Noah J Nelson on Wednesday, Feb. 15th
Bindlestiffs has the distinction of being one of the most oversexed, twisted, and just plain messed up comedies in ages, and when you consider that the writer-director team behind the film were only half out of high school during the filmmaking, it’s cause for the comedy factories in Hollywood to be very, very nervous.
Andrew Edison and Luke Loftin were 18 and 19, respectively, when they began shooting Bindlestiffs. Now 20 and 21, the pair look only a little older than their characters in the movie: members of a trio of boys who get suspended from their high school for lewd bathroom graffiti thrown up in protest over the school’s sudden banning of “The Catcher in the Rye.” With their third man John Karna, whose character is cut from the same moral cloth as “South Park’s” Butters, they spend their suspension in a run-down hotel room cooking up ways to get laid.
What sets this work apart from the mass produced teen comedy product is more than the “authenticity” of the creators; it’s their smarts. The cast improvised dialog off a scenario-based script that Edison and Loftin worked on continuously during the two years of production.
“You see movies like Superbad,” said co-writer Loftin, “and all these teen movies where they’re dirty and they’re raunchy–”
“They’re Hollywood dirty,” interjected director Edison.
“They’re close,” said Loftin.
“Not really [expletive deleted] dirty,” said Edison.
“Yeah they’re not there. They’re not really dirty,” said Loftin.
“Not Pink Flamingos dirty,” said Edison.
Case in point: the Bindlestiff, an old term for a hobo, from which the film takes its name. When straight-laced John, reeling from a rejection and pumped full of bad ideas by Luke, runs across an elderly homeless woman at a bus stop, a round of drinking and soul baring turns into public sex.
We never do see the face of the hobo — hidden behind a gray wig that looks more like a filthy mop than hair. She becomes a kind of walking, mumbling physical gag. The hobo is more cartoon than character; but then again so are the three boys. And while there are always going to be those who cry foul at any depiction of a woman as a sex object, the hobo is the least likely sex object in the history of cinema. The twisted nature of that status is also the point.
“They see her as an object, said Edison. “John doesn’t, but they do. They see all women as objects. They use women to impress each other. The only reason that they’re trying to have sex with girls is to impress each other, not that they care about them. It’s that sort of angst-y virgin mentality that we’re trying to recreate. So the best way to personify it is to have this creature, who didn’t have a face, didn’t talk, who was simply an object, this ultimate exaggeration of how they see women in their ignorance. So that was sort of our thinking. If we gave her a face, gave her dialog, she becomes a character.”
While Edison notes that the characters come “from a place of ignorance,” the writer and director are far savvier than their characters. The purity of their hearts as satirists is evidenced in part by their multicultural cast of friends and ex-girlfriends: if the guys behind the movie were as petty and insensitive as the characters they portray, it’s hard to imagine that all of these folks would have gone along with the film.
Also making the case is their skill as storytellers; the picture just screams along, with each scene forming a tight whole, pushing the characters farther along their spiral into utter depravity. It’s the kind of devotion to craft that is missing from most indie cinema, and far too many Hollywood pictures.
Not that the skill came easily. Edison and Loftin had a long distance collaboration: Loftin was at the University of Southern California and Edison, first in high school, and then at NYU. Principle photography on the film took the better part of two years, stretched over five shoots. The pair would edit the film in between the shoots and devise new scenes that shaped the story. Edison vows that they won’t make a film this way again, but acknowledges that they learned a lot from the start-and-stop process, which ultimately led to the pair dropping out of school in order to finish the movie.
“It’s hard to go to class,” said Edison, “when I have a feature film to edit in my dorm.”
He figures that between the two of them, four years worth of film school tuition could be used to make around eight movies instead. With both of the guys so young, I wondered if they entertained the idea of heading back to complete their studies.
“Well, we got agents today, so I don’t think we’re going back,” Edison told me.
The pair currently live in Austin, Texas where they’re finally working in the same room on new scripts. They’ve eschewed writing on computers for a pair of electric typewriters that they say forces them to keep moving the work forward, as opposed to fiddling with what’s already been written.
Yet the Audience Award for Feature Narrative the filmmakers won at the Slamdance Film Festival, which has launched the careers of filmmakers like Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight) and Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity), must have them feeling the lure of Los Angeles.
“We got agents under the condition that we could stay in Austin,” said Edison. “Maybe we’ll have to move up to LA eventually and that’s fine, but I don’t want to make films in LA. If I live there, I live there prepping the movie, I don’t want to live there making the movie.”
With one extremely accomplished feature behind them, the support of their families after they dropped out of school, and agents looking to get them more work, it’s all but inevitable that Andrew Edison and Luke Loftin are going to have a serious career ahead of them.
Their emergence should have Todd Philips’ of the world worried, because if the best that the studios can do is to try to think like teen and 20-something year-old boys, what hope in hell do they have in competing with the real deal?