TRIBECA 2022 Interview | Parker Seaman and Devin Das Talk About WES SCHLAGENHAUF IS DYING

As part of the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival, Wes Schlagenhauf is Dying celebrated its world premiere. We were given the opportunity to speak with Parker Seaman, who wrote and directed the film alongside Devin Das, co-writer and producer of the film. They also both star in the film as fictionalized versions of themselves, and the real-life friendship they share comes across. Be sure to check out our full review of Wes Schlagenhauf is Dying right here, and read below for a look into a lovable movie and an even more charming friendship.

 

Where's The Remote?

So obviously, a very crucial part of Wes Schlagenhauf is Dying is the relationship you two have. So I was curious, how did you two meet?


Devin Das

You know, that's actually a fun story. So we were both working in and around Funny Or Die 10 years ago, back in 2012. And we had known of each other by crossing paths in the office and whatnot. But I feel like our real meeting was when we were both PA's on an Old Milwaukee shoot with Jose Conseco. And it was a really big shoo, in this big baseball stadium out in San Bernardino. But for some reason, Parker and I were the only two PA's on set. I don't know why there wasn't a bigger crew [laughs]. So it was just me and him, running around, doing the classic PA stuff. That's where we got to know each other more and we started talking. It was the classic thing of "Oh, we should hang out", you know? And it just kind of started there.


Parker Seaman

[Parker takes a second to seemingly confirm in his head]. July 2nd, 2012... I think.


Das

Oh my god [laughs], that's right. The reason we know the exact date is because Parker's birthday is July 3rd. And I remember we were talking and he said, "Oh, yeah, my birthday is tomorrow". And at the time, I was 23. I'm three years older than Parker. And he was about to turn 20 the next day. SO young. So I asked him how old he was turning. And I thought he was going to be saying, "Oh, 23 or 24". Something my age. And he's like, "I'm gonna turn 20". And I just thought, "Oh, God, I'm friends with a child". [Chuckles to himself].


Seaman

So young! [With excitement in his voice] I thought, "Oh, this old guy is actually pretty sick"! [They both laugh].


WTR

I was going to say. That's some serious best friend behavior to have the day down.


Both

Yeah. [Laughing].


WTR

So then, how did you two transition that friendship into filmmaking?


Seaman

Well, because we worked at Funny or Die, I think we were clearly like-minded that we wanted to make stuff. So I think once you're there, it was like, "We're in the same boat". And you know, because we were some of the younger guys there, and we were friends, we just started making sketches. So we were just trying things out, and it ended up really working out. And then, shortly after that, Wes came into the picture, and the three of us lived in an apartment together. And that's sort of what the movie is very much about, although not as literally. In the movie, it's a little bit nicer than what I think it actually was in real life. But I think that's what we're sort of trying to emulate. It's the salad days, these times when we were younger, and we were just having fun and making stuff.


WTR

And that's one of the most fascinating things I found about this movie: Watching all that old footage. It feels like you could just put together an entire behind-the-scenes reel with just that stuff. So I'm curious, what goes through your head as you're looking through years of footage that I assume some of which you might have forgotten over time? How do you pick these key moments that become included?


Seaman

So I actually did go through all that footage, just years of stuff. It was like terabytes of old footage and sketches that were never made, and it's probably good they weren't. [Das laughs]. Also home video as well. But I think the main goal was to make sure that it didn't look like a bloopers reel playing in front of the movie. It was looking for these moments of real human interactions between the three of us that felt genuine, but then also sprinkling in some classic fun, like us breaking on set. Just trying to emulate a sense of, "There's been some passage of time with these guys". So why not do the most literal backstory that we can find, which is just us actually growing up through the years through this footage.


Das

Yeah. What was also fun about that is there were sketches like Parker said never released, or weren't even fully edited together. But there were a couple of special ones. One in particular, that did make it into the movie, was actually on a hard drive that was corrupted. And for years, we've been like, "We got to get that fixed so we can get the footage off of there and edit this sketch together". And for years, just nothing was ever done about it. And it was so fun to finally be able to go get the hard drive fixed and actually get access to the footage. It was such an amazing reason to actually use that stuff finally, and not even need to edit it as a sketch, but just be able to put it into the movie. Even one of the opening shots that you see, is like three of us laying on top of each other and just yelling into each other's faces. [Das laughs before continuing]. I think we're actually groaning into each other's faces. That's from a sketch that we all were like, "Dude, we got to recover that footage". And we just never did until now. So, I think it's even more special that we were able to use it in this way.


Seaman

There's also one piece of footage from a sketch that D'Arcy Carden is actually in, and we had to cut around some great footage. Because obviously, we couldn't have Chelsea the agent (whom Carden plays in the film), magically in these clips with us. But there are, you know, very small easter eggs in them. Like you can hear Darcy laughing in some of those old clips, that probably only we can hear. It definitely showcases how much everyone involved in the movie has known each other.

WTR

I was going to ask, how did Carden and Mark Duplass come on board to this? Especially with Duplass, part of me assumed you really just got a Cameo from him and told him after the fact [laughs].


Seaman

I mean, yeah, it's kind of a mix between that. We've known Darcy for 10 years now, and she is committed to doing anything we want to do in the best way. She's just such a good person and friend, and obviously now she's so wildly known in the film industry, and everyone knows her talent, but we've always known. So it's great that she did this. And the stuff with Mark did sort of derive from a Cameo that was given to me. So that's what inspired the movie in some sense, or at least, gave the movie some shape. Devin and I were talking and saying, "Oh, how funny would it be to tackle this idea, but have this real Cameo be the inciting incident of the movie that gets us on the road". So it started out with just hoping we could get Mark while writing, and then we were able to convince him to get on board and give us that last piece you see in the film.


Das

We really rolled the dice on that too. We had the Cameo idea and we were going to use it, we wrote it into the script, but we wrote ourselves into a corner completely. We just kept saying, "We have to get Mark Duplass later on in the movie". And he had to actually be in the movie, not just some sort of trick. Because we needed to come full circle with that, otherwise it feels cheap and it becomes meaningless. Also, we're talking about him the whole time throughout the movie, so yeah, we wrote ourselves into a corner. So we just reached out to his company and one of the producers over there helped get the material in front of him. But the guy is just so busy, so for months we were following up to no avail. Then one day we just got a Google Drive link in our inboxes, and we hadn't ever spoken to him directly, but there were his takes. And we were able to use them, and it was very surreal and very weird, but he really does live up to what he preaches.


Seaman

As if there wasn’t enough mystique behind the man, he delivers it to us like this. [They both laugh]. My favorite thing is maybe people will watch this thinking Mark is only in this in the capacity of an actual Cameo. But I hope that comedically it plays harder when you see him again, where now he's really contributing to the movie in the best way possible, with Mark being self-aware which is so great.


WTR

Like you said, it works comedically, but obviously, there's two emotional cores of the film as well: one of them being the message that he gives you in the beginning, and the second being the relationship you two share, as well as Wes. So I'm curious if at any point while filming, did you have to turn off the friendship role and say, "Alright, let's play it like the film needs it to be played”, or is it just organically acting?


Das

Totally, totally.


Seaman

I mean, we're not as mean to each other. Like, we would never go behind each other's backs to take a job. [chuckles].


Das

[While laughing] Well, unless it's like, Tom Cruise needs me or something. That's a different story like, "Who? Parker who?" But no, we are playing fictionalized versions of ourselves, but are definitely pulling from our dynamic. Like the way we speak to each other in some sense, or our comedic sensibilities. That dynamic is definitely lightning in a bottle in that, no one else would be able to recreate it just by looking at us or anything like that. But we had to play these heightened, more selfish versions of ourselves for the sake of character and story. And not all of that came naturally, so there was workshopping done on set to make sure that we were playing it properly. We needed it to play in a way that didn't come off as too mean. You know, we had to make sure that the audience still hopefully likes us or sees us as people who like each other [laughs]. It was definitely a balance to strike performance wise, but it was fun, and actually a really good challenge.


Seaman

We're also just playing dumb versions of ourself. Like, we are making a movie, but we're also playing versions of people trying to make a movie that are not succeeding. And that was probably the most fun. Like, "What would be the most obvious thing that someone would do trying to make a documentary"? Or, "What's the first thing that you shouldn't do"? So hopefully when you watch it, it’s kind of anxiety ridden, because we are making the wrong decisions. And we're making dumb moves left and right. So I think that was the right angle.


Das

Yeah, and that's not to mention that we're spurred on by Mark Duplass saying, "Do something that's so uniquely personal to you". And then Parker calls me saying we should do something that's so uniquely personal to us, which is going to see Wes. But then very soon after, are we trying to just make a cookie cutter movie based off of all the proper story beats? Like, we just descend into becoming cliché and trope-filled where we just come off as idiots. These are not the type of guys that're going to make an award winning film. You know, they're delusional. [Laughs].


WTR

So then I have to ask: Are there any streaming sites that either of you share passwords for?


Das

[Excitedly] No! Thank you for asking that. I want his Apple ID password because the guy's got a great movie library on iTunes and he won't share it with me.


Seaman

Yeah, if you actually want to talk about how we're not the same as in this movie: I have passwords that I will never give Devon because he needs to get them. He's got kind of a weird taste in film so it's going to mess up my library [while laughing].


Das

You know what, not too long ago in real life, I needed a Peacock subscription. I was trying to watch MacGruber, and guess who has Peacock? Parker has Peacock. I think it's like $4.99 a month, so I could get it... but he definitely could have just given me his password when I was asking for it.


Seaman

If there was like a one-time use feature where I knew that he could only get one play out of it? Gladly I would share.


Das

Ridiculous! Ridiculous...


Seaman

But if he's just going to use it for a long time... I'm not going to share it.


Das

It's so crazy... And you know, if this were the other way around, he would put up a hissy fit because Parker gets what Parker wants! [Laughs].


Seaman

Oh my God. [They both laugh].

WTR

It's such a visceral feeling that I'm sure everybody has at some point with a friend. These moments in the film work comedically, but they're also just very heartfelt. Especially when you show footage at the end, like you two playing baseball with tree branches and stuff like that. So it seems like there's a ton of B roll footage. Do you know how much you shot versus how much made it in the film?


Seaman

I think in terms of beauty stuff, what you see is what we got. We used a lot of that just to make it feel big and show that we actually did hit the road. But I think the stuff that's on the cutting room floor, which I would love to share one day, is just the alternate versions of scenes we did. Devon and I wrote a very tight script, and obviously we wanted to stay within the Save The Cat beats. But we improvised a lot, and Wes is like releasing a tiger onto a set. So, I think for the flashback scene for instance, we're doing all this yapping around the couch and our editor was like, "You guys shot an Avatar amount of footage". And ironically enough, we ended up keeping it tight, because you don't want to see us just yelling at each other for seven minutes in a living room. It's so many alternate takes and so much footage of extra jokes or inside stories that we tried to infuse. We just wanted to see if we could get people interested that way.


WTR

You filmed this in 2020, right?


Das

Yeah.


WTR

So obviously, it plays a plot point in the film, but was there anything specific that you took into consideration when making a movie about the pandemic? I think it's important that it's so light hearted in a way that doesn't feel disrespectful, so I'm just curious as to how you approached that.


Das

You know, the movie obviously takes place during COVID and we're commenting on COVID. But for us, like first and foremost, the movie is about the story we're trying to tell, which we feel is not related to COVID; And it's just the story of friendship. Also, this story is showcasing people who are just so obsessed with the vanity of Hollywood success, which you can remove COVID from all of that, and I think you would still be able to, you know, hone in on that and have a great movie without it. So while writing and filming, we tried to be as intentional as possible for any COVID related stuff. And we didn't want to make fun of the pandemic obviously, so we were trying to be as self-aware as possible, which doesn't necessarily save us ethically since we did go out and do it. There were terrible things happening, and there were other things we could have been doing to help the world during that time. But we kept a very small crew, we tried to be as responsible as possible, and we tried to keep our footprint so tiny. We didn't want it to feel like we were trying to make something big and grand. We wanted it to be scrappy, we wanted it to be as ethically produced as possible. We wanted to make comments about the fact that we are people who should know that there is more to focus on in the world than what we're focusing on. And we try to comment on that as much as possible too. So yeah, it was a balancing act for sure.


Seaman

Yeah, it's not lost on us. Like, we didn't want to make a pandemic movie. We actually were like, "Movies are being shot during this time that were making us upset, and we don't like pandemic movies". [Laughs]. And we knew that we were going draw a line in the sand too, by making a movie set in that time. But our goal was: We are trying to make a movie about people who shouldn't be making a movie. Sort of becoming the pandemic movie that ends all pandemic movies, where we were just trying to pick it apart and show why it's so ridiculous. So all of these feelings that we were having were actually real. Where we were having this self-reflection, where it was like, "What are we even doing? Is what we're doing even important? Should we be doing something bigger and better? And should we even be in the film industry at all"? So I think it had to be set during that time, because the feelings derived from what was happening. But we knew that we'd be saying some things that you either think is funny or you don't.


WTR

So final question: Are there any films in particular that you looked to for inspiration when making this? Aside from Little Miss Sunshine? [laughs].


Das

With this movie, I think it's hard to compare movies to what we did because I think the style is pretty unique. But there are things that I remember Parker and I were talking about. The self-referential and meta aspects of this film were definitely a balancing act, and we had to draw inspiration to make sure that we were going to execute it properly. And I remember one of those movies being Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths. That was one that we definitely looked to for how self-referential and meta that film is; You know, you're watching a movie about the screenplay that a guy is writing. Adaptation also. We had small discussions about that too. Just in terms of that balancing act of layers upon layers, while still feeling digestible.


Seaman

From just an overall standpoint, The Disaster Artist was another one that we were talking about. You know, a movie about a movie and filmmaking in general. There's a balance to how inside it is, versus being something that you can still love and understand even as someone who doesn't make movies.


Das

Yeah, but we were kind of all over the map in terms of genre. We looked at anything that was Hollywood satire, or had a meta aspect to it, that we could kind of just use as a guide of proper balance.


Seaman

We were also just excited that we could use something that we had not really seen too much of. Utilizing real footage in different formats to make a visual style that hadn't been done that much. So we were trying something new. You're seeing old footage of these people that are on screen portraying these characters. So it just kind of blurs a line of reality. And we hope that since we are, you know, sort of nobodies at this point, maybe that sort of endearing, heartfelt old footage aspect of it will make you come along for the ride.


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