Interview: Jacob Vaughan of Bad Milo!
Seeing that WTI favorites Jay and Mark Duplass are executive producers on Bad Milo! might make people think they’re in for something similar to their small-scale dramas, but they’d be dead wrong. Bad Milo!, the writing and directing debut of Jacob Vaughan, focuses on a man (Ken Marino) who has a small monster living inside his ass that crawls out and kills his enemies.
Vaughan chatted with us on the phone right before the Canadian premiere of Bad Milo! at Montreal’s Fantasia Film Festival earlier this month. He discusses his connection with the Duplass brothers, the Cronenberg influence on his film, designing the titular monster, and what he plans to work on in the future.
Bad Milo! comes out on VOD August 29th before hitting theatres on October 4th.
Your Canadian premiere is in about an hour from now, right?
[Laughs] To be exact. I know you premiered the film at SXSW earlier this year. What has it been like since premiering Bad Milo! and taking your film out on the road to Montreal?
It’s been great. The reception at SXSW has just been incredible, I’m really happy. Everything that’s happened between then and now [is because of] Magnolia and Magnet. It’s been really wonderful because they really get the film and they’re very excited about it. They are creating a marketing plan that I think is awesome. You hear a bunch of horror stories about distributors but the film is being handled really well by Magnolia.
You said that you got the idea when you were discussing The Brood with your co-writer [Benjamin Hayes]. How long did it take you two to write out a first draft, and during development when did you realize you had something that could make into a feature film?
I think we spent probably a few months just getting the first draft done. We were talking about horror films that were really interesting. A lot of the old Cronenberg movies are really great. I had my own digestion and stomach problems throughout my life, so part of it was [that, and] talking about old horror movies and what we liked about them. Then the idea popped into my head that it would be hilarious if there was a creature feature where the creature comes out of a guy’s ass. I had never seen that before. I kept laughing at the idea but I didn’t think anybody would let me make it. It was so ridiculous. But we went ahead and wrote it anyway because, you know, screw it. Let’s just write the craziest movie we want to write and have fun with it.
When I gave it to Jay and Mark Duplass, who I’ve known forever, they really liked it and wanted to help get it made. When that happened I thought “Maybe this will happen. Maybe we’ll find financing for this.” So it took a little while, we were working on Cyrus, Jeff Who Lives At Home and Black Rock. In the meantime, I was just rewriting and revising the script to make it better. I didn’t really know if it was a real thing, if it would get money, if people would take it seriously or not until we finally did make it. And now I just feel like, it’s incredible that I got away with it. [Laughs]
Did you have a lot of trouble finding people willing to finance the movie? How would you pitch this to people?
[Laughs] Well I’d just be honest and tell them, it’s this horror/comedy. It has the tone of Shaun of the Dead but it harkens back to Gremlins. It’s about a guy with a creature living in his ass, but it’s about something. It’s about him coming to terms with his own fears, and his own inability to cope with life. People responded pretty well. I’d always get a chuckle. I went to film school with Jay and Mark Duplass so I’ve known them for a long time, and it was with their help we took it to ICM to find financing [and] to package the movie. It wasn’t actually that long before we found a few companies who were interested in helping out. It’s always surprising to me when people think this idea is…people are more accepting of this idea than I always think. People came on board pretty easily after that, and we were just off to the races.
I wanted to ask about Milo. It was nice to see that Milo was done using practical effects and puppeteers. How long did it take you to come up with the design for Milo?
I kind of had an idea of what I wanted him to look like. I was working with Aaron Sims, who is a creature designer in LA. I was working with him on other stuff and when I wrote the script he really liked it. He offered to do some concept art at the very beginning. I gave him some reference images, and I sort of described to him how I wanted this thing to look. He did a sketch that was like spot-on right away. It was just perfect. So he did the 3D rendering and we used that for the next three years to sort of look for a producer. When we finally got financing we took the concept art to a company called Fractured FX who took that concept art and sculpted it in clay. They put us in touch with puppeteers who could bring him to life. It really didn’t go through that many iterations, from the beginning it was something that we sort of clearly envisioned. We didn’t make that many changes to it. I wanted it to be cute sometimes, but also scary at other times, and I wanted it to be very slimy. So you’d want to pick it up and cuddle with it, but it’s so gross that you wouldn’t want to do that at all.
There were points where it was surprising how adorable Milo was considering how, in an earlier scene, he would be devouring somebody.
[Laughs] Right. Exactly.
You have a background in editing, but on Bad Milo! you had someone else edit your film. Did you ever consider editing Bad Milo! yourself, or did you always want someone else to do it?
For a minute there I thought, “I’ll just edit it myself.” As we got closer to the shooting date I was thinking “I’m gonna be so exhausted, I’m gonna want some help on this.” I was very lucky to pull on Dave Nordstrom who is a really great editor, and later on I [hired] Rita Sanders. The three of us did the lion’s share of editing. I was doing a little bit of editing, but it was mainly Dave and Rita. I am really glad I have other people editing my stuff and not me because I think it’s just too much. It’s too much work at this point. I know Soderbergh and the Coen Brothers edit their own [films] but they’re kind of in a class all unto themselves. I need help [Laughs]. It’s just too hard.
You have a really good cast in your film, with people like Ken Marino and Gillian Jacobs who have great backgrounds in comedy. How was getting the cast together for the film? Did you have trouble finding someone to play Duncan, considering what they would have to go through in the film?
Originally we gave the script to Ken Marino, and he didn’t have any trouble with it at all. We sat down and talked to him about it, and he was on board. He really liked it, and he didn’t shy away from it at all. That was really refreshing. From there, we sort of slowly got each of the [other] actors. Casting is such a jigsaw puzzle. People’s schedules are so complicated, and the production schedule is complicated too. We didn’t have all the actors in place until, maybe, the second day of shooting. At that point we realized “Oh wow, we have such a great cast. We have Stephen Root, Patrick Warburton, Kumail Nanjiani, and Gillian Jacobs.” We got really lucky and fortunate enough to have such a great cast with a lot of great supporting actors.
You mentioned The Brood, Gremlins and Cronnenberg films earlier. Is there anything else that was on your mind while writing and directing Bad Milo! ?
There are a lot of influences. Gremlins, Poltergeist and a little bit of Basket Case were all woven in there. I grew up on Spielberg movies, and later on I got into Cronenberg. I think if you take Cronenberg and Spielberg, put them in a blender, drink the contents of that blender and digest it you would come out with Bad Milo!
That’s a very interesting image.
This is a very campy film, but there’s a sentimental side to it. You could have gone the other way with it, and had it be very campy and ridiculous. Did you consider going crazy with the idea, or did you always want to have that sentimental side to the film?
Balancing the tone of the film was always going to be a challenge. I’m always walking a fine line between how campy and sincere it is. I just used this character of Duncan as my compass. I wanted him to be honest and real and true. If we could really just believe in him, and if we knew that he was taking it seriously then the film didn’t have to take it seriously. We would be with him. With that as my compass I made the film teeter between campy and sincere. It’s definitely a balancing act with a film like this.
How do you feel about independent filmmaking today compared to, say, 5 or 10 years ago? Do you think it’s easier for a film like Bad Milo! to get made today? How do you feel about the release platform your film is getting, and the VOD/Theatrical strategy being used by Magnet?
I love the release structure. I think it really works for the way people watch movies now. To me it makes total sense. In terms of how difficult it is to make a movie like this, I can’t really answer it because I haven’t really tried to make this kind of movie other than right now. My opinion is that it’s tough as balls to make any film [Laughs]. It’s just almost impossible to pull that off. To find any financing for any movie is just going to be really, really hard.
What do you have planned for the future right now? Are you working on any other films?
I’m writing a couple of things. I’m reading a few scripts. I’m developing a horror rom-com, and I have another project that’s an action-comedy. I’ve got a smaller movie I’m writing that’s a straight drama. I’m doing a lot of different things, and hunting for the next…I don’t know which one’s gonna be next. I’m just hunting for the next thing and keeping it going.