DON THACKER INTERVIEW
Interview conducted by Richelle Charkot
In the midst of the hustle and bustle at this year's Toronto After Dark festival, I got the chance to sit down with Don Thacker, the writer and director of Motivational Growth, which played the year before. Motivational Growth stars Adrian DiGiovanni as Ian Folivor, a man who is succumbed by his agoraphobia in his small apartment, and Jeffrey Combs as The Mould, a giant sentient piece of mould who is going to help him put his life together.
Richelle Charkot: You have a very identifiable writing style, Motivational Growth in particular really is unlike anything I've ever seen before. Tell me a bit about how you came into your style; have you always written eccentric stories?
Don Thacker: Yes! I am a huge lover of language; I really like language a lot, so all of my characters tend to play with dialogue a great deal. If you've ever seen anything else that I've done, I tend to hover around this almost fantastical use of language and story. I don't like films that take themselves super seriously; not to say that I don't like serious films, but I don't want to go to the movies to see actual tragedy that we can just see in real life. Like Crash, not the cool David Cronenberg Crash but the Sandra Bullock and Brendan Fraser one - it's a movie about shitty people just being shitty people and some of them recognize halfway through that they're terrible, and I just don't know why I would want to subject myself to people being shitty. I worked in an office for about a decade and you see enough people being depressive and mean and whatever; I don't want to go to the movies and see that, I want to go to the movies and see a fantasy world. Something interesting and other-worldly. I want context, I want an entire universe and all of that interesting stuff to be presented in a way that justifies me going to a theater. That's where I come from, a world where a film is a fantasy for an hour or two.
RC: I can definitely see that in Motivational Growth; everything is super stylized, from the cinematography right into the dialogue. That film also has a great origin story; tell me a little about those experiences because they are crazy.
DT: I was pitching it as a million dollar sci-fi film. It was my first movie, but I had trouble because nobody wants to give someone a million dollars to make a movie about a man who has sex with a building. I ended up being offered about a quarter of that, so I went back to my book of ideas and found stuff that I could feasibly do for that amount of money, and then I had about a month to make something viable out of that. The mould idea itself came from when I was younger and teaching chess in Los Angeles for money because I didn't have any money. The site I was using to hook up people with tutors turned out to be for hooking up people and people. Some guy took me on a "date" at a sushi restaurant; I kind of knew something was up, but I was really hungry so I went with it, and eventually the guy went to the bathroom to do some drugs. While he was out I ate his sushi because I was hungry.
RC: Hah! That's perfect.
DT: He came back and didn't give a shit about the sushi but asked me if stuff in the bathroom was talking to him, and what if the grime was talking to him and I was like, "that's fucking crazy", so I wrote it down. You can't come up with that idea on your own. That requires drugs and I don't do drugs. People are always like, "dude what kind of drugs were you on for this movie", and I was like no drugs, however there was a dude on a whole bunch of drugs who planted that idea! That was a weird life experience. I also was living in LA when I came up with the original idea, it was about 1999, and I remember I was renting a part of a room in a house because I had no money, and I wasn't really allowed in the common area, so at night I would sneak out to watch TV at three in the morning. I was super depressed and unhappy, when you see the beginning of the film that's basically me. I had this thought that if this TV was taken away from me I would have nothing.
RC: You mentioned that the main character was kind of based off of yourself. Have you ever written a character that samples so heavily from someone in your life that they've noticed?
DT: Yes! Yes I have.
RC: What did they think of their character?
DT: I basically build most of my characters off of people that I've known. Box the Ox was based off of a guy who I knew growing up who I won't name because he's kind of a jerk.
RC: I can imagine! What advice do you have for writers who want to make a character out of somebody that they know personally?
DT: Do it! Don't be afraid. I think people try to hide that kind of stuff too often. Modify it enough to make it interesting, unless the person is just so bonkers interesting. But yeah, do it! Don't worry about it; I think that's the thing. Human beings will always be the most interesting thing; the mould didn't come from my brain entirely, in part it came from a dude high on something - probably heroin, coming up with the seed. Truth is stranger than fiction, that's true, use that, find that. Do it!
RC: Tell me why it's important for an artist to be true to the stories they want to tell.
DT: Just like with the personality thing and making someone a character, the reason why you want to take those characters is because everybody is unique. If you've got a story that you need to tell, you should tell it. If you want to make movies or be a writer just to be famous, don't do it. If you've got stories you need to tell, you absolutely need to tell them. You are rare. That feeling separates you from the person who just wants to make films to be famous. I spent twelve years not telling the story I wanted to tell and it was the worst years of my life.
RC: What was the moment that you realized that you liked stories that were out of the ordinary?
DT: I think just went I started writing things. In middle school they took me out of regular creative writing and put me in my own personal class! Just by myself! It was because what I was writing wasn't standard stuff. I figure a writer writes what a writer feels, so I just do that, and apparently people think it's bonkers and weird and crazy.
RC: What is the weirdest movie you've ever seen?
DT: I think for a really weird reason, Beyond the Black Rainbow is the weirdest movie I've ever seen. Not because it's bonkers, it is pretty bonkers, but it's probably the weirdest because it's shot brilliantly. The soundtrack is amazing, it's beautiful, the writing is solid, the acting for what little there is hits the mark – but it's the worst movie ever! I fucking hate it! I can barely sit through it. I wish I could one day make a movie that looks that beautiful, I love every individual element so much – so much! To me that's weird, it's got all the right stuff, I can't look at one thing and say I don't like it, but together I can't stand it.
RC: I really need to see this movie.
DT: You should check out Beyond the Black Rainbow, everybody in the world should watch that movie. Some people love it and some people hate it, I fucking love it and fucking hate it!
RC: Are there any scenes in Motivational Growth that gross you out?
DT: Not really – writing it was kind of cathartic to me. People are always like, "Man, do you love vomit, do you love dirt and grime?" and I'm like, "No, I hate it!" So that's why I wrote the movie. I was like, "What's weird? What's gross?" People throwing up moss, that's pretty gross. I think that writing it was the exodus of that feeling and then once you make it, it becomes sterilized. I'm the kind of director who's also right up in everything all of the time. I really enjoyed being close to it. Nothing really grosses me out...in that movie.
RC: Okay, I have a scenario for you. A person comes to you and says that they've never seen any films ever and they want you to teach them about movies. What films do you start them with?
DT: Hear me out – start with RoboCop. It is a perfect film; it isn't the best film, but it is a perfect film. It squeezes every moment out of that premise that you can, it grows the theme beyond anything basic. All of the actors shine in the film, and every character has a visible and obvious arch! The hero is wonderful, he's bigger than its source, and the music supports the visuals. It hits every single note! It's perfect. The ending in that movie is the best fucking ending, "'What's your name, son?' 'Murphy.'" Credits!
RC: What advice would you give to Ian Folivor?
DT: Get the fuck out of your apartment, bro! Leave! The whole movie is an introspective about somebody who is willing to do so much other shit. His agoraphobia is based on nothing, it's all bullshit reasons. He says that he's afraid of going outside because he might die, but then he tries to commit suicide, it's a joke!
HorrorTalk would like to thank Don Thacker for taking the time to chat with us!
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