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LAist Interview: The Jacobson Brothers

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LAist recently sent over a few questions for the Jacobson brothers, Shane and Clayton, an Australian filmmaking duo, about their latest film, Kenny. Shane co-wrote and stars in the title role, while his brother co-wrote and directed the film.

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It's in limited release in LA and the OC, and if you're in the mood for something quiet, quirky and heart-warming at the same time (or if you can't get into The Dark Knight ) then check it out.

Australians seem to have a "quirky" sense of humor. We're thinking Strictly Ballroom, Muriel's Wedding and now Kenny...." How would you describe differences in Australian vs. American comedies?
Clayton: I would say our most popular comedies are often referred to as Aussie Battler stories. The underdog is a well championed character in OZ film. Which may or may not stem from a very recent history of convict white settlement. The struggle for personal dignity and self worth is a strong theme in many OZ films. Easy to understand from a country often referred to as Down under. Virtues like Good will to others, giving the next person in line a fair go and never taking once self too seriously are reoccurring character traits in OZ comedies.

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Describe the Jacobson brothers' style for American audiences who might not be familiar with your work...like how did you come to create an entire film around the "plumbing" industry?
Clayton: I supported myself through film school many years ago by cleaning factory restrooms or dunnies as we call them here. I experienced first hand how most people would struggle to hide their repulsion when you arrived on the scene with clean toilet rolls in hand. In fact most people could barely bring themselves to make eye contact with me. Cut to many years later both my brother Shane and I are working in the entertainment industry, Shane in the world of event management and stadium concert lighting, and myself directing music videos and TV commercials. One day Shane walked into my office and began entertaining the staff by impersonating one of the portaloo guys he'd been working along side at a rock concert. "It's only 80% water I dont know what all the fuss is about" the self deprecating humor of these portaloo guys was very funny but behind the laughs was a more alarming reality.

A society cannot function without clean water and good sanitation yet once these services are provided we expect those who maintain them to move in the shadows far from view. Why? - I knew then we had beginnings of an interesting film and a wonderful character study. We mentioned the idea to Glenn Pruesker the owner of Splashdown (the portaloo company in Kenny) and we were handed the keys to his dunny kingdom giving us access to all his clients, crew and equipment and then he capped it all off by being the sole investor.

Shane, how did you prepare for the role of Kenny? More specifically, how did you immerse yourself in the business of poop?
Shane: Kenny is basically a hybrid of Clayton and my much loved uncles mixed in with some people we have worked and our observations of the real Splashdown portaloo crew. Originally when I started playing the Kenny role I played the humour more on the front foot and with a harsher edge, Clay realized the character would run out of steam if played too vitriolic or bitter, Kenny needed to be more affable and endearing and so we decided to make the character portrait more about the decency of the man rather then just his musings and grievances about the public perception of his job. Once we made that decision the film started to really take shape.

And as far as immersing myself in the world of poo, being that Clay and I were filming at actual events with real Splashdown plumbers and staff, there was no other option but to get into it, in fact Clay and I now know enough about it the world of sanitation that if we ever get booted from the film industry we'll just sign on as sanitation workers.

Did you actually shoot at a poop convention in Nashville?
Clayton: Yes we certainly did, and it was terrific. I was amazing to see a world that Kenny had so often defended to all and sundry being celebrated and showcased in such a large way. It provided a wonderful catalyst to have Kenny suddenly experience pride in his occupation and to feel connected to a wider community of fellow pumpers. The Pumper and Cleaner expo blew our minds in terms of its scale. It created the necessary fish out of water element to the story and provided some relief from what had been a barrage of negative experiences for the character.

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We noticed a lot of Jacobsons in the credits besides you and your brother. Was this film a total family affair?
Clayton: Absolutely Kenny was a huge family and friend affair - my wife plays Kenny's ex, my son is Kenny's son, Shane and my father plays Kenny's dad, our brother in law plays Sammy and the list goes on. My mother is a dance teacher and my father has been a performer for many years and so a good many Jacobson's have the bug. But more importantly we came very cheap and tracking one another down for shoot days was a cinch.

Photo of Shane Jacobson in Kenny provided by Xenon Pictures.