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Meet the 2015 SXSW Filmmakers #2: Alison Bagnall Looks on the Bright Side in ‘Funny Bunny’

Meet the 2015 SXSW Filmmakers #2: Alison Bagnall Looks on the Bright Side in 'Funny Bunny'

Alison Bagnall says she’s still figuring out how to make movies, but she seems to have a pretty firm grasp. The “Funny Bunny” director had a vision in mind for a film that uplifted rather than brought down, and was inspired by a real life tragic story. Only in her version, the circumstances are much brighter. Bagnall talks about her experience with filmmaking, its challenges and finding the magic in “Funny Bunny,” about two men longing for the same mysterious woman yet forming an unshakable bond.

What’s your film about in 140 characters or less?

Gene spends his days canvassing about childhood obesity. One day he canvasses Titty, an emotionally-arrested 19-year-old who has successfully sued his own father to win back a large inheritance and gotten himself disowned in the process. Gene discovers that Titty has an ongoing online relationship with the beautiful but reclusive Ginger, who is an animal activist. Gene convinces Titty to make a pilgrimage to meet Ginger where the two men form a close bond despite both of them being drawn to the enigmatic Ginger, who is in need of rescue.  

Now what’s it REALLY about?

Funny Bunny is about the possibility that even people who have been through very bad experiences, can find joy or at least a little happiness. It is inspired by the real story of my mother’s cousin Ginger, who at age 46 sat in the rocking chair that she was rocked in as a baby, and shot herself in the head with a shotgun. Funny Bunny is my imagining of if someone very caring (and goofy) had come along and rescued her from that end.

Tell us briefly about yourself.

I feel like on a set I’m like a clueless clown, the village idiot. On my last two projects I’ve worked from a place of confusion and guileless instinct. The cast and crew start to compensate for the slightly doltish director at the helm. Is this a trick to squeeze the better/best ideas out of my colleagues? Well it’s not conscious and I really would prefer to have all the answers, but sometimes it works out. Making movies is such a mysterious process and really hard. I’m still figuring it out and it never seems to get easier. But the more comfortable I get with saying, “gosh I don’t know” the better it feels while I’m doing it.
There was one scene in particular in Funny Bunny, the ‘furry love scene’ as we came to call it, that I did know exactly what I wanted and I would have wrestled anyone to the ground if need be to get it just the way I wanted it. But for many and most scenes I’m just focused on trying to figure out where some magic – if there is any to be had – is to be found.

Biggest challenge in completing this film?

I tried to get out of film 7 years ago, so that made it hard to make Funny Bunny. I had decided that independent filmmaking was just an expensive hobby. I still think that but it’s easier to do it with eyes wide open. The biggest challenge in completing the film was during post production, because I felt I did not have a movie. I felt I could recover from the failure on a personal level – it’s just a movie after all – but my biggest fear was how I was going to tell my cast and crew who had worked so hard and trusted me, that we actually had no film. It was a horrible feeling.

I never had to solve this challenge because Kentucker Audley solved it first. He asked if I minded if he made a cut (he thought the film should premiere at SXSW as did I) so in three or four weeks he made a cut and I finally saw that it was in fact a movie. It was a Kentucker Audley movie, but I could see the movie. Then I gave Kentucker a bunch of notes, as did our producers, and he did another cut based on those notes. And that is the cut that was submitted to SXSW. Now when I watch the film it looks exactly like the film I was seeing in my head years before. 

What do you want the SXSW audience to take away from your film?

Kentucker and I chuckle and giggle all the way through it, and then I cry at the end in this particularly harrowing scene that Joslyn Jensen did. It would be great if people did that! I know it won’t be for everyone. I hope that people will take away all different things, and project their own meanings and interpretations onto the film. I guess most of all I hope that people who have been through hard experiences will feel more hope and that the humor will be healing. The psychologists I interviewed said that humor is critical in the healing process. I hope that bringing dark things into the light will take away some of their power. I hope the film will make it easier for people to talk about past experiences without shame.

Any films inspire you?

I don’t know if certain films inspire me anymore, though Jerry Schatzberg’s Scarecrow is always an inspiration. Certain directors inspire me. The usual European suspects; Polanski, Pasolini, Fassbinder-but now it’s contemporaries like Dustin Defa, Caleb Johnson, Amy Seimetz, the Safdies. I like directors who just speak right to me through the film and I feel like their soul is in the room next to me. Melville is like that with Moby Dick. Yes, there’s the book and all the words, but most of all, there’s just him. I’m reading his words and I just want to grab him by the shoulders or go drink too many beers or stay up all night and hear what he says about grass or stars. He’s long dead but he’s right there. The AC on Pasolini’s early films used to have to stand by like a basketball player..ready to catch the camera because Pasolini would pick it up in a passion, film a shot himself, then forget it was a breakable piece of expensive equipment and throw it down. So that AC had to be there to catch it before he threw it. Pasolini was a poet. Those directors above – and others – are poets. I used to think it was a putdown to say a film was poetic. I can’t remember why I thought that. I don’t think that anymore.

What’s next?

I’m developing a story called The Mendicants that I’m very excited about, on the crazy wealth disparity in America and what a few people do about it. It’s about race too. I’ve been doing extensive research for a year on the black holocaust that took place in 20th century America for a movie I was hired to co-write about Jane Elliott, the anti-racism educator who devised the blue eyes brown eyes exercise in 1968. I want to put a lot of that stuff into a story in a similar way to how Funny Bunny has serious issues in it, but is funny and touching.

What cameras did you shoot on?

Canon 5D Mark II. This is the camera that Ashley Connor is most familiar with. I liked when I asked her about cameras and she said, “Uh..I’m not that into gear” That’s when I got really excited. A DP who’s not into gear? She knows the camera so well and the software and settings. Her exposure and settings and color are so good. And it’s just an SLR but some of her frames feel like paintings.

Did you crowdfund?
If so, via what platform. If not, why?

Kickstarter.

Did you go to film school? If so, which one? 

I did the basic filmmaking course at NYU in a summer, Sight & Sound. I never believed in film school because of the expense and I think that all that money can be spent on making a film. However, I did enroll in the AFI Directing program much later because I felt I needed to know more about directing actors. The veteran directors who taught there were invaluable to me.

Indiewire invited SXSW Film Festival competition directors to tell us about their films, including what inspired them, the challenges they faced and what they’re doing next. For profiles go HERE.

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