MaJaMa (Directors, Bad CGI Sharks)
Matteo Molinari and Jason and Matthew Ellsworth, the directors and stars of Bad CGI Sharks collaborated on this interview. Jason was kind enough to combine their answers from conversations about our questions.
The Horror Revolution: First off, what’s your favorite horror movie? What movie scared you the most?
MaJaMa: I think Matthew and I may have the same favorite horror movie, which is Return of the Living Dead. It’s just so perfect, fun, utterly rewatchable, and basically everything you’d want in a horror movie. Also, the opening theme is humanity’s crowning achievement. For Matteo, it’s either Jaws or Paranormal Activity, both because of the philosophy that it’s what you don’t see that scares you the most. As far as the movie that scared us the most, for Matthew Paranormal Activity, as we all viewed it for the first time with a respectful crowd that was there to watch a movie which made the film incredibly effective in its creepiness. I’d have to say Open Water, as the scene where they’re stranded in the ocean during a thunderstorm and feeling big sharks glide by their legs truly seems like a vision of hell on Earth for me. Matteo took a different approach and chose Stan and Ollie, the recent biopic of Laurel and Hardy, as it showed him a vision of two men who were very good at something and felt they couldn’t do it anymore. For the artist, irrelevancy is the true boogie man. Or maybe customer service jobs.
THR: So Bad CGI Sharks? What the fuck? How did you even get the idea for such a batshit crazy movie?
MJM: We’d lived the cliche of trying to be unknown screenwriters and sell a script for a chunk of years, the low point of which was The Asylum rejecting a script of ours for lacking character development, which is kind of like John Wayne Gacy telling you you’d probably suck at babysitting. Eventually we decided to do it ourselves, no matter how horrifically low budget the result might be. At that time, we seemed to be watching a lot of sharksploitation with our high hopes for trashy fun being dashed when the movies were inevitably boring. We wanted to make a shark movie where the parts in between the kills could actually be funny. I still have a clear memory of standing next to Matteo at his desk when he said, ‘Yeah, we could call it Bad CGI Sharks,’ a throwaway joke that stuck. There were two other versions of the script before the one we shot, both brought down by incessant ‘we know we’re in a movie’ jokes combined with the lack of a real story. It was Matthew who pushed for a tight script, understanding that, at this level, it was the one thing we could control the most.
In one of the most serendipitous events of our entire existence, before the script was finished Matteo had an old friend visit from Italy who brought along a friend. On literally the last day they were here, Matteo asked what they were up to, receiving the astonishing answer that they were looking for a script to film in America that could showcase their talents. Peanut butter, meet jelly. Timing is everything, kids.
Enter Alessandro Arcidiacono for all things visual and Emilio Pozzolini for all things audio. With their tickets for a second trip to America booked, it lit a fire under our asses, knowing we’d have to film SOMETHING. Matthew and I had been wanting to make brother characters for years, and decided this was the perfect chance. As Matteo is twenty years older than us with an affinity for classic comedy, we had a vision of a Marx Brothers-like character dripping down onto a more modern, Apatow-esque comedy, and Bernardo was born.
The main gimmick came from knowing what every single sharksploitation’s weak point was, shitty-looking sharks, and wanting to put it front and center to ease the viewers. Most of the humor was spawned from that simple idea and Emilio and especially Alessandro picked up on it immediately and contributed immensely to the comedy. I still think it’s cool that we’re the only movie where the characters and the audience are supposed to view the sharks in exactly the same way - as crappy looking digital sharks.
THR: The movie is genuinely hilarious, and it must’ve been a blast to make. What were your experiences like in making the film?
MJM: People often say it looked like it was a blast to make, which is an amazing response, but while it was fun, I think most of us knew this was go time. We desperately wanted to do everything to make it as much of a movie as possible. It’s definitely exhilarating to finally do what you’ve only daydreamed about. For Matthew, who bathes in mopey misanthropy, it was the only time he felt being alive was worth it (if you know him, this doesn’t sound as depressing, ha.) We were blessed to have Emilio, Alessandro and Matteo form together into an Italian Voltron. They’d often ask us to excuse them for speaking in Italian and Mathew and I would just shrug it off, trusting their vision immaculately. Once, after a huddle in Italian, Matteo came over to Matthew and I and started talking in Italian for a minute before noticing our blank stares and then us erupting into laughter. Sheila Marie, our producer, was the sixth team member and found us much of our cast, among endless other things. We were blessed to have this tight-knit group devoid of ego and just interested in making the best product possible.
THR: So you guys wrote, directed, and starred in the movie, which is a ton of work but isn’t all that uncommon in indie filmmaking. What was your favorite role that you had to take during the film?
MJM: Matteo loathes seeing and hearing himself on screen (we can relate), so for him the writing process is always the most enjoyable. Matthew is a craftsman who loves building custom things and had a blast creating things for the movie. He aged Chumley perfectly to look like an old stuffed animal, did all of the shark drawings on Amy’s wall, as well as coming up with the entire vision and execution for our opening credits. As for me, I’ve got a clown’s soul and long to be incessantly goofy, so running around in short shorts screaming excitedly was about as good as it gets for me. Fun fact: the shorts were so short that we have a deleted scene with one of my testicles on full display, something that apparently also happened to Armie Hammer while filming Call Me By Your Name.
THR: With all of the bad shark movies out there, your film generally gets pretty good reviews compared to the others. Have you thought about making a sequel?
MJM: As we were wrapping filming, I’d fallen so in love with the idea that all I could think and babble about to the guys was the sequel. I thought we’d discovered some great characters and that their story was just beginning, and the sequel would be the full representation of what the first one was trying to accomplish, kind of in the vein of Terminator 2. As time went on, that changed. We do get a decent amount of positive reviews, but the gimmick of our movie makes it so that people often say things akin to ‘You meant this to be bad, right?’ We’ve even had reviews where they think it’s hysterical but still call it a bad movie, which confuses me since we made it to be a comedy, so it would seem the mission was accomplished. Matthew thinks the ‘Bad’ in the title spawns all this, so we have ambitions of making a straight up comedy next, and being judged without the perceived ‘intentionally bad’ gimmick, which, by the way, is something we’d never do. We love movies too much to try to make one suck intentionally (it just happens naturally, ha.) If we were to do a sequel, we’d want to have more of an actual budget to give the fans something they haven’t seen before rather than try to duplicate the first movie on $6K again. So we want to try a new story that will shine on its own merits, which I’m sure is a disappointing and pretentious answer for any fan hoping for a sequel, haha.
THR: How long did it take you to go through the entire process, from coming up with the concept to getting it all on film and distributed?
MJM: The first draft is dated 2016, and the first limited edition Blu-ray’s and VHS’s were shipped out in late 2019, so about three years for the entire process. We shot it in 21 days over the course of May 2017, and then, as Emilio and Alessandro had to return to Italy, spent the next two years editing, sending footage back and forth between continents with endless notes. This obsessive process helped us to really be able to bring every comedic note we wanted to life, sometimes shaving literal seconds just to get a joke to where we wanted it to be. It should also be said that ALL the titular bad CGI sharks were created by Alessandro, as well as all of the sight gags with them, and our entire original score was crafted entirely by Emilio. We were blessed to have them, and they WILDLY elevated the movie.
THR: I picked up on a lot of comedic references throughout, including from one of my personal favorites Tommy Boy. Am I right? What are the movies that you feel inspired your sense of humor?
MJM: The ‘brothers don’t hug’ line is a happy coincidence, though we do love Tommy Boy (is it legal not to?) The movie that made Matteo want to be a screenwriter and probably molded a lot of his sense of humor was Young Frankenstein. As a wonderful bit of things coming full circle, he ended up years later sharing the screen with Mel Brooks for his cameo in The Silence of the Hams, a movie on which he was working as an assistant. The early works of Woody Allen, John Landis, and the trio of Zucker/Abrahams/Zucker were also a massive influence for him. Matthew shares a love of The Naked Gun, which I do as well, but the top influence for both him and I has got to be the Kids in the Hall, who damn near gift-wrapped and handed us our sense of humor. Their lone movie, Brain Candy, was watched ENDLESSLY by us. I used to lay in bed and see how much of the script I could go through verbatim. This led to a near debilitating love of bizarre humor, which is why it’s been so flattering to have Bad CGI Sharks often compared to Rubber, Quentin Dupieux’s meta comedy about a killer tire. Also, if you dislike Rubber, you have a shitty sense of humor. Please put that in print.
THR: How similar to your real-life personalities are the characters you played in the film?
MJM: The biggest lesson we learned from watching low budget movies is don’t attempt what you can’t pull off. We’re not actors, but at the point of writing BCS we’d been close friends for over a decade with an entwined sense of humor, and a shared past of all trying/wanting to be goofballs in some way (Matteo, unlike Matthew and I, has actually had a successful television career back in Italy, winning three Telegatto’s, the Italian version of an Emmy). While we did take acting lessons to prepare, we knew we’d be filming under guerrilla conditions often and wanted to still be able to bring out the best possible performance with our limited skill, so the entire philosophy was to triple down on our natural strengths. Matthew and I have always tried to be Ren & Stimpy, the idiot and the angry companion, and Matteo IS Bernardo. Matthew and I sculpted that vision after knowing him for so long and he brought it all to life FLAWLESSLY. So yeah, we had to look at what would make the audience actually believe us in these roles, and that was being incompetent idiots, haha.
THR: For those that aren’t aware, what are you guys up to now?
MJM: I work at an AMC (insert your own ‘I’m in the movies’ joke here), Matthew is currently despising his life at Whole Foods, and Matteo stays chained to his desk doing endless translations while mainlining Diet Coke. Oh wait, did you mean creatively? We have a weekly movie review show, MaJaMa Jams, where we discuss other people’s work to avoid doing our own. We put a new episode up every Thursday, and it’s a great way to stay creative and movie-obsessed while we suckle on the pipe dream of making a second movie, which will always be the main goal. In the meantime we try to stay active on social media to connect with the people deluded enough to like our movie (just kidding, you guys all mean the fucking world to us and we’d be absolutely nothing without your interest).
THR: Finally, do you agree that Harry Potter was a huge asshole and probably the least exciting character in the entire series? Like, he spent seven years terrorizing his friends with his own problems, ya know? They had their own shit going on and here comes Harry Potter just fucking shit up left and right. They had lives too, Harry. They all had lives too, and it’s not all about you.
MJM: Matteo thought Harry should’ve helped out Julia Louis Dreyfus more until he realized he was thinking of Troll, whose protagonist has the same name. I’ve never seen the movies, as the fantasy genre is of no interest to me, so I agree, fuck that dude. I have problems too, we can’t all just hop on some broomstick and play with our Quiddicks, or whatever. As for Matthew, when I asked him this question he just screamed that nothing mattered and said he was going out to buy some rope. Not sure what that means but I assume he’s joining a Nihilist Knot Tying class.