What follows is an interview I conducted under the auspices of the now defunct weblog grippinglyauthentic.com with filmmaker Scott Prendergast over the course of a few months back in 2010. Though the weblog is no longer active, it was still an enjoyable bit of fluff, so here it is in slightly altered form from the original. And please keep in mind that everything published under the grippinglyauthentic banner was done so without specific author attribution, therefor in interviews it was “we” who conducted the proceedings. I have left the “we” present in the questions to Scott that follow, not out of any misplaced sense of royalty, but because I didn’t want to rewrite things. So, laziness. Enjoy!
You can also visit the writing archive here or link to it after the interview.
Not long before Christmas in 2005 we turned on our pink Hello Kitty TV and popped in the freshly pressed first issue of Wholphin, a DVD quarterly magazine of rare and mostly unseen films *mentioned here before*. We were enchanted by much of what we saw, and among the gems on issue one is a film we found particularly bizarre in the best way. We watched with open mouths and big eyes, and laughed – maybe from discomfort at first – at just how strange it was.
A man is overtaken by the urge to not only wear his mother-in-law’s vintage red jump suit, but compelled – once in this ill-fitting monstrosity – to give himself over to a dance the likes of which you’ve never seen, leaving him a spastic gibberish-spitting blank-eyed ball of confusion and, well, rapture. He doesn’t know why The Delicious makes him happy, but it does, and he can’t help but let his bliss overtake him and his “normal” life.
Scott Prendergast, the writer/director/star of The Delicious, commits so completely to what he’s doing in front of the camera that you can’t help but experience some measure of the same confounding joy his character feels in the jumpsuit.
Two years after The Delicious appeared, Prendergast’s first feature was released, in which he starred alongside Lisa Kudrow, Terri Garr, Chris Parnell, and Jeffrey Dean Morgan. The film Kabluey showcased some of the trademark strange we came to know from Prendergast’s earlier short films, and introduced us to even more idiosyncratic oddity, inspiring the question finally: who the hell is this guy?
He agreed to shed a little light on the mystery for us.
Damien James: Since we first saw you in The Delicious, we’ll start there. Before anything else, though, we want to say that you were magnetically odd in the film.
Scott Prendergast: Hey thank you!
>>Watch The Delicious on YouTube<<
DJ: We couldn’t take our eyes off how absolute the obsession with the red jump suit appeared in your eyes, nor could we deny a certain vacancy in your eyes as well, nearly Zen in how consumed you were with this one thing. It made us wonder what in your life is equal to The Delicious? Is there something which compels you – perhaps beyond reason at times – the way the jumpsuit and dance compelled the character? What exactly do you know about obsession, and how personal is that knowledge?
SP: Hmm… Well, that’s a good question. I have been obsessed with a number of things throughout my life. And some of those obsessions have taken on a similar manic tone: I see something – I can’t resist it – I can’t stop thinking about it – I obsess over it. Here is a short list:
- French fries
- The Muppets
- Teri Garr
- Rear Window
- Tin Tin
- Paint samples
- Bruce Jay Friedman
- The Wizard of Oz / Pink Floyd Dark Side of the Moon combo
Of those items – I’d say only the Muppets drove me to distraction. When I was a kid I was so obsessed with the Muppets that I would get in trouble at school for making lists of Muppets instead of paying attention in class. In fact when “The Art of the Muppets” exhibit came to the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry, the woman in charge of the exhibit called me and said, “Hi I heard about you – this weird kid obsessed with the Muppets – would you like to work here and do demonstrations?” It was one of the greatest things that had ever happened to me.
As a kid, it seemed to me that the Muppets were speaking TO ME. That there was a greater mystery at work in my life and if I paid attention I would someday find myself working with Jim Henson – or somehow involved with the Muppets. I used to play daily games where I would imagine that the world was offering up clues and that if I could decipher them, they would lead me to NYC and to the Muppets. It was a mystery only I saw and there was a massive pressure to figure it out.
I sometimes planned to run away (from Portland) to NYC to find the Muppets. When I was in college in NYC I used to go by the Henson Associates brownstone on the upper east side and lie, “Hi, I’m here for the internship?” – which sadly never led anywhere. Although one day I did in fact run into Jim Henson – face to face bump. Unfortunately I was so star-struck I couldn’t say anything, and then two weeks later he DIED!
Anyway, that’s probably the closest I’ve come to Delicious-level obsessions. But I think The Delicious is a little more insidious. That guy is obsessed but it’s a very dark, horrible obsession. He realizes that he is drawn to this item but he knows that it is wrong – that it is going to ruin/change/destroy his life. And yet he still can’t stop himself. Something larger is being revealed to him – he is discovering a whole new life – a new way of being. And even if it doesn’t make any sense, he has to go with it. It’s awful really. At least, it will be awful until he figures it out. I’ve felt that in my life too. But it was less about obsession and more about facing different truths.
(Also, sadly, I was so obsessed with French fries that I used to lie in bed and imagine that every flat surface in my room was covered with baskets of French fries and the garbage can was filled with ketchup and I would have to eat my way out of the room.)
DJ: We’re curious what kind of truths you’ve faced which have ultimately improved your life, or perhaps lead to new and unexpected and maybe wonderful things, despite how hard those truths might have been at the time?
SP: Hard to answer that one. I think I knew all along that I was different in many ways. I knew I wasn’t going to have a typical career. I wasn’t going to work in an office for years and get married and have kids. And it was sad and hard to realize that an unconventional life is harder. But I knew I wanted to pursue unusual things and I had to go down this road. Who knows.
DJ: Is there a new Delicious in your life right now, something undeniable that you’re pursuing?
SP: Sadly at this time in my life my Delicious is white cheddar cheese popcorn. I am thinking about it ALL THE TIME and hunting it down at ALL TIMES. Really.
DJ: Fucking delicious. So. How did the film end up on Wholphin?
SP: The Onion had a film screening in NYC and somehow they asked to use Anna Is Being Stalked. And then I guess Wholphin contacted them and they said “call S.P.” One of those random connections. So when they called I offered them The Delicious. (Anna was tied up with the Sundance Channel at the time.) It turned out to be one of the best things that’s ever happened to me. The film got seen EVERYWHERE because of Wholphin. People still stop me on the street and ask, “Are you The Delicious?”
DJ: Can you talk about how the story was developed? Long nights writing in solitude? Getting sloppy drunk with friends? Slow evolution over time?
SP: It just popped into my head all at once. It was on the set of Anna Is Being Stalked (and when I say the set I mean my friend’s living room on the coldest day of the year. And there, 10 unpaid friends hanging around eating pizza). I just started talking about a man in a red pantsuit and somehow this was destroying his marriage. Aren’t Pat and Christine AMAZING in The Delicious? And Mary and Bryan and the whole cast really. Everyone was SO GOOD! I think the original idea for the movie was more about the marriage and the disintegration. But it sort of became more about the suit and this guy’s deteriorating mental health. Or just his desperation really. It was one of those ideas you get and you latch onto it and hang on until you’ve done something with it. I couldn’t let go. The Delicious was my personal Delicious. I had to get it made – had to do something with that idea. When we were shooting the therapy scene we didn’t have time to rehearse – we just rushed everybody into the room and I started doing the dance. And Christine (who had not yet seen any of the movie) thought it was the weirdest thing she had ever seen. She and Pat were laughing in horror for a long time. Which worked perfectly for the movie.
(The guy in yellow and I spent an afternoon trying to come up with the dance – and we stood around in my apartment doing it – and it was so weird and surreal we kept having to stop and laugh and take a break.)
DJ: Is there a Delicious Fan Club (aside from me doing The Delicious when I’m home alone)?
SP: Ha. I don’t think there’s anything official. But I do enjoy it when people stop me on the street to ask nervously if I am the guy from The Delicious. It leads to a lot of interesting discussions. People REALLY respond to that movie on a DEEP level. It’s very gratifying. VERY VERY gratifying. In fact every time it happens I think to myself “I can die happy now.” Really.
DJ: Does the story extend beyond what was filmed? In other words, did you envision what might have happened after the man in red and the man in yellow finally disappeared? Did they connect? Did they find others? What was next?
SP: Yes there were going to be 2 more films – making a delicious trilogy. We still might make them someday. The man in red will go home with the man in yellow – where he meets a man in green. And then there are some other people. The 3rd piece is called THE DELICIOUS, INC. and it involves many of the characters from part 1. Maybe Ill get someone to animate the stories. I don’t know – I don’t want to disappoint people who like the first film
DJ: Would you care to elaborate on some of your other short-listed obsessions?
SP: Rear Window – I just think it’s the greatest film ever made. The plot and the construction are so genius. Every neighbor is a variation on love. And when she finds the ring it’s doubly important because she wants to get married – but also it means the wife is alive. A BRILLIANT story. Amazing.
Bruce Jay Friedman – The first book of his that I read was The Current Climate and I had never read a TONE like that. It was so unusual. Comic and sad. This guy was pathetic and he felt everything so strongly – so much pain – but the world was absurd, everyone was ridiculous. But he was experiencing it all so seriously. I put down that book and said “I just found my favorite author.” My favorite book (of his and of all time) is Stern.
Paint samples – Don’t know what to say. As a kid I was obsessed with rainbows and now I am obsessed with colors, which is ironic if you could see my apartment – it’s all WHITE! I am a hard core minimalist. But I love color! I guess the bedroom is colorful. That’s where I put 600 stolen paint samples on one wall. It looks incredible.
DJ: Now that we know you’re mad for Muppets, it might be difficult to avoid drawing parallels between the fuzzy monsters and your work; for example, the way you move in The Delicious or Anna Is Being Stalked almost suggests a certain manipulated quality, as if you’re not entirely in control, a puppet yourself. Or the distant gaze you’ve mastered which perfectly embodies perplexity and is not unlike the plastic-eyed stare of a Muppet. Can you cite the influence of the Muppets in any of your work?
SP: The most obvious influence would probably be the Kabluey suit. It’s made of the same fabric they make Kermit out of, Antron. And when I described the suit I would always say it should be soft and fuzzy like Kermit or Ernie but less fuzzy than Cookie Monster.
DJ: What wold you say to Jim Henson if you’d had the opportunity?
SP: I’d probably want to talk to him about letting me make a short film with Muppets or something. Anything to be involved with them, to get to work with him. I’ve had an idea for a short Muppet film for a long time, but it’s really weird – about disease. Ha.
DJ: How did you go from making what seems to be an ultra low-budget handheld film like The Delicious to what is a clearly a better financed adventure?
SP: Well, having The Delicious on Wholphin helped a lot. And I had written the Kabluey script and it was getting a lot of attention. And then we found a producer/financier who was willing to take a chance. FOR VERY LITTLE MONEY. Kabluey is a small small low budget movie.
DJ: It feels like an autobiography. How much do you draw from your own history when you make films?
SP: Much of Kabluey is autobiographical. I worked as a mascot in high school at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. I was SUPER EXPLAINER and it was hell. And then my brother was in Iraq in 2004 and I went to help his wife out with the kids. As for the short films, there are no direct autobiographical elements, just theoretical stuff. Hard to describe. I felt like a weirdo or an outsider and like something was calling to me that I couldn’t resist. And that’s The Delicious.
DJ: What was the reaction to the film from your brother, sister-in-law, and nephews?
SP: It was weird for my brother and his family, I think. My sister-in-law was sort of confused and maybe a little hurt – but eventually it all became a joke because the reality is so different than the movie. The story probably works because it’s based in reality. A lot of that stuff actually happened. But then the movie throws in some melodrama and bizarre elements. I think it was a little surreal for my family meeting the celebrities who were playing them in the film, but again I think my family also felt separated from the movie because it was so fictionalized.
I did in fact go to my brother’s house to stay and help while he was in Iraq. And it was hard. And I did work as a mascot in high school. But it’s all put through a weird movie blender. So it’s personal but also fictional.
DJ: Do you ever find it difficult to put pieces of yourself on the screen?
SP: It does create a weird kind of vulnerability. People sometimes ask me questions about the movies and I will think “How do you know that about me?” and of course it’s because I made a movie about it or blabbed about it in an interview. Which is strange. You are opening yourself up for “art” and “commerce” and you forget that you are actually OPENING YOURSELF UP and people can see inside. And then you feel a bit violated when people ask you about intimate details of your life. Weird experience.
At least with The Delicious and Anna is Being Stalked (which are very very personal movies) it is gratifying. You reveal some small weird part of yourself and people respond. There’s a part of you which you are embarrassed about or ashamed of and you make a weird little indie movie about it – and then people see it and they say “MY GOD THAT’S ME TOO! I AM THE DELICIOUS! I DO WEIRD THINGS WHEN ALONE! THAT MOVIE IS ABOUT ME!” And that’s fantastic.
DJ: Did your Terri Garr obsession come before or after working with her on Kabluey?
SP: BEFORE. I’ve always loved her. Since I was a wee lad. I loved her in Oh God and Young Frankenstein and forever after. I’ve always worshipped her. LOVE LOVE LOVE. Can’t explain why. She just seemed so funny and smart and nice. And pretty. I’ve always loved her. Meeting her was surreal. I gushed for about three hours and listed off every movie and TV show she’d ever done. I was a dork. At one point she said “Uh, wow. You really know my work, don’t you?” I’ve kept in touch with her and I have to say I would do ANYTHING for her. ANYTHING. I love her.
DJ: Her character is a bit nuts.
SP: She’s supposed to be completely insane. And schizophrenic. So when she sees Kabluey there’s a real chance that she’s hallucinating it. When I saw the movie with big crowds I think it was clear from the way they were laughing that they understood “this crazy woman” plus “this crazy blue thing” is going to equal a problem. That was the point. A vulnerable lunatic interacts with something she can’t understand. But gradually we added in the idea that she had worked for the company and lost her life savings and THEN went nuts.
DJ: Was she great to work with? I’ve still got a Young Frankenstein crush on her.
SP: Yes indeed. Although it was COMPLETELY surreal. On the first day of shooting the cast listed on the call sheet was TERI GARR and SCOTT PRENDERGAST. I kept that call sheet and actually framed it. I couldn’t believe I was actually working with her – that this was actually happening. And she was very funny and very nice and very good – a pro.
DJ: And how about Lisa Kudrow?
SP: We just sent her the script and she said yes. It was incredible. She was amazing to work with. Couldn’t be nicer or more relaxed or professional. Really just wonderful all around.
DJ: We appreciate when filmmakers build ensembles that work across multiple films, how it shows their versatility and sense of play. Christopher Guest, Hal Hartley, and Stanley Tucci and Tony Shaloub come to mind. Familiarity and affection arises, and excitement builds around what actors such as Patricia Buckley and Christine Turner might do in other projects of yours. How did your relationships begin with Buckley and Turner?
SP: I was in a play with Pat in 1999. We played siblings. It was a bad play. But she was so funny that we became fast friends. And when I wrote Anna Is Being Stalked I realized I was picturing her in the role. We became much closer shooting Anna. And then she was so great I couldn’t imagine working without her. So she basically became my “muse.” I wrote the part of Elizabeth P. in Kabluey for her and she was amazing. I don’t ever want to make a movie without her. It was SO GRATIFYING to have her in Kabluey; 1. Because she was perfect in the part and 2. Because instead of shooting a movie in my bathroom in Brooklyn we were on a real film set together. Lovely.
I met Christine Turner in Portland in 1995 at an improv comedy show. She was really incredible onstage. And I approached her as a fan and slowly we became friends. And then she helped me put my one-man improv show together. And then she was in The Delicious and Saragossa. I actually wrote the part of “Kathleen” in Kabluey for her – but then it didn’t work out – which was and is still heartbreaking, even though Conchata Ferrell nailed the part.
DJ: Are you more comfortable when you bring past collaborators along for the ride?
SP: Yes, because when you work with people you’ve worked with before you already have the relationship down pat and you can use a kind of shorthand. Pat knows what I like and just gave it to me without much direction. So much of her dialogue in The Delicious and Kabluey is improvised. She’s just super funny when she talks and I just let her go. And it’s fun to include friends along on the ride. But again, both Pat and Christine continue to be collaborators because they are so talented – not just because they are friends.
DJ: Is improvisation an important facet of your film making?
SP: Yes, improv is a big part of my short films – but oddly there wasn’t too much improv in Kabluey. We just didn’t have time to fool around too much. We had to keep moving and get all our shots. Occasionally Lisa would throw something in but there wasn’t enough time to do more. Which is a bummer. But it does help performers to relax and feel at ease – at least it does if they are improvisers. It gives them freedom to do whatever – to make mistakes – and it’s all OK.
Things are just so much more natural when you improvise. Awkward lines of dialogue can be smoothed out and made more realistic. Also it makes the other actors actually listen because they don’t know what’s coming. That is HUGE.
DJ: You said Anna is also quite a personal film. Would you elaborate on what aspect of the stalker story is personal?
SP: Well I don’t know how to quantify it really. I guess I have felt like an outsider – and that maybe relates to the albino. And I’ve been in bad situations that get CRAZY bad and yet they still endure – and eventually you kind of just make due. And that’s what Anna is about. I once had a therapist ask me if she could see examples of my work and I showed her Anna and she basically exploded. She was like “Oh my god – that film – your issues – your psyche – the knife – the woman – the death threat – merging – your character – your life – I don’t know what to say!” That was interesting.
DJ: Ever tried a Rorschach test?
SP: No but I’d love to. I mean, I would love to see what the results were. I’m looking for an online Rorschach test now…
DJ: Yours may actually be a charming stalker story. What was the intention behind Anna?
SP: In the beginning the film was all about ONE joke. Just ONE SIMPLE joke. A woman comes into a police station and says “I’m being stalked” and the cop says “Yeah yeah lady – every hour some nutty chick is in here crying and claiming she’s being stalked. It’s a very hard thing to prove and there’s lots of paperwork.” And the woman points to the window, and the albino is standing right outside with a knife. And the cop is like “Oh! Oh my. Uh. I guess you ARE being stalked. Ha ha ha – sorry.” We shot this scene – you can see it on my website – and then it got cut from the film! Somehow when I wrote the script for Anna, I wrote that scene and then I just got off on a weird tangent about how they are codependent and dealing with each other 24/7. And THAT became the movie. Which was surprising to me. I didn’t expect that at all – it was just gravy. The movie was SUPPOSED to be about the cop.
DJ: Do projects tend to bloom for you this way, perhaps turning in unexpected directions?
SP: Hmm, I don’t know. I guess all of the short films are little ideas that blossomed into larger ideas. And when I was writing Kabluey a number of things just developed out of nowhere, and turned out to be pleasing and OK. On the other hand, I’ve had a number of “survival jobs” in the past that seemed like good ideas at the time and then turned into nightmares. I am a horrible employee. I do not like doing ridiculous jobs and being told what to do.
DJ: Can you talk about Group Therapy? It struck us as an introduction, of sorts, to Scott Prendergast; a “meet the talent” film. Whether or not that was the intention, each character is quickly fleshed out, despite the fact that none of them have much screen time. But they’re well defined by their flaws or traumas.
SP: That was my first short film. I had written a series of monologues about weird people in weird circumstances. And then this producer Anthony Bregman said to me “We should film it.” We made it in about six hours for about 60 bucks. And we added the line of dialogue “I’m in this group with these people who have problems” to tie the whole thing together – but really it was just supposed to be five weird monologues. The fifth one got cut. It was about a crazy guy who claimed that he was being held hostage by hand puppets.
DJ: Are there pieces of you in any of the characters?
SP: Hmm, sort of? I just REALLY love Catherine – the rat bite victim. SO SAD! My friends call her the “rape victim” (?!) because she has been “violated by a rat,” which was kind of humorous. But I don’t think I’m like her. I’m probably more like the banker. Sullen. Ha.
DJ: Again with the puppets! Is the fifth monologue available for viewing anywhere, and is it connected to the Muppets in some way?
SP: No I don’t think we ever edited or captured that footage… This is the monologue:
Dragon: Ok – this is going to sound really weird I know – but I was held hostage by some puppets. These – puppets – surrounded me…It’s hard to describe what actually happened. But they took me hostage and made me sing on their album, OK? My name is Dragon.
It’s so much shorter than I remembered. Anyway, it never went anywhere. But I was obsessed with puppets for a long time and they found their way into everything I did.
DJ: Can you describe the path that ultimately led from Oregon to LA?
SP: I grew up in Portland, Oregon; went to college in NYC – Columbia University; moved to San Francisco after college for the summer with a group of friends; at end of summer moved to LA to get into Groundlings; one year later I hated LA so much I had to leave; traveled around the country for three years? Doing an improv comedy show with a friend; we went to Santee, South Carolina (two months), New Orleans (six months), Portland (six months), Chicago (one year); then it ended and I went back to LA for more Groundlings; stayed 1.5 years – hated LA again; went back to NYC to do a one man improv comedy show; stayed in NYC for eight years; started making short films – stopped doing improv comedy; started having luck with films – started writing features; moved back to Portland (life fell apart) for about a year; moved to LA when I got a deal to make Kabluey; stayed (five years now) and finally I like it here.
DJ: Success does make LA a bit more palatable…What brought you to Chicago?
SP: I was in Chicago for one year, 1995, working with a friend. We did a comedy improv show at the Organic Theater called Tonight At Six. It was a big hit and we were super well reviewed in the Reader. And it ran for about six months. It was a great year. I loved it. ALTHOUGH it was during the heat wave and 1200 people died and I was almost one of them. I hate humidity!
DJ: How were you involved with Groundlings?
SP: I just took all the classes and performed with the Sunday company (the farm team) for 6 months. But I wasn’t sure that it was for me – I wasn’t sure I wanted what they were offering – so I left. I was never an official Groundling.
DJ: With a feature and several shorts under your belt (shorts under your belt?), what are you working on next?
SP: I’m just writing a few TV pilots here in LA – it’s a great way to make a living – and I really believe in the pilots that I’m writing. I can’t talk about them too much because all of them are in development and you sign this thing saying “I won’t give away the idea!” so blah. But one is sci-fi, one is a detective show, and one is a crime show. And they are all hour long single camera comedies.
DJ: Other features on the horizon?
SP: I’m writing a movie about a year-round Christmas ornament store – for me and Patricia Buckley. It’s about an insignificant man who witnesses a crime but no one believes him. And I’m writing another more serious movie about a woman with a recovered memory of something awful. That’s all I can really say about that at the moment.
DJ: Is the Christmas ornament/crime project influenced in any way by the previously mentioned obsession with Rear Window?
SP: Not really. Well – sort of. Hadn’t thought about that. It’s supposed to be about a guy who is insignificant and he witnesses something and no one believes him. And the world keeps churning despite the crime. No one really cares that there’s been a murder. The whole thing gets wrapped up in bureaucracy. It’s basically inspired by my life and times in Los Angeles.
DJ: Any lessons that Los Angeles has imparted on you professionally, personally?
SP: Hmm – well – LA is a hard weird place because everyone is doing the same thing – and all day long you are running up against friends and contemporaries who are at different places in their careers and it can lead to despair and schadenfreude. I have had a tiny amount of success and it has made my day- to-day life more pleasant. I am not living on a friend’s couch and worrying about the phone bill all day SO THANK GOD FOR THAT. But also LA is kind of like a trap. You aren’t struggling – so you don’t struggle – and so you don’t get as much done. Sometimes I think that being here is counter-productive and that I would be more successful if I was still living in NYC or Portland and trying desperately to get out. But I am earning a living in entertainment and that is always a good thing. LA has definitely taught me that FILM is hard and confusing and TV is like a well oiled machine. Film leads to greater rewards – larger rewards – but TV leads to money – and less despair.
DJ: By the way, what else are you reading and watching these days?
SP: Believe it or not I am reading Wuthering Heights (never read it before) and I am watching all the great films of 1939. Also Dune – the extended cut. And Twin Peaks, the Aliens movies and Jurassic Park 1,2, and 3 (I watch all these regularly).