Matt and Nathan Avant took us on a sci-fi trip through their world of linked conspiracy theories with Lunopolis, a film that we’d rank among the best narrative-driven sci-fi films of the 2000s, and one that made us feel smarter just by watching it. Now they’re back with a new project, and a new conspiracy: we’re all stupid. But there’s no malice meant by this line of thought. In fact, Matt and Nathan hope to heal us through comedy, and an awareness of our own individual and communal flaws.
Blending philosophy and measured doses of horror and tragedy, Supastoopid is a docu-narrative comedy that relies on the visual humor of the YouTube generation and dares to ask: Why do we do stupid things? Why do we react the way we do to them? Why are we always at the mercy of stupid people? Led by two mental healers, Deiter and Bert, Supastoopid will take us on a road trip through the politics, fame, and everyday actions that have set us on a course of stupidity. What began as a film concept has taken shape in the form of a series. Through Kickstarter, Matt and Nathan are hoping to get the pilot for Supastoopid, “Deiter and Bert: Heal thy Dumbness” made and into viewers’ homes.
I had the pleasure of talking with Matt and Nathan, who I believe are true examples of the kind of passionate world-builders that the industry needs more of. They are proof that massive ambition does not have to be matched by a massive budget in order to create something meaningful. In an age of increasingly expensive cinematic universes, these guys are using whatever means are at their disposal to create one of their own, a universe not nearly as expensive but equally expansive. We not only discussed their Kickstarter campaign, but also Lunopolis, low-budget filmmaking, and how technology has impacted our minds and motivations. I encourage you to read the interview below and visit the project’s Kickstarter page, because if we’re smart enough to listen, these guys may just be our saving grace.
Richard Newby (Audiences Everywhere): Everybody loves an origin story, so tell me, how did you guys get into filmmaking?
Matt Avant: We’ve always had a passion for it, even since we were kids. We always did something in the way of recording audio adventures with cassette tapes, drawing comic panels, holding the recorder up to the TV to record sound effects for explosions and whatnot (laughs). It’s always really been a passion. Our parents were both in radio broadcasting and so we got exposed through that and created little promos for them and that was really where we started. And then we kind of just ventured on from there. I got into audio editing and recording and that just kind of melded into video editing and I really found that I liked that a lot. Way back in the day we’d have VCRs set up and we were going tape to tape and just doing it like that. But then as technology advanced, filmmaking just became more fun and more accessible.
Nathan Avant: We like to tell ourselves that if we had YouTube back in 1998 we’d be famous already (laughs).
MA: Exactly! We would have been all over this much earlier if the technology had been there.
AE: One of the things I noticed when I was looking at the IMDb credits for Lunopolis is that you guys did most of the crew work yourselves, which is pretty impressive.
MA: Yeah, that was very much an out of pocket kind of project.
AE: So you guys are pretty well-versed in all the behind the scenes aspects.
MA: Pretty much. We both ended up working locally at television stations here in Louisiana and doing television commercials and promotional materials, and then we got into marketing and creating promos for the station itself.
NA: We’ve been doing that for a little over a decade.
MA: Yeah, and that’s basically been our employment, from writing, editing, and shooting. So we’d do that at work and then come home and continue doing the same thing. We went back in forth working on clients’ stuff and then Lunopolis.
NA: And we did that through making the whole film.
MA: Yeah, that’s what paid for it! (laughs)
AE: I mentioned last year when I reviewed Lunopolis that I really admired how untethered the story was to the budget. It had so much crazy stuff going on. So how did you guys come up with the concept and how were you able to manage the budget while still bringing all of your ideas to the screen?
MA: Well I’d always been fascinated by the whole moon landing conspiracy, scientology, and just things that in general seem like mysterious and ominous. Conspiracies in general, and exploring them, are a very interesting subject to me.
NA: Not me, I believe every word I’m handed (laughs).
MA: The other side of that was me doing a ton of research online and I was watching a lot of things on YouTube, low-budget and no-budget films of people capturing things live, and little confrontations that people were having. And we realized that it was so compelling to see that. We were watching just hours, and hours, and hours, of low-quality, compressed YouTube video and we were like, man we’ve invested so much time in paying attention to this and watching it that it didn’t matter that it wasn’t beautifully shot or that it wasn’t some big cinematic thing. It was just that the subjects were so engaging. And so I started putting together this idea of a big mystery that nobody knows, and connecting all of these different conspiracies together. So the question became: what would be the missing link to tie all of these things together? That’s what started that train of thought for us and then we went down the Church of Lunology path and started talking about people on the moon, and time travel, which has always been a big fascination to us because of Back to the Future, Sliders…
NA: Quantum Leap.
MA: That was all in our wheelhouse of entertainment. So we just expanded on these ideas we were drawn to and said the heck with it, we’ve got the means to do something, yes on the low-end, but we’ve got a really big idea so let’s see if we can bring those two things together.
AE: And after Lunopolis, you guys also worked on a ghost show, right?
MA: Yes. There was a show called Ghostbreakers that a good friend of mine put together. Through Lunopolis we met a lot of people who work out of Dallas, and we met them at a festival we went to one year and just really hit it off, and everybody had a lot in common. So they put that show together and they brought me on as an editor and we did sound mixing, and we brought Nathan in and did sound design for it. It was a speculative series and they’re still kind of working the wheels to see if they can get that out and about. But that was a lot of fun! It was 18 or 20 episodes and that was really our first step up in working with people who did this full-time, and really had a lot of experience and background in it. We learned a lot through that process and were able to partner up with a lot of very talented people including the two guys who are the stars of our Supastoopid project, Adam Dietrich and Matthew Englebert. We met them through the Ghostbreakers project.
AE: Tell me about Supastoopid and how you came upon this idea for a series.
MA: Well, we actually came up with this in much the same way as Lunopolis. Back when we were doing Lunopolis I was watching and paying a lot of attention to conspiracy videos and diving down that rabbit hole of random things you can find on the internet. The more that internet culture became a thing, the more I began to think about its impact. For instance, when email first became a thing, and the major method that everybody used to communicate, I remember thinking ‘wow, this will really improve people’s grammar, and spelling (laughs). This will be a way we can improve, I thought, but it went entirely the other way. And then to go along with that there came YouTube and these fail videos that were hours of people jumping off roofs, and breaking their necks and legs…
NA: People sticking their heads into ceiling fans and falling down elevator shafts. The whole world connected and all we care about is people getting hurt (laughs).
MA: Exactly! And then there were cat videos! It’s amazing. We have access to more knowledge than we’ve ever had in the entire history of the world and we’re using it to do the dumbest things we possibly can. But it’s fun! And I find myself watching these videos again and again, and I’m investing my time into these and realizing its just as stupid for me to watch these as it is for them to do it. And so our YouTube video habits became kind of an experiment. I began digging into it, and found there were actually people who have done studies about this very thing. One of them is a guy named Carlo Cipolla, who back in the 80s actually wrote an essay called “The Basic Laws of Human Stupidity.” In this he outlined how stupid people as a group are more powerful than major organizations like the Mafia, the industrial complex, and political parties because even without leadership or any sort of group manifesto, stupid people manage to operate to great effect and with incredible coordination (laughs). One of the things that really inspired me about that is Cipolla actually outlined 5 basic fundamental laws of stupidity and they all revolve around the fact that stupidity is very dangerous because it has no motive, it’s unpredictable. You can’t predict an action of stupidity the way you can predict an action of malice. There’s no forethought; it just happens.
AE: Did that essay come into play with defining the concept for Supastoopid?
MA: Yeah. I was really moved by the essay and it’s very precise. We pull a lot from this material in doing this project in that this all revolves around what would define somebody as being stupid, and that’s somebody who causes damage to himself or others with no advantage to himself or anyone else. And so the more you think about that and apply these guidelines to what you see, you realize that everything we’re doing sort of falls in line with that. So Supastoopid is fun, it’s kind of scary, it’s sad. There’s really a lot of different emotions you can have depending on how you view stupidity. But it’s so much fun to consider that if we were going to try to heal the world and defeat stupidity, what would be the process? And so that’s how the idea was born.
AE: When you first told me about it, you described it as a ‘21st century zombie apocalypse where stupidity is the disease’ and I thought that was a fantastic way of introducing this concept.
MA: In the overall story, in terms of this world that we’ve built, we examine everyone’s approach to stupidity. So through our two leads, Deiter and Bert, these healing ‘master menticians,’ they bring people into their little clinic but they also go out on the road and sort of explore the different avenues and trains of thought of dealing with stupid. So you’ve got people who are the capitalists who just say ‘hey, let’s make money. Let’s make money off of anybody we can make money off of.’ And then you’ve got the soft-hearted, bleeding heart approach, who say ‘we just need to fix and cure’ and then you’ve got people who are terrified, living in bunkers and heavily armed who are afraid of these people. And then you have people who are complacent and don’t care and don’t want to know anything. So through Deiter and Bert’s eyes, we examine all of these things, including the idea that yes, this is a zombie apocalypse but we’re not aware of it.
NA: We’re surrounded by these people, so this isn’t an apocalypse that we’re waiting on. It’s already in action. We’re already living in it.
MA: Right. And on the surface you don’t really know who these stupid people are until they’ve done something. But you never know when or where that might happen.
AE: That sounds terrifying. Hilarious, but terrifying.
NA: (laughs) It absolutely can be, and we’ll explore some of those roads.
MA: We’d love to make a series out of this. Some of them can be scary, some of them can be funny, some of them can be…crude. There’s so much ground to cover and that’s a big part of the fun of this. We can explore stupidity from every angle.
AE: Are you guys planning on traveling with the series? Taking the characters to different cities?
NA: Absolutely. Yeah!
MA: The overall outline that we have right now is that we have a limited set of episodes, five or six, and Deiter and Bert would talk to the five leading experts in our little world, on the five laws of stupid. So they’ll go to one person who’s an expert on one particular law, and then they’ll go to another person, all the way down the list. One of these experts will focus on the fact that the probability of somebody being stupid is independent of any other characteristic. So somebody can be a brilliant brain surgeon and still walk into traffic looking at his phone. It doesn’t really matter how smart you may be in another way, you may be just as equally stupid in another. Another expert will focus on the fact that we underestimate the number of stupid people in the world, that we’re always surrounded by and always at the mercy of someone stupid. A fantastic pilot who has never crashed a plane is suddenly at the mercy of someone who forgot to fuel her plane up. So that’s another big part of what we want to do with Deiter and Bert on the road is let them explore, and meet, and get out in the world and see it in action.
AE: It’s interesting that you guys are bringing this project to light during an election year where the stupidity is overwhelming right now.
MA: (laughs) The timing couldn’t be more perfect! The funny thing is that it’s felt so comical this time around. And I’m glad you bring that up, because, yes, we definitely want to cover that kind of stuff too. And it’s not so much as picking on one group or the other, the stupidity is everywhere.
NA: There’s a whole blanket of stupidity.
MA: And there’s seemingly no end to it. We have cartoon characters running for the highest office in the world.
NA: We’ve joked about the election being like an American Idol competition in previous years, and now we’re seeing that come to fruition.
MA: We’re almost tuning in to it because of the comedy we expect to get out of it. So that’s another part of Supastoopid too. Stupidity is not just in our little daily lives but it has scope in everything, business and politics. Which, again, can be scary, but that doesn’t mean we always have to treat it as such. We can be very lighthearted about all of this because it’s really kind of comical in the end and that’s really just a fun territory to venture into.
AE: When we talked earlier you mentioned that you were inspired by Idiocracy and Christopher Guest’s films.
MA: Absolutely. There was this meme going around that said Idiocracy is the only movie that started as a film and ended as a documentary (laughs). That was just absolutely brilliant. And a lot of the things we find funny have inspired us on this project. I think Tosh.0 is one of the funniest shows on TV. I love that approach. So we’ve talked about how to describe what the feeling of Supastoodpid is and the best way I could come up with it is if you could imagine a film that was produced by Daniel Tosh, written by Lewis Black, directed by Christopher Guest, and starring Tim and Eric. That’s the best way we could break down what to expect from it.
AE: If this takes off as a show, are you guys planning on doing it weekly?
MA: Right now it’s completely wide open. It started out as a short film and then I expanded it into a full screenplay, and from there we started expanding it even further. It’s gone from being a movie to being a series. The more we delve into it, the more subject matter we come up with.
NA: The best part is that there’s no need to re-create the kind of stupidity we see because it’s coming in in droves!
MA: (laughs) No matter what stupidity we think of to write, the next day we see something in reality that exceeds that.
AE: So are you guys using the actual videos from YouTube or are you remaking them with the cast?
MA: We’re using the actual videos right now because there are some that are really worthy.
NA: And ones that perfectly make the point that we’re trying to get across.
MA: That’s a big part of where it started too. If we were going to teach people, people were going to come to us, and we’re going to examine it, then we would have to show these videos and then break them down, instead of just showing it and moving onto the next thing. We actually want to ask what would have made a person do this.
NA: Look at the glazed look in their eyes.
MA: (laughs) Right. In fact, in one of the trailers we did, there were these two kids who jump off a roof trying to do a wrestling move and one kid has the other upside down. They jump off a second story roof and they hit the ground and they immediately start screaming and writhing in agony, and the kid videotaping them is like ‘uh, what happened?” What happened? There are just some things that absolutely have to be looked at and examined. And then there are little moments that just happen in life where we think, oh that would be a good one. We’re always writing down stuff.
NA: Also, it’s not just the people who are doing the stupid actions that are insane, but the reactions of everyone around them. Especially when there’s zero reaction! There’s one of a guy falling off a skateboard and he’s screaming in terrified horror at all of his buddies who are just sitting emotionless. Even that starts to seem scary. In fact, we were looking at some YouTube videos one day and just laughing and I said ‘wait a minute, let’s try something.’ So I pulled up this scary score and then started watching the video with the music and we were like oh my god, this stuff is so traumatic.
AE: Tell me a little about Deiter and Bert, how they interact with each other and their role in communicating with the audience.
NA: They’re our holistic Abbott and Costello.
MA: They have a pretty funny backstory in that here are two guys who are kind of failing at everything in life and trying to figure out how they can fill their time with something they feel passionate about.
NA: They’re trying to make a difference.
MA: Right. And there’s this funny dynamic between them because you have Deiter whose really believes that they can cure stupidity through their methods, but he’s broke and has no means through which to make this happen. And then you have Bert who is dear friends with Deiter and loves everything he does, and just so happens to have a rich father who finances everything. So they made this perfect pair.
NA: Bert is also the epitome of idiot.
MA: So despite the fact that these two guys are running this stupidity healing clinic, you’ve got one of them dealing with the stupidity of the other and having to live with it because Bert is writing the checks. There’s a whole host of characters who we haven’t even gotten a chance to film or touch on yet, but the key to Deiter, Bert, and all of our characters is that everybody has their own flaw. So no matter what Deiter and Bert’s message is, they and the rest of the characters are ultimately the living embodiment of what they’re claiming to be against. For instance, There’s this guy making YouTube videos about the end of the world and telling us all to stop procreating and to sterilize everyone, yet he has 18 children.
AE: Were these in-depth backstories you developed for the characters something you developed with the actors or something you already had planned?
MA: It was a hybrid of both. That’s the beauty of working with Adam [Dietrich] and Matthew [Englebert]. They’re so professional and they’ve done this for such a long time that they brought a lot to the table.
NA: They already had a great rapport.
MA: Yeah, Adam and Matthew have known each other for many years and they’ve acted together for many years so that was great. When we were working on Lunopolis we were working with non-actors. It was just us and whoever we could scrap together, but this time around we actually have people who are good at this and who are funny. They brought a lot of improvisation to the roles, which helped us and allowed us to be surprised. Even through the editing process we’ve just been laughing hysterically, so much so that we’ve had to edit out our laughter behind the scenes.
AE: Tell me about how you decided to do this through a Kickstarter campaign.
MA: We’ve never done a Kickstarter before. I never like to let anyone know that we’re working on something until we feel like we’re working on something that has legs and gets a good response. We did little trailers and ads we showed to people first in order to get some feedback. And we got a lot of really great responses to those, and it was something that everybody could relate to. And that was different from Lunopolis where you really had to target a certain audience of people who were really interested in that topic. This is something that’s a lot broader and so as we started engaging people in conversations about this project they began contributing ideas of things we could do with it. Adam Dietrich, who’s our partner on this, was utterly instrumental in helping us get this Kickstarter campaign together. He said that he thought this one had legs enough to get some crowdsourced funding so that’s what we did. I’m still figuring it out day by day, and what steps we need to take to get more awareness for it. That’s really where we’re at right now, just trying to get enough interest and enthusiasm behind it so we can really move forward with it. We’ve got a lot of help from people in other ways too. People are donating their time and their locations, and we’ve gotten interest from certain film festivals who have looked at our early cut and said we love it, we want to screen it immediately. It’s already starting to make waves and we just want to keep that going.
AE: If the Kickstarter campaign is successful, what are your plans to get this to series?
MA: If we can get the funding, our next goal is to make the pilot. I’ve already gotten the new script outlined for what would be the first episode. And while that makes the rounds, we’ll see if we can get this picked up for a full series and make something even better happen.
AE: There seems to be a thread of optimism in this concept. Do you think people will be able to course correct from the path of stupidity?
NA: One can only hope.
MA: I do. I don’t think it’s ever too late to turn it all around. When you pull back the veil on everything you absolutely realize there are still good, intelligent people in this world. And there has to be because I’m surrounded by technology that I have no idea how to work or build. We’re Skype interviewing right now and I have no idea how all of this works (laughs). I drive a car but I have no idea how the engine works. Does that make me stupid because I can’t fix my own engine? Maybe. But there are people who can do it for me and that gives me hope (laughs).
AE: I think people are pretty willing to recognize the stupidity in others. Do you think we’re reaching a point where people can start recognizing the stupidity in themselves?
MA: Absolutely, but it’s easy for us to look at YouTube videos of people doing something stupid and say ‘huh, wow, what an idiot” but those of us who are older and were around before YouTube know that this behavior has always been here.
NA: We’ve been able to look back on the fashion of the 80s and say ‘oh wow, what the fuck were we thinking?” So maybe it’ll be the same way with our stupidity one day (laughs).
MA: One day we’ll be able to say, ‘hey remember when people were flail arming their way through life and planking? Now we’re all scientists and super smart, and cracked the human genome code!’
NA: One day they’re going to have so many master dentists, and physicians, and lawyers that we’ll ask ‘does anyone just want to be an artist again?’
MA: Or a DJ?
NA: Oh god, we ran out of DJs! (laughs)
AE: Do you think fame plays a part in people’s stupidity? People wanting to be noticed however they can be?
NA: Sure. And you can get that fame now because it’s so readily accessible and so random. You never know what could suddenly become viral overnight.
MA: And that’s something we focus on in ‘Deiter and Bert’ too. Some of these stupid videos are intentional and some of them are not. And the ones that are intentional are clearly people hoping to get eyeballs on them. But there’s an audience for it. So on one hand it’s not really stupid that they do it because they end up with 44 million subscribers or whatever. But some people are more willing to put themselves in harm’s way. There’s a hunger for that 15 minutes of fame that supposedly everybody gets. Which I think is something we can all relate to. I was thinking about this the other day, but the only reason karaoke exists is because people who aren’t singers, and can’t sing, want the feeling of singing in front of a crowd. So we’ve created this method through which they can do that. I think everything kind of works that way because everybody wants to get a little taste of something they’d like to do or living the kind of life they’d like to live, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to get there.
NA: For our benefit!
MA: Right. We’ll help them get that fame (laughs).
AE: You guys’ career so far has been defined by the low-budget, docu-narrative approach. With the popularity of that style, and found footage, and YouTube videos, do you think we’ll see a shift away from traditional filmmaking in the future?
MA: No, I don’t think that. As much as I love the docu-narrative style, and found footage, I still love traditional narrative films. I consume all of them. I still love a big, explosive Avengers or Batman movie. I still love theater movies and I love going to the theater. I don’t find myself going to the theater to see found-footage movies, but I love to go and have my senses overloaded by theatrical films.
NA: It’s all about the experience.
MA: And I think we’ll always have that experience. Docu-narrative and found-footage films aren’t replacing anything, but are just an additional way to tell a story that doesn’t have to have a $10 or $100 million budget associated with it.
NA: We were talking the other day about the influx of people having greater access to create and see these types of effects-driven films, and if the market becomes so saturated with them, then storylines and well-written plot lines are going to become more important.
MA: Right, and those can be two separate things as well. I don’t go to see a Batman movie because I’m really hoping to be moved, so much as I just want to see and feel an impactful visual experience. But I still love a movie that really wraps me into it and makes me forget that I’m looking at a movie. I always cite The Shawshank Redemption as one of the first movies I saw where there were no special effects, no CGI, and just a really engaging story told in such a way that I was sucked into it. So those kinds of things always make an impact on my ability to tell a story. Especially because I don’t read books as often as I should.
NA: Read? Who reads? I only look at things. (laughs)
MA: But I’ve always been very impressed by a story that absolutely grabs me. And that’s what motivates me as a filmmaker. Not only are we trying to make a project, but we want it to be something that catches people’s attention, despite the fact that we’re using a medium that everyone else has access to and we’re doing it in a way that anyone else can do. So we ask ourselves, what’s our flare? What’s our unique twist on this that can make this a worthwhile experience? I felt we did that with Lunopolis by considering how to make these concepts and story ideas work within the limits of our budget while still being engaging. And I think that’s something that we’ve done a lot with ‘Deiter and Bert’, and that’s something we hope to do more of in the future. We want people to be able to look at our work and go ‘That’s a Matt and Nathan film.’
NA: Whether good or bad, whether they hate it or love it. Even if it’s ‘oh god, that’s a Matt and Nathan film.’ We’ll take either one. (laughs)
MA: That’s all part of the fun!
AE: Are you guys interested in moving into big-budget films eventually?
NA: Yeah! Definitely.
MA: Like anybody else, we’re just working our way through it. We’re doing what we gotta do, the way we gotta do it. I would absolutely never turn away hundreds of millions of dollars to make a movie.
AE: When I reviewed Lunopolis I joked that you guys would be great for National Treasure 3.
NA: With Nicholas Cage? Absolutely!
AE: In all seriousness, I think that kind of storytelling approach you guys have and your penchant for expansive world building would be amazing to see in a big-budget film.
MA: Well in fact, and this is further down the road, we’ve been working on something that’s closer to the Lunopolis world. We spent a couple months developing this whole new line of thought within the genre. So I’ve got this massive sci-fi film, that’s ten times bigger than Lunopolis that I would love to do! That’s the one I’m holding onto if we ever get a chance to work with a big budget.
AE: Before we wrap up, do you guys have any advice for people looking to get into filmmaking who might be intimidated by budget concerns?
NA: It doesn’t cost a single cent to come up with a story idea. All you need is your mind and something to write it down with.
MA: Just doing it is the thing. I know that seems like the Shia LaBeouf ‘JUST DO IT!’ kind of thing, but it’s true (laughs). For all the naysayers and all the people who said we’d never get money to make Lunopolis or anything else, we just said that we could do it. There’s nothing stopping us. You’re always going to have people who try to tell you can’t do you something. And you’re always going to get three reactions: like, dislike, or indifference. So don’t do something for what you hope people will say, or how they’ll react or feel about it. Do it because you want to and because you’ve got it within you to do it. So many people just don’t take that first step. It’s not a matter of ‘how do I make a movie if I have a million dollars?’, it’s ‘how do I make a movie with my iPhone and my laptop?’ It’s the old phrase, ‘do what you can with what you have and where you are,’ and that’s it. Lunopolis was several years ago but we still get emails, we still get people that go ‘oh wow, that blew my mind.’ And that’s fun! Because even though we really didn’t have any justifiable reason to do it, and we didn’t have anyone opening any doors to say ‘come on in,’ we went ahead and elbowed our way in.
NA: And we still got to plug away at our regular jobs even after we made the movie (laughs).
MA: No, there wasn’t any sudden overnight success associated with it. But we got the satisfaction of knowing that we finished it. That’s a huge thing for us!
AE: Do you guys have anything else you want to say about the Supastoopid project, ‘Deiter and Bert: Heal thy Dumbness‘?
MA: If you have any interest at all in helping to contribute to this project, and seeing this come to light, and enjoying the future antics of Deiter and Bert, then by all means follow the Kickstarter campaign! Even if you just pitch in seven bucks it could really help.
NA: That’s just the price of a movie ticket. Actually, it’s probably cheaper than a movie ticket.
MA: And if you pitch in you’ll get a special, personalized message from Deiter and Bert and possibly a reading.
NA: We’re going to spend the next six months just writing personal messages.
MA: We’re just raising money to write personal messages! (laughs)
Featured Image: Media Savant, http://www.mediasavantbrothers.com/