June 9, 2023
A BITESIZE CHAT WITH
The directing duo of Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels (Swiss Army Man), take a moment to chat with us about their upcoming film Everything Everywhere All at Once.
BB: I've got to start off with a question about the [in-movie] universes because there were so many incredible ones and they just all blew us away. Were there any universes that you guys designed and came up with that you weren’t able to include?
DS: Yeah, just like 40 or 50.
DK: *laughs* Every day, we’d come up with a new idea that would not fit. But the one that we actually put in the script from day one... then shot during the pandemic and put in the edit, and it was one of the last things we cut out of the film because our movie was already too long, was the universe called “Spaghetti Baby Noodle Boy.” Michelle Yeoh becomes a long spaghetti in a pot of other spaghettis, and there’s a little macaroni boy who’s like an orphan elbow macaroni. His name is Spaghetti Baby Noodle Boy, and he’s having, like, a crisis of identity because no one else has a hole like he does. So he’s wondering why God would make him with a hole when everyone else is normal. And the premise of that world is that there is a ritual, every now and then, where a spoon comes down and scoops one of the spaghettis out, and they call it “Throwing Day” because it’s the day where one of the chosen spaghetti gets thrown against the wall. If they stick, they become an adult and it’s like a ritual of passage to adulthood. So that got cut. It was going to be voiced by Jenny Slate and it was very stupid.
BB: That's amazing. Even though it’s early in the year, this film is already receiving Oscar buzz, both as a film and for Michelle Yeoh's performance. Is that something that, when you guys saw the finished product, you saw as a possibility? Or did it completely catch you off guard?
DS: Yeah, we wrote this with the Oscars in mind. We, like, hired a data scientist to analyze what gets nominations and we wrote this... *laughs* Sarcasm is good in interviews, right?
DK: The funny thing about this movie is we… with our music videos and stuff like that, we’re used to getting nominated for things, but we rarely win. I think people can appreciate our zeal for overambitious projects, but most people don’t want to award us for it. So, yeah, I never expected any of this. I will say our personal assistant, when he first read the script, he came up to me later and was like, "I think this is going to get nominated for Original Screenplay,” and I was like...
DS: We were like, “Shut up. You're fired.” *laughs*
DK: Exactly. But, also, he’s GenZ. He's younger. And, of course, the script spoke to him. So, I was like, "you’ll say that, but the Oscar voters are like three times your age." It’s ok. We didn’t do this for that. That all being said, if Michelle Yeoh can win something off of this movie, I will be so proud to be a part of that legacy and be the directors to finally push her into that place where she’s kind of deserved to be for so long. Fingers crossed. We’ll see if people remember this movie...
DS: I just want her to do more movies that show everything she’s capable of. And, yeah, awards make me uncomfortable. It is not at all something we aspired to do or expected. The only award I want is auditor of the month. *laughs*
BB: Leaving the screening, one moment of the movie that definitely stood out to me - and one of the first things that popped in my head - was the cojones of you guys putting one of the most pivotal scenes set between two rocks in a barren desert. And that reminded me of Swiss Army Man when Hank [Paul Dano] gets over his repression and his self loathing by farting in public. I just want to applaud you for finding that edge between brilliance and insanity... How do you find that edge? And how do you know how far is too far?
DS: There's a Kurt Vonnegut quote where he’s like, "out on the edge, there’s so much more you can see. You just gotta be careful not to go over." I think it’s somewhat organic to our process and to our taste that we’re somewhat cynical guys, but we’re deeply romantic deep down. We want to feel feelings, and it takes smushing things together and saying a sincere thing in absurd circumstances to get past our defences, you know? We’re kind of just writing in a way to try to get past our own defences in the hopes that other people out there, who maybe have seen a few too many movies might… like multiple people have said, “this movie made me cry and I thought I was dead inside.” *laughs* I think that’s the sweetest compliment, and I think there’s something about absurdity that sneaks past people’s defences. It's definitely about more than just the laugh of it, you know?
DK: There are two of us, so there’s a tension there, a creative tension, so that we make sure we don’t go off the edge. You know, if someone is in love with an idea and it’s going too far, the other person will pull it back. Then, the last thing is, you know, we always want to make our moms proud, so, as wild as our movies are, we always go "ok, the litmus test is ‘would we be able to show this to our parents?’"
DS: And we welcome reactions and criticism. We’re not just in a bubble as we write or make the movie, and that helps too, to kind of be like, "ohh…that was too far. Let’s cut that." There used to be more dildos [in Everything Everywhere All at Once]. *laughs* We were like, “oh, we don’t have to rub it in their face. We'll do less.”
BB: I enjoyed the trend of the googly eyes throughout the film. Was that always gonna play a major factor or did the concept of using the googly eye evolve over the course of the film?
DS: It evolved. We kind of discovered it as we were discovering the character of Waymond [Ke Huy Quan], trying to find a visual language for kindness, and there was something about how dismissive, like dismissible, a googly eye is. And the idea of trying to reclaim that and make it pivotal just made us laugh. But, also, it felt truthful. You know, there’s something powerful about trying to put a little joy into life, and that’s what it kind of came to represent. But we also have a soft spot for things that look stupid.
DK: Yeah, so, Michelle Yeoh, with a googly eye on her forehead, fighting through bad guys with kindness was just such an absurd image and umm… Yeah, the moment when we realized “oh, the bullet hits her head, she pulls off the bullet, turns it into a googly eye, puts it back on her head,” we were like “ah, there we go. Third eye.” It’s this moment where the kindness and the silliness is the enlightenment. It’s not enlightened in spite of the silliness. Silliness is at the centre of that moment of understanding. It’s always fun to just shake a bunch of stuff together in a box and see what sticks together, and the googly eyes were one of the materials we threw in that box. It took awhile before we were able to see the full arc.
BB: I saw that you guys mentioned that this character was written around Michelle Yeoh. Are there any other actors that you have specific stories that you’re waiting to tell?
DS: So we can put it out in the ether?
DK: Trying to get a scoop! There is a movie that we’re working on that may or may not star Rowan Atkinson. [We’ve] been a big fan forever. We’ll see if that happens.
DS: That’s another one where, like, that’s who we picture in our heads.
DK: We’re doing something that, technically, we don’t have rights to. We’ve already tried to pitch it to the studio twice and they’ve rejected us twice, but we’re still holding on to it. It would star Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey. We’ll see if the universe will let us do that again.
DS: Another scoop we could give you… With this one, writing it for Michelle, it just ended up working, you know? Like, she was perfect for it in ways we couldn’t even imagine and it happened. And then, other times, you write with someone in mind and it ends up not being the right person. When we started writing Swiss Army Man, we had just done a Tenacious D video, and we were envisioning Jack Black in the part. So we started writing this sort of musical set in the forest, and we’re like, “we know Jack Black now. What if he’s in it?” But as we went on, we were like, “oh, this is a story about a young man, a lonely young man.” It was really hard to admit…”oh, this part is not for Jack Black anymore.” One day, I wanna do a feature film with Jack Black, but I don’t know what it is yet.
BB: Awesome. So your experience with music videos… one thing that I’ve noticed about music videos and dance sequences compared to fighting sequences is that they’re both used to inform the story. The fighting sequences you directed in [Everything Everywhere All at Once] were absolutely brilliant. They looked absolutely gorgeous, and shout out to Andy [Le] and Brian [Le]. [The fight scenes were] one of the funniest things I’ve seen. What techniques or lessons that you’ve learned from your music video experience were you able to apply to the fight sequences?
DS: A lot. I do think that we’re just… physical comedy and physicality is a common language that we share. It’s why music videos became such a good launching pad for us because, sometimes, we just communicate with sound effects and dance moves more than big vocabulary words. We’ve kind of learned a visual language and a physical language over the years, whether it’s a fight scene or a dance number or just an action set piece where no one is fighting. We collected every tool that we learned, every little trick we used again [for] this movie. It was such a great bed of resources because we were trying to pull off an action movie for like a tenth of the budget of blockbusters. We wanted to embrace that and keep it scrappy because, sometimes, scrappy movies are my favorite anyway. I think that’s one lesson we learned. You know, whether it was dance or fighting over the years, it was like, “huh, sometimes more people with guns makes for a boring movie.” Sometimes, keeping it small is more interesting. One dancer can be more riveting than 30 if it’s earned, you know? But, oh my God, our coordinators, Tim Eulich and the Le brothers, Andy and Brian, just elevated it, and we were so grateful. They made us look very good.
Make sure to check out Everything Everywhere All At Once now in theatres.
Interview conducted on April 4th, 2022 by Nick van Dinther.
Photo Credits: Banner - Jeff Vespa/WireImage; Photo 1 - Rich Fury/Getty; Photo 2 - A24