LAist Interview: Bob Gosse, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell

On first blush, Bob Gosse seems like an unlikely choice to direct Tucker Max's ribald memoir, I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell. After all, it was Gosse who co-founded the seminal independent film company The Shooting Gallery while also producing the early indie hits, Laws of Gravity and New Jersey Drive as well as directing the superb Niagara, Niagara. What is this guy doing directing a movie about a narcissistic alcoholic who fucks midgets? LAist recently had a chance to talk to Bob about exactly that.

LAist: How did you — of all people — end up with Tucker Max — of all people? It feels natural in terms of your personality. I think your sense of humor — it's not right in-line with Tucker's, but I can see you laughing at his jokes. But as a filmmaker, your work has always been very different from this. So how did that all come together?

Bob Gosse: A friend of mine, Max Wong, is a producer. We were working on a project called A Prayer for Domenick Mizzoli, which is something we'd like to make someday. And we were working on this, developing the script for a few months when we were at lunch one day and she said, "Oh, my friend Tucker — he's got a best-selling book and a big blog — he's writing this script. You should take a look at it at some point when they're ready to go out." So I said, "Okay." By the time I got home from the lunch I had forgotten his name so I didn't even look it up. So a few months later I'm at Sundance and I got a text from Max and she said, "Bob, I'm sending you the script. When you get back, can you read it?" And I did. And I thought it was funny. I blew coffee out of my nose reading it. And I had been in movie jail for several years because Julie Johnson, which was the last film The Shooting Gallery made, got sucked into a bankruptcy when the company collapsed. So that movie basically ended my directing career. So I thought, "If I'm going to do another film ever, it's going to need to be a genre film." It should be a comedy. It should be a horror film. And this fit the bill. I met with Tucker and Nils and Max and Karen twice. And the second meeting I went in with this binder that they now call "The Magic Book", which was basically my take on the film and what I would do and how I would shoot it and who I would bring to it. I did shot diagrams; I did storyboards on FrameForge. And it blew them out of the water, and they hired me. And that was it!

LAist: How was it working with a guy like Tucker? My impression of him is that he's almost a brand, and he's very conscious of his brand. And this movie is his first foray into a new type of media. So typically a director of a movie has a lot of control, but I'm thinking that on this movie Tucker would at least try to exert a great deal of influence. What was the balance like when working with him?

Gosse: Well, making the film the balance was pretty even. I encouraged -- to my best interest -- to make sure that he was involved while I was making it. Because there are certain things -- because I wasn't a fan of the book or the blog or I didn't understand the audience -- it was in my best interest to have him close to me so I understood things. Because I had an audience to get things right with. On the other side, he had no idea what he was doing. He was new to the filmmaking process, and he would get very frightened when he didn't understand things. He didn't understand initially the idea of coverage or that it takes an hour and a half to move the camera and re-set the track and put the wedges under the tracks so that the dolly is even. Then we'd have to tweak the lights and actors would have to go back to make-up. The whole thing confused him. He was very, very overwhelmed. And even during pre-production I'd say, "Hey, Tucker, we're going to go scout this strip club. You should come check it out." And he would come and bring his dog, but he wouldn't understand what we were doing. We were checking the power sources, seeing where we could park the trucks, where would we take our meals, where could we go to the bathroom, could we get air-conditioning units moved in -- he just got spooked a little bit. You know? And the actual shooting of the film was the same thing. He would periodically spin out, and he would berate a crew member irresponsibly for no other reason than he didn't know what he was talking about. And he didn't do it with any malice. He was just doing it because he wanted to participate.

LAist: One of the critical choices that determines whether a film will even have the opportunity to be successful is who your distributor is and how your distributor feels about your movie and what they intend to do with it. You eventually went with Freestyle which means you're essentially distributing the movie yourself -- it's your marketing strategy. What went behind that decision?

Gosse: Well, it boiled down to three distributors where they had real money offers, but the problem for Darko (who financed the film) was that they were going to be behind a lot of cost before they saw a nickle and they would have no say in how it was going to be put into the market. And at a certain point, Darko's call was, "Fuck it. If there's a risk we're going to assume it. And if there's upside, we're going to win it." You know? We'll assume the risk but if there's upside we're not behind you guys (the distributor). We'll see all the upside. And initially they were just gonna go out on fifteen to eighteen hundred screens, but at a certain point Tucker and Sean decided that there was going to be this tour. And then with the tour it made sense to platform it because they could target the territories for the first week and not extend an enormous amount of risk for a New York and Los Angeles buy. Rather, do the tour and focus on the Midwest where Tucker's core audience was and where the tour sold out first. And then grow it out from there. Go from 130 screens and then go to 300 and then go to 1500 or 2000 by the third or fourth week. And in that way they could spend a lot less money and have the most impact and really lean on new media and Tucker's strengths in new media to grow it out.

LAist: Yeah, typically a press kit has thirty to forty stills from the set, but when I looked on Flickr where you guys are hosting everything there are thousands and thousands of images on there. I'd never seen anything like that.

Gosse: And there's a lot of video. We haven't even posted any of the video from behind the scenes except for very selected and edited stuff on Youtube. There's also 180 hours of video that were shot down there that they're going to edit and include in the DVD.

LAist: Let's talk about that tour for a second. That was one of the things I was interested in because the whole idea of going around to thirty cities -- you're going to attract the hard-core Tucker fans. Was there ever a worry that you were cannibalizing the audience that would have ultimately gone to the movie?

Gosse: Well, when they decided to do it this way they collectively all made a bet. And the bet was -- because they had a narrow amount of P & A to spend -- the bet they made was that if they could go into these communities and give a shot of the movie into a small segment of the college crowd there, they bet that if my friend came and told me that if I saw this movie and it was fucking crazy and funny, if they could get that one person out there like a pinball in a machine then that was worth spending more than thousands and thousands of dollars in television advertising. I know that if I decide to go see a movie, it's because someone told me it was really good and it was someone that I really trust and know. It's rarely from an ad, and it's rarely from a review. It's from someone who knows my taste. And so they made a bet that if they did this tour correctly, then they would suck all these people into the marketplace and they would help us go viral with attendance. Now that may or may not work. We don't know. Like anything, it's a gamble. But hopefully it will pan out.

LAist: Let's talk about some of the controversy surrounding the film. I can't imagine you guys didn't expect it, but I'm wondering how valuable you thought it was. There was an incident in Raleigh with some of the students protesting. There was the incident in Chicago with posters being taken down. Were you guys relying on that? Were you hoping there was some opportunity there to expose the movie without having to spend any money?

Gosse: Tucker had a lecture at Ohio State back in May, and about a hundred and fifty students turned out to protest him. And they were so incoherent and misguided about what their intent was -- they were protesting the book and protesting a movie that they hadn't seen and saying he was a rapist. That he promotes date rape, roofies and stuff that was just patently untrue. And we decided that it was something that would call attention to itself and the media would see it for what it was. So yeah that was something that was functional in getting attention with the local news people.

LAist: Do you look at the Tucker in the movie as an idealized Tucker? There's a coarseness to the real Tucker that I don't see in the movie.

Gosse: Well, casting Tucker was a nightmare. It was the toughest role to cast. It took us four months. I mean we had the whole movie -- we were in fucking Louisiana before we had Matt. He was really late in the game. But once we had him, I was pretty confident. It was interesting to be in rehearsal and have Tucker witness what we were doing, because he was befuddled. Here was a guy who was playing Tucker when Tucker was twenty-five. Tucker's now thirty-three. But this is a character that he and Nils wrote. Was he going to be a douchebag? Was he going to be a likable rascal? It was really puzzling and frustrating for Tucker to go through that because it was him. So I was pretty sympathetic about that. But at the same time I knew that for the movie to work this actor had to embody an archetype of somebody so self-absorbed and so selfish and so narcissistic that the audience could recognize that part of themselves that is repulsive but at the same time very seductive. (laughs) It's a weird thing to try to embody! I think that's one of the things that the movie's about -- that we are self-absorbed at our own peril.

LAist: Was that what the hook was for you for this movie? Was that what enabled you to relate to the material?

Gosse: As I went through casting and the more I broke it down, you have to ask yourself, "Why is this appealing? Why does this succeed?" You have to break it down to essential elements and one of the essential elements is ultimately that as an audience member who possesses an ego, who possesses a sense of identity -- when I go to see comedy I want to bear witness to these characters attempting to maintain their dignity in the face of ridiculousness. Because ultimately that's what we're all doing. So that was the approach. If it was a drama it would be about characters attempting to maintain their dignity in the face of tragedy.

I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell is in theaters now