There is a total air of secrecy to this whole thing. Slice is not your typical film. And so this is not your typical ad campaign or press tour for a film.
Two years ago, Paul Scheer made this movie with A24 (who he was also working with around that same time on The Disaster Artist) in Joliet, Illinois. At the time, the whole thing was kept incredibly under wraps. Well, almost. Very creatively, little nuggets were dropped. Whether that was the director dropping key hints in an online publication interview or cryptic tweets or photos of a pizza box covered in blood. Little by little, the public was being teased. It’s coming!
And now, here I am, sitting with Paul Scheer in his hotel in Chicago, and you can almost feel a sigh of relief. After being guarded in so much secrecy, he can finally talk about the film and his involvement in it. It is to premiere that night in Chicago, and then a few hours later at midnight on VOD. And the internet seems, finally, super satisfied that it can find out what exactly this air of secrecy is all about.
The film itself is hard to formulate words about. That is something Paul himself even struggles with here. He attempts multiple times to best sum up the film, telling me “I want to make sure I get it just right.” What is clear is just how beautifully and wonderfully unique the film is. It is not just your typical comedy and it is not just your typical horror slasher film. The two are merged, but in a way that can almost bring forth its own sub-genre. So the fact that there are no words to describe what you’re watching is just further proof that this is really something to keep your eye on.
We talked all about the film, the unique marketing campaign, his podcast How Did This Get Made?, as well as his new podcast Unspooled in which he watches the AFI 100 Greatest Films Ever Made.
When did your involvement with the film begin?
About 2 years ago. It was right when my son was born, and I went out and shot this with Austin out in Joliet.
You’ve described this film as the hardest film you’ve ever had to describe. So when the script comes in, what is your initial reaction?
Well, I think there’s a lot of scripts that come around, especially indie scripts, and they all kind of fall into the same category. Dramas, but more than most, dramedy. If they’re kind of funny or kind of dramatic or horror. And kind of did this thing that was unlike anything else and felt like, and I know Austin probably doesn’t love this comparison, it felt like it had these Tim Burton elements and John Waters elements. It just felt like this weird world. It felt so unique. It’s not a horror movie, it’s not a sci-fi movie, but it shares all of this amazing DNA. I think the closest I can describe to it is this George Saunders novel, Civil Warland in Bad Decline. Where there’s ghosts that exist and it’s like “Yeah, that ghost exists. We don’t have to explain it more than that.” So I think what was most exciting to me as I was reading the script was “What is this? There’s werewolves, there’s ghosts, there’s a pizza place.” It just sort of blew my mind. It was exciting to see something so uniquely different.
But it all made sense.
Oh, yeah. Absolutely. Look, for a first time director, it’s a huge swing. Because it isn’t falling into a genre that I think is expected. Like I don’t know how to describe this movie in a succinct way. I can say it’s got ghosts, werewolves, and pizza. That’s a version of it. But if I tried to get into all of the machinations of what exactly is going on. It’s not easily put together. It feels very easily unique, like what I felt when I first saw those Tim Burton movies. Where you’re like “Oh, this is a vision. I’m seeing something very fun.”
Exactly. And as you’re doing it, Chance is obviously blowing up, and you’re in Joliet, Illinois making an insane movie with him. How hard was it to keep it under wraps?
Well, it was interesting, because when I knew that A24 was involved, that was a huge stamp of approval for me. Because I feel like they’ve been doing such great stuff. And I got to work with them after with The Disaster Artist, or maybe before… I can’t remember now. But the cool thing about this is they had this plan from very early on. As a matter of fact, I remember I was at TIFF last year and they had a cut of this movie ready to go. The version you’ll be seeing tonight. And they said “We want to figure out the right way to do this.” And they really thought one of the cool things to do would be to drop this like a Beyonce album or an Eminem album. Like “Boom!” It’s going to come out and hit you hard. And I think what A24 continues to do, or one of the challenges of independent film is “How do you get attention to it?” So I think that there’s this idea of “Wait, Chance is in this movie and he’s a werewolf? What is it?” It’s hard to keep it under wraps. But it’s also fun because then we can be like “It’s coming now. Boom! Here you go.” But I think that’s part of the fun. I think everything I’ve been in lately has had this air of secrecy in it, because that’s the only thing. It’s currency now. From Star Wars to this.
Right, because in the past, the way to do it was to roll out this big marketing campaign for 6 months to a year of “It’s coming!”
Yeah. It’s got to be like this. We’ve got a short attention span, or this attention span where we’re like “Give it to me now!” Snakes on the Plane, perfect example. If Snakes on the Plane came out when they announced Snakes on the Plane, I think it would have done even more. Because people want to be in. They want to hear it, they want to see it. So I feel like we’re in an immediate gratification society. Unless you are these big giant franchise movies that can use a year of building up. But even then, they’re not doing the same thing. They’re not showing you a lot. They’re just getting it right up until the point. It’s a delicate balance. And especially with a movie like this. With independent film, it’s always about finding the exact right time for it to come out. And I think, for this movie too, I think it was figuring out what was the best time in Chance’s schedule for this movie to come out.
And this was your first foray into this whole world of horror, wasn’t it?
Well, not to tell you that you’re wrong, but I was in Piranha 3D, and I was also in this movie called Hellbaby. But I feel like in the horror films that I have done, I have carved out these very weird and niche movies. This definitely has some DNA of horror, but it also has some of this weird world, too. It’s interesting. It’s not nessasarily scary as it is creating this landscape.
Let’s talk a little bit about Unspooled. I’m in the same boat, where I consider myself a film buff, but I also haven’t seen a lot of the “greatest films”.
Yeah. To me, that was exactly the genesis of the idea. I looked up the poster for the AFI 100 Greatest Films. And I was so surprised by the films I hadn’t seen or the ones I recognized that I had seen, but only remembering the penultimate moment. Like for example, Taxi Driver. I think the only thing I really remembered was “You talking to me?” And I don’t know if I remembered “You talking to me?” because it’s pop culture or because I actually saw the film. And I think when I watched the film again, I was like “Oh! I just remembered it from pop culture. I don’t really remember it from the context of the film.” Because where it’s gotten kind of watered down is by pop culture. And that scene, it’s interesting that that scene has become kind of a calling card for movies because it’s a very disturbing scene in the context of the film. So for me it was great to just go back and watch these with a different eye. I think sometimes you’re forced to watch these things like “I should watch Taxi Driver. I should watch Citizen Kane.” And you watch and you kind of begrudgingly watch it. And so to watch it and enjoy watching it, and talking to Amy Nicholson [his co-host of the podcast], who I think is a great critic, it’s kind of like a fun film school for me. To just watch and dialogue about these movies.
You had been doing your other podcast How Did This Get Made? for years, which is famous for asking questions about bad movies. So did this sort of come about from you wanting to shed a light on good movies for a change?
Well yeah. In all the years of doing How Did This Get Made?, we’ve watched so many bad things. And I think we’re always trying to find the good in the bad. And when I first started doing Unspooled, it was a personal challenge. “Oh, I want to watch the 100 greatest films of all time, just to see what I would get out of it.” And then I decided, “Oh wouldn’t it be fun to bring an audience along with me.” And that idea of “Oh this is a perfect companion piece to How Did This Get Made?” It wasn’t even a conscious thought, it was more like me being a film buff who wants to see a lot of stuff out there. And I needed to throw down a challenge for myself, but then I didn’t realize how perfectly they complimented each other. The best and worst of film.
I really enjoy how much they both compliment each other as well. And right now, there are so many podcasts out there about movies and great movies. How did you strive to keep your podcast different or at least fresh?
For me, I probably come at it the wrong way. I probably make the podcast that I would like to listen to. And I don’t necessarily dive into too many other people’s things, because I don’t want to be beholden to it. So one of the things that we try to do a little bit different is the pair. I think a lot of the time you’re getting a bunch of white dudes talking about stuff, so I wanted to at least add a woman to the equation. I needed to have a balanced perspective. That was something that was important to me. Just to be like “Where’s she coming from?” And I also wanted someone who was not a comedian to co-host it with me. So she added a totally different point of view. Amy comes at it totally differently than I do. I come at it as a film watcher. She comes at it as a critic who has read and written for so many years. And then the other element about it is that this idea would be a discussion and not a recap. Not a cliff-notes version of it. And then we try to find the relevancy of it in modern day. Whether or not that’s Jeff Tremaine, who directed Jackass and stuff coming on to talk about doing stunts modern day like on Jackass versus we had a guy for the E.T. episode who works at SETI. So we just try to find different interesting people that we can talk to. At the end of the day, I think you’re tuning into the podcast because of the personalities involved. So I think that if you’re into the person, you’ll follow them no matter what they’re talking about. So I think that Amy has a really fun fan base, I had a really fun fan base, and hopefully we create some new fans, too.
Another thing I’ve always been curious about with that AFI list is, what happens when a new really great film comes out? Does something have to get knocked off the list?
Well somebody brought up an interesting point on our Facebook group. They said “If you can think of a better movie than what you just watched, then maybe it should be knocked out.” And it doesn’t have to be in direct correlation to it. So Ben-Hur. I watched Ben-Hur. It’s majestic and beautiful, but I found it to be a little boring. It’s a movie that kind of moved from the 70’s down to 100 on the list, in the last incarnation. But then if you go “What would I rather have on that list? Die Hard or Ben-Hur?” I’d put Die Hard over Ben-Hur. I think it’s a culturally relevant movie that stood the test of time. It’s an interesting film on many different levels. So I feel like if you can think of a movie that maybe belongs there besides something else, it’s a debate at least.
Jumping around a bit. I’m sure you’ve been asked this before, but I couldn’t find it. Of all of your films, which of your films could you see being on How Did This Get Made?
It’s a great question. I think whenever you do a movie that you’re in, you’re hard pressed to be like “Oh! What would go up there?” Because you have a personal connection to it. It’s like which member of your family would you kill? But I think if I could dialogue about anything, it would be a T.V. show I did called MeowT.V. which was television for cats by cats that was paid for by Purina that came out on Lifetime. So I would love to get into that. I remember doing Home Shopping Network for cats and like cat music. It was crazy. Purina was like “We’ve got to get into the T.V. game” so that was it. MeowT.V. For a while, there were some clips on YouTube, but I think they all may be gone now.
That sounds incredible and I must see this. And occasionally, you’ll have a filmmaker or someone involved in the film on the Origins show. Have you ever had any filmmaker or anyone involved take umbrage with the show?
Well I think, for the most part, everyone who has had a flop understands on some level that it didn’t work. Often times, when a movie tanks, it tanks for a reason. And if you give enough time to it, people will be able to talk about it. Ryan Reynolds obviously talks about Green Lantern, George Clooney talks about Batman and Robin. And we were able to talk to Mel Brooks. And he said “Oh yeah, I’ve got a story about Solarbabies. Let me tell you.” I think one of the things that also separates us is we’re not able to do it. Blake Harris is our guy who does all of the interviews. So when he sits down with Jon Cryer, he’s a neutral party. It wasn’t like we just talked about Superman 4 and now we’re talking to Jon Cryer. Not always. Sometimes we do it once in a while. But I think it gives us a little bit of a separation so we can actually find out. And I think most filmmakers, and people are candid. “Yeah, it didn’t work. And I’ll tell you why it didn’t work.” And oftentimes if a movie didn’t work, there’s a reason why it didn’t work. And so to find people who will tell that story when it’s not sour grapes anymore is a great thing.
And I’ve read a few articles you did about Slice and they’ll say something like “This movie sounds like it belongs on How Did This Get Made?, just from the premise alone, not so much how it’s executed. Which I think is ridiculous, saying that simply based on how crazy a plot may sound without ever seeing it. Is that something you take offense to?
I feel like, when you do a show called How Did This Get Made?, people are going to say “Is that going to be on your podcast?” And that’s always a part of it. I think that it’s a constant kind of dialogue to have. I think you should see the movie, and then you can kind of judge what you think. But no. I feel like it’s a go-to kind of a thing. “Why don’t you talk about this movie that you’re in?” Well, we’re connected to our own films in a certain way. And I think the difference is Slice is kind of artistically done and very aware of what it’s doing. And a lot of the times things that we focus on are unaware of what they’re doing. And it’s kind of a mish-mash for mish-mash sake.
Right. And from what I’ve read and seen, the film doesn’t seem to ever pretend to be anything it’s not. It is all done with that element of fun.
Yeah. And I think Slice is a bold choice. In the independent cinema space, I don’t think there’s anything out there that is like this movie. There’s just nothing that you can compare it to. That’s one of the things that was so exciting to me. You have Chance, you have Austin. Austin has directed some of these amazingly beautiful videos. Chance is in it, Zazie. He’s has all these people that are interesting performers all coming together. And A24 is the biggest stamp of approval for it. So this is not some kind of Troma film. (Laughs).
Finally, given that Slice sneaks a pun into its title, what is your favorite food-based pun?
That mushrooms are a really fun-guy.