Cream City Cinema: Andrew Swant & Bobby Ciraldo

posted by MKE Film on November 21, 2013

63 million people have seen the work of Milwaukee filmmakers Bobby Ciraldo and Andrew Swant. Most famous for their Samwell music video “What What (In the Butt),” Bobby and Andrew are also the co-directors of the feature documentary WILLIAM SHATNER’S GONZO BALLET (MFF 2009) which revolves around a Milwaukee Ballet performance. And up next is the 10-years-in-the-works HAMLET A.D.D., slated for a February 2014 premiere at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles.

In order to finish HAMLET A.D.D., Bobby and Andrew are running a Kickstarter campaign to raise $12,000 needed to finish post-production. (There’s just under a week and a few thousand dollars left on the campaign.)

I sat down with both of them last week at their studio in the Fortress building to learn about HAMLET ADD, discuss YouTube fame, and hear their perspectives on how Milwaukee could best support its filmmaking community.

How did you both meet?

Bobby Ciraldo: On the set of ZeroTVdotcom. Andrew came in right at the end, on the last day of the show. We didn’t know it was last day at the time.

What is ZeroTVdotcom?

BC: Before there was YouTube and Myspace, it was an attempt to create online video for people. It offered one new piece of media a day. It was funded by Chris Smith, and many others were involved including Scott Reeder. Chris brought in friends from Michigan and then Pumpkin World (Xav and Didier Leplae) got involved. The humor was really similar to what you see on YouTube today– quirky, a little edgy, kind of makes you a little uncomfortable.

Andrew Swant: Kind of culty. I was living in Chicago when I was introduced to it, and it was why I wanted to move to Milwaukee… to work with all these weirdos. Then I moved here and finally got my foot in the door as it was ending.

Can you still see ZeroTVdotcom today?

On a You Tube channel.

Bobby, were you in Milwaukee prior to ZeroTVdotcom?

BC: No, I moved here because of it.

And why are you both still here?

AS: (laughs) I love Milwaukee. I’ve had many opportunities to move over the years. It’s Cheap. It’s Easy. There are always fun things to do.

And Bobby, why are you still in Milwaukee?

BC: Umm. Hmm. I don’t know.

That’s perfect.

BC: It’s not really because of Milwaukee, but because of certain parts of Milwaukee. Like the Fortress. I feel like the Fortress has kept me here, but I don’t know if the Fortress is really Milwaukee.

AS: The creative community.

BC: Yeah, community. I don’t know why Andrew is speaking for me.

Tell me about the Fortress Building.

BC: There’s a lot of Freedom in the Fortress. Freedom and space. It’s really cheap and the management is hands off as far as what you do in the space. I am sure this type of space exists in other cities. Then again, there is something about the people of Milwaukee, too. The random people on the street. I grew to like their demeanor. When I go away, I can tell I am not around those people anymore. It’s weird to want to get back to that, because they’re not the happiest people in the world, but they’re really nice. Just grumpy about all the right things.

AS: They seem real. Realer than other cities.

BC: A certain je ne sais quoi.

AS: For me, I wasn’t kidding around: it’s onne of the main reasons I’ve stayed is the creative community here. Everybody is willing to help everyone out. We have had trouble getting After Effects people, but outside of that, we have always been able to find help.

So, why Hamlet?

BC: Hamlet is the best play ever written. We heard.

AC: Possibly the best narrative of all time.

Why not tackle that.

BC: Get that one out of the way.

AC: Can’t go wrong. Uncontested. Tried and true.

BC: We wanted to do something long form. There was no YouTube at the time we started. ZeroTVdotcom fizzled out because no one had fast Internet at the time. We wanted to let go of short film ideas and work on something longer, something that could go to film festivals and have some kind of a life.

Why 10 years in the making?

BC: I have always loved the number 10.

AS: We were working really hard on just Hamlet ADD for the first few years, but then other projects came up that we couldn’t pass on because they were too interesting or there was money involved. Then, a couple years ago, we just decided we have to swear off all these other projects. Even if it means we’ll be broke, we have to work on and finish Hamlet A.D.D.

BC: I think that there’s something also going on, where it’s sort of, “lets shoot a feature film entirely on green screen. We’ll shoot everyone one at a time and all on different sets and in different time periods.” You go through and shoot it all and that’s difficult itself, but then you’re sitting on so many hours of footage and you know you have to do all the sets, the cartoon background (which is a huge undertaking and we did not know how to go about it), the post production so overwhelming. It seemed impossible, like, “what have we done?!?”

AS: I think we shot 125 hours.

Technology changes a lot over the course of a decade. How has that influenced the final film?

BC: Luckily, quality entertainment never changes.

I think we can end the interview now.

BC: I think the main change was from standard definition video to HD. It was a frightening change. We were worried the whole movie would seem obsolete. But, um, we figured out a cool way to take raw footage and up-res it prior to post-production, so the final project will be HD. You can’t really tell the original footage wasn’t HD, because of the number of filters.

How did the premiere at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles come about for Hamlet ADD?

AS: A curator friend in L.A. mentioned stuff to the curator at the MOCA channel on YouTube. They’ve been soliciting work from artists to put on YouTube. We’re showing the film in L.A. at their theatre, but will still have something on their YouTube channel, too.

When will Milwaukeeans be able to see it?

AS: Sometime in the Spring of 2014 at the Oriental Theatre.

You are a big Star Trek fan, right Andrew? I heard you once got to hang out in William Shatner’s bathroom. Is that true?

AS: Yeah. I took a leak in his toilet and took a picture of it. We also watched Monday Night Football at his house.

Any thoughts on having 63 million people see your work?

BC: I never think about it actually.

That is just a massive audience engaged with your work.

BC: I imagine it’s just a small handful of people who watch it over and over again. For the number to be that big though? How?!?

AS: People are still showing it to each other.

BC: When you read the comments you can tell it’s still people coming across it for the first time, whether outraged or thrilled.

AS: It is strange how consistent it is. Ten to twelve thousand views a day for the last few years.

That is insane. You must be loaded, no?

AS: Ha. It almost pays our Internet bill. That’s it.

Any advice to filmmakers starting out today?

BC: Get good microphones.

AS: Don’t give up. A lot of people have good ideas but they don’t follow through with them.

BC: Make funnier stuff. There’s so much serious stuff out there.

Any more music videos in the works?

AS: We’re not opposed to it, but there are no specific plans. We want to do What What in the Butt: The Movie. Not a music video. A movie. We have a treatment for it. Oh, and we do have Pilgrims Pianist.

BC: Pilgrims Pianists.

AS: Pilgrims Pianists. It’s probably going to be our next project.

BC: It’s a remake of a Bill Rebane movie that we bought the rights to. Bill Rebane is a Wisconsin Filmmaker.

His film The Giant Spider Invasion showed at the Milwaukee Film Festival in 2012.

BC: He made this movie we bought the rights for called the Demons of Ludlow. It’s about this town that inherits this haunted organ.

AS: Haunted piano. It came over here on the Mayflower or some pilgrim ship.

It’s based on a true story?

BC: Yeah, it’s a true story about the movie.

AS: It’s a really special movie.

BC: There are pilgrim zombies in it. Demons.

AS: Ghosts.

BC: Since Hamlet ADD took so long we wanted to work on a film we could do super fast.

What is the number one thing that Milwaukee Film or the city could do to support filmmakers or artists in this community?

AS: We need money. It is the hardest thing to come by.

BC: Along with that we need more people like you and Jack Turner. Kind of like go-betweens.

Producers.

BC: People between the filmmakers and executive producers. There is a huge language and cultural divide between those groups. There is that middle layer that could really make things happen. It is also really cool that the festival gives out these filmmaking package awards. I just wish there were more of those going on.

AS: It’s really hard. There is enough talent in this town. It’s tricky when you’re making weird stuff, you’re not very social, you have no connection to the money people. It’s almost hopeless sometimes. Our work gets good reviews and mentions, but we are not able to raise a budget.

BC: I’ve only been to a few meetings about this subject. I think that there is confusion between helping local filmmakers and building a film industry. I feel like they’re combined a lot of the times, but I think they’re totally different. Some people want to create the industry to bring film projects here and there is also talk of the local film scene and filmmakers that exist here. There is nothing wrong with boosting an industry sector, but it has nothing to do with the culture of Milwaukee. I have always thought about if the people with money had any idea how cheaply these scummy filmmaker artists live, I mean why don’t we set up some fund to pay their salaries, like a $1,000 a month. A lot of filmmaker artists would love that. They would be super happy to scrape by. If people are interested in boosting the culture of this town, just start throwing money at the artists.

If I could only watch one YouTube channel or follow one artist on YouTube who would it be?

AS: We actually don’t watch as much as we used to. We’re kind of out of the loop. The most famous people now are the ones sitting and talking into their webcams: rantings, product reviews, tutorials. There’s not as much creative content as there used to be.

Is there another vehicle for it?

BC: Animated GIFS. I like watching them more than YouTube videos these days.

Why?

AS: They’re three seconds long.