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“Sitting in Front of That Whiteboard for Two Days, Joe Came Up With Some Hilarious and Strange Drawings”: Eugene Kotlyarenko | Spree

Joe Keery appears in Spree by Eugene Kotlyarenko (courtesy of Sundance Institute)

Whether capturing or creating a world, the objects onscreen tell as much of a story as the people within it. Whether sourced or accidental, insert shot or background detail, what prop or piece of set decoration do you find particularly integral to your film? What story does it tell?

There’s a prop at the heart of Spree that wasn’t actually meant to be in the movie at all. Joe Keery and I met up a lot before production trying to get to the bottom of his character. If we were going to convey the reality of a failed influencer taking on a desperate, demented viral scheme, we had to know what kind of twisted or mundane content he’d been producing up until that moment. So we started filming all sorts of in-character posts—unboxing videos, shopping hauls, vape reviews. Eventually, our close collaborator, Honor, handed us a whiteboard and suggested we make a “Draw My Life” video. After watching several examples, it became clear that this autobiographical clusterfuck mixing the maudlin with the monumental, personal with historical, would be the perfect way to find Kurt’s special voice. 

Sitting in front of that whiteboard for two days, Joe came up with some hilarious and strange drawings that fleshed out Kurt’s personal history (and also looked really good lol). Once we complimented his “art” with a manic and delusional narration, sprinkled with off-the-mark phrases that we referred to as “Kurtisms,” we were now more confident than ever in our approach towards this character. As we inched closer to production, the “Draw My Life” video became an effective way to help the department heads understand not only Kurt, but also the satirical tone of the film. 

Early in the edit, I thought back to the whiteboard and considered that maybe audiences needed this history just as much as we did; a clue into Kurt before all the madness, a formal gesture that said this movie wouldn’t be business as usual, and a signal from us that it was okay to laugh and cringe. Now it’s hard to imagine the film without it. To me it feels it bit like our version of the News on the March newsreel at the top of Citizen Kane! I guess it sounds like some of Kurt’s delusions of grandeur have rubbed off on me, but in my book “you gotta fake it, till you’ve got it made.” 

Sundance Responses 2020

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