“It was crystal clear that Lily had one of the most original filmmaking voices I’d seen in years,” Gabai said. “Her vision of the world was so strong, romantic, and funny as hell, and she actually had something to say about this crazy world we live in. I’d make anything with her.”
Gabai shared the film with Vice cohort Eddy Moretti, who insisted Amirpour show him her next script before anyone else. After he shared the project with Spike Jonze, “The Bad Batch” came to attention to Megan Ellison at Annapurna Pictures; eventually, both companies signed on to produce Amirpour’s $6 million production, and helped her snag key actors (including Jim Carrey, buried beneath a gnarly beard, who has a supporting role as a mute scavenger).
In the midst of writing the movie, Amirpour went to Burning Man and took acid. She was perturbed by what she found there, and it inspired a key psychedelic moment late in the film.
“It’s 90,000 rich people who want to party and spend a shitload of money,” she said. “All these young, idealistic hippies who think it’s the future — that irritates me. It’s not.” In “The Bad Batch,” Arlen has a lyrical experience alone in the desert, only to wind up facing a brutal reality check when she sobers up.
In “The Bad Batch,” the seemingly endless party of Comfort masks the dictatorial control of its leadership. It’s one of several sequences that find characters trapped by their surroundings, all of which build up to a devious monologue from Reeves’ character, in which he explains in grotesque terms just how much he controls the lives of his town’s inhabitants.
“There’s always a system — from our relationships, our family, our society, our religion, our politics, our country — there’s always a system controlling things,” said Amirpour. She concocted Momoa’s character as the antithesis to that idea. “His only moral compass is his allegiance to himself,” she said. “We’re all determined by our relationships to our society, our religions, our politics. I think there’s something spiritually idealistic about someone who stays out of those dreams.”
With less than a month to shoot the movie, millions of dollars, and new expectations on the line, Amirpour found herself enmeshed in a range of practical challenges — a far cry from the experience of her black-and-white minimalist debut. “There was never a day on the set where there wasn’t a ton of shit to do,” she said, playfully finding parallels with the chaotic set stories that came out of Werner Herzog’s Amazonian epic “Fitzcarraldo.” “It was definitely my Herzog film,” she said. “I was trying to get my boat over the mountain.”
At the same time, she was still processing the opportunity work with name actors — particularly Reeves. “He was on a poster on my wall when I was 12 years old,” she said. “There’s a magic about that.”
Despite the increased scale, Amirpour had gotten this far without signing any major agency, and after “The Bad Batch” premiered at the Venice Film Festival, it landed U.S. distribution with Screen Media Films. “I just need to figure out a way to represent myself until it becomes clear what I can do and who I am,” she said in an interview at the time.
Then things got thorny. Amirpour grew increasingly concerned about Screen Media’s plan for the project, and signed with CAA’s Rogue Sutherland. With his help, the movie shifted ownership to Neon, the chic new distributor co-founded by Tim League and Tom Quinn that recently released Nacho Vigalondo’s wacky monster movie “Colossal.”
“It came from a need,” Amirpour said. “I’d been able to make my freaky weird art so far with people I wanted to — and then suddenly I realized a practical business need to protect me and my films. This movie is too weird. It had to be with the weirdoes.”
Next page: “She’s not normal. Normal is boring.”