7 questions with The Hamster director, Ryan Barger at the half-way mark.
Tuesday, February 14th, 2017
1Hey Ryan! Thanks for being a part of our festival. First, what was the initial seed that made you want to make The Hamster? Thank you! I think the idea for the father character- a sort of nihilist who sees the dark side of almost everything- had been in my head for awhile. Then one day my wife and producer Katie Akana suggested I write something with that nihilist character interacting with a child, and I sort of took off from that point. Once I wrote the initial draft of his monologue, I built the rest of the script up around that.
2Aaralyn Anderson (who plays your daughter in the film) gives such a fantastic performance. How did you work with Aaralyn to get such a natural performance? I auditioned quite a few young girls for the part, and as soon as Aaralyn auditioned I knew she would be great. She was totally unselfconscious and natural in her performance but at the same time worked hard to get her lines right and do a good job. I have to mention she has two wonderful, supportive parents who were on set and helped a lot. For the pet store scene, I had a bunch of shots and scripted lines planned but ended up scrapping them all on the day and instead we just followed her around the store and let her react naturally to things, which I think is what gives it that feeling of realism. Occasionally my DP and I would ask her questions or feed her lines, but most of what you see there is totally improvised from her, which is just incredible. For the climactic scene in the kitchen, I sat across from her and fed her lines, which she would say back to me and we'd try different inflections and reactions. I basically just tried to let her be a kid and gather as much raw material as possible.
3Lance Henriksen is also so perfect as the narrator for this film. How excited were you when he chose to do the film and what was it like working together? I grew up watching Lance in so many movies, and I was ecstatic that he agreed to do the project. I knew the narrator needed to be someone that could command attention solely with the power of his voice, and Lance's voice is so intense but also soothing in a way. He was also great to work with, he loved the script and immediately got the darkly humorous tone I was going for. We laughed a lot during the session. Just hearing him say words that I wrote was really a highlight of my career.
4I love how this film take such a sinister tone with such seemingly innocent things. What is it about this type of humor that attracts you? Thanks! I'm not sure I can explain why I think anything in particular is funny or not, but I can say I was very much inspired by filmmakers and people like Werner Herzog, Roy Andersson, and Slavoj Zizek who grapple with pretty intense concepts like the inevitability of death, the cruelty of man and nature etc., but do it in a funny way. The list of inspiration goes on and on- Donald Barthelme, Thomas Ligotti / True Detective Season 1, Louis CK. etc etc.
5Did you have a pet growing up? If so, what fresh horror did it lay bare before your eyes? Congratulations- this is the best question ever. I did have pets growing up, including a hamster that died due in part to my neglect. That was a rough time. The CPR scene in the film is inspired by real events.
6You wrote this film as well. What's your writing process like and how long did it take you to write this film? I think the hardest part of writing is just making myself sit down and do it. It's easier when you have an idea or inspiration but when you don't, it can be a real grind and you start questioning whether or not you're even capable of doing it. I have lots of bouts of self-doubt. That's definitely the hardest thing to deal with. As far as this film goes, I started with the monologue and built it up around that. Once I had a decent first draft I gave it to Katie (my wife and producer of the film) and a few friends who I trust to give me helpful feedback. I think it's important to get feedback from people if you can, there are always things you don't think of that can be improved and it's so helpful to have another person's point of view. Obviously you don't need to do every note someone gives you, but if a few people give you the same note, it's probably something you should address. I think I did about three drafts total, but I kept tweaking the monologue up until we shot it.
7What's next? I've been working on a full length graphic novel for several years, hopefully that will be finished soon. I also have another short script I'm developing, and a concept for a feature that I haven't started writing yet. I also do a lot of photography and sing in a punk band called Butthole University. Otherwise my day job is working as an editor over at Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, which is a cool gig.
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
The film with the most fans wins $1,000
For 2017 we are moving on from screening feature films and will be showcasing shorts.
For our Winter 2017 Festival, we are giving away $2,000 in prizes to the top three films.
The film with the most fans.
The film with the most views.
Our favorite film.
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