When the COVID-19 epidemic kicked into high gear earlier this year, it was immediately made apparent how disruptive this particular disaster would be for the world of film. Cary Fukunaga's NO TIME TO DIE got relocated from the beginning of April all the way until November. Countless film sets halted production to keep their crews safe. And here in Austin, TX, the 2020 SXSW Film Festival was canceled.
SXSW's cancelation was a massive shock, not only to fans who attend the festival each March, but also the hundreds of established filmmakers, performers and up-and-comers whose work had been selected to screen at this year's SX. Entire careers can be launched with a strong SX premiere, and with the festival canceled, a staggering number of short films and features were left robbed of the audiences they'd worked so hard to get their work in front of.
One of the films I'd been most looking forward to at this year's festival was a dark(ish) indie comedy by the name of DRUNK BUS, from directors John Carlucci and Brandon LaGanke. That one had been on my radar for a while thanks to the involvement of one Pineapple Tangaroa, an Austin-based body modification artist and regular fixture of the local film scene who's played bit parts in a number of other projects, including Terrence Malick's SONG TO SONG and the little-seen Chris Evans drama PUNCTURE. DRUNK BUS represented Tangaroa's first lead acting role, which was notable because ... well, as you'll soon see, Pineapple's got a singular look. Hearing that he'd been cast as the co-lead in a feature had me very curious, indeed.
Anyway, a few months after SXSW got canceled, I found myself wondering about what'd happened with DRUNK BUS. Had it found distribution? Had anyone seen it? How were the filmmakers dealing with SX's cancelation? Because I am nosy, I reached out to Pineapple, who in turn put me in touch with the filmmakers. Not only were they willing to answer some questions for me via email, but they also sent along a clip for me to share with the BMD readership.
Let's start with the clip, then the questions.
My understanding is that y'all have a, uh, unique background. Something about a drone? Tell us about that.
John & Brandon: Haha, yeah! A few years back we created this art/music video called “Drone Boning” which oddly became world news as “The First Aerial Poronography Film.” We basically filmed people having simulated sex in beautiful lanscapes from a drone throughout northern California. It was this really interesting mix of beautiful aerial photography and, well, people having sex; it’s a beautiful joke. Vice Motherboard broke the story and from there it went globally viral, hitting almost every major newsstand; we made Hustler magazine! It was even featured on TMZ, Colbert, Seth Meyers and Conan. But the best was that Bansky actually put it on his YouTube page. We thought it was bullshit so we flagged it and asked him for credit. Turns out it was him, but he said no and took it down. Check it out here: droneboning.com.
This sort of leads us to a quick backstory on who we are. We met at an ad agency, came up with the moniker “Ghost+Cow,“ and as a filmmaking/creative duo we’ve made a bunch of shorts, music videos (many of which have shown at SXSW) and commercials that we’re really proud of, and for some reason, that people like. DRUNK BUS is our first feature and we couldn’t be more excited to share it with the world. It’s sort of an amalgamation of everything we’ve learned and have developed as our sense of style through over 10 years of short-form filmmaking.
How did DRUNK BUS come your way?
Well, funny enough, the concept is largely based on Brandon’s time driving the Drunk Bus in college. He was actually the driver of the “drunk bus loop” at Kent State University around 2002-2005. The job itself, characters that would come onto his bus every night and the shit they’d get into was too unique to not have it be the premise of a story. So about 6 years ago, we started riffing on this story together, pulling from Brandon’s days behind the wheel and John’s days at art school.
We hooked up with screenwriter Chris Molinaro - now friend and collaborator - and he totally got the tone we were trying to create. When we started concepting, the three of us went to Kent, Ohio together to ride Brandon’s old route; the actual Drunk Bus. We took tons of notes, tons of photos and saw how incredibly cinematic the frozen nighttime world of Northeast Ohio is during the winter. We made a Spotify playlist of local Ohio music to get into the headspace and really embrace the culture of this town. Of course that playlist could not exist without the most famous band to come out of there; DEVO. After, man, I don’t know, like 20 drafts, we started shopping the script and found a great team of financiers from Houston to back us. We hooked up with a producer named Eric Hollenbeck who pitched us hard to make the film in upstate New York. You see, we were dead set on making the film in the town that it was based on - Kent, Ohio. Eric showed us how expensive it would be to shoot there and after scouting Rochester, New York, we fell in love with the town. It became our home for 3 months. Made some friends. Lost some. It was a long road, but totally worth it when we look at the product that we have.
What's your elevator pitch for this movie?
We would always say that it’s "CLERKS on a bus.” It’s a raw, unlikely coming of age story about a kid being stuck in a really weird and mundane job. The story is contained, and there’s a literal revolving door of characters that come in and out of his life. Some to help him, others to fuck with him. Overall, though, it’s a story about not knowing what’s next in your life and finding the courage to move on to the next thing no matter what obstacle stands in your way.
Pineapple is a regular fixture in the Austin film scene - he's very easy to spot in a crowd. While he's acted before, this was his first major role. How did y'all prepare him for it?
Well, it’s funny because in addition to this being based on Brandon’s real job in college, Pineapple was his real security guard in Ohio. So, he’s actually playing himself!
There was a time early on when we started casting for Pineapple, but we quickly realized no one can play this role other than the real Pineapple. Not only because fake face tattoos look like shit on camera, but because no one could match his unique personality, so we spent years preparing him for the role. We flew him to New York numerous times for early table reads and rehearsals, and we even got him an acting coach down in Austin who is a great guy and was a tremendous help. His name is Marco Perella (BOYHOOD). He and Pineapple actually became friends and he was going to be Pineapple’s date to the SXSW premiere!
We worked with Pineapple extensively and ultimately adapted a lot of the dialogue we had written to match his own tone of voice to make his performance feel that much more natural. But the big progress came when we put him and our lead, Charlie Tahan, together for rehearsals before the shoot. The chemistry between them was magical. We knew we had something strong. If that chemistry didn’t work, our movie would likely suck so it was really nervewracking going in.
On Pineapple’s first major dialogue scene day, which ironically is the Diner clip you'll see in this article, we had no idea what to expect. Rehearsing is one thing, but once you’re under the hot lights, behind the camera with 30 people watching you, seeing how you’ll perform, that’s a whole different ball game. Pineapple opened his mouth, dropped some food out of it, and blew us all away. Some people who have watched the film say he steals the show, which is incredible to hear and makes us feel like we all did our job well.
Without spoiling anything, this movie contains a cameo from a very well-known comedy figure. Can you talk about how you managed to snag that person for DRUNK BUS without spoiling their identity?
Yes, we aren’t mentioning his name because we want it to remain a surprise for viewers but we can say that it’s one of our favorite ex-SNL cast members. And probably our favorite person on and off-camera. He’s such a sweetheart. We won’t mention dates because it’ll help you narrow down the cast member and probably date John, but John used to work in the art department at SNL and would puppeteer a character for some of said actor’s skits. They developed a relationship and when it came time to cast for DRUNK BUS, John called him up and he said yes for some odd reason. Thank god because we wrote the role for him.
It’s funny because since he plays “Fred the Dispatcher” and his role is mostly audio, he’s actually in the film A LOT. It’s really less of a cameo and more of a supporting character role. We thought that would be a really smart way of getting a big actor in our movie - limit their time on set while giving them a large role, so to speak.
There’s one true cameo we can talk about – Frank Iero, from My Chemical Romance. His role is very brief but he's one of the most memorable parts of the film; he's funny as shit! Frank's fans have been telling us on social how excited they are to see the film and we hope they'll appreciate his feature film acting debut. We're really excited to have the MCR Army supporting the film.
This movie was set to premiere at this year's SXSW Film Festival, which (as we all know by now) was canceled due to the COVID-19 outbreak. I imagine that was a shock to the system.
Yeah, it sucked big time. Austin is kind of like a 2nd home for us, we have a long history there with the festival, lots of friends and family; it was the perfect homecoming for us. We had such an incredible premiere in place. It was to be at the beautiful Zach Theatre with a full red carpet event that included Charlie, Pineapple, Dave Hill (who plays DEVO TED in the film) and our special guest we cannot mention. We had a sick afterparty planned at our friend’s spot, The North Door, and made a fuck load of cool merch like shotglasses, soap from Wooly Beast Naturals and CBD Pineapple Gummies from “The Gummy Bear Guy.” Hahaha. Very important stuff here. But the biggest bummer was John’s mom, who has a cameo in the movie, was going to walk her first red carpet.
So when this all went down, we felt like we were robbed of what every other filmmaker we watched over the years get - their time in the spotlight. We worked so fucking hard on this movie for so many years. After supporting so many of our friend’s bands and watching them on stage, (many of whom are on the soundtrack) we felt like this was finally our time to be on that stage. But very quickly those selfish feelings swept away when we started realizing just how serious this COVID-19 thing was. People were dying and getting really sick and losing their jobs and not being able to support their families. Our priorities as humans changed and SXSW became a distant memory. John still went down, but ended up quarantining at the Van Zandt. It was really strange.
We hope that someday we can show the movie on the big screen. We know we will.
There was some debate after SXSW's cancelation about making some of SX's films available to watch via an "online film festival", which they ended up doing to a limited degree. Where did y'all stand on that debate?
We love that SXSW was finding ways to showcase filmmakers’ work. They’ve always been very innovative in that regard - always filmmakers first. We love them so much. Something we didn’t mention was that we have been attending SXSW for 16 years now, and showing our work at SXSW for 10. Our first collaboration on a music video played there. It’s a festival very close to our heart and the town, with both of us having friends and family there, feels like home. Which made it even harder to hear the news about COVID-19.
But ultimately after talking with our producers, sales agent and financiers, we didn’t think it was a good idea for Drunk Bus to take part in the Online Festival. We want to give DRUNK BUS a chance to shine with a great distributor and that’s what we’re focused on now.
What's the status of DRUNK BUS now? Any idea when people will be able to see it?
DRUNK BUS has gotten great press since SXSW (currently 100% on Rotten Tomatoes!) – our publicity team at Prodigy PR did a great job considering the circumstances – and critics are really responding to it. We're happy to hear that so many people see themselves in this film and find comfort in its nostalgia, which is amazing because at the end of the day we wanted to make a fun and relatable film with a lot of heart.
So right now our sales team, the great folks at Paradigm, are doing their thing to land a forever-home for the film with a distribution partner. We’d love to show the film on the big screen someday but we also know that now, more than ever, content is king and digital platforms and at-home premieres are and will become more commonplace. We're embracing this shift in the industry because we know the right partner can help us find a larger audience than we could have ever imagined for the film. We’ve worked so hard on this movie for a very long time and are excited for people to finally see it!
A great way to stay engaged with our film is to follow us on social @drunkbusmovie. We’re pretty active and offer updates all the time. You can even sign up for a newsletter on our website!
On a final note: These guys also sent me a screener link for DRUNK BUS. While the fact that I've known Pineapple off and on for years probably means that I cannot, in good conscience, write a full-blown review for the film, I will say that I think the BMD crowd would be into the movie, and that Carlucci and LaGanke more than acquit themselves as two guys who know how to make a successful comedy. I wouldn't be surprised to see this team moving on to even bigger things, and hope you'll all get a chance to see DRUNK BUS soon (even if it's via a streaming rental). Stay tuned for any updates on that front, and do give 'em a follow at the Twitter link above if you'd like to keep extra close tabs on their goings-on!