Tribeca 2018: Vivieno Caldinelli Talks 7 Stages

"I think any kind of aspiring filmmaker, whether you’re in the beginning or middle, you always have doubts whether you’re doing the right thing..."

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Cultured Vultures sat down with director Vivieno Caldinelli following the world premiere of 7 Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing Through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh. The film, likely the best comedy about a cult and maybe even the best film about a cult in general, stars Kate Micucci, Sam Huntington, Dan Harmon, Mark McKinney, and Taika Waititi.

Thanks for joining us today. How are things treating you?
Very good. Thanks for having me.

How much of a thrill was it to premiere the film at Tribeca?
It was absolutely a thrill. It was a lot of fun. I like being here in New York. It’s a fantastic festival. I was very fortunate to have a lot the cast here and the crew here to see it. It was an absolute blast. It went better than we hoped.

What was it that drew you to the script?
Well, a number of things. The creative team behind it, definitely. The people at SpectreVision like Daniel Noah and Josh Waller—the stuff they’ve done before. Kate Miccuci being attached. The early draft of the script, which had a lot of amazing elements and tonally, it was a good fit for my sensibility. It was also a lot of latitude to shape it into something that more fit my sensibility and collaborating with that creative team. It was kind of a win-win situation where we had something that was a lot of fun from the get-go but we were able to take it to the next level together.

With Taika Watiti having directed Thor: Ragnarok, which came out last November, where did he have the time to do the film with his schedule?
That was the concern from number one, just asking him to do it, which Daniel and the rest of the gang, they had a good relationship with him. It was Daniel who brought up, “Why don’t we ask Taika?” I was like, “Yeah, okay. Sure. Is he going to do it?” He responded quite quickly. He was like, “Yeah, I’m in.” We went and met with him. He obviously had a tough schedule. He was in the middle of post. He was very enthusiastic. Very receptive. Very collaborative. We only had him for a small amount of time and he just made the most of it. He came on set and he was wonderful.

Since he’s also a director, did ever offer any advice?
No, I think good directors know when to open their mouth and when not to. It’s kind of sacred territory. No, he did not at all. If anything, you wouldn’t have known that he was this accomplished working director. He was there strictly to be Storsh. He was wonderful. That was probably one of the best things—just zero ego kind of thing. I’ve been on sets with directors, too, and you just let them be at the helm and don’t really offer much help—even some of my closest friends. He’s a whole pro.

With Mark McKinney—that death scene, how much of that was improvised and how much of that was in the script?
It was actually pretty much all in the script. Mark and I go back quite a ways and we had become quite good friends. That was written for him—that part, specifically. There were little bits of some shouts and stuff like that. If anything, it was a lot longer at one point. Jeez, I would say maybe 2-3 minutes longer but we had to trim it down. That was the tough part when you’re making a movie like that when you have all these beats and you don’t want to be excessive with things—you’ve got to think of timing, pacing, what have you, and what the proper payoffs will be. Unfortunately, we had to cut a lot of funny stuff to sacrifice the forward momentum of the film and story and such. The short answer is that it was quite scripted, actually.

It was easily the funniest death scene I’ve ever seen!
Thank you so much. I know. We were really excited on the day. We were worried about his voice because only had a couple of takes and he had to go back on Superstore. He thought he was going to blow it in his voice. He did! I think he did have a bit of a hiatus luckily. It just kind of worked out that way. He definitely lost his voice after that.

How did it play out at the premiere?
Pretty damn good. That’s like the funniest thing. You never know how things are going to play out. I’m the worst for that kind of thing. You’re confident on the day. You’re confident when you’re writing. You’re confident when you’re editing to make these decisions and stuff. How other people are going to react, who knows! You can only speak to your own sensibility and your own judgement. That was one of the most fulfilling experiences of my career—that scene last night. That scene and Sam’s monologue were like the two kind of fulfilling moments in my film career for sure.

Who are some of your influences as a filmmaker?
Oh my God. Just very eclectic. From John Landis to Mel Brooks to (inaudible) to Scorsese to Tarantino. I run the gambit of everything. I just love film. Even Sergio Leone and stuff. The Zucker Brothers. It runs the gambit from horror to comedy to action. I just love film, really. Generally, the movies—well, no, it’s not every movie. Generally, the movies are innocent until proven guilty with me. I find that there is the odd stuff that I’m just not going to like. On the whole, I try to give everything a chance. I’m pretty eclectic with everything whether it’s my video game tastes or my movie tastes or television.

What was it like working with this cast? You had a murderer’s row of comedy cameos!
A few I’ve worked with in the past before. Mark and I worked together quite a bit. Jon Dore and I worked together quite a bit. I hadn’t worked with Dan, Kate, Maria, or Dana but yeah, the one thing is just having a strong background in comedy and sketch and working up in Canada with larger comics that are very successful. Down here, you develop a shorthand and all speak the same language. With directing some of them most of the times, the angle you want to take is to be invisible. You don’t want to be too heavy handed and force your sensibilities on people. You have to trust them and understand them and guide them through what they’re doing and let them be the funniest people they can be and just kind of quietly veer them in towards the right path. So, yeah, it was really nice to kind of get in and kind of get to know this whole community that I was watching across the border for so many years and have them embrace me and vice versa and make this beautiful film.

You mention Canada. What is it about Canada that attracts so many people to comedy?
I don’t know. We definitely have a very good sense of humor about ourselves. I don’t know if it’s just because we border the States so much. Because we border the States, we really don’t take ourselves so seriously as America does kind of thing—so we’re kind of in this position where we’re safe and we can laugh at people easily. I don’t know. I really don’t know what it is. Per capita, we really have quite a large export of comedy and it’s really great to see that it travels. It travels more down south like to here more so than abroad. I think there is—it’s just the fact that it’s such a small industry and here, it’s such a large industry. If you really want to be successful, you have to kind of go where the work is. So you do have this large funnel of comics coming down here because they want to be more successful, they want to be working with like-minded people, and creatively reach their potential kind of thing. I don’t necessarily know if it’s just because we’re Canadians. I think it’s more of the situation—more of the business kind of thing. Does that make sense?

Yeah. It makes sense. I had visited Second City Toronto in 2006. Lauren Ash was a part of the cast at the time.
I love Lauren.

Two years later, I moved to Chicago. When Mike O’Brien had his last night on Mainstage in 2009, I went to the set, stayed for the party and met Lauren in person. When I met Mark McKinney, I told him that we have mutual friends.
Lauren—we worked together on a show, Hotbox, running up in Canada. A sketch series. We had a lot of amazing people on there. Graham Wagner, who writes and produces for Portlandia and Silicon Valley. Levi MacDougall was on there, who writes for Conan. Katie Crown, who writes for Bob’s Burgers and does a bunch of voices. Lauren was on there, a part of the core cast. We were one or two episodes into the season and she got the call to Mainstage in Chicago. I remember there was a big thing where she was nervous because she was under contract to do the whole season and that might blow her chances of going to Chicago if we didn’t release her. We, myself and Pat Thornton, the creator, were like, “Absolutely, you have to go.” We just told the network, “No, she’s going” kind of thing. She was above and beyond. She was an absolute special talent and special person. She’s just a great person all around.

As far as comedy goes, what’s your background like?
Sketch. Really steeped in sketch, even at an early age. SCTV to Benny Hill to Kids in the Hall to Saturday Night Live. Everything. Growing up, I was just an encyclopedia of sketch, comedy, and film. Going into film school, there weren’t many comedy directors who were doing film or directing television. There were a lot of directors that were directing comedy but they didn’t really have the kind of comedy pedigree so I got pulled into television. I had a very successful career in Canada as a comedy director but film was always where I wanted to be—that kind of thing. Definitely with the sketch sensibility that I had, it really helped working with so many different comics on the floor, deliberating, and managing all that.

Did you ever go through The Second City Training Center?
No. Nothing like that. I never wanted to be in front of the camera. It was never a strength of mine. I can’t even stand my own voice, never mind seeing my face or performing. Although I did do some stuff, it was more a lot of our comics getting a kick of me being in front of the camera kind of thing.

If they had The Harold Ramis Film School back in the day, would you have considered it?
Absolutely! I would have jumped at that. There was nothing for that. There was for comedy and film—going the film school route—there was a stigma with comedy. You weren’t an artist. You weren’t a storyteller, which is ludicrous. It was tough and you get easily dismissed. You can make a film or tell a story that could make someone cry or scare someone. That’s all good but God forbid you make them laugh. I don’t know why. That has changed in the past decade.

What’s the best advice you can offer on breaking into the industry as a filmmaker?
It’s really tough. It’s extremely tough. Perseverance is the key—one of many keys. I think any kind of aspiring filmmaker, whether you’re in the beginning or middle, you always have doubts whether you’re doing the right thing and whether you should be in the business, just sticking through it. Maintaining a reputation is key. Having a unique sensibility also is something that separates you from everybody else. You have to make films. You have to make things. I think that’s the best learning experience you can possibly have. That’s the only way to make yourself better—to keep making things and learning from your experience. Don’t get bogged down. I’ve made horrible shorts as well that have just completely flopped and other things, too. They’re amazing learning experiences and you can take what you learned from them and apply them to the next thing and better yourself and better your craft. Luck helps, too, thankfully. Luck plays a factor in anyone’s success. If you stick around long enough, you’re bound to get lucky, too. I think that goes hand in hand with perseverance.

Is there anyone you haven’t worked with that you want to?
Oh, jeez. Yeah. Tons of people. Jermaine Clement, for sure, is someone I’d love to work with. Nathan Fielder is another person. I’ve known Nathan. We’re friends and stuff but we’ve never professionally crossed paths.  It’s kind of more or less, if anything, I want to work with the same people and more and see where we can take things. I’d like to work with Kate, Dan, and the guys at SpectreVision again and see what we can come up with next and build off that success. I think we have a good creative core there. But with that, it would be good to welcome to people into the family.

Thanks again and congrats on the film.
Thank you so much!

7 Stages to Achieve Eternal Bliss by Passing Through the Gateway Chosen by the Holy Storsh premiered in the Midnight section of the 2018 Tribeca Film Festival. The film is currently seeking distribution.

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