Cardboard Fantasy in Dave Made a Maze
Dumpster diving and comedy for a modern fairytale
By Richard Whittaker,
9:00AM, Tue. Jul. 18, 2017
Ever had too much time on your hands? That's what fantastical horror comedy Dave Made a Maze is about. So what's the craziest thing that producer John Charles Meyer ever built when killing time? "This movie."
Dave Made a Maze, which screens this week as part of Other Worlds Austin's year-round Orbiter programming, is the magical tale of a guy called Dave (comedian Nick Thune) who decides to build a box-fort maze in his apartment while his girlfriend Annie (Meera Rohit Kumbhani) is out of town on business. When she gets back, his fun weekend project has become a world of its own, with magic, traps, and even a Minotaur, and it's up to Annie and a rag-tag bunch of friends, documentarians, tourists, and a passing hobo to rescue Dave from his own creation.
Unique is a word too readily bandied around in cinema, but it's easily applicable here, with a heady lineage that can readily claim Labyrinth, Jan Švankmajer, early Peter Jackson, The Muppets, Joe's Apartment, and The 5,000 Fingers of Dr. T as predecessors. However, that unique appellation is the only thing easy about Dave. Meyer called it "a beast that I don't think [director Bill Watterson] and I had any concept would be as involved or time consuming or all-encompassing as it has become."
The story, with its mix of romance, humor, weird horror, and childlike gleeful fantasy, started life with a much more conventional horror thriller called Operation Death Maze that writer Steve Sears was working on. He mentioned it to Watterson, Meyer said, "And that inspired Bill to tell him a story about his childhood, wherein he built what he considered to be an epic fort in his bedroom, with pillows and blankets and sheets and whatnot, and per protocol, left a note for his mother when he went over to a friend's house for dinner. The note said something to the effect of, 'I built an epic maze in my bedroom, I went over to Jimmy's for dinner, please don't touch it.' Mom came home, didn't see the note, opened the bedroom door, saw the epic maze, freaked out thinking her son had got lost in his own fort, and tore it apart."
Sears married his existing concept with Watterson's childhood memory, and three days later had the 60-page first draft of Dave Made a Maze. However, that was the easy bit.
Having known Watterson since they were kids, Meyer signed on as producer after a one-line elevator pitch ("Guy gets lost inside a cardboard fort he builds in his own living room"), beginning a six-year development process. One big boon was getting Trisha Gum (Robot Chicken, Moral Orel) on board as a production designer, "and she knows a lot of people who work in that world. People who work in figurines, in stop-motion, people who work in cardboard."
Ah, yes, the cardboard. Dave's makeshift maze is all made of cardboard: cardboard walls, cardboard monsters, cardboard traps. That's a lot of cardboard, and even knowing that his team was building a whole world out of it, Meyer admits he was "clueless" about how much his designers would need. Buying enough was out of the budget, and even scouring the crew's recycling bins wouldn't get them close, so Meyer found a solution at an art exhibit. The artist had used the big cardboard spindles used to transport fabric to factories, so he reached out to American Apparel in Los Angeles, who told him he could take whatever he needed.
A month later, he and Watterson filled a 14-foot box truck with 8-foot stacks of packing, "and we thought, 'We're never going to need another scrap of cardboard.' Three weeks later, the art director told me, 'Dude, we're going to run out of cardboard.'"
Fortunately, there was a solar panel company next door to the soundstage that threw away huge volumes of shipping and component boxes every day. "So my days during production started with dumpster diving for additional cardboard."
Other Worlds Austin presents the Texas premiere of Dave Made a Maze, with John Charles Meyer in attendance. Wed., July 19, 7:30pm, at Flix Brewhouse, 2200 S. I-35, Round Rock. Tickets at www.flixbrewhouse.com.
Other Worlds Austin SciFi Film Festival runs Dec. 7-10. Visit www.otherworldsaustin.com for more info.