Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Our New Animated Short, Other Fish!

Two weeks ago we completed work on our newest project, Other Fish. The 4:39 movie was animated/co-directed by Josh Stifter, produced by my wife Olivia Roush, and features sounds by Mike Hallenbeck. It follows a recently divorced woman who attempts to swim a channel of shark infested water in order to prove to herself that she is now truly independent. We were incredibly fortunate to score an amazing cast for this project including Michael Parks, Harley Quinn Smith, and Jacqui Duncan. Since the movie is now stuck in film fest submission hell (the process of submitting to film festivals means that you must sit on your hands for the better part of 6-9 months before you can release it) I wanted to take a little time to talk about what the project is, who was involved, and the lengthy process of bringing an animated project into fruition.

Deleted scene in Tusk
I first heard of Josh Stifter while working on the set of Tusk. Kevin Smith is a one in a million filmmaker who is such a work-hard nutcase on set that his rough cut of a project is typically assembled before principal photography is even over. One day about 3/4 into production in North Carolina, Kevin put Mewes and I in charge of assembling a TV and sound system in order to screen the rough edit of Tusk to the cast and crew during lunch. There is something truly magical about watching a crew actually see a version of the art that they are currently working on. It was this cut that included a few select animated sequences, one of which included the backstory of Michael Parks' character Howard Howe done by Josh Stifter. I was taken aback by the visceral animated visuals on screen. I'm not sure whether he or I reached out to one-another first, but ultimately less than a year later we were looking for a project to collaborate on together.

In February 2015 my Mother-in-law was about to swim a race that actually took place in shark-infested water. This lead to my wife waking me out of sleep one night, telling me about a nightmare of her mother actually getting attacked while in the water. The next morning I wrote a 7 page script inspired by the story she told me. However, I wanted to tell something bigger, something with a moral, a very twisted moral. One about the dangers of following your dreams.

James Gunn once wrote a blog about the dangers of following your dreams in Hollywood. It is a genius and thought-provoking article that should be considered mandated reading to anyone wishing to become a master in any career. The fact of the matter is that it is extremely irresponsible for people that have "made it" to blindly regurgitate the phrase "follow your dreams" when talking to those contemplating attempting to make art for a living. 

The film, TV, and music industries are extremely over-crowded by people who are attempting to break into it thinking they are special. If you are in fact one of the people truly dedicated to making it, you have to be so absorbed and obsessed with your craft that there is nothing else that matters. In many cases, this leads not only to the breaking of hearts, but the decline of relationships, finances, and even your own health. My point is that if you are so hell-bent that you are willing to sacrifice everything in pursuit of your dream, there are deep, horrible ramifications that may come along as a result. I'm only using my own experience here as an example. I'm sure if you ask a painter, sculptor, carpenter, luthier, or those that have mastered any other trade, the same applies to some degree. This film is my little fable about the dangers of following your dreams.

Parks and I
Once I had the script finalized and sent it off to Stifter, we were off and rolling. We floated around some casting ideas but I knew exactly who I wanted. Though I traveled to North Carolina for Tusk as a behind the scenes videographer, Kevin immediately assigned me to Michael Parks as his assistant. During that time I'd drive him to set, go out to lunch, and the things one typically does in the role. However, the time I'll always value is sitting on the steps of his trailer with him in the doorway as we both shared cigarettes and he regaled me of tales of his days hanging with Elvis, Lenny Bruce, Johnny Cash, Richard Pryor, Miles Davis, etc. While talking about his music career, Parks would even occasionally break into song. So of course, when it came time to approach someone to play Grandpa in Other Fish, he was my natural choice and just like the class act he is, he immediately said yes.

HQ as Sandy
After we wrapped on Tusk I went back to my humdrum life at Sony (working 20 hour days and sleeping under my desk for the other 4... but that's another story). One night, out of the blue I got a call from Jen Schwalbach who invited me to come work for her family as a driver/bodyguard of sorts. That one call saved me from my cubical bound life and I will always be indebted for it. For the next year and a half I drove around the youngest of the Smith clan. I'd drive Harley and her friends to malls, parties, the movies, all sorts of teenage girl stuff. This allowed me ample downtime while waiting on them to concentrate on my writing and allowed me the flexibility to complete my movie Rodney Redbottom, write, shoot, and edit The Mission, as well as finish my first full screenplay (an adaptation of an F. Scott Fitzgerald short story). One day while driving the family to the set of Yoga Hosers, I approached Jen about asking Harley to star in Other Fish and she was incredibly supportive. I recorded Harley Quinn the next week and she of course knocked it out of the park.

Jacqui on TV
That only leaved the role of the mother to be cast. We mulled over many options, but it was Liv who mentioned her good friend Jacqui Duncan. She had met the aspiring actress in Sydney while working for a wine dispensary and the two moved to Los Angeles at damn near the same time. I of course was offish about an Australian playing such a dominant role in an American, animated movie, but Liv was confident she could handle it. After reviewing several productions Jacqui had been involved in, I was sold as well and we recorded the following week. She is one of the most professional actresses I've ever witnessed.* While recording sounds of being attacked, she almost hyperventilated three times due to giving it all she had. Looking back there is no one that I would have rather had in the role. It saddens me that our friend has returned to Australia, but she's now on to bigger and better roles for doing so.

*Side note: She played all three witches voices in Kevin's short Hallow-Ian, his contribution to the movie Holidays.

Josh Stifter,
Self Portrait
Having the voices in the can, Stifter took the next few months nailing down the look of the animation. This was a trying time, after all, this wasn't your typical comical cartoon, this was a dark, dramatic animation. The style he eventually settled on is an amazing take on the look of the 1990's Liquid Television while adding incredibly refined texture, colors, and shading. This project is unlike any cartoon I've ever seen and I genuinely say Stifter's name in the same sentence with the greats like Bill Plympton, Don Hertzfeldt, and Mike Judge. As he started delivering me these gorgeous scenes, we began the talk about who was to do sound.

Mike Hallenbeck

As with all of the projects I've done thus far, I am a control freak. Normally I am actively involved with every single aspect of every project I do. So when Stifter suggested that Mike Hallenbeck, not I, do not only the sound-design, but the actual score to the movie, I freaked out. Being the insane asshole that I am, the concept of not having an active role in a movie after I have wrote and directed the actors is not something I'm comfortable with. However, Stifter assured me of Mike's work and I eventually relented.

I'm happy to say that Mike Hallenbeck turned in an auditory experience that I couldn't come close to approximating on my best damn day. The dude is an absolute genius with sound. Listen to the trailer. Hear the waves, the splashing, the dog, the grumbles, the little nuances in just that trailer alone are perfect. You're going to have your mind blown by what he did with the actual score, it's pure perfection.

Olivia Roush
But that's not the only people that helped make this project what it is. Much of the tension derived from the movie is largely thanks to the editing work of Jeremy Wanek. The score wouldn't be nearly the same without the lap-steel guitar of Ben Connelly and the electric guitar of Ben Glaros. Even our good friend Matt Rowbottom kicked ass as co-producer in the final stages of this project. However, as always, the biggest reason that this was made is due to the support of my amazing wife and partner Olivia Roush. If it wasn't for her, none of the projects I make from the podcast, to the shorts, to the writing, to the scripts would ever be possible.

So until film festival submission-hell ends, this is as much as I can show/tell you about our new little project. Check out the trailer below, check out Stifter's work at, hear Mike's auditory asskickery at, and watch for all things me.

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