Q&A Interview with Melissa Stephens, Director and Creator behind Finding The Asshole, releasing today at Slamdance Film Festival and on Vimeo! (Finding The Asshole: Chapter 1, Chapter 2Chapter 3)

“I think it’s very important for everyone to know that we are all assholes.” – Melissa Stephens

Finding The Asshole is a series of 3 short films created and directed by Melissa Stephens, co-created and produced by Tom DeTrinis, executive produced by Leslye Headland, and co-produced and starring Christine Woods. The short features are a Lynchian romp through a playful yet scathing social critique that is at once absurd and haunting and incredibly funny. The first of the three chapters will be screened at Slamdance Film Festival in Park City, Utah, January 25-29 2019, featured in the all-new Episodes category which focuses on the next generation of series storytellers who are distorting familiar story structures with unfiltered or unique setups and story arcs. Said Episodes program Co-Captain Craig Parish. “We continue to support and be excited by creators who are challenging perceptions and shaping their own art with fewer creative constraints than have traditionally been in place.”

The series came about following Melissa Stephens’ first short film Peen (starring Mary Elizabeth EllisChristine Woods and Melissa Stephens) which premiered as a staff pick on Vimeo, tackling heavier gendered themes (Watch Peen Here). She came to Tom DeTrinis, explaining some other ruminations that had been haunting her about the absurd hilarity of humanity, with the objective of creating something beautiful and hilarious. DeTrinis agreed, so Stephens wrote and directed and DeTrinis produced. Drawing on influence and adoration for foreign films from Danish to UK and Korean works, Stephens has honed her specific cinematic voice throughout this series. She creates worlds and then allows the world and the camera to take part in the storytelling role. “It’s important as a female filmmaker and comedian to show how we can nail absurd comedy along with being in grounded reality. I love when someone gets the sadness and ridiculousness of this piece because it’s like capturing a lightning bug in a bottle,” says Stephens. “I hope everyone laughs as hard as we did while making it, and I also hope they feel a little bit uncomfortable and confused because such is life.”

Executive Producer, Leslye Headland calls Stephens “a truly gonzo talent.” Headland, a champion for diverse and female filmmakers and their unconventional content adds, “Finding The Asshole hits that artistic sweet spot between comedy and chaos. It transcends traditional sketch comedy to give audiences a wild experience with its feverish originality and social commentary. Melissa and her co-creator, Tom DeTrinis, have assembled a diverse and stellar team of collaborators who perform with manic enthusiasm.”

In addition to the Episodes program screening at Slamdance, all three chapters will be released on Vimeo on January 25, 2019.

Here is a Q&A with Melissa Stephens!

Joanna: This is fun! How many chapters are there?

Melissa Stephens: THREE. So far :)

Q: What inspired you to do this?

I had this idea years and years ago. It just sort of stayed in my mind. Then I met Tom Detrinis. We knew we wanted to work together and I pitched him this idea. We were instantly on the same page and Finding The Asshole was born. I wanted to make something that made me laugh and was my aesthetic as a director. When I pitched him the idea for Chapter One we couldn’t stop laughing. That’s when we knew we had to make it. The more I laugh the easier it is for me to write. Every Chapter following has had the same trajectory. Laugh, write, shoot.

Q: Is there an asshole deep down inside everyone? Or is it just much easier to see within millennials?

Yes. Everyone is an asshole. Everyone. I mean millenials (myself included) are assholes but just you wait for the Finding The Asshole about babies. :) Finding the Asshole doesn’t discriminate on age, race or gender because everyone is one.

Q: Who did the choreography? I feel it was really thought out and detailed. I noticed what I thought were a moment of Instagram-likes interpretive dancing, 90’s group dances like Hey Macarena and Vogue and River Dance disguised as horrific deadly tribal dancing. It was very thought-out!

The choreography for Chapter three was done by Carrie Mikuls. I thought a lot about that dance battle and knew we needed a professional and Carrie came in and killed it. I’m so happy you noticed all of the detail in the dancing makes me proud.

Q: What genre is this exactly? The more I watch it the more I laugh, but I don’t think it’s exactly comedy or dark comedy.. How do you define this?

First of all I think these were made for you. You seem to get it all. I love it. I was hoping that it was a series where the more people watched it the more they laughed. I don’t know what genre it is to be perfectly honest. Dark absurdist comedy? Is that a genre? Did I just make that up? It would be truly assholey of me if we became our own genre.

Q: What was the biggest challenge for you in making this happen?

Money. Crowdfunding is hard and relentless. Chapter One was shot in 4 hours, Chapter Two was shot in one day and Chapter Three was shot in a day and half. The challenge of time constraints and lack of money have been difficult but not impossible.

Q: If you could go back in time and get one wish granted toward the making of this, what would it be?

Melissa:  More time. Every time we have wrapped I have wished we had more time but I’ve always had enough footage to make them work exactly how they should be in the editing room. So I’m happy with that.

Joanna: It was really fun, thank you for the interview! I hope to see more!

Here are links to the series: Chapter 1, Chapter 2Chapter 3)