Buzzard, a pitch-black comedy about a disaffected temp worker in Grand Rapids, Michigan debuted at SXSW in 2014 but took until 2015 to reach a wider audience. The movie received acclaim for its acidic humor and dark tone — Office Space if Travis Bickle worked in the mortgage department.
Joel Potrykus is a Michigan native who has released two films so far and is finishing post-production on his latest, The Alchemist Cookbook. He talked to Seeds Entertainment about his inspirations, making low budget films look expensive and how to feed your staff on the cheap.
Seeds Entertainment: So you’ve produced all your movies entirely in your college town.. What’s Grand Rapids like as an art scene?
Joel Potrykus: The coolest thing about the the Grand Rapid art scene is it’s just friends and collaborators. No distractions because you’re outside of a pre-established industry
SE: I watched your student film Coyote the other night to get a feel for your earlier work and was impressed how similar it is to your other movies in the Animal Trilogy even in an early form [Coyote is a nearly silent 20 minute movie about a man being bit by a werewolf]. Do your other student films cover similar material ?
JP: My other college films aren’t available. They’re a little pretentious, I think I was trying to hard to be arty back then instead of what I want to do currently which is stories that mean something.
SE: So now you’ve completed your Animal trilogy you’re moving to the swamp with Anarchist Cookbook, what can you tell us about that?
JP: Anarchist Cookbook is my attempt to get out of urban wasteland, it’s a shift from my other movies just in the fact that there’s no white characters. They’re still young and have similar dietary consumption. It has common threads with my other movies in that they have this rage, maybe a misdirected rage at the outside world.
SE: I know you can’t say exactly what the budget was for Buzzard but do you have any advice to aspiring filmmakers on how to keep the budget low and disguise what they put into it?
JP: You can’t let yourself get overwhelmed with permits. You don’t need permission to film. When we wanted to shoot on a Greyhound, we asked permission and they said it’d be $100 an hour. We agreed to it but then changed our mind and said “let’s just go with DSLR and chip away at it guerilla style.” For the scene in McDonalds we just hid a camera and mic in a bag.
SE: Did you run into any issues with this?
JP: No, we never ran into any problems. For scenes like the one where Josh returns an egg McMuffin we knew we had to film it in one go. We wouldn’t be able to have him take it back again.
SE: So you just had him interact with a real McDonald’s employee and filmed her reaction?
SE: I’ve always really enjoyed how some midwestern directors like Alexander Payne uses the natural decay as a setting in their movies. I was really impressed by the midwestern feel of the movie; it was unmistakably Michigan. Do you have any Midwestern directors in particular who inspired you?
JP: Definately, the biggest inspiration on me was Sam Rami, the Evil Dead director. He’s another “Michigan guy” and he just showed that you can do it on your own. My first five shorts were these lo-fi projects where me and my friends were visiting cabins. I even have someone say “groovy.”
SE: I enjoyed that the movie never condescended Marty (Josh Burgescharacter) He was never mocked or treated like a joke.
JP: Yeah, I would never do that. Everyone knows a person like that in real life. I don’t need people to like the characters but I would never look down on them.
SE: You mentioned in another interview that you based some of the movie off of your own experiences working in a mortgage department, care to elaborate?
JP: The scene where Marty closes his back account and opens it again for a bonus is something I actually did. If you live in a college town they’re always running those promotions. It’s easy money. Only in my case it was for a hundred dollars, we lowered it to fifty for the movie.
SE: Okay, final question. Your characters eat a lot of terrible fast food which I really appreciated. Marty mainly survives on Hot Pockets and McDonalds. If I give you four dollars and told you to make the most of it where would you go?
JP: My go-to used to be breakfast at McDonald’s but the problem is I’ve started to veer into vegetarianism. So now I’ve started getting the cheese pizza at Lil Ceaser’s. For a while I tried to get it everyday for the crew but after they complained, we changed it to just twice a week.