How does a person process grief when tragedy won't stop striking? A woman describes 9 months of recurring loss, beginning with the sudden death of her mother and culminating in the horrifyingly grotesque incident that killed her grandmother. Her story tests the maxim that "comedy is tragedy plus time" by removing the element of time and piling on the tragedy past the breaking point of utter absurdity. A minimalist documentary, a study in folk numerology, and a tragicomedy at it's most tragic.
The 3-week run for 3 + 3 + 3 - 2 (A Dog's Life) ended on Aug 27th, 2017. Thank you to all the fans that supported it!
7 questions with 3 + 3 + 3 - 2 (A Dog's Life) director, Nick Toti at the half-way mark.
Wednesday, August 16th, 2017
1Hi Nick! Thanks for being a part of our festival again. First, how did you come to hear about Molli Pee's tragic year and what made you want to make a doc about it? Molli and I were co-workers at a nonprofit preschool in Texas when these deaths occurred. I returned to work from a 3-week trip and found out that Molli's mom had died so she was taking some time off. When she returned, she was obviously still pretty raw but couldn't afford to miss any more work. At this time, I was the lead teacher in the nursery and Molli started spending a lot of time in my classroom because all she wanted to do was hold babies (sort of like the human equivalent of puppy therapy or something). Once the other deaths started rolling in, the baby room had already established its role as her workplace security blanket...and by then I had established my role as the person who she could talk with about these things in a frank, gallows-humor sorta way. While everyone else was treating her very delicately, I would make all these deeply inappropriate jokes and she'd laugh at how fucked her life was and just vent and vent. The good thing about working with babies is that you can swear around them and talk about death as much as you want!
2After having lost so many important people in her life, how did you approach Molli? Was she reluctant to talk about it? Were you friends first? Yeah, we were good friends by the time we made the movie. In fact, we really bonded over all this tragedy and became much closer than we otherwise ever would have. At one point (probably around death #5), I gave Molli a copy of Tig Nataro's "Live" album (the famous set she did about having breast cancer when she didn't know if she'd be alive in a year). Molli loved the album and said that she felt like she should write a book or something about her year of tragedy. I told her that: 1) yes, she definitely SHOULD write a book and 2) in the meantime, she should let me interview her. A book may or may not get written, but I could promise her a finished movie. This wasn't altruistism. I wanted to make the movie and, as you can see in the finished product, I don't treat the subject matter in an overly "respectful" or cautious way. I see her story as a dark comedy that builds with the logic of a visual gag in a silent comedy (something bad happens, it happens again, it happens again, then BAM! something similar but even worse and totally unexpected happens to finish the gag). Luckily, Molli loved the movie and she started showing it to people instead of explaining everything to them.
3How far after these deaths did you interview Molli? Did this happen to her years ago or did it happen recently? Oh god no! Her grandma got her legs eaten off by stray dogs the day before Thanksgiving and we recorded this interview before Christmas that same year. I told her that if she wanted to do this, we should do it while the nerves were still bare. So the timeline was something like: her mom died in March; between March and November, five other relatives or close friends died; then her grandma died at the end of November. Two weeks later we recorded in my living room and the movie was edited before the end of January. So the movie was finished less than a year from the first death.
4Who is the closest person you've lost in your life and has it changed your perspective at all? I've never experienced the death of anyone I was terribly close to, but I did recently have an old childhood friend die in a pretty horrible/tragic way (crushed under a tree he was cutting down in front of his wife and kids on land that his father had just purchased for the family to enjoy--oof). That certainly didn't alter my perspective on the cosmic absurdity of Molli Pee's tragedy. Apart from death, though, the biggest loss I've suffered (and definitely the most impacting on my worldview/sense of self) was when my first marriage ended in 2012. Divorce is very effective in crystallizing one's sense of cynical wonder. That ended up being a false alarm, though. My ex-wife and I reconciled and remarried on Christmas Eve last year. Cosmic absurdities abound!
5Were you teased at all for your name as a kid? What was the worse nickname you got called and you and how did you react to it? Nick is pretty easy to rhyme: "Nick the Dick", "Nick the Prick", etc. The one that sticks with me is the time a guy called my "Dick Scrotee." That didn't really hurt my feelings, though. The only name-calling I remember hurting my feelings was when my older sister used to call me a "retarded 4-year-old" in front of her friends. I'm sure there were others, but I developed a pretty strong defense mechanism of quick-draw shit-talking. I'm sure I dished out far more than I received...
6I don't mean to make light of Molli's obviously difficult year, but Molli doesn't break down at all or cry when telling these stories but she does laugh. Was this something you expected while shooting? Has she just gotten to the point where she has to laugh in order to deal with all of the tragedy? What are your thoughts? Yes, I absolutely expected her to laugh. We'd already established an irreverent rapport in discussing these things and her sense of humor about all of it was how I knew she'd make a good subject. The movie is supposed to be funny, but, as Michael O'Donoghue said, "Laughter is the lowest form of comedy."
If Molli had broken down and started crying, it would have been awkward but I'm sure her personality still would have shone through and it would have been brilliant. I hate when people cry in documentaries, though. It's such a cliche and it always comes at the same point in the movie (usually around 3/4 of the way through). I finished a feature-length documentary last year about the band Raft of Dead Monkeys and cut out all the mopey footage of people crying over their guitarist who died of cancer in 2008. Including it probably would have gotten the movie into more festivals, but it would have been such a goddam cheap trick. I don't mind exploiting people, but, Christ, let's at least be decent about it!
7What's next? I'm currently in post-production on a remake of Gore Verbinski's THE RING and halfway through shooting a movie based on transcriptions from celebrity sex tapes. I'd also like to convince an art space to let me project flashing colors in an endless loop on blank walls, but so far no one has jumped at the opportunity.
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.
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