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How the Daniels Made Swiss Army Man (a.k.a. the Daniel Radcliffe Farting Corpse Movie)

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Toward the end of filming Swiss Army Man, it was time to tackle one of the movie’s most difficult shots. It involved a bear, fire, and numerous stuntpeople, and, co-director and co-writer Daniel Kwan tells mental_floss, “it was day three or four of our overnight shoot, so we were kind of already losing our minds.”

“Losing our minds,” echoes the film’s other director and writer, Daniel Scheinert.

“We could never shoot the bear while the actors were on set,” Kwan continues. “We had to shoot [the scene] in pieces. It was really tough, but … pretty much everything was really difficult to shoot. It was all hard.”

The duo, who go by the name Daniels, met at Boston's Emerson College in 2008 and started making videos together shortly thereafter—first, short films (in one, posted to Vimeo in 2009, they face-swapped half a decade before it was cool), then bizarre-but-delightful music videos (DJ Snake and Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What” and Chromeo’s “When the Night Falls,” among others). Swiss Army Man, out nationwide today, is their first feature. In the opening scene, Hank (Paul Dano) rides a flatulent corpse (Daniel Radcliffe) like a jet ski off a deserted island. And things only get weirder—and more wonderful—from there.

“The film is one big narrative experiment, I guess,” Kwan says. That experiment, according to Scheinert, was, “how can you make an accessible movie with this as a premise? Can we make someone cry with a fart? And can we make our moms like it, even though it’s about boners? That was our goal.”

Swiss Army Man began not as a feature, but as a short film. Kwan and Scheinert would often pitch each other “stupid ideas,” Scheinert says, and the one that would eventually become Swiss Army Man was Kwan’s: A man, stranded on a deserted island, finds a dead body. He feeds it beans, then rides the fart-powered corpse off the island with tears in his eyes while a gorgeous score swells in the background.

Scheinert was immediately on board, despite Kwan’s protests. “Literally, there’s no point to it,” he told Scheinert. “It is a meaningless little story.” But Scheinert would not be dissuaded. “What are you talking about? It’s beautiful,” he responded. “It’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever pitched to me. We have to make it.”

But the concept was too expensive for a short, so they shelved the idea—until a couple of years later, when it resurfaced. As they were fleshing the story out, trying to figure out how to make it work, “20 of our old ideas suddenly squished together,” Scheinert says. “What if the corpse is coming back to life, and [the live guy] has to explain to the corpse why they need to get home in order to get the corpse’s help? [And he’s] reenacting memories and trying to, in the middle of the forest, explain life to a super-powered corpse while surviving?” Their Swiss Army Man would be not just a companion, but a jet ski (Kwan’s idea became the movie’s opening scene), a canteen (recalling imagery from Daniels’ 2011 short, My Best Friend’s Sweating), a compass (via an erection—an effect you might recognize from the “Turn Down for What” video), an axe, a shotgun, and other equally weird and awesome things.

Many people who heard the premise, Kwan says, said it sounded perfect for a short film. But the duo knew it could only work as a feature. “The thing that made us realize this was probably going to be our first feature is when we just had too many ideas for it,” Kwan says. “And we were like, ‘OK.’”

“At least,” Scheinert reasoned, “we won’t get bored.”

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What does a script look like when one character can’t emote or move on his own, and must often move in tandem with the other main character? The Daniels knew exactly what they wanted, but it wasn’t easy to explain. “We’d have to put in kind of weird paragraphs in the middle of the script that’d be like, ‘Just so you know, his lips aren’t moving here or they are moving here, or he’s on vines,’” Scheinert says. “‘We say walk, but he never walks.’ ‘We say that we’re in a bus, but it’s not a bus. We never go to the bus.’ We had to be really explicit.”

They also put together what Kwan calls “a huge image … treatment board kind of thing” that they would eventually weave into the script, with pictures every few pages and suggested music to listen to. “On paper, logically, these ideas are so ridiculous and not something you would ever waste your time on,” he says. “To get the tone, the idea, and what we were going for, we had to infuse it with music and imagery so people could feel the contradiction and the beauty of those contradictions. It was a multimedia experience in order to get people in the right headspace, because on paper it’s insane.”

Because of the content of the script, Daniels didn’t just send it out to anyone. “We were very slow to ask anybody to be involved,” Scheinert says. According to Kwan, “We had to be careful, because this script could turn a lot of people off. So we had to pick our people wisely.”

But that worry was largely for nothing: Dano and Radcliffe were the first guys they asked to be in Swiss Army Man, and casting them, Scheinert says, was the easiest thing about making the film: “All we had to do was ask, and they said yes. And we were like, ‘Holy s***.’”

According to Kwan, Dano had seen their stuff just a week before they sent him the script. “He emailed his manager and was like, ‘I want to know what these guys are up to,’” he says. “The next week, we just happened to send him the script because we had already been talking about sending it to him. It just kind of aligned in a way.”

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Dano tells mental_floss that when he read the script, he immediately started telling his friends about it, “Being like, ‘there’s this thing that’s like, dead bodies, and all these farts ...’ I thought it was brilliant. I was pumped.”

Radcliffe was not as familiar with Daniels and their work as Dano was, but he loved the script. “It’s just exciting to read something that’s so original,” he tells mental_floss. “You go, ‘Great, there are still people out there who are into making crazy movies.’ But also, it’s craziness with such intellect and heart, as well. I was just excited.” After he accepted the role, the Daniels took a cast of Radcliffe's face to make a dummy in his likeness. They also made a cast of his butt. (Scheinert recalled in a featurette that when they asked, Radcliffe told them, If I don't let you do my butt, I have no idea who you're going to use. So I want you to do my butt.)

With their main actors cast, Daniels retooled the script. “We didn’t write it for them, but we rewrote it for them,” Scheinert says. “They evolved into our dream duo.” Manny, for example, went from a sarcastic corpse to “a wide-eyed sweetheart, because that’s what Daniel Radcliffe is like,” Scheinert says. “And we were like, ‘If we put this sweet boy at the middle of our movie, less people will walk out.’”

Dano notes that “the physical arc [Daniel] created for this character was pretty impressive,” and, according to Radcliffe, he had lots of help from the Daniels, who, on set, often demonstrated how they wanted things to look themselves.

“It was a lot of fun,” Radcliffe says of creating the corpse’s movement, which starts out stiff and gets less so as the film goes on. “I got a huge amount of help there from the Daniels. They knew exactly what they wanted out of Manny at every stage. [For example], if I was ever talking slightly too well they’d come in and say ‘Hey, can you take the edge off? You sound a little too articulate.’ When you know that the directors know exactly what they want it really frees you up to try stuff, because you know that if you’re ever doing too much or too little, they’ll pull you in the correct direction.”

The cast and crew shot Swiss Army Man over the course of five weeks. They were on a tight budget and schedule with many, many constraints—all things that are rough on a regular indie. But Swiss Army Man includes musical numbers, elaborate props built from things found in the woods, scenes involving small woodland creatures and a Daniel Radcliffe dummy, and highly physical action sequences. “We were just stretching every dollar as far as it could go, and calling in as many favors as possible,” Kwan says. No wonder they were exhausted when it came time to shoot the scene with the bear.

There were times, throughout the process, when being a directing team came in handy. Early in their careers, there was a sharp delineation between their duties—a former improv guy, Scheinert would talk to the actors, while Kwan handled things like story structure and special effects—but over time, they’ve learned a lot from each other and these days perform all duties interchangeably. “We also take turns pushing each other to make sure we aren’t settling,” Kwan says. “Every step of the way there’s something that can make you stop and go, ‘Maybe we shouldn’t do this.’ And I think having someone to tag team with—who says, ‘No, this part is really important and I will fight you for it’—is really important, because [you can] step back and let that person [take over].”

Despite their constraints, the directors still changed things constantly on set, according to Scheinert, which made things both more fun and more challenging. “I think a lot of our most successful projects were ones that we didn’t get bored of,” he says. Kwan agrees: “We kind of set ourselves up with a long runway with a lot of hurdles, knowing that that will help the process. So this film probably had more hurdles than we should’ve had.”

The duo was problem-solving during pre-production, production, and through the edit, according to Scheinert. “In post-production we’d be like, ‘Oh, we finally cracked it!’” he says. “And then, we’d screen it, test it on a couple of folks, and realize, ‘Oh, we just jumped one hurdle and found a new one.’”

Aside from hoping to make audiences cry with a fart (and gaining their moms’ approval), Daniels had another goal in mind for Swiss Army Man. “We wrote and shot it trying to make it worthy of the theater,” Scheinert says. “We’re not going to compromise on the aesthetics. The effects are going to look good. It made it harder, but I think we kind of pulled it off.”

Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Daniel Scheinert, Daniel Swan, Daniel Radcliffe, and Paul Dano at the Sundance Premiere of Swiss Army Man. Photo courtesy Getty Images.

Immediately after Swiss Army Man premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, the film took on a particular label. But now, as their movie goes into wide release, Scheinert and Kwan say that it does not weird them out, or even disappoint them, that Swiss Army Man is known as “The Daniel Radcliffe Farting Corpse Movie.”

“We can tell [when] an idea has a sound-bitable description, and it’s always good,” Scheinert says. “It’s so valuable because it creates a shorthand, and people will talk.”

And they heard some of that talk at Sundance. “Two people [were] walking down the street, and one of them goes, ‘Oh, have you heard about that farting boner Daniel Radcliffe movie? It’s actually good,’” Kwan says. “I love contradictions, because they force people to look at the world in a different way. So it’s exciting if people hear that that’s the label, but [the film is] worth their time and it’s something beautiful. That’s a really great anomaly, I think, that we’ve pushed out into the world.”

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30 Memorable Quotes from Carrie Fisher
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Just days after suffering a heart attack aboard a flight en route to Los Angeles, beloved actress, author, and screenwriter Carrie Fisher passed away at the age of 60 on December 27, 2016. Though she’ll always be most closely associated with her role as Princess Leia in Star Wars, Fisher’s life was like something out of its own Hollywood movie. Born in Beverly Hills on this day in 1956, Fisher was born into show business royalty as the daughter of singer Eddie Fisher and actress Debbie Reynolds.

In addition to her work in front of the camera, Fisher built up an impressive resume behind the scenes, too, most notably as a writer; in addition to several memoirs and semi-autobiographical novels, including Wishful Drinking, Surrender the Pink, Delusions of Grandma, The Best Awful, Postcards from the Edge, and The Princess Diarist (which was released last month), she was also an in-demand script doctor who counted Sister Act, Hook, Lethal Weapon 3, and The Wedding Singer among her credits.

Though she struggled with alcoholism, drug addiction, and mental illness, Fisher always maintained a sense of humor—as evidenced by the 30 memorable quotes below.

ON GROWING UP IN HOLLYWOOD

“I am truly a product of Hollywood in-breeding. When two celebrities mate, someone like me is the result.”

“I was born into big celebrity. It could only diminish.”

“At a certain point in my early twenties, my mother started to become worried about my obviously ever-increasing drug ingestion. So she ended up doing what any concerned parent would do. She called Cary Grant.”

“I was street smart, but unfortunately the street was Rodeo Drive.”

“If anything, my mother taught me how to sur-thrive. That's my word for it.”

ON AGING

“As you get older, the pickings get slimmer, but the people don't.”

ON INSTANT GRATIFICATION

“Instant gratification takes too long.”

ON THE LEGACY OF STAR WARS

“People are still asking me if I knew Star Wars was going to be that big of a hit. Yes, we all knew. The only one who didn't know was George.”

“Leia follows me like a vague smell.”

“I signed my likeness away. Every time I look in the mirror, I have to send Lucas a couple of bucks.”

“People see me and they squeal like tropical birds or seals stranded on the beach.”

“You're not really famous until you’re a Pez dispenser.”

ON THE FLEETING NATURE OF SUCCESS

“There is no point at which you can say, 'Well, I'm successful now. I might as well take a nap.'”

ON DEALING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS

“I'm very sane about how crazy I am.”

ON RESENTMENT

“Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die."

ON LOVE

“Someone has to stand still for you to love them. My choices are always on the run.”

“I've got to stop getting obsessed with human beings and fall in love with a chair. Chairs have everything human beings have to offer, and less, which is obviously what I need. Less emotional feedback, less warmth, less approval, less patience, and less response. The less the merrier. Chairs it is. I must furnish my heart with feelings for furniture.”

“I don’t hate hardly ever, and when I love, I love for miles and miles. A love so big it should either be outlawed or it should have a capital and its own currency.”

ON EMOTIONS

“The only thing worse than being hurt is everyone knowing that you're hurt.”

ON RELATIONSHIPS

“I envy people who have the capacity to sit with another human being and find them endlessly interesting, I would rather watch TV. Of course this becomes eventually known to the other person.”

ON HOLLYWOOD

“Acting engenders and harbors qualities that are best left way behind in adolescence.”

“You can't find any true closeness in Hollywood, because everybody does the fake closeness so well.”

“It's a man's world and show business is a man's meal, with women generously sprinkled through it like overqualified spice.”

ON FEAR

“Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

ON LIFE

“I don’t want life to imitate art. I want life to be art.”

“No motive is pure. No one is good or bad-but a hearty mix of both. And sometimes life actually gives to you by taking away.”

“If my life wasn't funny it would just be true, and that is unacceptable.”

“I shot through my twenties like a luminous thread through a dark needle, blazing toward my destination: Nowhere.”

“My life is like a lone, forgotten Q-Tip in the second-to-last drawer.”

ON DEATH

“You know what's funny about death? I mean other than absolutely nothing at all? You'd think we could remember finding out we weren't immortal. Sometimes I see children sobbing at airports and I think, 'Aww. They've just been told.'”

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12 Surprising Facts About Bela Lugosi
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On October 20, 1882—135 years ago today—one of the world's most gifted performers was born. In his heyday, Bela Lugosi was hailed as the undisputed king of horror. Eighty-five years after he first donned a vampire’s cape, Lugosi's take on Count Dracula is still widely hailed as the definitive portrayal of the legendary fiend. But who was the man behind the monster?

1. HE WORKED WITH THE NATIONAL THEATER OF HUNGARY.

To the chagrin of his biographers, the details concerning Bela Lugosi’s youth have been clouded in mystery. (In a 1929 interview, he straight-up admitted “for purposes of simplification, I have always thought it better to tell [lies] about the early years of my life.”) That said, we do know that he was born as Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó on October 20, 1882 in Lugoj, Hungary (now part of Romania). We also know that his professional stage debut came at some point in either 1901 or 1902. By 1903, Lugosi had begun to find steady work with traveling theater companies, through which he took part in operas, operettas, and stage plays. In 1913, Lugosi caught a major break when the most prestigious performing arts venue in his native country—the Budapest-based National Theater of Hungary—cast him in no less than 34 shows. Most of the characters that he played there were small Shakespearean roles such as Rosencrantz in Hamlet and Sir Walter Herbert in Richard III.

2. HE FOUGHT IN WORLD WAR I.

The so-called war to end all wars put Lugosi’s dramatic aspirations on hold. Although being a member of the National Theater exempted him from military service, he voluntarily enlisted in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1914. Over the next year and a half, he fought against Russian forces as a lieutenant with the 43rd Royal Hungarian Infantry. While serving in the Carpathian mountains, Lugosi was wounded on three separate occasions. Upon healing from his injuries, he left the armed forces in 1916 and gratefully resumed his work with the National Theater.

3. WHEN HE MADE HIS BROADWAY DEBUT, LUGOSI BARELY KNEW ANY ENGLISH.

In December 1920, Lugosi boarded a cargo boat and emigrated to the United States. Two years later, audiences on the Great White Way got their first look at this charismatic stage veteran. Lugosi was cast as Fernando—a suave, Latin lover—in the 1922 Broadway stage play The Red Poppy. At the time, his grasp of the English language was practically nonexistent. Undaunted, Lugosi went over all of his lines with a tutor. Although he couldn’t comprehend their meaning, the actor managed to memorize and phonetically reproduce every single syllable that he was supposed to deliver on stage.

4. UNIVERSAL DIDN’T WANT TO CAST HIM AS COUNT DRACULA.

The year 1927 saw Bela Lugosi sink his teeth into the role of a lifetime. A play based on the novel Dracula by Bram Stoker had opened in London in 1924. Sensing its potential, Horace Liveright, an American producer, decided to create an U.S. version of the show. Over the summer of 1927, Lugosi was cast as the blood-sucking Count Dracula. For him, the part represented a real challenge. In Lugosi’s own words, “It was a complete change from the usual romantic characters I was playing, but it was a success.” It certainly was. Enhanced by his presence, the American Dracula remained on Broadway for a full year, then spent two years touring the country.

Impressed by its box office prowess, Universal decided to adapt the show into a major motion picture in 1930. Horror fans might be surprised to learn that when the studio began the process of casting this movie’s vampiric villain, Lugosi was not their first choice. At the time, Lugosi was still a relative unknown, which made director Tod Browning more than a little hesitant to offer him the job. A number of established actors were all considered before the man who’d played Dracula on Broadway was tapped to immortalize his biting performance on film.

5. MOST OF HIS DRACULA-RELATED FAN MAIL CAME FROM WOMEN.

The recent Twilight phenomenon is not without historical precedent. Lugosi estimated that, while he was playing the Count on Broadway, more than 97 percent of the fan letters he received were penned by female admirers. A 1932 Universal press book quotes him as saying, “When I was on the stage in Dracula, my audiences were composed mostly of women.” Moreover, Lugosi contended that most of the men who’d attended his show had merely been dragged there by female companions.   

6. HE TURNED DOWN THE ROLE OF FRANKENSTEIN’S MONSTER.

Released in 1931, Dracula quickly became one of the year's biggest hits for Universal (some film historians even argue that the movie single-handedly rescued the ailing studio from bankruptcy). Furthermore, its astronomical success transformed Lugosi into a household name for the first time in his career. Regrettably for him, though, he’d soon miss the chance to star in another smash. Pleased by Dracula’s box office showing, Universal green-lit a new cinematic adaptation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. Lugosi seemed like the natural choice to play the monster, but because the poor brute had few lines and would be caked in layers of thick makeup, the actor rejected the job offer. As far as Lugosi was concerned, the character was better suited for some “half-wit extra” than a serious actor. Once the superstar tossed Frankenstein aside, the part was given to a little-known actor named Boris Karloff.

Moviegoers eventually did get to see Lugosi play the bolt-necked corpse in the 1943 cult classic Frankenstein Meets the Wolf Man. According to some sources, he strongly detested the guttural scream that the script forced him to emit at regular intervals. “That yell is the worst thing about the part. You feel like a big jerk every time you do it!” Lugosi allegedly complained.

7. LUGOSI’S RELATIONSHIP WITH BORIS KARLOFF WAS MORE CORDIAL THAN IT’S USUALLY MADE OUT TO BE.

It’s often reported that the two horror icons were embittered rivals. In reality, however, Karloff and Lugosi seemed to have harbored some mutual respect—and perhaps even affection for one another. The dynamic duo co-starred in five films together, the first of which was 1934’s The Black Cat; Karloff claimed that, on set, Lugosi was “Suspicious of tricks, fearful of what he regarded as scene stealing. Later on, when he realized I didn’t go in for such nonsense, we became friends.” During one of their later collaborations, Lugosi told the press “we laughed over my sad mistake and his good fortune as Frankenstein is concerned.”

That being said, Lugosi probably didn’t appreciate the fact that in every single film which featured both actors, Karloff got top billing. Also, he once privately remarked, “If it hadn’t been for Boris Karloff, I could have had a corner on the horror market.”

8. HE LOVED SOCCER.

In 1935, Lugosi was named Honorary President of the Los Angeles Soccer League. An avid fan, he was regularly seen at Loyola Stadium, where he’d occasionally kick off the first ball during games held there. Also, on top of donating funds to certain Hungarian teams, Lugosi helped finance the Los Angeles Magyar soccer club. When the team won a state championship in 1935, one newspaper wrote that the players were “headed back to Dracula’s castle with the state cup.” [PDF]

9. HE WAS A HARDCORE STAMP COLLECTOR.

Lugosi's fourth wife, Lillian Arch, claimed that Lugosi maintained a collection of more than 150,000 stamps. Once, on a 1944 trip to Boston, he told the press that he intended to visit all 18 of the city's resident philately dealers. “Stamp collecting,” Lugosi declared, “is a hobby which may cost you as much as 10 percent of your investment. You can always sell your stamps with not more than a 10 percent loss. Sometimes, you can even make money.” Fittingly enough, the image of Lugosi’s iconic Dracula appeared on a commemorative stamp issued by the post office in 1997.

10. LUGOSI ALMOST DIDN’T APPEAR IN ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN—BECAUSE THE STUDIO THOUGHT HE WAS DEAD.

The role of Count Dracula in this 1948 blockbuster was nearly given to Ian Keith—who was considered for the same role in the 1931 Dracula movie. Being a good sport, Lugosi helped promote the horror-comedy by making a special guest appearance on The Abbott and Costello Show. While playing himself in one memorable sketch, the famed actor claimed to eat rattlesnake burgers for dinner and “shrouded wheat” for breakfast.

11. A CHIROPRACTOR FILLED IN FOR HIM IN PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE.

Toward the end of his life, Lugosi worked on three ultra-low-budget science fiction pictures with Ed Wood, a man who’s been posthumously embraced as the worst director of all time. In the 1953 transvestite picture Glen or Glenda?, Lugosi plays a cryptic narrator who offers such random and unsolicited bits of advice as “Beware of the big, green dragon who sits on your doorstep.” Then came 1955’s Bride of the Monster, in which Lugosi played a mad scientist who ends up doing battle with a (suspiciously limp) giant octopus.

Before long, Wood had cooked up around half a dozen concepts for new films, all starring Lugosi. At some point in the spring of 1956, the director shot some quick footage of the actor wandering around a suburban neighborhood, clad in a baggy cloak. This proved to be the last time that the star would ever appear on film. Lugosi died of a heart attack on August 16, 1956;  he was 73 years old.

Three years after Lugosi's passing, this footage was spliced into a cult classic that Wood came to regard as his “pride and joy.” Plan 9 From Outer Space tells the twisted tale of extraterrestrial environmentalists who turn newly-deceased human beings into murderous zombies. Since Lugosi could obviously no longer play his character, Wood hired a stand-in for some additional scenes. Unfortunately, the man who was given this job—California chiropractor Tom Mason—was several inches taller than Lugosi. In an attempt to hide the height difference, Wood instructed Mason to constantly hunch over. Also, Mason always kept his face hidden behind a cloak.

12. HE WAS BURIED IN HIS DRACULA CAPE.

Although Lugosi resented the years of typecasting that followed his breakout performance in Dracula, he asked to be laid to rest wearing the Count’s signature garment. Lugosi was buried under a simple tombstone at California's Holy Cross Cemetery.

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