Events March 19, 2014
Cody Blue Snider, Rated R
The BUTTER director on his new film Fool's Day, the writing process and working with fourth graders.
At last month’s BUTTER: A Night of Popcorn and Pop Culture, we featured writer and director Cody Blue Snider’s new short film, Fool’s Day. It’s a dark comedy about a 4th grade class whose April Fool’s prank goes terribly, terribly wrong. Cody has been winning awards and stirring up interest at festivals around the world in recent years with his unique storytelling and subdued humor. A School of Visual Arts dropout who directed, edited and wrote his first award-winning short at nineteen, he is blazing his own trail in the film industry.
Cody stuck around after the morbid screening for an audience Q&A, but in case you missed it, we caught up with him (literally: he’s a fast-moving, thinking and talking guy) to talk about his young but already booming career. We’re happy to report that he bears no resemblance to the Grim Reaper.
ADC: What was the first moment that you knew you wanted to be a filmmaker professionally and not just do it for fun?
Cody: I actually always wanted to be an actor. I think most people, especially when you’re younger, see a movie and first connect with the actors. And if it really blows your mind, then you think, ‘Who wrote that?’ I didn’t know what a director was, so I took a few production classes in high school so that I could learn to make or edit movies just so I could act in them.
For my first project in my film and video production class, I just phoned something in, handed it in late — like all the other homework I ever did, or didn’t do, or copied. Then nobody in the class wanted to show their project, so the teacher picked mine to show to everybody and said it was great. I’d never been the best at something without trying so hard, so I thought, ‘Oh my god, I guess this is what I’m best at.’ That was it. So I guess I was fifteen when I knew I wanted to be a director.
ADC: How do you usually handle screenings like these? Are you too nervous to watch?
Cody: I’ve had truly terrible, terrible experiences, so I’m not afraid anymore! The first premier of my first short film was projected from a computer, and an update notification for Time Machine popped up in this incredibly emotional scene. All I could do was sit there. At the Tribeca Film Festival premier, the audio was terrible, and George Lucas and Elijah Wood were in the audience. Then at the world premier of my first short, there were about 500 people there and we were filming the event for a TV show, and the film was completely out of sync. I had to undo the tape and splice the audio and video.
So at this point I’m not nervous! The worst case scenario is that the audience doesn’t like it. But I’ll sit outside sometimes. I do like to sit in the back so I can watch the audience, though, and usually I’ll sit with somebody with a walkie talkie to the projection so I can give them tweaks.
ADC: What was the inspiration behind Fool’s Day? We’re hoping it’s not a confession of some kind…
Cody: I wrote it with my brother and I directed and edited it, so this is my baby. We were thinking about when you watch a shitty movie on TV, jus flipping through the channels, and it’s super melodramatic. And maybe you think, wouldn’t it be funny if that bitch’s head just exploded? Right? I wanted to open something like it was a Disney movie, set the trajectory in one way, and then completely turn it on its head.
I think with comedy you can do two things: it’s either something preposterous treated realistically, or something real treated preposterously. I guess I like something preposterous treated realistically.
I wanted to treat it like it was a Disney movie and then kill the teacher and kind of keep that vibe and feeling. I’m big on contrast, I love contrast. I think the key to all great art, the key to all great characters, maybe the key to the universe, is that the opposite of every truth is equally as true. There’s a duality to our existence.
ADC: And you’re planning to turn it into a feature-length film?
Cody: I am writing the feature script. I’ve been writing it for about half a year. I have a lot of interest from a lot of different people, some major studios, and a lot of indie companies. Hopefully, it will be shot the end of this summer and then be playing a film festival early 2015. The idea is to make the first R-rated kids movie, kind of like the Goonies if it was R-rated or something. And it’s going to take place in the nineties — it’s totally for nineties babies. I’m making an ode to nineties babies.
ADC: Was it an easy transition for you to adopt it to feature length, or have you had to develop different skills that you haven’t used before?
Cody: This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done, hands down. I did not anticipate this. The reason it’s so hard is because I’ve been making this movie for two and a half years and I don’t have that initial energy, where I have that itch I can’t scratch, I need to get this vision out, and am just going off of my gut. Now I have all these people’s voices in my head: all these opinions, reviews and producers. It’s been the single hardest thing I’ve ever done in my entire life and I did not anticipate it taking this long!
But the truth is that the Fool’s Day is designed structurally like a feature film. Let’s say twenty pages into a feature script the exciting incident happens, which would be the teacher dying, that’s collapsed into the first three minutes of the short, and so on and so forth. So I have the major piece of the feature and that’s one of the reasons it moves the way it moves; it moves very fast because it’s condensed. Traditionally, a short film is more of a character study or a little less plot driven; you might be dropped into a scenario deep into the plot when a lot of stuff has already happened. This is a little different than that.
ADC: Do you feel most comfortable or artistically dedicated to the short form, or do you consider your work in this form to be practice for bigger movies?
Cody: It’s all honing your craft, whether it’s music videos, shorts or commercials. And it’s more of a budgetary thing, too: you do shorts to work your way up to a feature budget. But since writing a script, I think it definitely is a bit of a different beast. I’d say I’m surprised how different they are. There are unique challenges posed with both.
The one thing is that in a short, and in Fool’s Day especially, the pacing is one of the strong suits, and in a feature length film, that brevity gets a little old. It’s more about using other tools of drama: what is happening now has to be far less interesting than what may or may not happen next. In order to do that, I can’t just hit beats and fly through it. I have to play the moment and let the audience be worried about what’s going to happen next.
ADC: How do you think having gone to film school has influenced your process, or your career generally?
Cody: I went to the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan on a scholarship for a semester and then I dropped out. I convinced my parents to let me use my tuition money to make my first film. Film school is great, though. You develop, make connections: if I didn’t go to that little bit of film school, I wouldn’t know so many of my great collaborators and my awesome crew.
ADC: For Fool’s Day, those collaborators just happened to be minors. How did you bring together a cast of kids who wouldn’t, well, chicken out?
Cody: The kids were great. I was surprised that their parents didn’t have any concerns! But they were completely cool with everything. They definitely knew that the actor’s answer is always yes. The main kids with speaking parts were all New York-based union actors with agents, but the others are local kids. And we shot the film in my fifth grade class.
ADC: How did you set that up?
Cody: Through my fifth grade teacher.
ADC: You just went back to your elementary school one day and they were ok with painting blood all over the chalkboards?
Cody: Well, I do Career Day there and try to do a lot of community events there, so they were cool with it, and my teacher’s awesome! But there’s no way they expected it was going to be a hundred people. Between the crew, extras and kids it was a lot of people.
ADC: What was the biggest challenge in working with kids instead of adult actors for the first time?
Cody: The most difficult thing with the kids was that they were always looking into the lens. A lot of them like didn’t like the blood. And they could only work short days, because of child labor laws. So we had those kinds of problems which I hadn’t dealt with before. It was hard to have all of the kids in one wide shot, which plays better for comedy I think, because half the kids would be in character and the rest of them would be like looking at the sky or tying their shoes or laughing. It was very difficult, but overall the kids were great and I was really lucky.
ADC: For the kids whose parents allowed them to see it, what did they think?
Cody: They’ve all seen it and they love it. They’ve all been at the premier, too. Kids in general seem to love this movie, which is weird. People frequently think it’s going to be PG-13. And I just think ‘Really? You think it’s PG? I want to make this into an R-rated feature!’