Celluloid Screams - Don Thacker Gives Us a Talk on Motivational Growth
DC: The film is quite consistently laced with humour throughout. Do you tend to lean towards comedy as a writer?
DT: It turns out I guess I am! (laughs) Inside, in my brain, I'm super arty but when I write it turns out to be funny. I don't know why! I wanted to make a dark comedy because, and I'm gonna give you the keys to the castle here... I don't believe I'm a good enough writer to make something profound yet. I'll get there – but, you know, the broader strokes... a little bit of horror and a little bit of humour. Put those together and you can mask a much deeper story that you might not have the architecture yet to lay out. It's not Terrence Malick's 'Motivational Growth' (laughs). I can't tell the long burn story yet. Maybe one day I'll get there, but right now it's easier for me to say listen, here's my core, it's got a deep story, it's got a lot of complication and a lot of deep stuff that I want you to consider but I'm gonna deliver that to you with these little bites. I'm gonna gross you out a little bit, and then make you laugh. Scare you a little and make you laugh. Give you a little bit of serious, but then cut it with a little humour just in case you don't dig the serious too much. You know what I mean? I'm gonna try and make little moments for you.
The film is cut into ten sections. Within those ten sections each have three acts – beginning, middle and end. Something happens every ten minutes, there's a little arc in there every single ten minutes just because honestly I don't know if I'm good enough to carry a hundred minutes [in a single arc]. I've gotten like six terrible reviews that will tell you I'm not good enough to carry that hundred minutes, but I've got more than forty that tell you that they loved it, so I'm working. It's really weird to read a review and have somebody just tear you down, when all you try to do is make somebody smile about something... it's almost like [they think] I ran for President and they're like 'you're not qualified to be President' and I'm like I'm not trying to be President! I'm trying to make you smile for a couple of minutes, dude! How is that such a terrible thing... how are you gonna say that I'm a piece of shit when all I've tried to do is give you some entertainment? It's very weird – but I've got lot of love. I've got a fabulous tattoo design, I've got fan made t-shirts, I've got a guy who's followed the festivals all around the States, so those people make it worth it.
I'm writing a really, really serious science fiction thing for a writer/director hire thing that I'm doing right now and then at the end of the year... I'm finishing up a dark comedy satire about gun control in the United States. So that's funny... but not everything I want to do is funny! I have a wish list – I thought I was super original until somebody told me that fuckin' Ang Lee has one of these too – I have a wish list of genres that I want to do. It's funny to think that 'Motivational Growth' is a horror movie, because it's not, it was a dark comedy. It has more horror awards than it has any other awards... but it does have a science fiction award. The French called it the best romantic feature at the European Independent Film Festival. They thought it was (imitates French accent) 'a beautiful expression of life' (laughs). Fucking French people man... that weirds me out (laughs). Really? Did you see the part where the guy was sucking a nipple on the wall? That's not a beautiful expression of life! That's weird! I kinda wanted you to throw up in the back of your mouth a little bit during that scene!
I guess I'm cool with humour. I like humour. I like laughing. I like watching people laugh. Hearing people laugh in an audience is way more fulfilling than watching them really get into a serious part. It's a broad strokes easy way to tell that you've hit your mark. If you're laughing, you're doing it right if you've tried to be funny. If you're laughing and it was serious then you've fucked up. So I guess laughing is a good barometer. There's a deep story in 'Motivational Growth', pretty heavy shit in there about depression and about dealing with stuff – suicide and all this kind of stuff – and I just thought, wouldn't it be the worst movie ever [if it were like] a movie where Sandra Bullock is a racist and falls down the stairs and isn't a racist again. I don't want to do that movie! That movie is done, and it's boring. I don't like dealing with real people problems. That's not why I go to the cinema. I watch movies to watch 'Robocop' and 'Alien' and James Cameron movies and stuff. I don't go to the cinema to be told that there are terrible people. I know there are terrible people! They're all around me! You know what I mean? I see people be racist every day in the United States – I don't want to watch a movie about it! I don't want to pay twelve fifty and watch a bunch of people be assholes to each other. That's ridiculous! Unless they're like, super assholes like... 'Death Becomes Her'! That movie makes me want to slit my wrists, but it doesn't make me want to slit my wrists in a way that I can see every day, right?(laughs)
Good performances are great, creative drama is great, but I'm more of a phantasmagorist... you know, I want to have somebody sit down and be taken to another world. That's what storytelling was to me as a kid in the eighties and nineties. That was the world... I was presented 'The Dark Crystal', 'Transformers: The Movie', all that really wonderful cool stuff back in the day – 'Labyrinth' and 'Legend'. Those are my movies! Like, my gun control movie is actually a science fiction movie where the bad guy's base is on Mars! So it starts out as a social satire on gun control but ends up with a guy on Mars! I don't think I'm ever gonna make my 'History of Violence'. It's a good movie, I love it, but I don't think I'm gonna make the movie where two dudes talk about shit a lot and they're very serious. If I did it would have to be like 'JFK' or 'Any Given Sunday'... something Oliver Stone-ish, where it's obviously high fantasy (laughs). Even though it's dudes talking, they're talking about crazy shit.
I'm just not about the mumblecore bit... that sort of, a boy has feelings and talks to a girl with feelings over drinks. That's not interesting to me. Unless one of those people were robots! Then it's a different story altogether! I think humour in 'Motivational Growth' is used as a lever. It's used to get you around the environment that otherwise would just be a depressing shit movie about a guy who fucking killed himself because shit was terrible for him. That's not a cool story! That's a depressing ass story! I wanted to express this guy's loathsome, horrible depression. I related to it as I felt like that when I wrote the original concept. I obviously don't feel like that now, or when I actually typed out the screenplay, but when I wrote the concept I was very emo. I did want to express that – that was a thing from real life... [but] if I want to make a statement, I want to wrap it in something entertaining. I think I will definitely make some pretty heavy shit at some point... I have a couple of treatments that are humourless – very serious, very dense. 'Flexure' – that's a serious movie. It's mostly deadly serious... by the end you're like oh shit, my mind has exploded. I also have a treatment for a tween movie for thirteen year old girls. It takes place in 1986, and there are no glowing vampires or shit – they don't sparkle – it's a hardcore movie. But it is a funny tween movie in the way that movies were when I was growing up. That's the kind of thing I want to make. I know that sounds silly, and maybe to some people a bit derivative, but that was fantasy to me when I was a kid. I kind of want to bring that. The new fantasy isn't super-fantasy to me. It's a lot of fake, a lot of plastic.
DC: There are quite a few 16-bit video game style sequences in the film, and the Chiptune soundtrack is a standout. Why did you decide to go that route?
DT: I am a gigantic video game fan! I do not drink or smoke or do drugs... I do video games! My entire childhood... I don't remember a time without video games! (laughs) I am a video game programmer; I work with Pixeljam. We have 'Dino Run II'; we're gonna do a Kickstarter on November 5th so you should tell all your readers to go and vote us up and give us some donations! Pixeljam has done about twenty games for Adult Swim. We did 'Dino Run' and 'Potato Man Seeks the Troof', which just came out on Ouya. It came out about a year ago for Linux, Mac and PC. We do a bunch of cool stuff. I've built a semi-career out of that. I do filmmaking and game stuff together – they're really cool because they're project based, so I can do a movie and then do a game, and then do a movie. I wanted to give 1991 a big call out, because that's when the movie takes place and that's the shit I was doing when I was around 11, 12 – I was playing 16-bit video games! So of course there's going to be an advertisement for a video game on the television. The game that was on the television is one that I've always wanted to make called 'Starmazer'. If you guys Kickstart 'Dino Run II' and it's awesome and everybody loves it and we can afford to make another game – I'm pushing 'Starmazer'! I would love to make it. Everybody in the company loves 'Starmazer'. Every time I show somebody the trailer, which is what you see in the movie, they all love it. It should be made. I love the idea that our character gets to travel into that world.
The station he goes onto is called the Holloway Exeter Station. Holloway because of my DP, I named it after him. Exeter because it sounds really cool, and Station because it's a fuckin' station (laughs). I really loved the idea that my character could blip into there at some point in the film. There's a part in the film where he's sucking on a breast, and that's a funny story...
My producer was very clear that there should be no breasts on set. None. She's not against breasts on film – in fact she's kind of pushing for more breasts in my next film – but [this one] had so much weird stuff, she was like 'there's too much.' There's a bunch of puking, there's a bunch of blood, there's a bunch of weird ideas – we cannot have tits in there too. It'll just go crazy! So no tits on set! I said that's okay, that's fine, you're a girl, I get it – and she said no it's not that it's just that this movie can't end up banned in all countries! So we shot it, and I was given full creative control of all the animation. So he's sucking on this fungus on the wall and then the TV channel changes, and he's sucking on an [animated] breast. Then the camera pulls out and you see that he's on this thing that we called 'The Titty Bar', which is the cyborg breast station where all the aliens are sucking on the breasts, and the little head is going around. How creepy is that (laughs)! When I wrote it, the head would fly over and say 'Yes, yes, thank you' and 'You're doing well', and in some alien language it would be saying harder, or whatever. Then when the camera pulls all the way out you see there are three or four stations, and each of them has over twelve breasts on it – so there are like fifty breasts in the movie! I showed my producer when I got the final animation, with full creative control, and she said this looks amazing, but I told you no tits on set! I said, this is not on set! This is animation! You said not on set! Not a single breast was on set! (laughing) It was a French dude making it, so he'll put tits on everything (laughs). People love it though (laughs).
The Chiptune thing – I'm a big Chiptune fan. I used to write Chiptunes – poorly, that's why I don't do it for a living. Somebody who doesn't do it poorly is Alex Mauer who did the entire soundtrack [for 'Motivational Growth'] on NES and Commodore 64. It's the only film to have an entire Chiptune score. We used those two pieces of hardware because the NES is easily recognisable to anybody who's played video games. It only had four channels – three sound channels and a noise channel – so it's very distinct and everybody knows it. The Commodore 64 actually had a very advanced sound chip – way more advanced than the Nintendo – and it could do all these big analogue sounds. So some people think some sounds aren't Chip, but they're all Chip – it's just that the C64 had a really intense synthesiser that could let us get those big sounds in there. The Mold is entirely Commodore 64, Leah is entirely Nintendo because the Nintendo is chirpy and nice and fun, and the C64 we used for dark, heavy bass stuff. Ian is a combination of both.