Groupers centers around two all-American high school jocks Brad and Dylan (Peter Mayer-Klepchick and Cameron Duckett) who are out for a night on the town when they are approached by the beautiful and seductive Meg (Nicole Dambro) at a local bar. Ready for what they hope will be a night to remember, the guys are subsequently kidnapped, drugged and awaken tied up face to face in an abandoned pool in the middle of nowhere. Absurdity and insanity ensue as we learn that Orin (Jesse Pudles), Meg’s overly flamboyant brother has been the target of Brad and Dylan’s homophobic bullying and that Meg is actually a grad student who plans to perform a psychological and somewhat sadistic experiment on them as part of her thesis, which poses the question, “is homosexuality a choice?”.
We got to chat with writer/director Anderson Cowan about his new dark comedy, and where ywe might score a sweet Fartbarf sticker.
You’re a relative newcomer to filmmaking, is that right?
Anderson Cowan: This is the first feature, but I’ve been making films for 20 year now, they’ve all been short though.
And which film was it that spurred your decision to take it up?
Anderson Cowan: Got to see Midnight Cowboy on the big screen for one of it’s anniversary rereleases. That movie moved me in a very heavy way and it did so with very little plot, was almost entirely character driven. Walking out of that theater was the first time that I ever entertained the idea of trying to make one on my own.
Let’s chat the ensemble. Did you find them all through open audition?
Anderson Cowan: All, but for two of them. My lead Nicole Dambro was introduced to me by my producer, thank god, and I brought on Travis Stanberry, one of the two gutter punks. I cast Travis in one of my student films nearly 20 years ago and never forgot about him and his incredible talent. The rest came from tirelessly looking over headshots, reels and eventual auditions. That arduous process really paid off as I think is evident in all the performances, they were all great on screen and even better to work with.
I imagine you had little backstories for each of their characters that weren’t even on the page…?
Anderson Cowan: For sure and that really helps when directing in rehearsals and on set. The more you know about your characters the better prepared you are to let your actors know why they’re doing what they’re doing and in the case of Groupers I had some of them doing some very odd things. I really believe that at least a few of these characters could have a movie all to themselves.
Did they add anything to their characters that weren’t there before?
Anderson Cowan: I always encourage actors to share thoughts and ideas about their characters, by the time we get to set many of them will know more about who they’re playing than even I do and I’m the one who created them. These new ideas coupled with their well fleshed out backstories lead to some great little nuances that wouldn’t have been there otherwise. Travis Stanberry for example called me up a week or so before shooting began and he was really excited about this new angle he had dreamt up. He and his equally vile gutter punk partner would be huge A Clockwork Orange fans and he even suggested wearing a bit of makeup on one of his eyes to mimic the false eyelash Alex wore in the 1971 Kubrick classic. I absolutely loved this idea and we ran with it.
ow alike their characters are the young cast? Did you cast anyone in the film because they were essentially ‘that guy’ or ‘that girl’ in real life, too?
Anderson Cowan: My god no, a few of them were the polar opposite of the roles they were playing. Peter Mayer-Klepchick plays the alpha homophobe Brad in the film and Pete couldn’t be a more docile, generous guy. The aforementioned Travis Stanberry who plays the alpha gutter punk is just shy of being meek in his own skin, but you would never guess that after seeing his performance. If any of my actors are at all close to the character they played I’d have to say it was Nicole Dambro who plays Meg, the lead in the film. I would think she’d be able to pull off a kidnapping if she really had to.
Now are any of the characters you – or inspired by your life?
Anderson Cowan: Hate to admit that I can relate to just about all of them. I’ve been bullied and even bullied some kids way back in elementary school, before I knew any better. With each new draft of the script I found myself empathizing with all of the characters at one time or another. That’s one of the many points I’m trying to explore here, nobody is ever totally good or bad, there’s always some shades of gray, no matter who you are.
I’m wondering how audiences have taken to the film so far? What type of feedback have you been receiving?
Anderson Cowan: I’m learning that people either get it or they don’t. Those who do are really digging it. There are a handful of people who have come to 8 separate screenings that have been held all over the country so far. On the other side of that was a very sweet elderly woman who saw a screening of it up in San Jose at Cinequest earlier this year. She flagged me down in the lobby afterward and wanted to let me know that she just didn’t get it. Five minutes of explanation later didn’t lessen her befuddled expression. I gave her a big hug, thanked her for giving it a shot, then walked away resigned to the fact that Groupers isn’t for everybody. That being said, I do believe I hit the target for the audience that I had in mind when I made it.
There’s some confronting subjects in here. How important to you was it that they be handled delicately and tasteful?
Anderson Cowan: Very. I knew early on in the writing process that I was stepping into some pretty turbulent waters. Some of my closest friends and a number of people who either worked on the film or helped fund it are gay. I passed a number of things by these individuals before we shot a single frame. Definitely got some valuable guidance on a couple of lines here and there and as a result I’m both comfortable and confident that we won’t be offending any of the wrong people. Offending people is part of the plan for Groupers, but it’s got to be the right people and I think we’ve done our job on that front.
Though a comedy, this is a message movie. What do you think it’s main message is and what kind of changes would you like to see it encourage?
Anderson Cowan: There’s a lot of us who just follow along, seems to me we don’t think on our own enough. George Carlin said that he loved the individual, but hated the group. I subscribe to this for the most part. A group of individuals who all believe they’re right about something can quickly morph into an angry mob. This can lead to people not allowing themselves to be who they truly are. I’ve personally witnessed some of the scariest homophobes turn out to be gay. All that anger and frustration manifesting itself in a very harmful fashion. I really do believe that in many cases homophobia is gay in that sense.
Where can we get a ‘Fartbarf is fun’ sticker?
Anderson Cowan: Oh what a great band. I always say they’re the best band with the worst name. www.fartbarf.com (can you believe that url was available?) would be a good place to start, but sadly I just checked and it looks like they’re all out.
Groupers is set to open in Los Angeles on Friday, September 27th at the Laemmle Music Hall theater and will expand into additional markets on October 1st.