A Walk in the Woods… With Flula – Alex Simmons (The VH Interview)

In the touching new comedy drama Buddymoon, struggling actor and jilted groom David (David Giuntoli) is dragged on his honeymoon by his excitable German best man for a week in the Oregon wilderness. What transpires is an unforgettable journey made truly bizarre by the inimitable musings of everyone’s favourite German YouTuber, Flula.

We were lucky enough to catch up with director Alex Simmons to chat about the making of this truly unique film…

How are you feeling now the film is finally finished?

Having a movie be released internationally is amazing, and more than we really ever expected, but with that came some tasks that we didn’t know would come along with it. Like today I’m just finishing up this specific sound mix we have to do, that is the whole movie with every sound perfectly in it, but without dialogue. So then in Latin America, they can add in Spanish speakers instead, so anytime Flula says something and then steps on a twig, that twig has to be recreated with sound effects and stuff. So things like that… You think the movie’s over, but then it just keeps going forever! It’s funny though; they dubbed Pitch Perfect 2 in German, but they didn’t use Flula’s voice. So all the German fans were so confused and Flula was like “I would have happily done that for free!” but no-one asked him!

How have fans reacted to seeing Flula in a somewhat more serious film?

That was something we were kinda worried about… It’s funny. I think people who have never seen him before, when they’ve watched the movie, they had no idea that this force of nature was coming. Pleasantly surprised by how unique and singular this person is, y’know? But then, people who are diehard fans, I think mainly they’re just happy to see more of him. In the movie, we knew that we couldn’t just have him being over the top and turned up to 100% all the time, because that just wouldn’t be realistic and you wouldn’t be able to relate to the characters as real people. And he is a great actor! He can actually play a human with emotions, and we were excited for people to see that side of him.

How did the three of you first meet?

Well, we all moved to L.A. around the same time, and by coincidence and chance, we ended up living in the same house in this neighbourhood called Silverlake. It was the best lucky thing that’s happened to me, to get to meet two life-long friends just by pure chance like that. We started making little videos for YouTube and stuff, but we always said we’d love to make a movie someday, but then life kind of got in the way of that ever happening. Dave booked a TV show which means he lives in Portland full time. I started doing more documentaries and more kind of serious work, and Flula has been doing everything under the sun, so we all just got so busy. On top of that, movies are still kind of something “other people” do; people with film degrees or whatever… it felt kind of foreign to us, even though we’re doing basically the same thing. So it took a while for us to come back to the idea of “let’s make a movie”. I think it was two summers ago that we realized we had a two week window to make it with everybody’s schedules, and if we didn’t do it now, it was never going to happen. This was our one chance, so we were delusional enough to try, and yeah, it actually worked out…

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Looking through your career so far, you’ve done some pretty heavy and hard-hitting work. What inspired Buddymoon to come out of that?

I think it’s not a coincidence. Firstly, I love all kinds of things, and I think that for really funny movies to exist, there have to be very serious documentaries in the world. You need the yin and the yang to really appreciate both. I have to do both. If I do too much of the serious, it starts to get really heavy and wear me down, but if I did only comedies, over time I would probably start to feel like I wasn’t contributing enough to the advancement of the world! (laughs) I’ve always liked having a toe in both worlds, and it’s nice having a group of friends who produce very serious investigative documentaries, but then I also have friends who do comedies and more fiction stuff, and I feel very lucky to be able to get to do both.

Do you find one easier than the other?

I think switching from documentaries the last couple of years to doing fiction, there were some things that were, in my mind, much easier. So much is controlled, whereas with a documentary, you’re constantly wishing you could control the situation a little more, but you can’t and that’s the nature of documentary; you have to observe and try and set yourself up for success, but when it starts going, you just have to follow along. With a film though, you can tell the subject what to say, or make sure that we have the camera in the right place when things actually happen. It seems like obvious things for someone who’s done a lot of fiction stuff, but coming from a documentary world, it felt like I suddenly had all this control that I had never really been able to have before. They’re both hard in different ways, but both really fun in different ways too. One of the best things about this particular process was realizing that a lot of the things that I’ve learned as a documentary maker really transfer into fiction. Maybe it seems obvious in retrospect, but it was definitely a big epiphany for me. Storytelling over the course of an hour and a half, documentary or fiction, you keep having to find ways to keep the audience engaged, and to surprise them. From a technical level too, it’s not a coincidence that it kind of looks a little bit “realistic” at times, because I used the same crew that I always work with on documentaries. The aerial cinematography that we did is from a drone pilot that I’ve worked with on documentaries in Mexico, filming freight trains filled with immigrants trying to make it to America, so he really knew what to do with these landscapes.

So with you guys being such close friends, how much of the film was scripted, and how much was improvised?

We had about two months to come up with everything. We didn’t have a script, we didn’t really even have a storyline. The only thing that we really had going for us going into the shoot were these characters, who were kind of amped up versions of David and Flula’s real selves. So we knew this dynamic could work, of the straight man and the very crazy man, which is classic. Over the course of a couple of months, we wrote an outline, with a pretty detailed storyline, and we stuck to that pretty well. As far as the script goes though, I would typically just write out the scene the night before, I’d hand it to the guys, and they’d look at it and get the basics of it, but then they would kind of improvise. So I think the final movie ends up being about fifty percent improvised and fifty percent what was written. The best moment of the movie for me is the best man speech that Flula gives by the campfire. If you watch the scene, he has cue cards that the character has written, but he wrote that speech the night before on those same cue cards and then he was just reading them off in the scene, which is how it would happen when you gave an actual best man speech y’know?

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How much of the hike did you actually cover during the project?

Well we didn’t really go out and hike for seven days! But we should’ve… That would be a better story… We created our own geography a bit. We did hike to some of the locations, and there were some days where we would hike five miles with our very tiny crew carrying all of the equipment. David and Flula had their backpacks full of stuff. Because of that, we were able to get some shots of waterfalls, or mountains… things that you wouldn’t ordinarily be able to capture. That was the benefit of having such a small crew. The benefit of not having enough money to have a bigger crew is that we had people willing to hike in carrying heavy equipment. It was all a big adventure!

Do you think that you would survive a cross country trek with Flula?

We’ve gone camping before quite a few times actually, so yeah! I would love to do that actual seven days with both those guys. It’d be a tremendous amount of fun and Flula is good in the woods. He spent a lot of time growing up in Germany going camping, so he’s savvy in the wilderness. He’d be a good wilderness guy for any trip for sure!

Buddymoon is out in cinemas and On Demand from 1st July.