The Slacker 2011 Interviews: Geoff Marslett & Heather Kafka
Marslett and Kafka on Slacker 2011
By Marc Savlov,
12:59PM, Thu. Sep. 1, 2011
We saved the best – or those interviews with the most spoilers, actually – for last. Following last night's enthusiastically received premiere of Slacker 2011 at the Paramount Theater, we conclude our series of Slackerchats with "TV Room" segment director Geoff Marslett and actor Heather Kafka.
Austin Chronicle: Geoff, you're one of the few directors on the film that had more than one scene. In addition to the "TV Room" scene you also had the sequence right before that.
Geoff Marslett: Right. I actually started with the getaway scene which then segues into the video backpack scene in the room full of TVs. As far as the getaway scene, I was thinking about who's sort of the criminal class in Austin these days and I came to the conclusion that it was probably the same dudes who where swiping things back in the days of the original Slacker. They're just 20 years older now, but it's still all those old musicians that are playing at the Saxon Pub or wherever, because they still don't make any money!
I tried to construct this scene that represented the old musicians and the old punk rock scene, James McMurtry, Jon Dee Graham, Heather Kafka, and then I inherited Ramsey Wiggins, Wiley Wiggins father, from [Slacker 2011] director Mike Dolan's segment. I kind of had this image in the back of my head of The Wild Bunch if The Wild Bunch only stole TVs and books.
AC: The TV scene probably the most technically challenging scene in the film, involving as it does 50-odd TV monitors, one live actor – Heather Kafka – and one puppet actor, played and puppeteered by Don Hertzfeldt. How did you wrangle all that?
GM: I've always looked at that scene as a diatribe on what it means for things to be real. What is the real world, and what does televising things do to it? I wanted to take the original scene and push it further, push the ideas further, push it further visually, just take the whole concept and see how far we can take it.
AC: It gets pretty meta-literal with the question of whether we're all puppets of the media and the medium being the massage, so to speak.
GM: Yeah, I really just wanted to play with the reality of the whole thing, so that Don Hertzfeldt puppet is supposed to be the same guy from the original film. He's been watching television for 23 years and this is the Gollum that you become when you do that, you know? I wanted him to be a literal cartoon or a puppet of that character. Javier Bonafont helped me do the TV room and we shot that at the Hargrave Arcade, which was great because they already had 20 or so TVs. And each one had to be hooked up to its own VCR because none of the images were grabbed from real broadcasts. We made everything you see because we didn't want to run into any copyright issues or anything like that.
AC: Heather, what was it like acting with a non-human actor?
Heather Kafka: That was my first time working with a non-human actor that wasn't an animal. Surprisingly, it was not that different. I don't know if that's a compliment to my fellow actors or not, but I think that it had a lot to do with the actual physical creation of the puppet. It had such expression! And then with Don working the puppet, it just really brought it to life.
I never really felt like it wasn't real until there was a certain amount of on-set manhandling I had to do because [the puppet's] torso would become separated from his pants or the arm would become unstuck. Poor Don was always in this horribly awkward position. His arm was killing him, there were all these little needles in the puppet that were poking him.
The position he had to be in in order to be hidden juxtaposed with the position the puppet had to be in in order to be able to act with me was almost nearly impossible. There was a lot of wrangling that we did with pillows and the puppet's antennas would whip me in the face but Don wouldn't know that because he was hiding behind the chair. It was kind the ridiculous comedy that you'd think it would be.
GM: We essentially had to hide lighting rigs behind all the TVs, and Don's wedged under that chair, so if you changed your angle by five percent you suddenly had his head in the shot.