Interview with Gabe Weisert, Director

Gabe Weisert is the director and co-writer of the two classic independent films Fishing with Gandhi (1998) and Cow Monkey (2001). For anyone interested in film, both works are must-owns and for low-budget filmmakers, they are mandatory viewing. Shot in relatively short amounts of time (each film was shot in 9 days or less) and with limited locations, the films demonstrate just what one can do with zero-budget, inventive story telling, dedication and talent: make damn fine art.

Weisert’s directorial debut, Fishing with Gandhi, is a loose adaptation of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Fishing with Gandhi is one of those rare films that balances profundity with side-splitting laughs and presently remains criminally under-appreciated. Its story follows Danno, played by Dan Klein, who has just returned from the wedding of his mother and uncle. Now traveling to see his too-cool-for-school friends Stephen, played by Weisert, and Giles, played by William Birdthistle, Danno hitches a ride with brothers Roy and Gil, played by James Reichmuth and John Reichmuth respectively.

Weisert, the Reichmuth brothers and Klein followed Fishing with Gandhi with another film truly after my own heart, Cow Monkey. Cow Monkey returns to characters Roy and Gil as they go on a quest to avenge the murder of their dog, Wanda II, by Bigfoot, or the mythical ape-beast the “cow monkey”. When Roy and Gil arrive at the Bigfoot site, they meet the woodsy Grover, played by Klein, and an anthropological student named Sydney, played by Bridget Schwartz. What ensues is 88 minutes that, like Fishing with Gandhi, is as funny as it is philosophical.

For more information on Gabe Weisert, visit his photography site. For more information on John and James Reichmuth and Dan Klein, visit their website of their extremely funny comedy troupe, Kasper Hauser, and check out their new book Sky Maul.

To purchase and view the films, visit Film Baby, which currently offers a signed double DVD package of the films, both which have extremely illuminating commentaries and are full of great outakes, cartoons, and Kasper Hauser troupe standup.

In the following interview, Weisert talks about the two films.

Interview follows.

I’m shocked that Fishing with Gandhi isn’t a better known film. It’s well written, well acted, extremely funny and quite touching. When it was released, did it get a lot of attention?

Thanks for the kind words! When it came out in ’98, FWG [Fishing with Gandhi] bounced around some of the smaller film festivals then got picked up by Hollywood Video. We got a nice write-up in Variety, and some great local press, and good word of mouth around the hip indie film fest circles, but by no means was it on any kind of grand national Entertainment Weekly type scale. But honestly I was pleasantly surprised — it’s more of a student film than anything else, so I was happy to see the small but very favorable attention that it received.

Roy and Gil
John Reichmuth as Gil and James Reichmuth as Roy

How did the characters of Giles (played by William Birdthistle) and Stephen (played by you) in Fishing with Gandhi come about?

Those characters were always intended to be the opposite of Roy and Gil — neurotic, self-obsessed, hipster city counterparts to their country zen ways. The Stephen and Giles characters are obviously not nearly as well-developed as Roy and Gil, and not nearly as funny, and those scenes tend to make me cringe, but I’m at peace with that now.

Did you find it difficult to both act in and direct Fishing with Gandhi?

It wasn’t difficult, but it probably wasn’t that effective. My acting and my directing probably both suffered as a result. But I didn’t know any better, and I was doing everything else anyways, so it wasn’t that big a deal. It was such a tiny operation — there were half a dozen people, outside of the actors, involved in making this film.

What made you decide to further explore the Roy (played by James Reichmuth) and Gil (played by John Reichmuth) characters with Cow Monkey?

Well, obviously they’re amazingly funny and brilliant, so we thought with Cow Monkey we’d try more of an adventure type story — get Roy and Gil out there in the world, hunting Bigfoot. Of course they wound up just hanging out on logs and talking nonsense again…

When I was watching Cow Monkey, I couldn’t help but think of Charles B. Pierce’s The Legend of Boggy Creek (1972). Was Cow Monkey in any way, shape, or form inspired by this movie?

Busted! That was definitely a huge influence on the film! I loved the way Boggy Creek meshes documentary and narrative styles. And while that movie is undeniably hokey, it also has some wonderfully creepy moments.

In researching Cow Monkey, you talk about watching the Roger Patterson film of Bigfoot and not realizing it was slowed down. Resultantly, in Cow Monkey Bigfoot similarly walks slowly, whereas in reality he presumably would have walked faster. Did a lot of Bigfoot nuts come out of the woodwork and point this out to you, or was this something you realized in retrospect?

I never really noticed it. But James (Roy) actually talked to Rene Dahinden, one of the world’s most famous Bigfoot hunters, a real true believer, who told him that to truly appreciate the Patterson film, you have to see it projected. That way, he said, “You can see the muscles ripple underneath the skin.” How awesome is that?

What films and/or directors have influenced you?

I kind of looked at FWG as a cross between Raising Arizona and Withnail and I. Vernon, Florida, a documentary by Errol Morris, was another huge influence.

Both Fishing with Gandhi and Cow Monkey favor relatively long takes. Was this something that was intentional or rather a result from material that was often centered around talking characters?

The latter, most definitely. John and James are pretty much making everything up on the spot, so we would just let them run at the mouth, then use the best stuff. Also, short takes take more time (new setups, etc). We did FWG in a week, and Cow Monkey in 9 days.

Danno
Dan Klein as Danno

What was the greatest obstacle you had to overcome in making either Fishing with Gandhi and/or Cow Monkey?

Money is obviously a perennial pain in the ass, but since none of us involved were professionals at the time, the biggest challenge was getting 8 people to show up at the same place, with all the right equipment, on a weekday. Honestly.

You indicate in both commentaries to Fishing with Gandhi and Cow Monkey that John and James worked from a general outline and improvised a lot of their dialogue. Was any of the dialogue in the two films scripted? Or did actors always work from an outline rather than scripted dialogue?

The non Roy/Gil material in FWG was mostly scripted. Most of the dialogue in Cow Monkey was semi-scripted. That system worked for us, but I wouldn’t recommend it for everyone. You have to have really talented actors who know how to improvise well.

As a director, how do you approach working with actors?

I am very, very hands-off. I am basically just there to make the scene happen. Everyone on set is a professional, so they need very little in the way of guidance. I am the non-director.

You shot Cow Monkey on video and Fishing with Gandhi on 16mm. Which medium do you prefer?

I prefer video, because it’s cheaper, and because there’s software out there nowadays that can make it look really deep and rich. If I had an unlimited amount of $, though, I’d shoot in film. It’s still tops in terms of visual quality.

How did you get into film? Did you go to film school, are you from more of a theatre background, or did you just pick up a camera and start shooting?

Did some theater in college but I really hated it (there is nothing more pretentious than an undergraduate theater production). I knew John and James were about as funny as it gets, so these films were just an excuse to capture that. I haven’t done much work without those guys.

Are you working on any films at the moment, and/or will there be another Roy and Gil film?

We are always kicking around ideas, but I think if we did another Roy and Gil film it would have to be a little more formalized, with some real funding behind it. Their sketch group Kasper Hauser is really taking off now, getting a lot of national attention, so who knows…

Can you leave us with a closing movie quote?

“Birdy Num Num.” Peter Sellers, The Party

Images used with permission of Gabe Weisert and courtesy of http://www.royandgil.com.