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Meet the 2011 SXSW Filmmakers | "The Catechism Cataclysm" Director Todd Rohal

By Indiewire | Indiewire March 7, 2011 at 8:51AM

Father Billy, a young priest, is forced to take a sabbatical by his superiors when he is discovered telling inappropriate parables to his flock. Billy tracks down his high-school idol Robbie, who begrudgingly agrees to a canoe trip. On the water, the two men reminisce about Billy's days as the keyboardist in a Christian band and Robbie's as a guitarist for a metal band. When night approaches, they realize they have lost their way--and that's when things get weird. [Synopsis Courtesy of SXSW]
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Father Billy, a young priest, is forced to take a sabbatical by his superiors when he is discovered telling inappropriate parables to his flock. Billy tracks down his high-school idol Robbie, who begrudgingly agrees to a canoe trip. On the water, the two men reminisce about Billy's days as the keyboardist in a Christian band and Robbie's as a guitarist for a metal band. When night approaches, they realize they have lost their way--and that's when things get weird. [Synopsis Courtesy of SXSW]

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the SXSW Narrative, Documentary and Emerging Visions sections to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2011 SXSW Film Conference and Festival. To prompt the discussion, indieWIRE asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

"The Catechism Cataclysm"
Emerging Visions
Director: Todd Rohal
Producer: Megan Griffiths, Lacey Leavitt
Cast: Steve Little, Robert Longstreet, Walter Dalton, Miki Ann Maddox, Koko Lanham, Rico
Screenwriter: Todd Rohal
Cinematographer: Ben Kasulke
Editor: Alan Canant
Sound: Christopher Koch
Music: Joseph Stephens

Responses courtesy of "The Catechism Cataclysm" Director Todd Rohal.

The '80s: VHS rentals at the pharmacy and opening for Carrot Top…

Since kindergarten I was adamant about making movies. It was a very typical '80s childhood of VHS rentals from a pharmacy, a subscription to Starlog magazine and a copy of Leonard Maltin’s movie guide.

In college I was introduced to the films of the Kuchars and I won a stint as the opening act for Carrot Top in a 2000-seat theater. I did an act that was heavily influenced by Andy Kaufman and got (appropriately) loudly booed. Afterward, a few people told me it was one of the funniest performances they’d ever seen. Even Carrot Top liked it.

Finding faith (funny)…

I worked at a theology school during my summer breaks in college and met a number of priests who were struggling with whether or not they truly belonged in the priesthood. They were incredibly funny guys. Some of them stayed, some left to other careers and some got married. Not only were they struggling with huge questions of faith, but questions about leaving the path of what they had always felt was their life’s calling. That was something I could relate to and it felt rather universal.

Due to my own unfortunate luck, I spent a lot of 2010 in and out of hospitals. In atmospheres like that, and despite the grim outlooks for a lot of people, there’s a lot of discussions about keeping faith in God. People love to talk about God in the hospital. No one argues religion in a hospital room. I transposed a lot of it to be questions of fate and that informed the film in a large way. Was this all happening because I strayed from my calling? Should I be doing something else with my life? Was this punishment? Was God fucking with me?

I basically took that, ran with it and turned it into a comedy.

On how to approach such an eclectic project…

I wrote the film as if it was a drama, we shot it as a comedy and edited it as if it was a horror film. In retrospect, I guess it’s all of the above.

Getting it done…

I’ve been working to get another film off the ground for five years and have a number of ideas that are pretty much impossible to pitch to anyone with investment money. After realizing that 2010 was going to pass by as a year without anything to show for it, I made another round of desperate pleas to get this idea up and running. No one would come on board.

Robert Longstreet decided to get things rolling and wrote a check for the first bit of money we needed. He said, “Someone just needs to tell you 'yes.'" A month later we were shooting. Two months later we got a call from Sundance. It happened fast. We had a full edit of the film completed and sent to Sundance a week after wrapping production. It was all fueled by pent-up energy and desperation. I had no more patience.

"Most of the crew came on board to work after being told it involved Megan, Satan and canoeing…"

I had only met a few of the crew members prior to shooting,  most of them were recruited by the great Megan Griffiths and Lacey Leavitt after shooting Megan’s film “The Off Hours”. Most of the crew came on board to work after being told it involved Megan, Satan and canoeing. I guess that’s the magic combo.

Instead of babbling on to these folks about the film and tone and what I was going after, I showed them a collection of clips from films that had bits and pieces of influence on what I hoped this movie was to become. As scenes from "Deliverance," "Heavy Metal Parking Lot," "Funky Forest," "Calvaire," "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" and some random YouTube clips unspooled, I got incredibly nervous. It was like watching the movie with an audience before we shot a frame of it. I was sure everyone was going to walk out and quit before we could start…but instead the place lit up and everyone was WAY on board, more than I could have hoped for. I don’t think it necessarily clarified much about the film, but it got everyone on the same page early on.

Films to make before the upcoming apocalypse…

The Scoutmasters film that I’ve been developing with Big Beach should be happening this summer, which will be a doozy for sure. I think we’ve also found the greatest producer in America to get behind “Sweet Cheeks” – which is a script I co-wrote with my friend Craig over iChat. Once that movie finally makes it to the screen the world will get hit by meteors and explode.

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