Spring 2006

Stupid Pet Tricks

Comic-turned-director Bob Goldthwait is not your everyday auteur. He explains why his film Stay stirred up such a fuss at Sundance.


FRESH AIR: Bob Goldthwait at Sundance. He says he made his film
FRESH AIR: Bob Goldthwait at Sundance. He says he
made the film "for the pure rush of storytelling."

A pleasant looking middle-aged German woman at Sundance throws her arms around me and whispers in my ear something unrepeatable she did with her dog. "I know I can tell you this," she says. I'm speechless, but just as I'm about to muster up some sort of reply in order to defuse this odd ice breaker, she defuses the statement herself, "no, no, no, it didn't happen."


But then she continues... adding some details about peanut butter. After a long pause I say "Oh," as if it makes perfect sense. Wiping tears from her eyes she goes on to gush, "But I can tell you, I know you won't tell anyone."

The next day, after another screening of my movie, I retold the story, including the graphic details, to 650 shocked audience members.

My movie Stay is not about bestiality. Sure, there is some in it, but that's not the point of the movie. It's about honesty in relationships, and if you really need to know EVERYTHING about the past of the person you love. The movie's theme is that it's important to lie–in fact it's the living up to the lies that we tell about ourselves that makes us better people. She didn't get it. She's not alone.

Ever since Sundance, many people have been very forthcoming in telling me about their amorous relationships with various animals. A pal of mine who (until now) I felt was very normal told me how rough the top of a goat's mouth feels. A very sane female friend told me about doing something to a horse when she was younger. The stuff strangers feel comfortable telling me is even worse.

Once again I would like to stress, that was not the point of the movie. Please stop telling me this stuff. Memory is finite and I don't feel like filling up the tiny bit of hard drive I have left in my skull with this kinda stuff.

Outside of my kid being born, getting a movie in Sundance is the coolest thing that has ever happened to me. We shot our movie with money from a pawned guitar and out of our own pockets. We stole locations, wardrobe and gels; and our 22-year-old director of photography Ian Takahashi came to us because his aunt saw our listing on Craig's List and anonymously sent in a reel and resume for him. You can imagine my shock when I got the call saying our movie got into Sundance. I mean, it's not like I knew we were destined for festivals when we were shooting the indoor apartment scenes on a porn stage in downtown L.A.–there were half nude, scabby people wandering into our craft service all day from the other floor. The first time I walked in on some of them having sex a few feet from our kitchen set, I totally wasn't thinking "finally–we've really made it."

HONESTLY: Melinda Page Hamilton regrets telling a dark secret to her fiancé Bryce Johnson in Stay. - photo courtesy Samuel Goldwyn Films Inc.
HONESTLY: Melinda Page Hamilton regrets telling a dark secret to her
fiance Bryce Johnson in Stay. (Credit: Samuel Goldwyn Films Inc.)

Most people don't think of me as a director. If I'm on your radar at all, it's as that annoying, whiny comedian who set The Tonight Show on fire, or as the screaming guy from Police Academy. Now I was getting a call from SUNDANCE! I never thought I would see the movie in a theater, let alone in the biggest American film festival–one that I had never even attended as a spectator. I always thought the movie would be something I would show my friends. It would be like, "Hey, wanna come over to my house and see something F-upped?" When Sundance Senior Programmer Trevor Groth told me that the movie would be in dramatic competition, I didn't know what he meant. My knees actually buckled, and his voice started sounding like a from a Charlie Brown cartoon. I actually hung up on him.

It's a few weeks later now, and despite my body thawing out from Park City, my head still hasn't. We sold our movie to Roadside Attractions and Samuel Goldwyn Films. FILMS. Seems like a good time to admit that throughout shooting this we all referred to it as a "tape." And now it's going to come out in the fall.

I made this movie because my friend Sarah read the script that I had written a year ago and said, "We should make this."

I said, "I don't have any money." And she said, "We'll just start and people will help." That's how I got a movie into Sundance–we just started and people helped. This was the first thing I have ever made, solely just to make–for the pure rush of storytelling. I recently read something equating making art for the sake of getting famous to eating a great meal because you want to take a shit. You can't go into a project with the goal of success or fortune and have a good time doing it. I made this movie for the sole sake of making this movie. I wanted to have a good time and had no goal other than finishing it.

So what I'm telling you, my fellow DGA sisters and brothers, is this: Go do it.

Trust me, nobody ever thought this was going to be seen, let alone bought, especially me. But also learn from me–if you're going to make a movie, make it about something you don't mind talking (and hearing) about.

And just incidentally: if you see this movie (and I hope you do—I got a pretty sweet deal on the backend) and feel the need to tell me some deep dark secret from your past regarding you and your schnauzer, please, PLEASE, keep it to yourself. Next time, I'm naming names.

Funny Business

First-person columns written by directors about their humorous experiences working in features and television.

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