TRIBECA 2022 Interview | Fernando Andrés & Tyler Rugh Discuss Honesty In THREE HEADED BEAST

Updated: Jul 8

Having just celebrated its world premiere at the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, Three Headed Beast was a personal favorite of ours at the festival. With a style of filmmaking both naturalistic and incredibly bold, filmmaking partners Fernando Andrés and Tyler Rugh gave audiences everything they could ask for in a film. It’s heartfelt, personal, and even comedic at times. As our review of the film stated, Andrés and Rugh have boldly introduced themselves to the world of cinema. So when given the chance to speak with them about the film, we were thrilled to have an insightful conversation about the filmmaking process and what it’s like having your story seen by audiences everywhere.

 

WTR

So first, I just want to thank you again for taking the time to speak with me. I just loved the film for so many reasons. Watching it, it felt very unique and special in so many different ways, some that I wasn't expecting at all. And I want to get to know you two as much as I want to get to know the film. So my first question is, how did you two meet?


Fernando Andrés

We met in eighth grade. I had just been moved from public school into this Christian private school, where I had no friends whatsoever, except for this guy [points to Tyler], who was also super into movies. Then we just kind of trauma bonded over our love of them [laughs]. And we've just been making stuff ever since.


WTR

At what point did you come together and be like, "Oh let's start making movies".


Tyler Rugh

Probably a few months after knowing each other. I grew up loving movies, and I'd been at that school since second grade, so I was definitely in a very insular bubble. But I mean, his tastes really lit a fire under my ass, and he was telling me about all these movies I didn't even know existed. Pretty quickly in, we had that very youthful energy of, "Okay, let's make a 45 minute short with our DSLR over the weekend". And we did that a lot.


WTR

It's very clear that you two have chemistry behind the camera together. It all feels like one succinct piece. How do you find that? Did it come naturally to get to that sense of cohesion, or was there some workshopping?


Andrés

Well, you obviously refine it, for sure. But I think it was pretty clear from the start that I definitely own all of the technical parts of the process. Everything that goes into them [movies] is inextricable from the emotions, the sound, the camera, the decisions when editing, the decisions with minute sound effects. I'm obsessive about that kind of thing, and I can be kind of a dictator when it comes to that stuff. I'm very perfectionist with the technical side of it. And also knowing cameras and editing stuff. And Tyler, I mean, he can explain his side.


Rugh

I'm definitely more story-oriented. Obviously, like Fernando was saying, these two sides complement and inform one another. But I definitely think about the writing, the structure, the dialogue. It's funny to say for a movie without much dialogue, but that kind of thing is what I handle.


Andrés

And he's also more instinctive on set. Because I'm sort of in my head about everything that's happening, like if I'm upset about how a shot isn't working. Or I keep trying to figure out how this scene is going to play out into the next one. I just get so caught up in it. He's a little bit more free of that stress, and he's able to just decide on these small things that might seem silly or dumb in the moment, but can completely unlock a scene. He basically frees me up a lot.


WTR

It was a super small crew on the film. Was it a lot of your friends or people you worked with in the past?


Andrés

Yeah, so it was me, Tyler, and our two really good friends who we met in Dallas, Texas, who are now roommates of Tyler's. They actually live in the house the film is set in and are also aspiring filmmakers. So they did production design, costume design, set design and would help with sound a lot of the time. Then we also had one of the actresses’ friends, Alicia Topolnycky. She wanted to get into intimacy coordination, and she had never done it before. So she joined and became our intimacy coordinator. So yeah, it was all our friends or friends of friends.

WTR

Did you find that while on set, it was tough to break down that barrier between friends versus crew on the film?


Rugh

Honestly, no. It actually helps. We've had different experiences with larger crews, $10–20,000 short films with group trucks and a bunch of PA's or people helping out. And you know, for something like this, we knew it was going to be super run-and-gun, shooting in 28 days and just us self-funding. So doing it that way, we knew we wanted people involved that were just as passionate about it as we were. With the conditions that we were making the movie under, we were definitely aware of roping other people into the same kind of grueling schedule.


Andrés

And with [producers] Connor [Clift] and Maddox [Finkel], since we moved to Austin, we basically were locked onto our couch at the house watching movies all day, every day. We were unemployed due to COVID and finding a job was hard. So we were just watching a lot of the same movies. And I think that kind of informed being on set too. Because they knew what we were going after. We've been on sets before for shorts where the crew was much bigger. Like 15 people or something because we were doing it "the right way". But those people might not understand what you're doing. You know, it'll just happen when people don't understand what you're going for. So if you have people on set that do understand, I feel like that makes it a lot easier.


WTR

And it definitely seems like that on screen. One of the most impressive things about Three Headed Beast is that it's impossible to imagine that this is your debut feature.


Rugh

That's very kind.


WTR

It just seems like everything went smoothly, and I'm sure on set was a completely different beast.


Andrés

[Chuckling] Yeah.


WTR

But with the final product, you see everything on screen, and it comes together really well. Pivoting into the film, I know this is a personal story to you Fernando. So I'm just curious as to what was going on in your head as you're not only putting a version of your story out into the world, but you now have audiences everywhere receiving it.


Andrés

Yeah, it's super weird man [grinning]. I mean, it's all real life stuff that happened. So in 2020, the quarantine effectively ended a relationship that I had been in for five years. When I left it and was kind of rudderless, trying to figure out, you know, how to connect again with other people in modern dating, I ended up in the same situation that's in the movie. I met this older guy who was in this open relationship with a woman, and I became very close to him. And it was basically the positive version of the movie. A lot of the same stuff is in there: He helped me move into my apartment, I dog sat for them, I went over for an awkward dinner, but it was actually pleasant. And to this day, we’re just good friends now, both of them. And the guy actually lent his plants to the film. So all the house plants are his which is also another added layer. But on that, yeah, I mean, of course it's weird. It's very weird. It didn't feel like what when I was writing it, because I was just thinking, "Oh, I'm going to create more dramatic version of what happened", because I thought it could make for a really interesting dynamic that I haven't seen other Queer films explore. And it felt really personal, very impulsive and quick. On set was when I started to feel a little bit weird because I had to stop myself with directing Jacob [Schatz], who plays Peter, the older guy in the relationship. I was getting frustrated that he wasn't this person in real life so I was thinking, "There's something wrong with the performance". And it's like no, because Jake [Schatz] was so different from the person that he's supposed to be playing. Jake [Schatz] was very intellectual and very emotionally intelligent. He's also just a different person, you know, as all people are. And on set I had to catch myself, like, "Wait, this is so weird". It's not a creative thing but I felt it's almost like Vertigo where you're making a person out of your memory out of this other person. So I had to remember to relax. To say, "This is someone else, it has become its own thing". And that applies to the rest of the story where I was really trying to take it further away from my real life story to make it less weird for me. But yeah, I mean, being in a packed New York theater, having all these friends and family of the crew flying into town is surreal. I can't believe this is all happening because of this situation that I was in. [He starts laughing]. I think the weirdest it got was on the night of the premiere, a friend told us that Grindr, the gay dating app, had a banner for Tribeca that was promoting Three Headed Beast. And I was just laughing thinking, "Wow, that's the app where I met the guy". So it was a total full circle.


WTR

And then Tyler, coming into the story, knowing it's personal. Is there any sort of pressure? What was going through your head when Fernando brought you into it?


Rugh

Just pure excitement. I think so many of the stories we want to tell are about what they say about the world and the way people our age, as well as slightly older, think about relationships and love and boundaries. That was really the focus, and we knew this idea was so ripe for interrogation. From a structural standpoint, there were three main characters which is very interesting. You have three competing points of view, in the way they carry themselves and the kind of things they ostensibly want. But also, it was just very fresh. It felt unique, and it felt like there was no bullshit in a way that we respond to in our favorite independent movies.


Andrés

You know, it's funny, I never really delete texts. So because we're best friends, I would just be texting Tyler my feelings while those things were happening. "Oh, this is so weird. I feel this way. I'm dog sitting at this guy's house right now". But then also a couple of months later being like, "Hey, I have an idea for a movie. So he knows that I'm just telling him: "I want to make a movie about that real life situation". But yeah, like he said, he was just excited about it because he felt like it was a unique thing.


WTR

There's so many elements that make this film unique. From what I recall, you said it was originally more traditional, with full scenes of dialogue, right?


Andrés

Yeah.


WTR

So what's that moment like? Do you come together and have a joint decision? Or does one of you call the other and say, "Hey, let's get rid of it all."

Andrés

We always knew that physicality and intimacy was going to be super important to it. Music and purely visual moments have always been huge for us. But when we first started it, the point of references for the movie was stuff we loved: Tom Perrotta's work like Election and Little Children. Listen Up Philip by Alex Ross Perry, those kinds of films, which are very dialogue heavy. So that was my frame of reference when I was writing the first set of drafts with Tyler. But he should talk about the difficulties we came to before deciding.


Rugh

Yeah, I think another movie we liked is Nights and Weekends, the mumblecore with Greta Gerwig and Joe Swanberg. We watched that, and it just lit us on fire and that whole movie is just people talking. The more we would write drafts and send stuff back and forth, I started joking that I wish our movie was only the sex scenes because I felt like that was the part where the characters were the expression of what they wanted. It felt the most organic as opposed to when they talked about it or talked around it. And as we would whittle scenes down into being more montage heavy, more about the shots, something changed. We would think about things more visually or think about the music with our composer. We got to the point where the jokes about no dialogue and taking it all out came really organically. We arrived at that being the best way to tell the story. It's super bold and risky, but at the same time, we were really confident in our actors, and we were confident in our vision for it.


Andrés

And a shorter way of putting it is that we couldn't ever get a full draft of the original version of the movie. But once we were decided on no dialogue, that was the first time that Tyler sent over a full rough draft. And when I read it, I knew that was it. Like, none of this needs to have any of the talking except for that middle chunk.


WTR

I think that what this film has is very rare. In real time, we were witnessing you two going for that bold swing; And it was paying off at that premiere. Like you said before the film started, you brought Texas to New York, and you could feel that energy. And I think that will also be felt across screenings everywhere. With that, I wanted to talk about the three leads. In terms of their movements, their "dialogue", was that allowed to be improvised? Or was it more structured and scripted?


Rugh

It was very much written down in the script. From what we shot to what they did was very much scripted with stuff like hand placement, coughs and pauses, or semi-awkward glances at the dinner scene where they're all together. It was very planned out and plotted for sure, but we definitely wanted to give them freedom too. That was the great thing about shooting the physical movement. But it was very collaborative.


Andrés

And mistakes are what I love. It's funny when looking at Nights and Weekends, the mumblecore improv is what is so great. And that's obviously because Swanberg and Gerwig...


Rugh

King and Queen. [laughs]


Andrés

...are great actors who have been acting for a while. This is the first feature film for all three lead actors, so we wanted to give them tracks to work along. We didn’t want them to feel like we were pressuring them to give a good performance, so it was very heavily scripted. But we would let them make mistakes, and I think a lot of those mistakes make it into the film.


WTR

Yeah, I think that they all they all bring something very real and natural to it. And it comes across wonderfully, especially in that scene when they first begin talking, and that's right around the midpoint of the film. I was just curious if you have any memories or remarks on that scene in particular. What was it like going in?


Andrés

Yeah, it was rough [smiles]. It was probably the two hardest days of shooting, and it actually turned into 4 days. So we had spent 15 days shooting, and I think we shot almost chronologically in the film. So we had shot everything up until that point, and we'd really gotten into a groove with directing action, and filming while having them do things and really building it around the camera. So it got to the point where on that day, and it didn't even really register with us until we were on the way to set, we said, "Yeah, today's the first day with dialogue". And that was a big red flag. Because that day we were just off. The direction was off, the camera was off. I felt like there were times where we were trying to get coverage, and it was so bad. So that night, we were going through footage after we just shot for eight hours. And we knew that it was such a crucial moment, so we just asked them to give it another go next weekend, and that we're going to throw away all this footage. This time, we were going to go in with a game plan. So we went in next weekend with the logic of the earlier scenes in the film, where everything is built around the camera, and bringing that to the dialogue scenes. Just making sure that they were off script, you know, making sure that they were reading their lines throughout the week and just getting the quickness of it down. So yeah, it was hard. And also there were a lot of bugs outside [laughs].


Rugh

It was a brutally hot Texas summer night.

WTR

Speaking of Texas, the whole film is leading towards a trip to Enchanted Rock in Fredericksburg, Texas. Is there any significance to that place for you two? Or was it just a beautiful place to shoot?


Rugh

I think it was born out of our love of Texas. We think of ourselves as storytellers from Texas, and we know that's where we want to make movies. I think part of it is the weirdness and that's what makes Texas so interesting. We live in Austin, so it's obviously very metropolitan, a big tech city with tall buildings. But there's also so much greenery in Austin. It's full of many parks and trees, and it's a place where you can very easily get to a location like Enchanted Rock, you know, somewhere that looks like you're on Mars. And we knew that nature was something we wanted as a component of the film. We also wanted it because I think in some ways it speaks to this conflict within the characters. I think it also just worked for the story structure, when you have a time bomb leading to something.


Andrés

All that, and also, we love movies that have a very specific milieu or setting that it's all happening in, but also gives you a brief stretch where the characters are in a different setting. I think an obvious one is in Call Me By Your Name. There's the whole sequence where the two guys go to some beautiful waterfalls out in the wilderness after we've seen them in this hot poolside villa. It's just great because you're seeing their relationship move somewhere else. So for this movie, there was a very specific purpose which was that they're trying to have their perfect, picturesque, millennial little daydream. We watched a lot of vlogs from Enchanted Rock, and it was a lot of these couples that I could feel like one of them was holding the other hostage while they film [laughs]. So that's the idea with them, is that they're really clinging to these ideas of a perfect couple’s trip. You know, they have their little sparklers and taking pictures along the hike. It's more of us lightly making fun of millennial dating stuff.


WTR

That shot of the sparklers going out from the side is absolutely gorgeous. It's something I touched upon when I wrote about the film, but it's fascinating how in the first half of this, the silence is very much taken as, "Oh, they're just so in the groove of things. They don't need to speak, they just know how to get through the day". But in the back half, especially on that trip, it's recontextualized. It becomes, "Ok, they're not talking for a reason". Was there any direction that you gave the actors to address, "This is what's happening now that there is a shift"?


Andrés

I love hearing that you picked up on that. That's exactly it, the silence in the beginning is all impulse. They're just acting on desire, so there's no need for talking really. And then the second half is avoidance. Avoiding talking about something that they're covering up by not talking. As far as directing it... how did you feel? [Looks to Tyler]


Rugh

I think there was plenty of actual exhaustion from shooting all that very quickly which contributed [chuckles]. But I think the actors very much keyed into what was going on. Like with the kiss, they're trying to almost recover a past version of themselves that didn't have these problems. And I think they very much embodied the uncomfortable truth of, "Well, we can't do that. So why are we even trying?", and then that becomes its own thing. Plus, a bad vacation always makes you think about the life you're trying to move away from. So a lot was really on the actors, and they nailed it.


WTR

I want to also talk about the music, which like you said, is a key element, especially when there's no dialogue. And I know that you found Ryan [Faber] on Letterboxd. Can you talk about what that was like meeting him online and bringing him out? What was that like working together?


Andrés

Yeah, definitely. He wrote a review of Koyaanisqatsi, a movie that I love so much. And I had just spent a weekend at Austin Film Society, Richard Linklater's theater, where they played that movie three nights. And I went every single night [laughs]. I just brought a different friend to watch it every time, and it's also just one of my favorite movies of all time. The music is a huge part of it, and I read Ryan's review of that movie, which perfectly described how that movie kind of taps into people's bio rhythms, and the trance of it all, the repeating melodies. It was just so on point. So I followed him, and I saw that he had a SoundCloud. When I listened to his music, I loved it. So I commented that we should work together. And yeah, we worked together completely remote on two short films. Just through phone calls and texts. Luckily though, with this movie, we asked him to actually come to Austin for two weeks. It was about a month after we wrapped. So I'd had the movie sort of edited at that point. But he came, and I feel like most of it was just us hanging out and giving him the Texas experience. Just going places and going to a lot of movies. Also of course, talking at length about the movie that we just shot, and the score ideas we had. But he's just a machine. He'll go in and come out with ideas kind of already put together, and from there it's just trial and error. I feel like half of his ideas made it into the film, and the other half were just things that didn't fit the tone fully, but he would take ideas from those, and put them into what did make the movie.


Rugh

And shout-out to our amazing music supervisor Livy (Rodriguez-Behar). One of the first things with this movie that really started it all was a playlist of songs called Three Headed Beast. And that's always the thing for us with writing. We think about how the soundtrack had to embody the visuals and complement everything, while going alongside the score, so it was all really important to us.


WTR

So I have two more questions. One is a bit heavy, and the other is on the lighter side. Do either of you have any words of encouragement for people going through a similar situation to this? Or is the film your answer to that?


Andrés

I mean, yeah, it is the movie. Just talk about things. I think it's so common that I hear where people just don't ever want to directly address issues that are going on between them. I'm a very confrontational person [laughs]. I never avoid a good confrontation, if it means that it's going to get something out there. So maybe that's easy for me to say. But I think that's my answer. But I also know Tyler's not.


Rugh

Yeah, I'm probably the flip side of the coin. I'm a bottler, kind of. But I mean, that advice is absolutely true: Talk about it. I think it's easy to assume that people can read your mind and things will work themselves out. But as seen in our movie, it reaches a point of rock bottom for the characters. And that's kind of what gets them there: it's not talking and not being openly honest.


WTR

That scene with Nina is such a great exemplifier of that. When she begins to cry. You know she knows that's the answer, but no one ever wants to talk.


Rugh

And that's the other thing! So she's talking about it, but to a podcast. It's like, "Just talk to your boyfriend".


WTR

It's just so great. And then the final question, which I like to ask everyone that I interview: You named a plethora of films for people to check out if they want more. But do you have a personal favorite that you always return to? Either an all-time film, or something that inspired the film directly?


Rugh

I mean, related to the movie, one of the big ones is Y Tu Mamá También. We've seen it probably 100 times, and it's one of the best movies about bodies and about sex. And obviously, it has a triangular dynamic. And maybe just personally, Silence Of The Lambs or Dogville. I don't know, I just love those. But I could go on and on.


Andrés

It's always really hard to pick specific movies, but with filmmakers I can definitely go off. I would probably say that Steven Soderbergh and Luca Guadagnino are like, my two favorite working directors right now. And I would like to think that tracks with the movie, because with Soderbergh, he's very aesthetic heavy, very controlled, and of course owns the process. I think that was a big thing with this movie and not waiting for funding. We thought, "Okay, if it's going to be this cheap, and I have this technology that only exists because I was born at this time in digital filmmaking, that means I can control the aesthetic completely. I can control the cinematography, where the camera goes, and how it sounds and looks. And with Guadagnino, you know, it's definitely the idea of letting bodies do the talking: with expressiveness, with sex, and with spaces and rooms. The way that a character walks across the room to tell a story because we're losing so much of that to coverage. TV coverage is taking over completely, and he avoids that. I never felt that more than when we watched his TV show, We Are Who We Are. It was the first time I'd seen a TV show in a couple of years, and I loved it so much. And I was like, “Oh, I need to watch more TV”. And then I watched a TV show, and I was like, "Oh, actually what I need is to just watch more of his movies again" [laughs]. It's just such a different language with regards to coverage. But yeah, those two filmmakers and everything they do.


WTR

Well, you saying that actually brings up one more question. Soderbergh is obviously not only the king of bold experimentation, but like you said, he has his hands on a little bit of everything. And I know you two were heavily involved in nearly every aspect of filmmaking. What was that like? And is it something that you would like to do again? Or are you leaning more towards taking it off your hands?


Andrés

You know, I think I want to for sure, but we definitely want more collaborators. I would love to work with a grip and electric team. I would love to work with cameramen that know how to shape light because there's no light in this film. And I knew constantly when a shot didn't look good, it's because I don't know much about lighting. So stuff like that. And of course, meeting more people like Ryan, who just fundamentally understand the artform, that's the best. I think post-production was one of the most fun parts of all this, because we worked with an amazing colorist named Daniel Stuyck, who does a lot of Austin indies. He did Krisha, and he also worked on Before Midnight. And he had all this wealth of experience and was able to explain why a shot didn't look good to me versus why it could. And it was addicting to me so yes, I definitely want to bring on more collaborators. But I think there will always be that desire to control everything. I know there are many directors who aren't like that, but that seems to come when you're older. You know, I like the PTA trajectory where it's amazing to read about him doing his recent movies where he just let things flow on set. But I remember watching the Magnolia behind-the-scenes documentary where he was strictly running everything, he was controlling everything down to the minute little track marks. And I think that maybe that's just something you lose the older you get. So let's see, but on the next one, I definitely want to control the aesthetic.

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