I first met Scott Bateman a few years ago after a comedy show called Lasers in the Jungle in the back room of a Manhattan gem called Luca Lounge. The show has since moved to UCB East as a result of Luca’s sad shutdown, as is the case with nearly every cool, rundown hangout in New York City. Scott told me he was working on a book, so naturally, I asked him what it was about. He got strangely silent and said “I can’t tell you.” Years later, I now know that it was because he had just met me and was very protective of what turned out to be a terrific book (Disalmanac: A Book of Fact-Like Facts) and an equally entertaining Twitter feed about funny things that sound like they might be true.
I’ve kept up with Scott on Facebook and Twitter, and we’ve remained casual online pals. When I saw that he was working on a movie, I was pretty excited, but when it came time to donate to his Kickstarter, I was unable to help due to my impending bankruptcy that you can read more about here and here.
Having seen it, I can tell you that it is unlike any other film you are likely to see, and it is guaranteed to stretch the boundaries of your mind as well as tickle your imagination. I had a great time talking to Scott about his film, but for editorial reasons, I decided to eliminate all laughter and confusing sentence structure from the following text.
With that said, I am pleased to present my first ever interview with Scott Bateman, creator of You, Your Brain & You.
Me: Is there anything you would like to say up front?
Scott: I’m not sure what to say right at the front.
Me: Okay, well anything you wouldn’t get from watching the movie right away. It’s a profile of 81 characters helped by the Brain Institute, and you made the movie with $10,000 you won off Jeopardy?
Scott: No. Who Wants to Be A Millionaire? I’m not smart enough for Jeopardy.
Me: Wait, weren’t you telling people you auditioned for Jeopardy recently?
Scott: I did recently audition for Jeopardy, yes. That’s so I can make the next movie.
Me: For the profiles, was it sort of a tribute to the New York comedians that you loved, getting everybody involved like that?
Scott: Well, I just knew I was going to need a lot of people for the movie. When I realized how it was coming together, I just asked a lot of people I knew to be in it, and a lot of them are comedians in New York City, so that worked out really well. And a lot of them were very excited and were like “where do I show up? what do I do?” so it was very easy and fun.
Me: It seems like when people have interesting ideas now, people want to jump aboard like a moving train.
Scott: That’s funny, because it was hard for me to describe what I was working on to people. “I’m doing this thing about the brain institute, let me come over and film your head for a while.” That seemed to work out fine.
Me: Well, if that was hard to explain to them, how have you been explaining it to film festivals and people you’re trying to get yourself in front of?
Scott: Well, luckily, I’ve had time to work on that pitch so it’s a little sharper now. It’s definitely a hard movie to describe. It’s a little bit out of the typical film structure.
Me: Watching the film, a lot of it seemed to be a culmination of influences, like that one Jean-Luc Godard part.
Scott: Yeah, there were a ton of influences in that movie. I was just working a lot of ideas and things I had going. There was some Godard in there, certainly, and the world of experimental film, which I’m just fascinated by right now. Especially some experimental films, like the 60’s structuralist stuff. It’s really kind of fun, and I feel like in a way, I’ve made kind of an experimental film piece of humor to trick people into watching it, but it was also a chance for me to be myself. I think I’m a funny guy, and I just make funny stuff, and even if I make serious stuff, it turns out funny. And if it turns out funny, I’m really happy with it.
Me: You meant for it to be serious? I know you had this 50’s narration style.
Scott: It was serious stuff, but it’s all in the service of comedy. A very unusual approach, but it made sense to me.
Me: It seemed like it owed a lot to silent films as well.
Scott: Yeah, there’s some silent film stuff in there. You bet. I just like a lot of different movies, and I just wanted to throw them all into one movie. And really, it’s fun to make a movie I would want to watch.
Me: That’s the best reason to make a movie! What are some of the film festivals it’s going to be shown in?
Scott: I’m waiting to hear back from 2 dozen or so still, but I know it’s playing at Gen Con, the tabletop gaming convention, which is great because it’s an audience I would love to be able to reach obviously – the smart and nerdy stuff. They’re showing gaming-oriented stuff, so if I can have this unusual movie fit in with that, it would make me feel pretty good.
Me: I could see where a lot of parts of the film felt like a game achievement, and a lot of the bits felt like a logical leap from one thing to the next. Almost like, “So you don’t like this? Then screw you, everybody.”
Scott: Well, the great thing about this and the way I made the structure is, if you’re looking at something you don’t like right now, wait 30 seconds and you’ll see something different. It’ll get better.
Me: I’m not familiar with the experimental films you’re talking about. Where could I find them?
Scott: YouTube, archive.org those are great places to look for that stuff. I’ll give you some names of filmmakers. Hollis Frampton. Maya Deren.
Me: What did they do?
Scott: Maya Deren is kind of considered the parent of experimental film-making in the US. No one had really done it before her. And she did some really unusual stuff and was very influential to people later on. Hollis Frampton actually got the Criterion Collection treatment a few years ago, which is kind of amazing that they would bother with experimental film-making. He was part of this movement called Structuralist Film, where the structure is more important than the content, which is an interesting way to approach film-making in general. And they’re just really fascinating films to me. I don’t know if anyone else likes them really, but it also kind of freaked me out when creating the film. I just worried more about the structure than anything else, and I thought that if I followed the structure, it would all kind of fall into place, and I feel like it did.
Me: I was impressed with how devoted you were to the structure. I thought at first you might waver and have some weird Monty Python bit in the middle, but you never did. The very first thing with the historical stuff – was that found footage or what was that?
Scott: Oh yes, that very first part was found footage. All that footage is from Henry Ford, actually. He took a lot of home movies in the 10’s and 20’s. He also paid people to go around and do newsreel footage and that footage is now online and part of the public domain. 80 or 90 years old now. Henry Ford having a picnic, and Thomas Edison taking a nap on the ground.
Me: That was really him?
Scott: Oh my God, that was hilarious! Thomas Edison just sleeping on the ground. Oh my God!
Me: I didn’t put it together that it was really him. I thought it was like those 3 Stooges films, where they’re playing historical characters. I thought it was something like that.
Scott: And that’s actually the narration that’s used in that footage as well. It’s heavily edited to make it seem like they’re fighting a war by napping and picnicking, but they’re actually short pieces from a much larger film, but that’s the fun of editing.
Me: Where did the idea for this Professor Mackin character come in?
Scott: I was filming this guy named Ali Farahnakian. He was in a couple of episodes of 30 Rock, and he did one of the Bourne Movies and stuff. He’s a very famous improv comedian here in New York City and a friend of mine, so I asked him to do a fake news conference, where I would yell questions at him and he was answering, and it was showing those slides behind him. I sped him up sometimes for effect. I just liked how it made him look angrier.
Me: You were talking about the next film. Any idea what that’s going to be about yet?
Scott: I’m playing with a few ideas right now. When I was making the brain movie, it started out as a completely different set of ideas and just evolved. I’m kind of in the process of just going through, of willing the ideas until it becomes a more firm concept. And it’s already changed a great deal, but I think it’s going to change more. I don’t really want to talk about that subject yet, but it’s an interesting process, that whole creative thing. You start with one idea, and you end up with something completely different.
Me: I had no idea where it was going to go from one point to the next. Did you really write that whole thing? There was a lot of creative stuff going on.
Scott: Yeah. I directed, wrote, filmed, edited, did the soundtrack and narrated, and there was a lot going on, but I didn’t want to spend more than $10,000 on it, so you end up just doing a lot of it yourself or you need to recruit your friends to be in it for free. As a director, I don’t know if I’d work with myself again as a narrator, but I did the job okay.
Me: Was it ever hard to keep track of all the character sketches?
Scott: In my dining room, I had two big bulletin boards with all the stuff pinned to them on separate 3 x 5 cards, and I would try to keep them in order, keeping track of what I had filmed and what still needed to be filmed. It was a lot to keep in my head, actually. I turned my dining room into a real life Pinterest, with photos and film stills and lots of written down stuff.
Me: Is this film still showing in New York or other large cities?
Scott: Right now, it’s just doing festivals while I hopefully try to get some distribution as well. Nothing to report on that, so we’ll see. I definitely want to do another showing in New York.
Me: Where should people go to find out about your movie?
Scott: The website for the movie. There’s some film clips, stills, links, and other information about the movie.
Me: How long is the IMDB page for the movie?
Scott: It’s a long list of people, yeah. And I had to enter all that!
Me: Is the little girl at the end related to you?
Scott: Oh, the woman that becomes the little girl? No, she’s not related to me. She’s the daughter of the woman, a comedian named Diana Saez, who lives in Minneapolis. She has a twin, and I couldn’t work the twin son into the movie, but I got the daughter. She was great, actually. We started talking about dinosaurs and stuff, and she was just wonderful.
Me: Do you have any outtakes you think you might release?
Scott: No. I don’t have a lot of outtakes. It makes me sad actually. I had to get rid of a few to make room on my hard drive, and now I’m really sad I got rid of them, because there was some funny stuff in there. Now I’m kicking myself. I should have just saved it to thumb drive or something – I don’t know what I was thinking. Stuff I did with Kevin Murphy from Mystery Science Theater 3000, the guy with the telepathic powers, and the chronology head that moved things across the table with strength, number 3 I think. That took him like 10 takes to do without cracking up, and it was filmed in a hotel room in Minneapolis. I went all over the place actually. I filmed in maybe 10, 11 US States, Prince Edward Island in Canada. I won a Bahamas cruise on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, and I filmed there. It’s well-traveled for such a cheap, cheap movie. The giant brain sculpture is actually in Indiana. There’s just a lot of random stuff all over the country.
Me: One last question. Are you number 41?
Scott: Yes, I’m number 41 in the movie. When I go to Gen-Con, I will be cosplaying as myself, probably.