Lights Film School Online recently interviewed Bobby Miller, the filmmaker behind the unusual short film TUB. We love chatting with filmmakers about how to make films and for any filmmakers out there wanting to learn more about how to make a movie you’ll find this interview incredibly helpful as Bobby goes into great detail and shares his struggle (which is many of our struggle) very openly. Below you’ll find his 12 minute short film along with our interview.
What a unique short film. Twisted… but unique. There was a horror, drama and comedy all in the same film. It’s a generally pretty awkward and uncomfortable film. I mean your film’s synopsis is “Paul jerked off in the shower. Paul just impregnated his bath tub”. Tell us a little bit more about where this story came from.
In undergrad, I was rooming with 5 other guys and one of them used to take long showers. My friend often made fun of him with: “You probably jerk off in the shower so much that there’s babies living in the sewers.” I’m pretty sure that statement got lodged in my brain hole somehow.
What’s your obsession with babies? I noticed you did this short film as well?
The idea for that short actually pre-dates TUB. Me and some friends tried to start a comedy troupe in film school and that was one of the ideas I pitched to them. Needless to say, no one went for it. Fast forward to late last year: I was meeting at FunnyOrDie and throwing out ideas and just happened to remember it and they thought it was funny, so I ran with it.
To answer your question: I have no idea what my deal is with babies. If I could afford a psychiatrist, I’m sure he’d have some theories. FUN FACT: The baby in “New Dad” is actually the TUB baby covered up. That’s right folks, he’s still getting work.
You have a great ability to capture the highs and lows of a story in a very short amount of time. This short film accomplished a lot in just over 10 minutes. You have an antagonist who gets in the way of your protagonist achieving his goal. You have a protagonist who makes a decision that acts as a catalyst that propels your story into the second act. He has a goal to get rid of the baby at first, but then you have a reversal and he changes his mind in the end. This all leads up to a gruesome final scene. And even though your resolution is ambiguous, you have your dénouement there as well. It feels like a very well structured story without feeling forced or like you’re trying to “hit your marks”. Can you tell us a bit more about how you approached the structure of this story?
The basic blocks I had going into it were that Paul should be repelled by the baby, but ultimately grow to love it. And that Paul is a very selfish character. The idea that this was almost a fairy tale to teach him a lesson. The way he treats his girlfriend as a sex object at the start of the film and where he ends up with her at the end are…very different.
Tell us a little bit more about your writing process. How long did “TUB” take to write? How many drafts did you write? What was your writing process like?
I tried to get money to make TUB at film school…for like 2-3 years. So, there are a ton of drafts of the script. An absolutely obscene number. I would keep getting close to making it and then realized I didn’t have the funds to do it and get depressed and put it on the shelf.
As for the writing process, I usually have a handful of friends I really trust and I give them drafts of things and ask for notes. I think it’s important you give your work to people who will actually tell you what they think. If someone tells me something I wrote is great, I start to not trust them. I actually got mad at one of my film school classes because I felt everyone was being to nice and not really digging deep. I’m pretty hard on myself, so I guess I just want everyone else to match that. Hah! Looks like this question is unraveling, folks.
Tell us a little bit more about your pre-production process. How long did it take you to go from script to shooting?
I suppose I dipped into some of that in the previous question. Basically, I was entering my last year of film school… I didn’t have to make a film, because I chose screenwriting as my concentrate. But, by that point, TUB was mythic in my mind, and if I didn’t do it, I would regret it. So, I took out a student loan and paid for it myself. I figured I was in so much debt as it was, why not go for it!
How long did editing take?
The shoot was pretty intense, so I took a few months off and started editing during the summer. Honestly, the first cut was incredibly depressing to me. I thought I completely failed. I actually contemplating shelving it and not showing anyone. In a way, I was setting myself up for failure, because I wanted to make the film for so long, of course the first cut would make me sad.
But, seriously I sank into a dark hole! One of the worst depressions of my life. I didn’t want to talk about the film with friends, etc. I really owe a lot to Matthew Sanchez, the DP, and longtime friend of mine. He offered to take a look at the film and we began to co-edit it on separate coasts. Literally talking on the phone and pressing space bar at the same time on our laptops and watching stuff.
So, I guess the editing took 5-6 months if you factor in my “dark period”.
Overall, from idea conceptualization to the publishing the video how long did “TUB” take to complete?
At least 3 years…
On a serious note, these are very well done short films with a very precise vision. What do you have planned next as a filmmaker?
I’m rewriting a feature right now…and if all goes well, it will the first feature I direct. I would label it a Comedy/Horror/Drama/Romantic/ Creature Feature.
Tell us a little bit more about your casting process for the film.
The lead guy (PAUL) was my friend Eric Levy. We did a short together here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dB2KBnfiyLU and I thought he was “a lovable dick” in it…The lead gal (EMILY) was played by Megan Raye Manzi, who we got from Amy Gossels casting. She’s awesome. Eric is okay, too.
How did you go about location scouting for the film?
It was all shot in NYC. The bathroom stuff was a set that was built in Columbia University’s studio space. And the bedroom stuff was shot at Shivonna Randazzo’s lovely apartment in Brooklyn.
How are you stabilizing the camera above the bed in the first shot (above)?
I want to say that Matt was standing on a ladder and fighting for his life to keep the shot steady. The shot is fairly long, but they don’t call him Matt “steady hands” for nothing. Although, to be fair, no one calls him that.
How did you do the movement at 1:36? (above – going down into tub)
That was with a jib arm. Matt would move the camera all the way at the drain, until it was completely black and then he would lift it up. Then, we’d just reverse the footage. It was a pain in the ass to get right. Although, let’s be honest, I just chilled by a monitor.
1:51 – How did you get the footage of the tub’s birth canal (above)?
It’s funny, I was going to have an art dept person build a giant tube and set dress it with gunk, etc. I even interviewed people for it, but I simply ran out of money and time. That shot is so low budget and goofy compared to the rest of the shoot. It was literally a poster board that I spray painted silver and stuffed some gunk in. Then my DP, Matthew Sanchez stuck the camera on a toy car and pushed it down the tube. And I believe I was at the other end moving the baby’s head. I’m just glad no one thought it was horrible looking.
The bathtub baby is a really wonderful addition to the film. You don’t shy away from showing the baby. Tell us a little bit more about how this baby was created and how you got it to move.
It was designed by Cheryl Gross (www.cmgross.com), who I actually found on Tumblr via EatSleepDraw.com. Jeremy Selenfriend (www.MonsterinMyCloset.com) took those sketches and turned them into a silicon puppet (for wide shots) and an animatronic head (for closeups). Directing an animatronic head was probably one of the highlights in my life.
The film has done well with regards to film festivals. It premiered at Sundance in 20120 and it’s played in other film festivals such as SXSW, Palm Springs, AFI and Fantasia to name only a handful. What role has the film festival circuit played for you as a filmmaker for this project and for your future projects?
Playing those festivals got me representation, which lead me to move to Los Angeles. TUB continues to be a calling card for me. Which is nice. I guess masturbating/weird baby movies are timeless like Coca Cola.
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