This month Cinema Asian America on Xfinity On Demand presents Kevin Hamedani’s raucous, bro-friendship comedy about filmmaking and the film industry, “Junk.”
Kaveh (Hamedani) and Raul (co-writer Ramon Isao) are two B-movie co-writers who have suffered a bitter falling out. Kaveh’s lost his girlfriend, and spends his days getting high in his apartment, while Raul is off studying at Columbia University. But when one of their films (“Islama-rama 2”) is accepted by a film festival, the two ex-friends are forced to tentatively re-connect in order to pitch their script to the mysterious producer, Yukio Tai (James Hong). Along the way, they will have to brave brutish bodyguards, cutthroat colleagues, inept agents, romantic entanglements, prima donna actors, and the trials of their own bitter friendship.
Hamedani discussed the making of “Junk,” and his love for b-movies.
"Junk" is an independent film about independent filmmaking; it is about the business of making and showing films, but also about the dreams, neuroses, friendships, highs and lows of this hermetic world. What is it about the world of filmmaking that makes for good drama, and cinema?
KH: The world of filmmaking itself isn’t that interesting to me but a culture of struggling artists all fighting to get their voices heard and to achieve their dreams, is very fascinating to me and ripe with drama, comedy and tragedy in their purest forms. I chose filmmaking and specifically film festivals as the setting simply because that was the world I knew best. After traveling the country and going to film festivals in support of my first movie, “Zombies of Mass Destruction,” I realized this crazy world of independent filmmakers partying and networking for a weekend was the perfect setting for a movie. It laid the tracks for a narrative that encompasses all the themes I was interested at that time in my life.
You and "Junk's" co-writer Ramon Isao also are the film's leads, and play two fictional screenwriters who might have more than a few connections to your real life personas. Tell us about your interest in this blurring of fact and fiction, and what kind of opportunities and challenges it posed.
KH: My first movie was very formalistic and cartoony so I felt like it was time to make a movie that was a little more grounded in reality. I had just acted in a short piece for filmmaker Lynn Shelton and I was inspired by the way she directed. Very loose and organic. Opposite of what I did on “ZMD”. At the same time, I did not want to make an improvisational film. I prefer rehearsals and scripted scenes. Along the writing process it became clear that this was to be a hybrid of both styles. About 80% of the movie is scripted and rehearsed extensively like a play on stage weeks prior to production. For specific scenes we decided not to write dialog and in most cases, casted non-actors. What you see in the movie is a nice mixture of both and now when I watch it, I can’t tell anymore which scene was scripted and which was improvised. It all mixes together well, creating that realism we sought out to achieve.
When it came time to cast the two leads, it was clear that only Ramon could play "Raul" and only he and I have that chemistry the movie is all about. Therefore, it would only make sense for us to step into those roles, further blurring the lines of fact and fiction. And for the party scenes, we have Scott Sanders playing himself in his scene while intercutting it with a scene of Sean Nelson playing the fictional character of "TD Largo". This is all in great contrast with the fantasy/film pitch segments we splice in ("Gremlins 3", "Chucky POV", etc). The opportunity this style brings is a nice contrast between the character's painful and pathetic lives with their fun and colorful fantasies.
"Junk" is designed to push some buttons - it is quite critical of the film industry, in particular film festivals, and is definitely not PC; sex, profanity, harsh take-downs abound in the film. Tell us about the film's humor, and the unchecked id that you wanted to imbue the story with.
KH: Ramon and I can’t help but be profane, especially when we make a comedy. We love the absurd and the ridiculous and that’s where the over the top gore comes from. You can blame Sam Raimi and “The Simpsons” for that.
As for the buttons we pushed - we did not intend to offend anyone. It's strange because we made this movie out of love for film festivals but it turns out, they got a little offended. That surprised us quite a bit. We're not trying to be critical of the film industry as much as explore the hardships of the struggling artist and the difficulties of friendship. The film festival is just a backdrop.
This is your second feature film - your first was the 2010 film "Zombies of Mass Destruction." There is a strand of b-movie humor that immediately seems to connect these two films; how might you describe your filmmaking, and the ideas and stories that you are drawn to?
KH: I’m drawn to all kinds of stories. I have other projects and scripts that are nothing like “ZMD” and “Junk”. With “ZMD”, we consciously chose horror and comedy because it’s a great genre for independent filmmakers trying to get noticed. If you don’t have the money to hire stars, making a horror movie isn’t a bad idea. The star becomes the monster and the gore, which can be done on a low budget. Also, we have a deep love for b-movies and grew up watching junk cinema. “Junk” was birthed out of our experiences with “ZMD” so that’s where that connection lies.
What are you working on now?
KH: A family drama in the vein of Alexander Payne and an action/comedy called “Get Foley”. Both are in development and we hope to be in production by the end of the year.