The following is a transcript of a question and answer session with Dan Clowes and Terry Zwigoff. The sessions occurred following a screening of Ghost World on February 20, 2002, at the 2002 Comics and Graphic Novels Conference.
Throughout this transcript, “stage directions” are included in brackets to help convey the mood of the event and preserve the integrity of the artists’ comments.
Don Ault (DA): We have Dan Clowes and Terry Zwigoff here tonight to answer questions about an incredible film which came from an incredible comic book. [laughter]
If you don’t know, I’m Don Ault from the English Department and I sorta like comic books. [laughter] I like this film and I like these guys. This is Terry, this is Dan, and basically I think they just want to field questions unless you have something you want to say.
Terry Zwigoff (TZ): We have each a long speech prepared first. [laughter] We’re happy to answer questions, though.
[gestures toward camera] Don at this point in his career demands a video camera follow him everywhere, documenting things.[laughter]
DA: There’s gotta be some questions—Just anything, c’mon –
Q: I’d first like to say, that was a beautiful film. I really enjoyed it, and I thank you both for making it. A question which came to mind immediately: the big wall saying Ghost World doesn’t appear anywhere in the film. Why did you decide to leave it out?
TZ: We filmed it and in the cutting room floor – [receives a bottle of water] Thank-you very much – Why did we cut it? Dan actually had the strongest objection to it. I thought it was sort of neat.
[to Clowes] Why didn’t you want it in there? You thought it was too overt?
Daniel Clowes (DC): Yeah, it just had that feeling, you know, when you make a movie called – you know, like the movie The Wonder Boys there’s a scene where Michael Douglas is looking at Toby Maguire and he says “He’s a ‘wonder boy.’” [laughter]
Yeah, you have to put that in cause that’s the title, or that’s what it seemed like in the movie. It didn’t seem that way in the comic to me.
TZ: We shot it a couple different ways. We shot it where the girls walk by this wall that has “Ghost World” sprayed in graffiti and they don’t even notice it. And then one other way where they just sort of glance at it. But Dan wasn’t comfortable with it, and one thing I definitely wanted to do for Dan in this film was to respect what he was comfortable with. It’s his comic.
Q: Why does Enid sometimes wear thick-rimmed glasses and sometimes not? [laughter]
DC: Wise guy, huh? [laughter]
Q: I thank you.
DC: You know, it’s a different day. It’s Tuesday, you wear the cat-eyed glasses. I don’t know why those girls do that. [laughter]
Q: Why did you decide to divert so much from the comic book story line?
TZ: Well, it was sort of an organic process. We started writing the script, and Dan had this thing nailed down with the two girls. And I couldn’t write dialogue as good as that. Every time I tried a scene with the two girls, I’d show it to Dan – we’d meet about twice a week in this office I had in San Francisco and he’d come in from, he was living in Berkeley and we’d meet in my office – and he’d look at what I wrote and I’d look at what he wrote. And my stuff would always be terrible. [laughter] The dialogue for my stuff would be far inferior to his, you know. And I would know it, I’d say, “You can do it, you’re much better at it, you’ve been doing it for ten years.”
So it was much more natural for him to do their dialogue, and then I sort of felt like “Well I’ve got to add something to this thing.”
DC: [to Zwigoff] You have some money. [laughter]
TZ: We were going down to pitch this film in Hollywood, and the first sign of trouble started when the studios woud say, “Oh, so what’s this film about, teenage girls? Oh that’s good, we can do a great pop soundtrack.” [laughter] And I just saw that looming and I didn’t want that type of music for this film, I didn’t think it was right for the film. And I wanted to head it off as soon as possible, so I was looking for an excuse to put in this type of music I like, which is, you know, what Seymour liked. So I put in this guy who collects old music and that was a way to sort of head them off and have an excuse to use that music. And then I got stuck with this character who was sort of loosely based on me, and I started writing his stuff cause that was easier for me. And then this whole dynamic from the comic – between the comic and the film became different, you know, cause it has this other character. I don’t know. It’s a weird organic process we didn’t really think it through too much, it just sort of happened.
Q: The critical reaction to this movie is a tremendous positive from the critics that reminds me of Catcher in the Rye in the fact that everybody says they relate to Holden Caulfield even though half those people probably beat up Holden Caulfield. [laughter] Ghost World reminds me of that in the fact that you’re dealing with social outcasts, disaffected people that, you know, critically its . . . everybody relates to these characters. How do you feel about that in terms of popular success in comparison to characters that you’re trying to document?
DC: Well, you know, I don’t know if critical success is popular success. I mean most of these critics were the guys who got beaten up in high school. [laughter]
TZ: At the same time I’ve been approached by so many perfect-looking female movie stars who all say, “Oh, I identify with Enid so much.” I mean how could you possibly…? [laughter] I don’t get it.
Todd Salondz who did Happiness and Welcome to the Dollhouse told me that same story that, after Welcome to the Dollhouse, there were a lot of like, you know, leading movie star women in Hollywood who all told him they identified so strongly with that character.
Q: What was it like working with the actors—getting them to fit into the characters from the comic?
TZ: Oh it’s a real pleasure. [laughter] I’m just waiting now for another actor to call me at my house, let me tell you, what a joy. [laughter] No, some of them can be really great. You know, it’s a hard job; I wouldn’t go out there. I mean I went to acting class for five years to prepare myself for making this film cause the deal just kept falling through and falling through. I didn’t know what else to do with myself and I thought, “Well, might as well learn how to get a good performance out of an actor—might be a good step in the right direction.” I just, you know, it’s a difficult thing to do. In acting class I would never get up on that stage and act. It was just too scary to me, so it’s a tough job and people get really insecure about it and get really weird. But if the end result gets you there by some miracle—which I thought in this film the actors did a just incredible job. I was just shocked how good they were, after acting class anyway where you give somebody direction and it, like, has no effect on their performance. When you meet up with a real actor you give them direction a lot of them it does have an effect. It’s just like you see this instant change, it’s really a miraculous thing. That was the most fun to me—besides the casting; we had fun casting it, but—that was the the fun part. The rest was just sort of drudgery. [laughter]
Q: The set design is so great throughout. How did you interact with the set designer?
TZ: [indicating Clowes] He did all the set design for the girls rooms, and I did all of Seymour’s room. [laughter]
DC: Seymour’s room is basically a version of Terry’s room without the dust. [laughter]
TZ: I kept asking for more grime. I said, you know, “This is where Seymour would lean back to listen to his records. I want, like, a grease mark on the wall over here.” [laughter] And they’d really lightly paint in a little grease mark, they didn’t want to get it too bleak and too ratty, you know. And they’d promise you “Oh, this is going to photograph.” And I saw the tape and I said, “I don’t see the grease mark.” [laughter]
The thing that struck me the most is most film critics, I realized after reading a lot of reviews of this film, don’t really know what a set dresser actually does. They don’t know the difference between set dressing, production design, and art direction, for instance. And I didn’t either when I started in film. I sort of think I do now, but we learned a lot, I don’t know. The departments that do their job very well, you can not believe just what a relief it is. We had this woman, Mary Zophres who did the costume design who was just so great you could just show up and not even have to have met with her and you could trust after a week or two that she would make really good choices that you’d be happy with. And there’s just—there’s just no time.
Dan was on that set every day during this filming, and there was just so limited time—there’s so many details that you have to look over just to try get things right that without him I never could have done it, to put it that way. It’s sort of like that thing on—you guys are too young to know—but on the old Ed Sullivan show, there used to be a guy who’d get these, like, hoops spinning and as soon as he’d get one going the one down at the other end would stop, so he’d have to keep running. It’s just like this juggling act where you’ve gotta keep all these balls in the air.
Q: [to Clowes] How many of the paintings in the art class are you responsible for? [laughter]
DC: I think just the horse. [laughter]
TZ: [to Clowes] I thought you did more. [to audience] We got to that set—here’s another instance of just a horrible—they’d sort of promised us—we’d shot that—we actually had a real location, which was maybe not that level of school, but it was in a college, right?
DC: No it was a high school.
TZ: Oh, it was a high school? And they promised us that between the day we secured that location and when we were going to shoot, which was a month and a half later, that they would solicit the students—all these teachers, all these art classes would solicit the students to do drawings and paintings that we could then use and they would sign off for in our film. And we’d have real high school art.
And we show up on the set and there’s nothing. There was some snafu or something where there were paintings but nobody had ever signed off on them so we weren’t allowed to use them. So we sent the first AD [Art Director], he went running home. He said, “Well, I was a painter in college,” he got a bunch of paintings out of his closet. He [Clowes] started making paintings, and people went around like that. We had to really create, like, the whole set within an hour. It was really horrible.
Two of the really funny paintings in there were from, like, the Prop Master’s son—he twisted those coat hangers into that – [laughter] He did that “Mutilator” painting, and that’s just priceless. [laughter] And he’s the propmaster’s son. Luckily he did that or that scene would not have been half as funny.
Q: I’m wondering about the decision with the Coon Chicken thing, where did that come from? That was a real thing wasn’t it?
TZ: That was a real restaurant in the twenties, although we got the date wrong. I thought it was, like—I made a guess in the script. It was founded in 1922 instead of 1925 or vice versa; I still can’t remember.
But I, you know, me and Dan when we started seeing—the studio has these clearance lawyers, and, boy, if you don’t clear every poster on the wall back to not only the artist who drew the poster but the company that distributed the poster back going into the 18th century they’re not going to let you use it. And I said there’s no way we’re going to be able to use this Coon’s Chicken Inn / Cook’s Chicken Inn. And there actually was a website, there is a website—www.coonchickeninn.com—and its this whole history. It’s the granddaughter of this guy who started this thing, and it’s sort of apologetic for it’s racist beginnings. And it says that it was just, you know, part of the times; her father or grandfather wasn’t a racist, but it’s trying to explain why this thing existed. She was very nice, and we wrote her and said “We want to use this in a movie. Is there any chance we could do it?” And I think it was essentially like, “Yeah, $250 and make a contribution to an environmental charity. We were shocked that we actually got to use it.
Q: Actually, this is a question for Dan Clowes. A few months ago Chris Ware was awarded the Guardian award for Jimmy Corrigan, and I know that you and Terry were just nominated for an Oscar for adapted screenplay. I’m wondering what your reaction is to all this with recognition in comics.
DC: To me, when I heard that news, I felt like they were talking about somebody else, and I couldn’t accept it at all. I just thought, “There’s no possible way that we got nominated for an Oscar.” And I still don’t believe and I won’t believe it if they hand us the award. It’s just too strange; it doesn’t make any sense. I can’t process anything like that. [laughter]
Q: I want to ask a question about the ending. Mainly, my question is about the production design of the bus—I don’t know if that’s something worth considering—but in the comic the city bus that comes by is a pretty standard looking city bus if I recall correctly, and I know people who have seen the film who have interpreted the ending metaphorically—like they assume that you meant “commit suicide”— [laughter]
TZ: Briefly I had Seymour commit suicide at the end, but we toned it down a bit.
Q: . . . and I think that has something to do with the fact that in the movie its kind of a more of antiquated, colorful-looking bus than your average . . .
DC: Yeah, it could be. It’s hard to figure out why people have that response. The first time I heard that I said, “What? You’re out of your mind. What are you talking about?” But I’ve heard that hundreds of times.
TZ: No, I know why it is. It’s because Norman says that line earlier in the strip when says, “I’m not going to be here much longer,” so then you assume that he’s going to die . . .
DC: I guess.
TZ: I tried to add that to the story. [laughter] Now our Oscar chances are hanging by a thread. [laughter]
Q: Yeah, I was always struck by how in the comic of Ghost World the use of color kind of contributed to the otherworldly quality of the sprawl of suburbia. And I was wondering how, when you re-interpreted it for the movie, why you decided to use so much color and if you thought about doing it any other way.
TZ: Well, talk to the Cohen brothers and ask them why their, one of the greatest films of last year The Man Who Wasn’t There, only grossed the same amount of money as our film—you know, six or seven million dollars. It’s in black and white; you don’t have that choice any more, you have to make a colorful film or people just think it’s too bleak and cheap-looking, you know.
DC: But I think we had that in mind as sort of a strategy. We were trying to show this modern world where everything’s very colorful and cheery and sort of designed to appeal to kids almost. But underneath it all it’s very sinister and dark and ugly. I think that’s what we were going for.
TZ: Cheerful on the surface, true.
Q: I have a shorter question for you guys. First I just wanted to know, do you know the shooting ratio for Crumb?
TZ: I know it. Do I have to tell it to you? [laughter] Why do you want to know that?
Q: Well I know it was shot over like 6 years so I was just curious.
TZ: It wasn’t much. It was, like, about 10 to 1. Something like that.
Q: And also, did you always know that you’d go into fiction features. . .
TZ: Hell no.
Q: . . . and would you think about going back to documentaries ever?
TZ: I have two documentaries sitting that I’d love to finish some day, but there’s just no money in documentaries. You know, I shot them all. They’re completely uncommercial films—they’re good films I think, and I’d like to finish them some day. But my wife’s screaming at me to make some money [laughter] but I can’t drum any interest at all. That’s why I’ve got a goddamned cell phone up here on stage—literally waiting for this stupid call [laughter]. After I made that Crumb film I just took a year off and I went to every film festival around Europe or wherever I could get a free trip and sort of had fun. And I came back and tried to get a meeting to make another film and it’s “Who? What? Crumb? Was that a film?” [laughter] Short memory down there—very short memory.
Q: I have a question for the both of you. Are you going to work on a Lloyd Llewellyn or a Daniel Pussey [pronounces it “Pussay”] movie?
TZ: Or a what?
DC: [to Zwigoff] .. “or a Dan Pussey movie.” Uh . . . not at this time. [laughter]
Q: Do you think I should invest in equalizers to dedicate to my turntable or should I take the money I save on that and spend it on . . .
TZ: CD’s will never have the presence of an original 78. [laughter] It’s true, I meant that.
Q: I was interested in how Thora Birch became involved in the film?
DC: Somehow she got a copy of the script when it was going around to every teenage girl in Hollywood, and she really, to her credit, really saw that as a great part and really just grabbed on to it and would not take no for an answer.
TZ: I offered her the part of Rebecca and she said, “No, I can play Enid.” And I said, “I don’t know.” She seemed very shy and reserved at first and I thought she’d make a good Rebecca, but she’s a really good actress.
But, you know, she was 12 when we wrote this thing. We’d go to these studios to pitch this film and they’d give us these wish lists of who we’d cast in this and she was never on the list cause she was too young. And we didn’t think of her we didn’t think, “Oh yeah, the guy’s daughter in Patriot Games.” [laughter] She didn’t make much of an impression on me from that.
Q: I know you mentioned The Man Who Wasn’t There. I’m just wondering what other movies last year you guys approved of.
TZ: Mullholland Drive was a masterpiece.
DC: Yeah, I agree.
TZ: Not much else.
DC: End of list.
TZ: It’s a short list. Well, Ghost World was pretty good. [laughter] Third maybe.
Q: Does serendipity play much of a role in your work?
DC: [to Zwigoff] Do you want to answer that? [to audience] Yeah sure. I mean, you take good ideas wherever they come from. It’s often if you’re trying to do one thing and you’ll often get an idea from something else you’re doing. You’ll often get an idea from a mistake you might make, or you might write a line of dialogue incorrectly and it’s actually better than it would have been. So sure.
Q: Did the little antsy cowboy thing inspire you, or did you just write the scene and then realize how perfect it would be, or did you find it?
DC: We had a whole different thing in the script and then Terry went to some shopping mall and found that. And he came in and said, “I’ve found the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.” [laughter]
TZ: It was actually a . . . I saw something similar in a Russ Myer film years ago. It made some really clever . . . he made a much more gimicky cut that called attention to this couple having sexual intercourse that I think was a record dropping on a spindle. . .
TZ: . . . and I always remember that cut as being so great, but I didn’t want to do anything quite that, you know, obvious [laughter] I wanted the movement to that horse rocking back and forth like that to be motivated by the actors falling back on the bed so there’s some reason the camera’s there. I didn’t try to move the camera much in that film, I tried to keep it really still which was a . . . Somebody asked me about it earlier. We had to speak at some panel for the university and they said, “How come the film so perfectly captures the look of the comic?”
And Dan put it well; he said, “It doesn’t capture the look of the comic. It’s just because there’s very little camera movement you think it looks like a comic book.” Which is much truer to what went on, and it’s just that it was more a reaction on my part against . . . I don’t like much camera movement in film. It’s just a matter of taste, that’s all. I like it “motivated” if the camera’s going to move. So I reacted so strongly against it, that I think I went too far.
Q: Yeah, I’d like to pick up on that thing about frame designs. You talked about adapting the script in terms of the dialogue and about the look, the set. What about the framing, the composition.? There’s something about the visual composition that crossed over.
TZ: Never looked at the comic, and everybody thinks we studied the comic. Yeah, I know. It’s very weird because they showed a guy giving this lecture this morning on Dan’s work. He showed a slide out of his comic and I looked at this slide and went, “Oh, wow, that’s interesting.” There’s a scene in the comic that we actually did steal for the film where they leave this note on Josh’s door. You know, they run up these stairs. And it’s very similar in look to the location we found, and the camera winds up being put in the same place as the way you [Clowes] drew it. I never would have remembered that in my life. It’s just, that was the one place we could put the camera to get some depth, you know. Affonso Beato, this great cinematagrapher’s always screaming, “Terry, Terry! Depth! Depth!” [laughter] and I’m like, “What? I just want to put them against a flat wall and shoot ‘em that way. It’s easier.”
He had a lot to do with composition and framing. He would always set up the frame and suggest something to me. He’s made like 30 great films, and he’d say, “what about this?” and maybe I’d adjust it somewhat if I had an idea. . . but I mainly I left it to him. But I did tell him, “study Dan’s comics.” So maybe some combination of that?
Q: Obviously the extras throughout the movie are pretty much a cavalcade of grotesques. . . [laughter]
DC: Huh . . . no.
TZ: Look around. You go to a mall some time, that’s what people look like. . . [laughter]
Q: No, I’m not saying life ain’t like that. . .
TZ: That’s right, life is grotesque. [laughter]
Q: I was kind of hoping that some of them were actual “found objects” as it were and not all actors.
DC: No, they were all cast by a . . . They have extras casting agencies who come every day and bring you stack of polaroids and you say, “Oh I want a guy with hair on his back.” And they say, “Okay, here’s the 15 guys with hair on their backs.” [laughter] I actually told the guy, “You know, when you’re done with these photos, I will buy them from you.”
TZ: I dragged out the directory of photography, the casting director, the extras casting director, the costume designer, a bunch of other people to a mall before we shot. We took a camera with a long lens and we just took pictures of people. I said, “This is what real people look like” you know? Do not make it look like Hollywood.
Q: Were they appalled?
TZ: They didn’t know what I was talking about at first, but it really helped to have those photos and keep reminding them as we’d get out there I’d say, “No, no, no, look at the way this guy’s hair looks on him. Look how silly this wardrobe is on this old guy. He’s wearing this wardrobe that somebody 12 should be wearing. [laughter] A guy in a walker wearing a jogging suit. [laughter] Stuff that I’d find very surreal. . .
Dan has that in his comics. Robert Crumb has that in his comics. That’s where I first sort of got the idea to tell you the truth was from looking at Robert Crumb’s comics. To me that was. . . You know, he was doing that way long ago—twenty years ago. That always impressed me about his work that you’d see those little details in the background, so a lot of that stuff came from him, really.
Q: I have a question for Mr. Clowes: whether Enid’s experience in art class, in the fine art, is representative of your own experience, if you ever met with any kind of that negativity or anything towards your own work?
DC: Oh, why, no of course not! [laughter] Yeah it’s sort of a caricature of my experience. Most people think that teacher was based on the teachers I had at art school cause I did a story about art school that had a lot of stuff like that. But actually it was based on a teacher I had in about 7th Grade who was a very annoying woman and it’s my way of getting revenge on her. [laughter]
Q: Yeah, so how did the film get started? How did you guys meet, or whatever? How did that happen?
TZ: Boy, it’s a long story . . .
DC: [to Zwigoff] You just called me up one day.
TZ: I called him up. My wife was really on my case to do another film cause we were broke. [laughter] And I’m lazy. I don’t like to work; I don’t like to make films. I’m happy to have her get a job. I’ll sit at home. [laughter] So she said, “well this Ghost World’s really a great comic.” I said, “Yeah, it’s really great. But it’s not very funny.” But I liked all of Dan’s other stuff better. Not “better” but I liked his whole body of work. I couldn’t really just pick that one out and say, “Yeah, this is the one that stands out.”
But I went to approach Dan about possibly doing a film with him ‘cause I. . .you could tell from reading his work—or I could tell—that he was really good with dialogue, you know, to write a screen play. And we sort of hit it off right away and felt comfortable like we had the same sort of sensibility, which is very important if you’re work together trying to write a screenplay. You just have this short hand that’s invaluable. So I said, “you know, well this Ghost World might make a good film, maybe you can think of something else.” We sort of tossed around different ideas and we tried to . . . When we first started out to adapt Ghost World, we went up and back on how closely to do it to the comic. You know, it was a long process. We spent almost two years . . .
TZ: . . . two years in that hellish office. . .
Q: That Indian music video at the beginning was, like, extremely cool. How did you choose to open the movie with that, and where can I get some more? [laughter]
DC: That was something like . . . By doing a comic like I do, people send me stuff—which is usually not good, [laugher] but that was a good thing. Somebody sent me a video tape in about 1988 or ’89 that had that Indian video on it. They had just taped it off of television one night. They had no idea what movie it was from, and I had no idea. And I would show that to every single person that came to my house. [laughter] Including, finally, Terry. And of course Terry the way he is said, “Oh we’ve got to put that in the movie.” So we finally figured out how to open the film with it. But then we had to figure out actually what it was, what movie it was from. [laughter] Luckily John Malkovich who was one of our producers had done a favor for somebody in India—produced a film or something—and he was able to get somebody to track it down and get the rights, actually pretty cheaply. But you can actually buy that film. It’s called Gum Nam, which means “Nameless.” That’s a great name. [laughter]
TZ: We put the whole musical number—it’s about six-minutes long—on the DVD.
DC: That’s all you need. [laughter]
TZ: The rest of the film is not that interesting.
Q: I wonder if you would accept the metaphor of the bus stop . . .
TZ: Accept the medal for what? [laughter]
Q: . . the metaphor of the bus stop bench as the Republican Party with Ronald Reagan sitting there, and Enid solves her life crisis by taking off her combat boots and joining the GOP? [laughter]
DC: [to Donald Ault] Where’d you find this guy? [laughter]
Q: I was wondering—either in the comic or the film—if you were worried that some of the character portrayals—mostly the minor characters—might be a little too mean-spirited? Particularly like with Feldman? Were you worried that when we laugh it’s kind of “guilty laughter”?
DC: What are you talking about? [laughter]
TZ: Making fun of a guy in a wheel-chair who doesn’t need a wheelchair? That’s not mean spirited; he’s just lazy.
DC: Right, he’s just lazy. [laughter] I mean, you have to walk a tightrope, you know, it’s a very difficult thing ‘cause it’s not interesting if you push it either way. If you’re too obviously mean or if you’re not, you know, not mean enough—you have to balance it.
Q: Yeah I thought that statement, “he was just lazy,” saved it.
Q: Do you have standard advice for documentary film makers on doing good work? I mean, aside from the money issue you’ve already covered. . .
TZ: The best advice I can give you, sincerely, is just to find a really good subject before you start and don’t get involved in something you’re not that excited about. I’ve done that twice. That’s why I have two films sitting home on my porch unfinished. They’re good, but they’re not great, you know? And I’ve just never quite mustered the passion to go back and tackle them and finish them where that Crumb film I had to finish. My first film, Louie Bluie, I had to do it or I would have died, you know? And they’re so hard to make and so hard to get money for and so hard to get seen that you really better have a lot of enthusiasm for it when you get started and have a good idea. Best advice I can give you.
Q: People already talked about how strongly Enid and Rebecca seemed to resonate with people, and it struck me pretty strongly, too. And I’m wondering are they written after anybody in particular, or did you just make these people up ? Because they seemed to really resonate, are they written after anybody?
DC: They’re amalgams of different people, but they’re basically made up. I mean, I always think back and think, “Oh, Enid has this one little quality based on one person I knew and another quality based on another person.” But really most of it is just, they became real characters and then they just take on a life of their own. And then you can’t control them after that. They sort of have their own voice and their own way of doing things and it’s a strange process.
Q: Has this film gotten any reception outside of the United States? Europe, Japan, any places like that?
TZ: Didn’t do too well.
DC: It’s tanking everywhere.
TZ: Pretty much, they don’t get it outside the . . .
DC: No, it got a good critical reception in the U.K., and I think it actually did fairly well in Spain. [shrugs] [laughter]
TZ: Didn’t do too well in Germany, I’ll tell you that. The Germans didn’t like it I’ll tell you that much.
Q: I don’t know if this has to do with anything, but how did Steve Buscemi get involved?
TZ: How did he get involved? I had to call him and threaten to hang myself if he wouldn’t take the part. That’s literally what I told him—“If you don’t take this part, I’m going to fucking kill myself.” [laughter] At one point, I think I did say that to him ‘cause I was just so frustrated with the thing. And we held out.
To our credit Dan and I. . . you know, every studio wanted, like, Russell Crowe and Harrison Ford. [laughter] Just the same list of rugged He-men for that role, and it just would have been creepy to see them with some young girl. [laughter] And they don’t care; that’s your problem as a director. “Yeah, you deal with it. You make it work there, chief. That’s your problem, buddy.” Nobody could make that work. You’ve got to cast it right or you can’t make it work, and he was the guy. And thank God he did it. I wouldn’t want to play me. You couldn’t pay me enough to play me.
Q: I was curious how much of a hand the studio allowed you in creating the DVD ?
TZ: The studio was very good about the DVD. You know, it’s a pleasure to be able to say something good about the studio when I can ‘cause I have plenty of bad things to say about every studio. But I have to say that studio let me stay in that transfer room—that high-definition transfer process that costs about 800 bucks an hour—I was in there for eight days. Overtime; all these extras I asked for. They never once griped and did it all, and I think the DVD looks better than the print to the film. The print to the film always looked washed out to me and sort of grainy, and I still to this day do not know why. Once we got to this timing process at the level I wanted to and the duplicate negative, things just looked horrible. And, like, the guy who had been working on it at the lab left, and he got sick and went back to New York. And I’m like, “We have a deadline, we have to deliver this film. What’s going on?” And we just had to finish it the best we could. It never looked quite right to me, and that video transfer and the high-definition transfer, I finally got it to look the way—at least, the way I liked it. I was very satisfied with it.
They offered to put on all the deleted scenes and all this stuff. They didn’t, in actuality, put a bunch on there, but it wasn’t their fault. They get blamed for a lot. I read about it in the press, they always hold MGM to blame for it. But it was more legal problems with actors who have to approve their deleted scenes or they couldn’t get signed off on.
They did write about the dumbest synopsis I’ve ever read on a DVD box. It was really stupid, but they transferred the film really nice.
Q: I have a question for each of you. Mr. Zwigoff would you, if you had to choose between documentaries, which you did a great one of, and a narrative feature, which you did a great one of, which would you continue making and why? And Mr. Clowes, if you had to choose between writing comic books and writing rap songs for high school kids [laughter] . . .
DC: I’m hoping to make a fortune off that song. [laughter] I want that to be like “Happy Birthday” where every high school graduation . . . [laughter] You laugh now . . .
TZ: I’ll just do music videos, that’s all. I’ll do his music video. [laughter]
Q: I never thought I’d see merchandising for the film, but then I was in the comic book store and I happened across the Little Enid Doll. And it’s quite an interesting little piece of, like, you know, movie memorabilia, but I was wondering if that was your idea or how that came to be.
DC: That actually had nothing to do with the film, it was done by a Japanese company and they thought about it . . .
Q: But it was kind of timed with the film. . .
DC: Yeah, it was very lucky for them, and they kind of freaked out cause they had to make many, many more than they thought they would have to. And they actually stopped making them cause the guy said, like, “I can’t handle this anymore!” [laughter]
That was actually sculpted by the guy who sculpts the Pokemon toys. I mean, the guy’s a genius. It’s a perfect sculpture based on drawings I did, and I’ve never been more thrilled with anything in my life than when I got that doll. [laughter] Doesn’t take much I guess. [laughter]
DA: Do we have more questions? Time for one more?
Q: That black-and-white short that the art teacher shows [laughter] what is that all about ?
TZ: You got me. [laughter] I actually tried to get this guy who I knew in Oakland who’s a really bad short experimental film maker to just give him a hundred bucks to make a film about abortion or something. [laughter] Me second-guessing what he would have done is nowhere near as funny as what he would have done very seriously. He would have done the greatest film ever, but I couldn’t find him, he’d disappeared, this guy “Yakoob.” [laughter] I don’t know what happened to him. I had to suffer through so many of his screenings of bad experimental shorts. I got as close as I could come to remembering what they were like, but I usually was forced to sort of “sleep-watch” them so they’re rather vague. . .
Q: Did you ever have them just go on their own with their lines and just create some?
TZ: Yeah, a few times.
TZ: Usually a disaster.
DC: Yeah, it didn’t really work out too well. [laughter]
TZ: Some actors were very good at it, like that guy Bryan George the boss of the convenience store, was a really good improviser. So was the guy with the nun-chuks. [laughter] He’s got a big, you know, 40 million dollar Hollywood film and he’s just gonna do that character. I don’t know how that’s going to hold up for 90 minutes, but I’ll go pay to see it. [laughter]
Q: Did they improvise that scene at the end, like, after the credits when Steve . . .
TZ: They did do that—as a joke to amuse us. On their lunch hour they went off and rehearsed that, and they said, “Okay, let’s just do one last take. I think we got it.” And they just did that whole thing . . .
Q: That line that Steve yells is, like, “You motherfuckers! Don’t fuck with me!” is from a Crumb cartoon, isn’t it?
TZ: “Don’t fuck with me”—or something like that—“motherfucker?” I don’t know, I don’t . . .
Q: So where can we find that dude with the nun-chuks?
TZ: Where can you find him?
TZ: His name’s Dave Sheridan, he’s got an agency called 3Arts in L.A. He’s a totally crazy guy. He’ll do anything you ask him to do. [laughter] He’ll say, “You want me to put a nail through my ear?” “That’s alright” [laughter] He went out and got that sun burn, you know. [laughter] He’s in one of those films, like, Scary Movie or something, but he isn’t used very well. He’s sort of thrown away, but he’s good at that nun-chuk character, boy.
Q: Wasn’t he the deputy? In Scary Movie?
TZ: Yeah, that’s him.
Q: He plays the deputy, who’s, like, semi-retarded.
Q: Just wondering, how much direction did you give Sophie Crumb about doing the sketchbook? Would she be able to just go off on her own and . . .?
TZ: She wasn’t there so we had to do it through the mail.
DC: Yeah, she was in France, and it was very difficult ‘cause we’d have to send her pictures of who we thought the actor playing the satanist was who turned out to be somebody else, you know. And she drew him with a goatee, and I had to go in and white it out five minutes before we were shooting. I wound up touching up all those drawings a lot, you know, five minutes before every shot. So it was kind of a collaboration, but we wanted that look of a real teenage girl’s drawings and she was the perfect choice because she really was an eighteen year old girl.
TZ: That was her sketchbook actually–that was the cover. She mailed us the actual sketchbook, that’s what the cover looked like.