Did Kestrin Pantera ‘Ruin it With Babies’? (SF Indiefest)
Kestrin Pantera is an actor, writer, director, and classically trained cellist (she’s played with the likes of Weezer and Beck), but one gig on her resume stands out like a neon light in the night: she and her husband Jonathan Grubb own and operate a tricked-out RV called the RVIP Lounge, a rockin’ karaoke party on wheels. They travel around the country, plucking people off of the street, out of big events and long night club lines, and invite them into their mobile fantasy machine, which they playfully describe as, “equal parts transportation and entertainment. Transportainment.”
A few years back, Jonathan began to not-so-subtly suggest that the couple have a baby, a proposition Kestrin struggled with. “I felt guilty and sad, like I should want something. Like a baby-switch flips and you’re ready. I wasn’t ready, and I thought there was something wrong with me.” Harnessing the anxiety of the situation, she began work on Let’s Ruin it With Babies, a fictionalized story heavily informed by both her baby dilemma and her experiences with the RV.
I sat down with Kestrin (now a mother!) to talk about the film hours before it screened at SF Indiefest this past Saturday night. She’s a vivacious, fun-loving soul (which the film reflects), and we chatted about the “carnal sin of karaoke”, how the film picked up distribution right out of the gate, casting her husband and friends, how she thinks the movie is more drama than comedy, and more. I was lucky enough to step into the RVIP Lounge myself after the screening (see pics in the gallery below), and I can’t recommend the experience enough. It was a freaking blast, with free booze, free tunes, and awesome company. Follow the lounge on twitter at @rviplounge.
The film plays tonight at the Roxie Theater at 7pm and at the New Parkway in Oakland next Tuesday the 17th at 7pm. It’s also available on cable VOD and Amazon now, and on iTunes next month.
You and Jonathan have been running the RVIP Lounge for a few years now. When and how did the idea for the film come about?
Kestrin: Let’s Ruin it With Babies is a film with a fictional narrative, but the emotional backstory is real. The RVIP Lounge is a very real thing that we started doing at SXSW in 2007 or 2008. We wanted to throw the best party at SXSW and we could’t afford a hotel room. Plus, they were all booked. We rented an RV to sleep in and we threw a party in it with a karaoke system and top-shelf booze. We drove around to all of these parties with huge lines outside, and we just parked in front of them and yelled, “Dude! Get in!” (laughs). We threw down a red carpet and made it look really fancy. The most fun, cool, risk-seeking people were the ones who took us up on it, and we made great friends. It was this amazing pot of karaoke love madness that was cruising around like a bus of merry pranksters. But instead of a bunch of punks and hippies on drugs it was a bunch of software engineers who were creating the future.
Right now, that’s taken up the slot in my head for “coolest thing in the world”.
Kestrin: What’s cool about it is that it’s interactive, as opposed to showing up at a party and passing business cards. You sing Bon Jovi for the first time, you duet with someone, and you’re moving while it’s happening. It’s so surreal you can’t believe it’s happening. And then you learn each others’ name. That’s where true friendship and memories are forged.
What’s your most outlandish memory on the RV?
Kestrin: Oh man…One time we put a fire-poofer on it. This propane tank breathed huge breaths of fire! We got a bunch of people to come down under the 4th street bridge in Austin, and we took the fire-poofer down, and it kind of became this flame sword. People would push the red button and take photos…and also sing karaoke. It was deeply satisfying.
The film is super cute.
Kestrin: Thank you! (In an evil voice) Let’s Ruin it With Babies (laughs). In my mind, the movie’s a drama. Any time someone has a horrible life experience, if it’s done among friends with a good sense of humor, it’s always hilarious, even though it’s heartbreaking. Even though the movie is being shown like a comedy, it’s still to me more of a drama with funny moments.
I’m very lucky; I’m happily married and the guy I’m married to was ready to start a family. It’s different for guys and girls. For girls it’s like, “Do you want to stop living your life the way you’re used to right now.” If after our interview you had to not go out, not go party, and had to be physically responsible for creating this other thing…does that sound like a good thing to do tonight?
Kestrin: It didn’t sound good to me either! It never felt like the right time. I always felt very lonely and afraid, because it’s this guy’s life, too. It’s his future, and I kind of had it in the palm of my hand. I felt guilty and sad, like I should want something. Like a baby-switch flips and you’re ready. I wasn’t ready, and I thought there was something wrong with me. That was the real impetus for making the film. I wanted to connect with other people who feel like that so that they don’t feel so terrifyingly alone and they know they’re normal.
Did you come up with the film with Jonathan or by yourself?
Kestrin: It was all me. I pitched it to him and he was like, “Dude…”.
What was his reaction to the idea?
Kestrin: He was a little hesitant to have a personal issue, even though it was fictionalized, shown to our friends, as I was. But, the first time we showed it to people they laughed at my jokes, and that made me happy.
Are you doing the festival tour thing?
Kestrin: We got distribution! We did everything backwards. We got distribution, sent it to VOD, and then SF Indiefest asked us to play here. We got a theatrical release in Los Angeles, too.
You’re bringing the RVIP Lounge to the screening tonight, which is going to be amazing.
Kestrin: It’s going to be really fun. We’re going to show the movie, the RV is going to be parked outside, and we’re going to rage until the early morning.
Is it true that you’ve banned “Bohemian Rhapsody”?
Other than that song, what’s the worst?
Kestrin: “Bohemian Rhapsody” is the worst song to sing in karaoke because it’s 12 minutes long and requires a lot of vocal skill. Some people are just drunk and don’t have that skill. It seems like a good idea because of Wayne’s World, but it’s not. We also made a rule that there’s more Journey before midnight because c’mon…you’re better than that! Be creative.
Some people think that singing poorly makes karaoke more fun, while others appreciate it when the person actually tries to do a good job. What side do you fall on?
Kestrin: I fall on the side of commitment. If the singing isn’t good, but the person is firmly committed, spectacular things can happen. What makes me crazy is when someone gets on there and they flake or they hide and make someone else try to sing. If you don’t want to sing, ask for another song and skip it. I think waffling on the mic and not wanting to be there is the carnal karaoke sin.
You and your husband play fictionalized versions of yourselves, but there are some great supporting actors in the film as well.
Kestrin: My friend Eva, who plays my friend Bunnie in the film, is funny in real life. She’s a professional rave DJ named DJ Eva, and she was just my funniest and closest partner in crime. Pat, the angry mechanic, gives an extraordinary performance. I wrote the part for him.
What about him made you write the part for him?
Kestrin: He’s just so lovable…and he just looks like a mechanic! Look at him! He looks like a mechanic! The part is so memorable and weird. Sam Friedman shot the film and acts in it as well. I think I pushed him to his absolute limit. His photography is so beautiful, and he’s such a great actor. He says he’ll never do it again, but I hope he does.
I’m newly married, and now me and my wife are pondering the whole baby thing. Do you have any advice for people like us who are facing that decision?
Kestrin: There really isn’t a good time, and it is a “leap and the nut will appear” thing. I made a movie just because I wasn’t feeling it and only felt uncertainty in my heart. The movie was also a means of negotiating an extention. (laughs) “I have this project, and when we finish the project, we can [have babies].” If you’re facing that, I think that’s when you have to take a long walk and ask for the vision to come to you. Ask for clarity, and if the clarity isn’t now, give yourself a timeline that speaks to your heart. You have to communicate with each other why you’re afraid and what you’re afraid about.
I feel like I’m getting free therapy!
Kestrin: You might make a movie too!
No! That’s why I’m on this side of the table. I’ll leave that to you talented people. (laughs) There are some heavy, dramatic scenes in the film. Was it easy to enact them because the emotions were coming from your real experiences?
Kestrin: We were striving for truth in all of the scenes, whether they were dramatic or comedic. It was all about being honest with the material. I felt that I had a lot to work with for my own dramatic scenes, but with the mechanic scene with Pat, for instance, it was just responding truthfully to what he was giving me.
Was the dialog written or improvised?
Kestrin: The film vacillated between carefully scripted and totally improvised. Then there was this middle ground where the actors were improvising and I would bark out lines that were scripted in my mind. We’ll call that “A, B, and C”, and we’ll call that “B”. There was a lot of “B” going on, the fake-improv, coached lines. My husbands scenes were improvised, and I’d do a lot of barking with him. (laughs) Barking is the new writing.
Is there a soundtrack?
Kestrin: Yeah! I was a professional cellist in rock bands and toured for years, and one of the benefits of that is you tour with a lot of bands and you meet a lot of people by the end of it. You see so many people who should be huge and have all these “hits”! I tried to put in all the “future hits” of unknown bands that will be huge. I was just a total fan.
What do you have in the works now?
Kestrin: I have another low-budget indie movie called I’m a Terrible Mother. That’s in the works, and I have a bigger-budget movie. I optioned a book and adapted a screenplay, and it’s based on a work of journalism, on real stuff. It’s going to be a lot of work, and I feel like it’s going to be my life’s work. It’s going to be the biggest thing I ever do, and I’m passionate about that. But what seems like is going to be first is the RVIP TV show, which is a low-budget episodic series. It’s like Party Down but on the RVIP Lounge and with very different relationships running it than the movie. It’s Party Down plus Glee.