SELF-DESCRIBED “complete unknown” Scott Prendergast wrote, directed, and stars in Kabluey, a film about a slacker dude who works as a cheesy corporate mascot and helps his sister take care of her hellion kids while her husband is in Iraq.
Also starring Lisa Kudrow, Teri Garr, and Christine Taylor, Kabluey mixes slapstick with dark humor to tell a tale all too familiar to so many Americans dealing with our current national malaise.
Two weeks ago we spoke with Prendergast, who will attend a screening of Kabluey on Fri. Oct. 31 at 2:30 p.m. at the Trustees Theatre.
You’ve tied a lot of things together here: Iraq, the economy, personal stories. Tell us about this script and how it became the multi-layered effort that it is.
Scott Prendergast: It’s two different movies, really: One is the movie about the mascot costume, and that’s kind of a silly slapstick idea. And the other movie is about a family going through the home front of the Iraq War.
My brother is in the military, and he was in Iraq for a year and half. While he was there I was staying with his wife helping her take care of my nephews, just like in the movie. But it was while I was there that one day the idea for a mascot costume just popped into my head.
I was writing ideas for that, and it really wasn’t connected to my brother or the war. It was just gonna be a really funny movie about a guy with a horrible job. And then the day it all came together was the day I realized the Kabluey suit would witness the sister-in-law having an affair. That’s not something that happened in real life (laughs).
You seem to be very much at home with the physical comedy in this.
Scott Prendergast: In high school I worked as a mascot. I worked at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry as “Super Explainer.” I explained science exhibits to kids. It was horrible.
Also, I was trained as an improvisational comedian and worked a long time in that. And so much of improvisational comedy is telling a joke without actually saying anything. You walk into a room and you’re telling a story with your body or emotions. So a lot of what you’re doing is silent.
That’s my favorite kind of comedy – not necessarily silent films, but like a Jacques Tati movie, where it’s all about the physicality of what’s going on. That’s so much more exciting than one of these movies where someone is sitting there saying, “I’m really upset, and I can perfectly articulate exactly how I feel,” films like that.
Unlike so many recent films dealing with the war, you treat it not as the cause of our national unrest but as just another symptom.
Scott Prendergast: That’s true. There are all these Iraq War films coming out now, and they all bomb. One of the reasons they don’t do well is because people don’t want to go to the movies and see movies about war. They’re dealing with it every day, movies are for escape.
For me I wanted the war to be in the background. Also in my life it is the backdrop. I go to parties and talk to friends, and they say “how are you? And I’ll say, I’m a little worried, my brother’s in Iraq.
And they’re like, “What? Why’s he in Iraq?” Uh, well, we’re at war. And they say, “Yeah, but you mean he actually had to go?”
And I say, yes, he’s a soldier, and he went, and that’s the way the war works.
Do you think that’s more of a regional thing? It’s not that way in Georgia because we have so much military presence down here.
Scott Prendergast: It might be more of a regional thing, but I’ve found it be more of an economic thing. When I was in New York visiting friends from college, no one had a single relative at war, no one knew anybody at war, it was just really far away. The women in the movie at the party are supposed to represent those people who are untouched by the war. They’re like, “Oh, right, I heard about that. There’s a war going on. Aren’t these shoes nice?”
This film deals with a bad economy, which of course is foremost on people’s minds right now. Was the current crisis sort of serendipitous for you in a dark way?
Scott Prendergast: That is serendipitous, although what’s weird is when I wrote the movie it was 2003. My brother went to war then and came back in the middle of 2004. The economic crisis the movie is referring to is actually the internet bust of 7 or 8 years ago.
The idea for BlueNexion, the company my character wears the mascot suit for, came when I spent some time in Silicon Valley. I would ride my bike around and there were all these gorgeous office buildings that were all completely empty. And that’s because these buildings all had been occupied by these internet startups that got like $6 billion, but failed.
I do remember while I was writing the movie, wondering “Hmmm, I wonder if this war will still be going on when the movie comes out.” And not only is the war still going on, but the economy is worse. And everything the movie said kind of kept going.
So many smaller films are ruined by poor casting, but you’ve done everything right with this one.
Scott Prendergast: We got a once-in-a-lifetime lottery-size lucky by getting Lisa Kudrow. When I took the film to the producers they said, “We’re willing to take a gamble on you and we’ll let you direct your first feature and you can write and direct it, and you can also star in it. But you’re going to have to get a really big actress to star in it as the sister-in-law.”
And I said — because I was a complete fool, had ultimate confidence and was very green and didn’t really know what I was saying — I said, well, we’re going to get big actors in all these roles. And we did.
It was sort of a miracle. We sent it to Lisa Kudrow. And then she called me at home and said, “Hi, I’m Lisa Kudrow, I like your script. Who are you?”
I was like, I’m just this guy – it’s a weird question to answer. And she said, “I love it, I’ll do it. When are you shooting? How big is the budget?”
And I said, um, we’re making it for next to no money. Less than a half million dollars. And she said, “Oh, then it’s a really small movie.” I said, yeah, but it’s going to be great and amazing. And she said, “OK, I love the script and I saw your short films, and I’m willing to do it.”
My life changed overnight that day. On the turn of a dime, she changed my life, Lisa Kudrow.
So once we had her, we could go to other actors and say, “well, it’s an independent film, low-budget, but we have Lisa Kudrow.”
And everyone would say, “Of course I’ll do that.” Because she’s like the stamp of approval for an indie film.
And Teri Garr?
Scott Prendergast: The reason Teri Garr is in my movie is because I am a lifelong devotee of Teri Garr. I worship Teri Garr. She’s my favorite actress of all time.
Teri’s one of the most versatile actresses ever. Why is she so underrated?
Scott Prendergast: She had some health issues and she’s been a little out of the loop for awhile. You know, when I say Lisa Kudrow’s in my movie, people will say, “Oh, that’s great.”
Then I tell them Teri Garr is in my movie, and invariably people, go, “Oh my God! Teri Garr?!” People love Teri Garr.
I always make a fool of myself around her because I can’t resist telling her how much I love her and her work. It gets to be a little too much because I can’t stop talking about her.
What was the learning curve like for you working with people on this talent level?
Scott Prendergast: Very steep. You’re working with actors who are incredibly skilled. Lisa Kudrow is brilliant. And I learned so much from her just from watching her work.
She doesn’t do a lot of preparation, she’s a very improvisational actress, and she would just show up and look for inspiration in the moment and do it. She has everything right at her fingertips that she can call on in that moment.
I think the hard part is not freaking out. It’s hard to relax, at least it was for me. It kind of worked for me because my character is supposed to be incredibly nervous anyway.
Lisa just put me at ease quickly. The first scene we did together that first day was when I walk into the house. So I walk into the house, basically walking into the movie.
And after we did one take, Lisa came up and said, “Oh, you’re so good, you’re doing it just the way I imagined.” She put me at ease, and we became friends, and it was a dream come true. cs