AFI FEST: Director Joel Potrykus Talks American Indie BUZZARD

Joel Potrykus’ second feature, BUZZARD, follows Marty (played by Joshua Burge), a mortgage office temp in Grand Rapids, Michigan with almost no ambition other than to scam his way to the middle, eat frozen pizza and craft a homemade Freddy Krueger glove. When he steals a stack of checks from work, his paranoia begins to creep in, and he must go into hiding. For Marty, life on the lam is full of Bugles chips, basements, cheap hotels and violence.

Unlike other “slacker” films, BUZZARD teems with energy. Potrykus explores one of society’s leftovers in-depth. Shifting between genres seamlessly, the film keeps the viewer wondering whether the next moment will bring a laugh or a gasp. Unflinchingly willing to depict an unlikeable character, Potrykus and Burge present a side of America that’s rarely explored.

AFI talked with Potrykus about the film.

AFI: What was the genesis of BUZZARD?

JP: Well, they say “write what you know.” I spent a year as a temp in a mortgage company, scamming and goofing around because I was so bored. Turns out it makes for a pretty good movie once you insert some Freddy Krueger homages and a “party zone.”

AFI: Marty is a challenging character. What about this kind of character is appealing to you, and were you afraid you would isolate the audience?

JP: Never am I afraid of isolating an audience. Some of the best wisdom came from MST3K creator Joel Hodgson, who once said something like, “I wasn’t worried if people would get it. I knew the right people would get it.” I try to apply that to everything I do. Marty feels real to me. He’s angry and a secret dork. I’m kind of like that most of the time. He should be challenging. He’s not a hero, not a villain. He’s just a dude doing crazy stuff.

AFI: I understand that you rehearsed for eight months. What were these rehearsals like, and why rehearse for so long?

JP: Yes, we rehearsed for eight months. I like to come to set and not waste time. That rehearsal time was incredibly important for not just the performances and ability to improvise on camera, but for the story. I always want to make sure the words fit in everyone’s mouths. It had to feel honest and natural. A band would never go into a studio to record an album without going over the songs a million times. Same thing with us.

AFI: Can you discuss your approach to filmmaking, and the different methods you use to get your films made?

JP: Fast, cheap and under control.

AFI: How does the economic landscape, as well as the aesthetic landscape, of Michigan and Detroit play into this film for you?

JP: Marty feels like a victim of The Man. Michigan and Detroit have been ravaged by bad corporate decisions. That’s who Marty identifies with. We all are from Michigan and make films that come from our experiences. That being said, my film band, Sob Noisse, has been discussing making a short called “One Night in Paris,” filmed completely in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Festival screening time info here.

BUZZARD screened at AFI FEST 2014 as part of the American Independents category. Watch the film’s trailer below.