MM: There are bits and pieces of a dramatic tone in your shorter work, but this is the first time you’re balancing that over a large scale. Did you have any challenges doing that?
DM: I think a lot of it is instinctual. You’re kind of unconsciously receiving or registering every one of your favorite films. You subconsciously have that vibe in your head, and tonally, what filmmakers like Spike Jonze and Paul Thomas Anderson do so well is that they don’t lean into the goofy sides of their scripts, and it makes those moments feel so much more earnest. [Drama] came very instinctively. The stories that I want to tell, this particular story that I want to tell, I wanted to feel that this was a national news story. You’re playing it as if, “What if this was based on a true story?”
MM: You’ve worked with so many different people now that you’ve done SNL, both with the cast and guest stars, but when you work with actors who are prestigious as Mark Hamill and Greg Kinnear, is it imitating at all?
DM: That’s another credit to the SNL experience. It’s so valuable to go week by week working with a new actor, musician or comedian who is a genius at the height of their career, and are larger than life. You learn how to shut off your awareness of that, and just treat everyone the same. Because once you start treating Mark Hamill like they’re larger than life, it changes the dynamic, and it almost makes it uncomfortable for them, like they feel coddled. It’s a lesson that we learned through SNL: Service the script and the story and the characters first. Obviously make sure everyone’s happy and loose and having fun, but I want Mark to be having just as much fun as the guys behind the scene or the actors and actresses who are lesser known. You can’t create an environment where some people have special treatment.
MM: Talk about working with Kyle. You guys have been friends for so long and he’s the star of this as well as one of the writers. Do you guys ever have disagreements on set, or are you guys on the same page by the time you’re shooting?
DM: I’m sure we’ve had disagreements in the past, but we trust each other so much, and we know the time constraints and the resource constraints. If we have a fundamental disagreement about the way a scene should play out or the tone of a line read, we have such a rooted friendship that we’d never be affected if we disagree on something like that. It’d be like, “OK, we disagree. Why don’t you give me a read my way and we do it a read your way, and then we’ll look at it in the edit?”
MM: Makes sense. The buck stops with you since you’re the director, but it is also his story.
DM: Yeah. We also share such a similar sensibility that it’s rare that we’re on a different page. For the most part, he trusted that I would always preach honesty and sincerity in a scene. There was always the temptation to go sillier, because you never know if you’ll be in the edit kicking yourself because you didn’t get the silliest read. But I think we just all approached this day one with the mission statement “let’s always try to make it sincere.” There’ll be times when we have the luxury, when we’re like, “Oh, we do have 30 minutes on this coverage. We’re ahead of schedule. Just to have it, let’s have fun and get a little silly here.” But ultimately, Kyle was constantly trusting me to feel it out emotionally, to see if it was feeling genuine. He doesn’t want to have anything to do with the visual stuff. That’s just me and Christian, so he just fully trusts that whatever coverage we’re getting. It was really fun. We wanted to recreate the experience that we grew up on making videos. We have fun, and we go out for a drink after. We try to get loose when we can get loose. We like to make everyone on set laugh and feel as involved as possible.
MM: I think why it’s been my favorite movie of the year so far is because it’s just a huge love letter to filmmaking.
DM: Yeah, it really mirrors our experience as aspiring filmmakers and best friends who fell in love with storytelling together and made all of these mistakes together and had all these highs and lows together throughout our careers. That Sundance premiere was so meta: watching the James character [Mooney] have his premiere in the film, nervously pacing around. We were super nervous, and he was premiering the movie that he made with his best friend, and it was the exact same experience and so surreal. That was truly the best day of my life. I mean, we had lost all perspective on if this movie was even good, I’d seen it too many times. This whole sequence of events has been pretty magical and pretty shocking. I’m just proud. The first thing that we think about when we’re making videos is that we want to make our friends laugh, and make ourselves laugh. And we tried to stay pretty true to that throughout, where it’s like, “Well, if the festivals don’t like this movie, if the world at large doesn’t like this movie, I think our friends will.”
MM: What advice would you have for filmmakers like you who started with shorts and sketches and want to make the big leap to features?
DM: Don’t be discouraged by the limitations of not having the best gear or the best actors. Regardless of what scale we were able to make this movie, we would’ve still put the same amount of love and energy into just doing the best we could with what we had, knowing, “Yeah, it’s not going to be perfect. And we may make a bunch of mistakes that are a result of constraints that we have, or a scene doesn’t play out as great since we don’t have as great of an actor.” We did that for years, but we learned so much about the experience just finishing something. If you can just finish a video or a short film, regardless of how good it turns out, your next thing will always be so much stronger because of all of the lessons you learned from the last thing. I think there’s a lot of people who tend to just not go through with an idea or project because they don’t have the tools or resources they want. It was such a valuable experience to constantly be doing it, to be finishing something. The advice is just find a way to get it done, so you can move to that next thing. MM
Brigsby Bear opens in theaters July 28, 2017, courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.