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A Conversation with David & Nathan Zellner (SASQUATCH SUNSET)

David and Nathan Zellner have been making films together since they were children. David and Nathan have been apart of the indie film world for quite some time, however, it was 2014’s Kumiko, the Treasure Hunter that really put them on the map. Since then they have carved out a spot in the film world delivering unique projects with varying tones such as 2018’s Damsel staring Robert Pattinson. As true kings of indie cinema, of course they do not just write and direct, they are in the editing room for all of their projects. Their latest film Sasquatch Sunset stars Jesse Eisenberg and Riley Keough. The film, while filled with bodily fluids and lacking in dialogue, becomes surprisingly heartfelt and poignant. It was an honor to sit down with these two highly creative men in the following conversation edited for length and clarity.

Hammer To Nail: Thank you so much for taking the time to speak with me today. I am such a huge fan of your films and this one is not an exception. You guys worked on The Curse last year, however, besides that, it has been since 2018 since you guys found yourselves in the directing chair. What was it about Sasquatch Sunset that brought you guys back?

David Zellner: Like a lot of people the pandemic slowed things down in terms of getting projects off of the ground. We had several things cooking, this was just the one that went through. This had been a project we were trying to do at different points over the years and it just never worked out. We got lucky this time around.Everything fell into place.

HTN: As a duo and as brothers, I am fascinated as to what your process of collaboration looks like generally and was that process the same for this film?

Nathan Zellner: Its not really something we think about. I only ever do when someone points it out. We have just been collaborating together since we were children making home movies. When you are that age you do not really understand all of the different roles. We were just doing whatever it took to make the film and have fun. As life has gone on we have really solidified our creative relationship. It is second nature to us. Ideas are always being bounced around, it just depends on the project. David wrote this script with a lot of passion and we have been trying to make it for a while now. We have been talking about it for years. By the time we are on set we are eager to talk to other people about it. We share a very specific point of view of what we want to achieve. Our goal is to get everyone on board with that same tone. We also want to make sure there is no confusion about how the work is split up. Everyone has to be making the same movie.

HTN: You guys have worked with many terrific actors, Tell me about working with Jesse and Riley, how did their castings come to be and what was it like working with them

DZ: We loved working with them so much. Jesse we have known for years. He is just one of our favorite humans. Not just an actor, an amazing playwright, screenwriter and director. We had shared screenplays with each other for years. This time I suggested he be in this film and he had some trepidation at first for obvious reasons. The dialogue, the complete lack of vanity, the costume. In the end he got it and saw it for the unique project that it was. Both him and Riley excel in drama just as much as comedy. Whether it is a blockbuster or an indie, they really take chances with the roles that they choose. Jesse was involved first and came on as a producer as well. It was essential, the film would have never happened without him. Riley came on board shortly after now I could never imagine anyone else in their place.

HTN: Ari Aster was involved in this project. Talk about his involvement and working with him!

NZ: Lars Knudsen, who we have known for years, runs the production company Square Peg with Ari Aster. Lars was one of the first champions of the film and Ari was shortly after. They were with it for many years while we struggled to get it off the ground.

HTN: I found the cinematography to be really beautiful and a key component of this film, What were you and Mike Gioulakis hoping to achieve?


DZ: We wanted to have a very naturalistic look to the film. It is done for the most part with natural light. We shot on location. We wanted the film to be from the beasts perspective so it had to be natural. We did everything we could to try and instill that sense of naturalism.

HTN: The death via log was one of the strangest movie deaths I have ever seen, what was your thinking behind this moment?

DZ: We wanted to embrace the full spectrum of life with these creatures. In the same way we wanted to embrace the more absurd moments, we wanted to not shy away from the more tragic ones. In our own ridiculous but hopefully relatable way.

NZ: Making that moment really impactful for the audience in a tragic way that death can come as a surprise and be unexpected. Not like a horror movie, in real time.

HTN: In a film with not any dialogue sound design is crucial. What were you guys hoping to achieve with the sound design of this film.

DZ: In some ways we approached this project like a silent film. You do not have the benefit of the dialogue to move the narrative along. You have to advance the narrative through the way it is shot, the physicality of the creatures, their facial expressions and then the music.So yeah, it was all about leaning on those elements since we did not have dialogue at our disposal. Once we adjusted to those rules it was a great way to work.

NZ: These forests are otherworldly in a sense. We wanted to put the audience in their universe through the sound design.

HTN: This debuted at Sundance. What was it like watching this film with that crowd?

DZ: It was great! You make these things in a bubble. You hope you can get people to connect to the material the same way you do on a human level. It was so special to see them react to the broader more obvious laughs, But also, the more poignant moments!

HTN: I want to talk about the location as I feel that is also essential to the film particularly when the road is revealed. How did you guys find these locations and what were you looking for out of them?
DZ: Everything in the film is from, their perspective with no judgment. At this moment we had only seen endless natural landscape, and now there is this sharp line cutting right through it. Approaching it from their point of view. This completely scrambles their brain as it goes off into infinity in either direction pushing the boundaries of this project.

NZ: Whenever my cat is mad you have to clean a lot because that is how they show their dissatisfaction.

HTN: The idea of the sasquatch being this evil scary thing is something that is being cut through here.

DZ: From their point of view, as just these animals trying to survive and navigate the world around them. To try to approach it without judgment or shame was key. All of their behavior is normalized. Humans like to separate themselves from the rest of the animal kingdom, however, it can be very interesting to explore the overlap and acknowledge that similarity between humans and animals.

HTN: The birth is absolutely scarred in my head right now and I am wondering what the thinking was behind the execution, its truly a shocking moment not just because of what is happening but the execution truly makes it unforgettable. 


DZ: Since it is sasquatch giving birth it is obviously going to be absurd to a certain degree. We also wanted to approach it in a clinical way as much as possible and not We wanted to be as matter-of-fact as possible. Anyone who has had puppies or kittens has seen it all.

HTN: The film definitely feels inspired by cinema. What are some films you had in mind going into writing this.

 DZ: 2001: A Space Odyssey is the biggest inspiration. The dawn of man scene is one of the most inspiring for our career. There is actually a lot of ape cinema we looked at like Planet of the Apes.

NZ: We are huge fans of Buster Keaton and that was definitely something we were thinking about while making the film.

HTN: Thank you both so much for speaking with me, you guys are such inspirations and I will be in theaters for your next one!

– Jack Schenker (@YUNGOCUPOTIS)

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Jack Schenker is based in Los Angeles, CA. He has worked in the film industry for 5 years at various companies including Mighty Engine, Film Hub, and Grandview. Jack continues to write for Hammer to Nail, conducting interviews with prominent industry members including Steve James, Riley Keough, Christian Petzold, and Ira Sachs. His dream is to one day write and direct a horror film based on the work of Nicolas Winding Refn and Dario Argento. He directed his first short film this year titled Profondo. Jack's favorite filmmakers include Werner Herzog, Wim Wenders, Denis Villeneuve, Bong Joon Ho, David Lean, John Carpenter, Ari Aster, Jordan Peele, and Robert Altman to name a few. Look out for Jack on Twitter (aka X). You can see the extent of Jack's film knowledge on Letterboxd, where he has written over 1000 reviews and logged over 1600 films.

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