Imagine five years of White Russians, bowling alleys, smelling piss on rugs and seeing adults dressed up in costumes like bowling pins and Creedence Clearwater Revival tapes. This all sounds hilarious and slightly unbelievable, but director Eddie Chung experienced all of this at the numerous Lebowski Fests (fan gatherings dedicated to the Coen brothers’ 1998 classic, The Big Lebowski) he visited while filming his documentary The Achievers, which comes to DVD on August 18th.
The title, The Achievers, refers to the self-bestowed nickname of hardcore The Big Lebowski fans; they speak the language of the movie and live out the scenes, but Chung shows something a little bit deeper about these people. He captures the essence of the festivals and tries to enlighten us on why there is so much devotion to The Big Lebowski, despite the movie’s tepid reception when it was first released.
The 12 minutes we stole from Chung’s life for this interview isn’t long compared to the 136 hours he spent interviewing people for his movie, but we got enough insight into his Duderiffic experience of making The Achievers.
Katie Garton (MM): I’ve read that you weren’t the biggest fanatic of this movie, so why did you have the urge to make a documentary about the Lebowski Fest and its attendees?
Eddie Chung(EC): Well, when I was at my first [Lebowski] festival in Las Vegas, it really was when I met the people and started talking to them. That’s when I really realized that there was a story there. I didn’t really go into it thinking I was going to make a full-fledged documentary.
MM: Before you went to Las Vegas you had to ask the creators of the festivals if you could film, right?
EC: Yeah, Will [Russell] and Scott [Shuffitt]. I called them up. Actually I sent them an e-mail and they responded and I called them up and had a chat with them. They said they would love to have another documentarian; come to find out there were two other guys before me that were trying to make a documentary.
MM: Why do you think yours turned out successful?
EC: I don’t know. The other two, well, nothing came out of it and I just kept on pluggin’ away.
MM: The Big Lebowski is known for its weird scenes and language. What was the weirdest or craziest thing that you saw or heard from the interviewees? Or from just the environment around you?
EC: Well, I had them over for a barbecue—the forum members, the guys I sort of concentrated on—when they were in Los Angeles. My roommates had left a rug out in the driveway to dry and when the forum members came over they thought it was out there to piss on [to mimic a scene from the movie]. And so you know, here I am trying to film this whole thing and I didn’t really realize until later that they were going over there to piss on the rug and not just to hang out.
EC: Yeah, that was pretty crazy.
MM: So how did you decide on what kind of things to film and what not to film? When you were at these festivals, were you constantly filming?
EC: I was pretty much constantly filming. I didn’t know what to expect so many times. I happened to have my camera out, as I was changing my tape cartridge, and here comes this guy dressed up as a tape of Creedence. It’s bizarre, man. Just in the middle of this bowling alley parking lot comes this dude dressed as a Creedence tape.
MM: So you interviewed all of these people? I read that you had more than 136 hours of interviews and footage of festivals. How willing was everybody to be filmed?
EC: They were very willing. They were all pretty happy to be filmed. Now, when you’re filming at a festival and you’re just capturing large groups, there were some people who didn’t want to be interviewed. But the people I ended up interviewing and following, they were all really stoked to be a part of it.
MM: I haven’t had a chance to watch the documentary myself. Did you stick to certain people when filming? I know you went to these festivals for five years, so did you follow one group?
EC: Well there’s this one group of festival-goers and they all met on the forum for the Lebowski Fest. There’s like 15 to 20 of them that really sort of became a tight-knit group that would go to festivals and meet each other, more so than to go to the festival. And they use the festival as a platform for them to see each other annually.
MM: So you were able to get some of the original cast members to participate. How long did it take to get them to sign on? And did you bring them into the festival or were they already there and you just needed permission?
EC: They were already scheduled to play. Some of the actors I interviewed at the festival and then others I interviewed somewhere outside of the festival. But it took years to get these people to sign off. It was just the matter of reminding them that I was out there.
One thing that really helped was getting the deal with Universal [for a short version of the doc] to be included in the bonus material of their 10-year anniversary DVD. And that sort of gave it some legitimacy. But, yeah, it took a really long time. In fact, Christmas Eve of last year, John Turturro called my co-producer and finally gave permission on the phone. So it went all the way up to the last minute.
MM: I read that you were a philosophy major and you love photography, so how did you tie that into the documentary?
EC: Well, I really think a lot about what motivates people. You know, we talked about motivation and philosophy [while making the movie]. From there it went into photography, how to compose shots and what not. It really allowed me to explore the storytelling of it and the way I present it visually.
MM: From what I understand, one of the goals of the documentary is to see what brings these Achievers together. What do you think it is, from your point of view, from seeing it for five years?
EC: That’s a really hard question to answer. I don’t know. Besides the movie, it’s still sort of this underground thing. I guess that these people feel like they’re part of this inside joke, so there’s that. But I really don’t know why this thing has gotten this big or why it does this thing that it does. It’s pretty amazing that it does it, but I don’t know really if it can be explained.
MM: What do you hope that people will see or think of The Achievers after they watch the documentary?
EC: Well, I hope they learn to take it easy, man.