was an adult's interpretation of a young man's angst. I had the kernel when I was 19 but wrote it when I was 30. A lot happens between 19 and 30, most of it perspective. I tried to grow the weirdness of the world at 19 through the lens of being 30.

When you're 19, you have no idea. If you're 19 and reading this right now, you're totally lost. Even if you're on the perfect path and have everything under control, when you're 30 you'll see how stupid you were for thinking that right now. When I was 19 I had ideas about the world that, now, seem almost indescribably wrong.

I suppose MG is an expression of that. Ian's the worst of my 19yr old self and his twisted world is what my a romanticized depression might feel like through that lens.

That's not to say none of that touches on real stuff. I've had a number of people approach me after screenings to tell me that the could relate with Ian. With some of his habits or the depth of his depression. I know I can.

4.       Parts of Adrian DiGiovanni’s performance are delivered directly to the camera. They almost feel like they could be part of a staged one-man stage show. What inspired the decision to break the fourth wall in such a way?

This was a tough decision to make. I spent a lot of time, even after the initial edit, on the fence about this one. There is a huge story reason that he does this. It's a hard sell, though, if you don't come to that early on. I think that to most people, their first time through, it's just a dude talking to the audience.

If you like the film, and are willing to watch it again - maybe a few more times - it might become more evident that your initial impression was misguided.

Maybe he's not breaking the fourth wall at all. Maybe it's not the audience that he's speaking to...

5.       While there can be many ways to interpret the outcome of M.G. there is no denying there is a struggle between certain… forces going on throughout the movie. Without spoiling too much, can you give us any play-by-play on the different forces involved, how they are represented, or even just what they represent? Or is this ALL literally up for interpretation? At least tell us a little about why Mold and TV play such heavy roles in Ian's development.

I'm not going to spoil anything, I don't think, by saying that Kent and The Mold are definitely at odds. This is true. There's a struggle there. It's an odd struggle, though, because both of them represent a very distinct dichotomy.

Kent is TV. If you grew up in the 80s, like me, the TV is this chained god sort of entity to you. It had all of this great stuff, but there was this burgeoning attitude toward television that shrouded it in this weird form of semi-taboo. TV was responsible for teaching us, for informing us of the current state of the world, for entertaining us but also accused of dumbing us down, creating mindless zombie consumers out of us and corrupting our perfect little minds. Watching TV was semi-bad, but no household was without one. It's bizarre, really.

The Mold is a fungus. Actually, The Mold is fungus. All fungus. It's gross, but it's natural. You don't want it in your bathroom, but it's been around since before there were people around to invent bathrooms to keep clean. It's nature. It's something bigger than man.

So you've got this guy who's been, essentially, abusing his TV intake and ignoring the atrophy engulfing his apartment. While he veges out on the couch, nature begins to devour his bathroom.

Again, not trying to spoil anything, what events would make that television and that fungus pillars of this guy's life? The film has a single event that does this - that polarizes these two forces - fits them into slots.

I suppose you have to choose your idea of good and evil. It becomes obvious to everyone who watches the film that one of them is good and the other is evil. The thing is, though, people don't always agree on which is which.

I imagine that Ian lives in a world where good must be sought out. Must be paid attention to. It's message must be inferred from context. It's words spoken in code. A world where evil asserts itself under the guise of good and presses, unyielding, against one's will.

As the storyteller, I have the answer. The film isn't an exercise in interpretative art. There's a through-line, and I worked very hard to both make it at once clearly discover-able to the dedicated viewer and sufficiently well hidden to entice one to watch it again.

I am sure that this will turn away a section of the viewing public. Hell, I understand - sometimes I just want to watch Commando, man. I have that shit on Blu-ray. But sometimes I want to be given a riddle.

This film is for the riddle-breakers.

Okay that's it for part one of the Q&A! I'll be back soon with more of the Q&A soon, so until then... go buy something at Goodwill or something. 

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