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With his girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) out of town for the weekend, Dave (Nick Thune) decides to build a maze out of cardboard boxes in their living room. Upon her return, she discovers that he has become trapped in his own creation. Initially calling upon Dave’s trusted friend Gordon (Adam Busch) for help, soon their curious oddball friends, including an aspiring documentary filmmaker and his cameraman have assembled in their apartment. Entering the maze, the group encounter booby traps, giant human-eating Tiki faces and a bloodthirsty minotaur, in Bill Watterson’s quirky and inventive directorial feature debut, DAVE MADE A MAZE.
In conversation with FrightFest, Adam Busch reflected on his pursuit of comedy and sadness, the importance of a storyteller’s intent and commitment to their vision.
FrightFest: Why acting as a means of creative expression? Was there an inspirational or defining moment for you?
It didn’t have to be acting, it could have been anything really. I have always been attracted to private moments in public, and any way in which I can experience that for other people, I am all for. Acting only happened because there were very few avenues for a kid to express themselves and get support when I was young. Through open calls, living just outside of New York City and having access to it, acting became a thing that kids could do. I had done music and stand-up, but it just seemed there was a quicker avenue through acting based on where I was. But it’s a good question because it could have been anything, and it still could be.
FrightFest: While you have performed these moments for people in front of the camera, you have also directed and produced. Is there a creative curiosity to your personality that will see you further explore telling stories from behind the camera?
I wouldn’t say that I’m shifting more in any direction; I’ve always been more drawn to whatever is directly in front of me. I continue to make records and I programme the documentary programme for the Slamdance Film Festival every year. To work as an actor and to tour as a musician, I like splitting my time up in that way because I like things that are funny and sad, and I really don’t care what medium they are in. I’ll always seek it out and run towards it wherever I find it, and whatever that is.
I’ve heard interviews with people who work in a lot of different mediums, and they are always asked which one they prefer, or how they are different? I’m always impressed by their answers because I don’t see much of a difference to any of it. I think it’s the same thing or I’m chasing the same thing, and whether it’s my story or helping someone tell theirs, it’s still looking for those things that are funny and sad that we often relate to, and to try to make a private moment public. And the more private it is, then the more public it should be. And the more specific it is, or the more you feel that no one else will possibly relate to this, the bigger chance there are that people will.
FrightFest: All fiction is an echo of the human experience and the everyday in some form. It may be heightened and dramatised, but in essence nothing is truly fictional. The beauty of cinema is that it allows us to escape, and yet offers an opportunity for us to connect through shared human experiences.
Yeah, and to tie it back to cinema, unless I’m mistaken people go to the movies looking for one of two things. They either want to see themselves reflected back, so that they can point at it and go: “Yes, that’s me, I feel validated; you get it!” Or they want to get as far away from themselves as humanly possible. When they see themselves reflected back they feel cheated, and they want their money back. And they may have a point because they paid good money to get away from themselves, and those other people who were presented with a fantasy, they can’t relate to it because it isn’t real – “It isn’t me.” Both sets of audience members are right and both searches are noble.
FrightFest: The audience search aside, how important is it for the filmmaker to find a clear intent in their search for the story they want to share? Without a clear intent, surely the film exists just for the sake of existing.
Intent is everything and it doesn’t just exist in cinema. I think it’s the most important thing there is in terms of creating something; it’s the only thing that matters. Anything else is for selfish reasons and people will not be able to relate. The more specific you are and the more specific it is to your experience, or the more it feels nobody will ever be able to relate, the more they will. And it just continues to be true over and over again.
There’s this thing called ‘the human test’ by Ze Frank. He talks about how he had a little tick when he was a kid where he couldn’t fall asleep at night. He would tense up his body as much as he could, open his mouth as wide as he could, open his palms, open everything and almost silently scream while extending all of his limbs, and then release it. And he’d do it again as hard as he could and then release it. He felt a freak and isolated in life, and he wouldn’t tell people that he couldn’t sleep and so he does this weird thing in order to tire his body. I guess around the time of the invention of the internet, he decides to look it up and it turns out there’s a word for this. This isn’t just something he does alone in his room, there is a word for this exact specific thing that people do, and if there is a word for it then it means that so many people are doing it. So he’s not alone, and this thing that made him feel completely separate and isolated from everyone around him was in fact the thing that he probably had most in common with others. He calls that ‘the human test’, and anything in life that makes you feel isolated from people, in reality it’s probably something that we all share, and we all could relate to if we were brave enough to admit it. And I think that’s what we are trying to do in everything we create; to poke holes in that and create little beacons in the ocean that go: “Over here, over here. You can rest here.” I feel that’s what Bill did in DAVE MADE A MAZE because people really respond to it, or they don’t, and I think that’s good.
FrightFest: Why do you think DAVE MADE A MAZE has the capacity to provoke such a response?
It’s because Bill was as honest as he could be about what he was trying to say. He couldn’t explain why something needed to be a certain way, he just knew it did, and we learned to trust him. I think an example of that is one of the first things he asked me when working together. He asked if it was true I was working with folk singer Dan Bern, who he’s a big fan of, and who does a lot of songs for television and film. Bill expressed how much he wanted to meet him and I talked to Dan and showed him some of the script, and he was more than happy to write some songs for the film. Bill was so flattered and so honoured, but he didn’t want them and he didn’t want to hear them because he knew what the music needed to sound like. He knew what he wanted it to be and he wasn’t going to be seduced by someone he’s a fan of, or would love to work with because that might steer him from his vision, which is the most important thing. And he’s right!
FrightFest: The film feels spontaneous as one gets swept up in its creativity, and yet herein lies the contradiction of the spectatorial experience. While we become immersed to the point that it feels that everything is happening spontaneously, without a filmmaker to guide it, there is also a conscious contemplation of the filmmakers vision that we are experiencing.
Well I think the improvisational feel, that feeling that there almost isn’t a filmmaker is Bill, and it’s masterfully done. It’s like when you see a dinner scene in a film and you just hear little bits of the conversation, and you feel it’s improvised. The characters are just talking over each other, but they’re really not. What you are getting are the pieces of the conversation the director wants you to hear. You think you are just catching stuff but it’s being fed to you almost like a symphony chart with the conductor bringing out certain notes intentionally. You think it’s just happening, but he’s conducting all of that. And even if it’s just through casting and direction, and just putting the right people together, that’s all him giving the people room to breathe, and the opportunity to try things.
FrightFest: Filmmaker Christoph Behl remarked to me: “You are evolving, and after the film, you are not the same person as you were before.” Do you perceive there to be a transformative aspect to the creative process for you personally?
Of course you do, and it’s dependent on your level of commitment and/or involvement. I think it’s definitely 100% true for the director because for lack of a better word you are waging a war. You are running a crew and you are getting something done, and whether you succeed or not, you are always different after it. When you are making all the decisions it’s all on you, and if you don’t come out of it different, then I don’t think you’ve done it right. You have to learn something, through failure or success, otherwise I don’t think you were paying attention.
The world’s first fully recyclable cardboard horror comedy was released on Blu-ray, Digital HD, alongside premiering on the Arrow Video Channel on Prime Video Channels on the 28th January 2019.