Growing up isn’t always easy, especially those difficult years of pre-pubescence when identities are being formed and a torrent of racing hormones collide with burgeoning feelings of sexuality. Possibly even harder than living through that confusing period however is re-creating it on screen in all its awkward authenticity. It’s a filmic challenge that siblings Tyler and Conor Byrne of Brudder Films take in their stride with an impressive stylistic aplomb in their grin-inducing coming of age short Foureyes. DN sat down with director Conor to discuss the brother’s approach to making films to been seen far and wide, and the strong allure of nipples.
You both create work under the moniker Brudder – aside from the obvious fraternal connection how would you define the films you make together? Are their production/story/stylistic aspects you feel an outsider could pick up as ‘Brudder’?
Our main aim is to make movies that are fun to watch – audience-friendly fare! Though we tend towards making outright comedies, we always try to strike a tonal balance – our own blend of pathos and humor. Movies that are specifically designed to have broad, funny beats while still maintaining a real, relatable emotional core. The fundamental balance of artifice and sentiment is something we always strive for.
We also gravitate towards a certain level of stylization. One consistent idea behind most of our projects so far is the notion of making movies that are set in a ‘timeless’ space – a sort of comic otherworld made up of elements from all time periods and places – apart from any one specific time or real setting. I think this idea rears its head most obviously in our meticulously poppy production design, but we try to use all sorts of cinematic devices to tell our stories visually.
That’s a longwinded, heady way of saying that we want to make movies that many people enjoy. And we also like suburbia.
Your roles (at least on Foureyes) are defined as: Conor – Writer/Director & Tyler – Producer. Did you find yourselves naturally gravitating to those respective positions or is there more of a flow back and forth as to the tasks you do day to day on a film?
This movie was a total collaboration. We developed the original idea together and discussed (argued/fisticuff-ed) each nook and cranny of the project before bringing it to life. We’re partners in the creative process from beginning to end – we location scout, pore over auditions, conspire on set, and sit in the cutting room and cry together.
That being said, we’ve been working in these roles for a while now and there’s definitely a division of labor that matches up with our personalities. I (Conor) am more of a reclusive movie monk, agonizing over each new draft, drawing hundreds of storyboards, and watching flicks on an endless loop. Tyler likes to eat at nice restaurants and buy fancy shirts, which naturally makes him the producer.
When the time came, we also brought on a slew of folks who became essential collaborators – among many others, producer Richard Peete, EP David Laub, associate producer/3rd Brudder Ron Seidel, DP Adam Newport-Berra, production designer Sara K White, casting director Fay Shumsey, costume designer Brooke Bennett, editor Sofi Marshall, and rock-and-roll man of mystery/composer Ted Feldman.
Aside from your own bespectacled status, where did the concept of tying Bobby’s newly expanded sight into his burgeoning sexuality develop from?
Very early versions of the script were about a kid who thinks his eyeglasses have brought him telekinetic, destructive powers – sort of like a prepubescent Carrie. But that was more of a broad comedy logline, and we wanted to give Bobby a more sincere emotional arc, so we tied the arrival of his eyeglasses to his anxiety about puberty – which is what a kid his age is actually going through. It’s a time in a young man’s life that is wrought with moments of soaring joy (seeing boobies) and anxious guilt (seeing bloody undies). Ripe for cinematic interpretation!
I have extremely vivid memories of that period in my life. Most are exaggerated, zany recollections that lent themselves to our colorful stylistic filmmaking impulses, so I decided to dive into this story. People ask me if this film is autobiographical, and it partly is – I don’t remember being resistant to my eyeglasses, but I distinctly recall the hunt throughout friends’ houses for nudie mags. We would play Goldeneye and then go on stealth missions to find Playboys.
Your lead Jake Ryan perfectly embodies this mix of youthful whimsey, curiosity and anxiety. How did he come to fill the roll of Bobby?
We had an amazing casting director, Fay Shumsey, who found Jake for us! I loved Jake in Moonrise and Tyler had actually seen him in Inside Llewyn Davis at Cannes, so when Fay independently brought up the idea, we were elated. Jake is an incredibly bright young man, with an imagination unlike any I’ve ever experienced. Once we met him and became friends, we incorporated a lot of his natural Jake-isms into the movie. He memorized the script immediately and totally immersed himself into the role. Jake became Bobby and Bobby became Jake.
Were there performances by other young actors that you directed him too? What was you process for ensuring that he projected the right emotional mix throughout?
I lent Jake my VHS copy of Tim Burton’s original black and white 1984 Frankenweenie short, which has the sort of manic spirit, kooky energy, and ‘boy-coming-to-terms-with-world’ theme that we were striving for. When I gave him the VHS, his eyes widened as if holding a magical antique: “V.H.S….The V.H. Best!” was his exact quote I believe. Mostly, though, Jake is so smart, witty and receptive to direction that he was able to own the role just by being himself.
Your Cinematographer Adam Newport-Berra shot Foureyes on the Arri Alexa Studio with Hawk Anamorphic lenses. How did you come to select that package for the film?
Adam and Tyler selected our camera package based on my desired look for the film. The decision to shoot anamorphic in a 2:39 aspect ratio was an homage to Nicholas Ray and his colorful, heightened suburban-set movies about outsiders, namely Bigger Than Life and Rebel Without A Cause. I wanted to channel the look of those flicks. Also, I thought that shooting this story in widescreen would appropriately dramatize Bobby’s journey into puberty. We wanted to make his walk down the hallway to the “Man Cave” seem like a suspenseful, classically cinematic experience. His psychological dive into sexual realization felt like the type of warped, expressive trip that needed to be told in a bold aspect ratio. Puberty feels like a big, daunting adventure to him, so it should feel like that to the audience as well.
Adam Newport-Berra made the look of the movie. He totally threw himself into the heightened comic aesthetic, and elevated the entire project to an unreal level. We wanted to embrace artificiality with our use of color (bold nighttime blues, and frightening bright reds), and blend some horror movie vibes into the visual language of our movie, and Adam took these ideas and ran with them. His incredible team – gaffer Noah Chamis, key grip Ben Logan, and camera team Sam Wootton and Kris Rey-Talley – were also Jedi ninjas on set.
We wanted the film to be true to life – and truth be told, I wanted to see nipples when I was 10.
There’s one small scene in Foureyes which just tips the film across the line into NSFW – was that a shot you ever considered leaving out/shooting differently to enable wider screening possibilities?
We wanted the film to be true to life – and truth be told, I wanted to see nipples when I was 10. I think it’s essential that Bobby’s journey progresses and escalates by the end of the movie. He’s coming to terms with puberty and his own sexuality, and a slight loss-of-innocence wink always felt like the appropriate beat. So far, we haven’t run into any problems with the content of the film, and it’s amazing how many people have come forth with their own “when I was that age” dirty stories.
I’ve got to mention the great work your Production Designer Sara K White did on the film. Where were you all drawing from for the askew look of Foureyes?
Sara and the incredible art team (Dylan Pettengill, Bridget Rafferty, and Steven Speir) worked very hard to create the hyper-designed “all-time-no-time” look of the film. It’s mostly an amalgamation of clichés of pre-internet suburban America – elements of the 50s, 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s all rolled into one. We wanted the parents to be very 50s/60s (Leave it to Beaver stereotypes), our house location was stuck in the 1970s (striped wallpaper, wood paneling, oddly-patterned carpet), the Tiffani character was very 1980s-influenced (blue eyeshadow, teenybopper mags, etc. – like Jeanie in Ferris Bueller), and Bobby himself is – like us – a child of the 90s (VHS, BMX bike, etc.) Sara was key in defining all of this and bringing this world into existence.
Visual research is one of my favorite things of all time. Among many other works, I looked at Edward Scissorhands, (and a few other early Tim Burton movies), Douglas Sirk, Bob Balaban’s Parents, Welcome To The Dollhouse and ET. Another massive influence is 90s Nickelodeon show The Adventures of Pete and Pete, which is set in this kooky, semi-dark funhouse vision of suburbia. And our mom drove a Volvo station wagon when we were Bobby’s age, so the car choice was a no-brainer.
Were the sex ed graphics and videos real or of your own creation?
We built a massive collection of sex education materials – videos, pamphlets, books, even a board game – most of which I found on eBay and sex-ed websites. I still get emails from those websites. If you’re reading this, sexpressions.com, unsubscribe me. Anyway, the main video that we used is a real educational tool from the late 70s called “Am I Normal?: A Film About Puberty For Boys” which came in a large, beautiful commemorative case. There’s a great moment in that video where a puberty-stricken boy asks a zookeeper about different types of animal penises.
Our art department custom designed and created the awesomely naughty Erotic Playtimes VHS that (Spoiler Alert!) Bobby steals from his Dad’s collection at the end of the film. Approving the cover art for that prop was one of the most rewarding experiences of the entire project for me.
How much of the conversation beats – such as at the dinner table or with the ophthalmologist – are the result of playing with the timing in the editing process versus what was captured in the raw performances?
We were very fortunate to have some amazing actors all around. RJ Kelly and Lori Funk in particular were great improvisers and had instant on-screen chemistry. Lori’s facial expressions combined with RJ’s fratty-daddy crude attempts at sex talks really came to life on set. They played off of each other very nicely; the crew was perpetually holding back giggles. Most scenes in the movie were very specifically storyboarded, but in the dining room scenes we let the actors run wild and found the tempo in the editing room.
What’s been the journey of Foureyes so far, did you bypass a full festival run in order to get to the online premiere sooner?
We always knew that the internet would be a main mode of distribution for the movie, and lucked out by partnering with Vimeo and Short of the Week to launch it. We applied to a few of the big-name film festivals at first, and when we were not selected (sad face crying emoji here), we knew it was time to release the movie online. I couldn’t stand the idea of not showing people what we had done, and we had a feeling that since our movie is a comedy with some raunchy elements, the mass online audience would be especially receptive to it. We were right – so far the response has been amazing – many more people have seen our movie in the past few weeks online than ever could have seen it otherwise.
We’re also hoping for a festival run, so we get that irreplaceable experience of seeing the movie on the big screen with a live audience. That said, however, the internet is the biggest, most powerful film festival ever created, and we strongly encourage any short-form filmmaker to release their films online immediately in addition to applying to festivals. Playing at festivals and online release are no longer mutually exclusive concepts in today’s moviemaking landscape. The main goal of making a short film is get as many eyeballs on it as possible!
Are their any Brudder projects on the horizon we should keep our eyes peeled for?
Right now, we’re making commercials and branded content as a means of developing our aesthetic, honing our style, and really just getting better. We’re also constantly developing longform projects of all shapes and sizes, with the goal of making a feature in the near future. A Brudder ‘adult juicebox’ line is also in the very early stages of development.