Q&A with Robert and Duncan Sarkies – ‘Two Little Boys’

Kiwi filmmaker Robert Sarkies directed the upcoming Two Little Boys, a black comedy about Nige and best mate Deano (Flight of the Conchords‘ Bret McKenzie and Hamish & Andy‘s Hamish Blake) based on the book written by his brother Duncan Sarkies.

In the film Nige (McKenzie) runs over and accidently kills a Scandinavian soccer star in an unfortunate incident involving a hot meat pie, a ginger cat and a policeman. He chucks the body in a nearby road works hole and runs to his best mate of fifteen years, Deano (Blake). But Deano’s not the guy you should turn to in a crisis…

Robert and Duncan were kind enough to take the time out to answer a few of our questions, share a clip from the film and some behind the scenes footage.

Hello from Flicks. How are you doing?

ROB & DUNCAN: Good thanks, yeah good, yep, yourself?

Yeah, fine thanks. What should people expect from Two Little Boys?

DUNCAN: Quite a wild ride. A lot of strange male bonding. Some stunning scenery and nature. Memorable scenes where bogans interact with sea lions, dolphins, penguins and toasted sandwiches. A few moments of claustophobia. Lots of bad decion making under pressure. A lot of laughs, a few moments that will make you groan, and even a dash of pathos. It’s a cool story.

ROB: It’s not Flight of the Conchords meets Hamish and Andy which I suspect is what lots of people will expect. I don’t think they’ll be disappointed but they will be surprised (and perhaps even shocked even if we’re lucky). It’s a Sarkies Brothers film featuring Bret McKenzie and Hamish Blake fully committing to playing out a couple of crazy southern bogans to the extreme. The film is funny, it’s dark, it’s kind-of mad and even quite epic at times (well, epic for a bogan buddy movie).

When reading Duncan’s book, what made you go “This is a film”?

ROB: I loved the book’s mix of comedy, emotional intensity and stoner wisdom. I could see it had a fascinating relationship at its core, distinctive characters with big problems to solve and not a lot of emotional maturity to solve them, which made it ripe for comedy. It was a mateship story that I felt touched on a lot of truths within relationships. It made me laugh, it made me cringe and it also had a surprising tenderness to it at times.

Was it awkward to think about doing a murder-comedy while making Out of the Blue?

ROB: Not really. If anything it was a bit weird taking a break from working on black comedy scripts with Duncan to do Out of the Blue with Graeme Tetley. I like to have variety between projects as I’d get bored just doing the same kind of film all the time. I think we’ve all got different aspects to our personalities. Out of the Blue was my more serious side and Two Little Boys is obviously a lot lighter. Hopefully in the future I’ll continue to do a combo of drama and comedy as both have very different challenges.

Two Little Boys clip – Deano and Gav

Why is the film set in the early 90s?

DUNCAN: There were less cellphones then. Cellphones ruin everything. The fashion was refreshingly hideous too. Seriously, the answer is probably that we were in our twenties then and carry a sense of nostalgia about that time that resonates well in the film.

ROB: I felt the story and characters had a naivety to them that an audience would more more readily buy if it was set back a bit. It makes it easier to laugh at their idiocy and not judge them for being idiots when it’s not contemporary. Also there were wonderful opportunites for visual humour with the wardrobe and hairstyles of that period which I felt would be a lot of fun – for us and the audience. I chose the specific date of 1993 because that was the year Tim Shadbolt was first elected Mayor of Invercargill and he has a small cameo in the film as – yep – the Mayor of Invercargill.

Was it difficult to reconstruct that era?

ROB: It was a challenge for the art and wardrobe departments although everyone found it fun as we were basically recreating the look of our youth – not a proud period in fashion. What helped is that much of the film is set out in the Catlins countryside where not much has changed and Invercargill itself still has a bit of a 90’s vibe. We actually had several eras to recreate as there are brief sequences in the film from the 70’s and 80’s also and even a quite extravagant fantasy set in the trenches of World War One. So yeah, we were busy.

Behind the scenes of Two Little Boys – War Dream

Do you see the film’s setting as being a help or a hindrance to its international success?

ROB: I don’t see the setting as helping or hindering international success particularly. People are interested in stories and characters and if your film isn’t set in the US or the UK then it is going to be somewhat exotic wherever it plays. I think the more specific a film is to a place, the better. If you’re going to make a Kiwi film you might as well make it really Kiwi – and throwing in some spectacular coastal scenery surely can’t do any harm for an international audience.

Both leads are best-known as halves of different comedy duos. What was it like establishing a comedic chemistry between Hamish and Bret?

ROB: The chemistry was interesting to develop because we needed to believe these characters had been mates for 15 years but we enter the story when there is what you might call a negative chemistry between them as they have just broken up. So we needed to establish the heart of the relationship first before breaking it apart. We all did a fantastic workshop together in Wellington a few months before the shoot and this was where the dynamic of both the onscreen and offscreen relationship was established. Getting them Bret and Hamish to gel together as a pair was surprisingly easy, I think because they were both used to feeding off a comedy partner so it happened quite naturally.

DUNCAN: I loved watching them work together. They bonded very quickly. They are similar types of comedians in that they listen well and are at their best when they have a bit of freedom to improvise. The comedy aspect came naturally to them but for both of them portraying the twisted psyche of the characters was always going to be more of a challenge, and I am happy to report they nailed it. Hamish plays the control freak and Bret plays the controlled freak. When we were filming Bret lost a lot of weight and Hamish gained a lot of weight. Not sure what to read into that, except that it must be more fun being controlling than being controlled.

Could you share your strongest memory from filming?

ROB: The day which we dubbed our ’48 hour film day’ where we were washed out of our location and had to make up a replacement sequence on the fly sticks in my mind. Duncan was called onto set and was writing the new set of scenes in a back room while the crew were setting up what I thought would be a logical first set-up. No one knew what we were doing from hour to hour but we figured that as long as we knew what the next bit was and we shot in order we’d get through. And the scene is better than the one we’d origionally conceived. It’s fun when filmmaking is a bit rock and roll (although I’ll admit quite stressful at the time). More fun and less stressful was shooting the penguin sequence where all we needed was one shot of our character Gav with a penguin and what we got were reels of film with our actor surrounded by penguins as the sun rose on a perfect day. Pure magic.

DUNCAN: The final day of filming was really strange as it coincided with the horror of the Christchurch earthquake. Lots of deeply conflicting emotions that day. On a lighter note, the day we filmed Maaka riding a dolphin was brilliant. He had to ride a pretend dolphin, but as we were filming he was surrounded by a pod of real dolphins. One more memory that sticks out is the day we filmed the sea lion scene, which has a big argument between Deano and Nige. One of the sea lions took a liking to our camera. We were told by the DOC guy that if a sea lion approached our cameras just to walk away from the equipment. So we watched helplessly as a giant sea lion clambered up to an $80,000 camera. He sat and guarded it for a while, staking a claim to it I guess, before he shuffled off, much to the producers’ relief.

If you could make a film about anyone living or dead, who would it be?

DUNCAN: Bobby Fischer, Phil Spector, Nadzeya Ostapchuk.

ROB: I might keep that to myself because nowadays you can make a film about anyone living or dead can’t you? In truth when I try to think of an answer on the spot I just find myself wanting to sound clever so I’ll quit while I’m behind.

What was the last great film you saw?

DUNCAN: Searching for Sugar Man, a crazy tale of how an obscure musician from Detroit created a record that bombed, and he gave up on the music business, heading into
a life in demolition. Unbeknownst to him though his album was a huge hit in South Africa. It was a terrific film and I hope it comes back for a general release [It is – Ed].

ROB: I saw Beasts of the Southern Wild at the NZ International Film Festival this year which was pretty amazing. Incredible too that it was made by a first time feature maker. Incredible and just a little depressing…

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

ROB: My dad once told me when I got angry to make things instead of breaking things. So my first short film effort depicted the burning down of what’s now the Art Gallery in Dunedin which meant I could make something while satisfying my pyro tendencies.

DUNCAN: “Don’t eat the yellow snow” (Frank Zappa)

What are you thinking about doing next?

DUNCAN: We have a film project about a guy who can’t find his socks, and another one about a man who has an illegal brain operation. There’s a lot more to both stories but we love keeping secrets to I won’t say anymore for now…

Two Little Boys opens in cinemas Thursday September 20th.

Here’s the trailer: