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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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13 Great Jack Nicholson Quotes
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI
Kevin Winter/Getty Images for AFI

Jack Nicholson turns 81 today. Let's celebrate with some of the actor's wit and wisdom.

1. ON ADVICE

"I hate advice unless I'm giving it. I hate giving advice, because people won't take it."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

2. ON REGRETS

"Not that I can think of. I’m sure there are some, but my mind doesn’t go there. When you look at life retrospectively you rarely regret anything that you did, but you might regret things that you didn’t do."

From an interview with The Talks

3. ON DEATH

"I'm Irish. I think about death all the time. Back in the days when I thought of myself as a serious academic writer, I used to think that the only real theme was a fear of death, and that all the other themes were just that same fear, translated into fear of closeness, fear of loneliness, fear of dissolving values. Then I heard old John Huston talking about death. Somebody was quizzing him about the subject, you know, and here he is with the open-heart surgery a few years ago, and the emphysema, but he's bounced back fit as a fiddle, and he's talking about theories of death, and the other fella says, 'Well, great, John, that's great ... but how am I supposed to feel about it when you pass on?' And John says, 'Just treat it as your own.' As for me, I like that line I wrote that, we used in The Border, where I said, 'I just want to do something good before I die.' Isn't that what we all want?"

From an interview with Roger Ebert

4. ON NERVES

''There's a period of time just before you start a movie when you start thinking, I don't know what in the world I'm going to do. It's free-floating anxiety. In my case, though, this is over by lunch the first day of shooting.''

From an interview with The New York Times

5. ON ACTING

"Almost anyone can give a good representative performance when you're unknown. It's just easier. The real pro game of acting is after you're known—to 'un-Jack' that character, in my case, and get the audience to reinvest in a new and specific, fictional person."

From an interview with The Age

6. ON MARRIAGE

"I never had a policy about marriage. I got married very young in life and I always think in all relationships, I've always thought that it's counterproductive to have a theory on that. It's hard enough to get to know yourself and as most of you have probably found, once you get to know two people in tandem it's even more difficult. If it's going to be successful, it's going to have to be very specific and real and immediate so the more ideas you have about it before you start, it seems to me the less likely you are to be successful."

From an interview with About.com

7. ON LYING

“You only lie to two people in your life: your girlfriend and the police. Everybody else you tell the truth to.”

From a 1994 interview with Vanity Fair

8. ON HIS SUNGLASSES

"They're prescription. That's why I wear them. A long time ago, the Middle American in me may have thought it was a bit affected maybe. But the light is very strong in southern California. And once you've experienced negative territory in public life, you begin to accept the notion of shields. I am a person who is trained to look other people in the eye. But I can't look into the eyes of everyone who wants to look into mine; I can't emotionally cope with that kind of volume. Sunglasses are part of my armor."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

9. ON MISCONCEPTIONS

"I think people think I'm more physical than I am, I suppose. I'm not really confrontational. Of course, I have a temper, but that's sort of blown out of proportion."

From an interview with ESPN

10. ON DIRECTING

"I'm a different person when suddenly it's my responsibility. I'm not very inhibited in that way. I would show up [on the set of The Two Jakes] one day, and we'd scouted an orange grove and it had been cut down. You're out in the middle of nowhere and they forget to cast an actor. These are the sort of things I kind of like about directing. Of course, at the time you blow your stack a little bit. ... I'm a Roger Corman baby. Just keep rolling, baby. You've got to get something on there. Maybe it's right. Maybe it's wrong. Maybe you can fix it later. Maybe you can't. You can't imagine the things that come up when you're making a movie where you've got to adjust on the spot."

From an interview with MTV

11. ON ROGER CORMAN

"There's nobody in there, that he didn't, in the most important way support. He was my life blood to whatever I thought I was going to be as a person. And I hope he knows that this is not all hot air. I'm going to cry now."

From the documentary Corman's World

12. ON PLAYING THE JOKER

"This would be the character, whose core—while totally determinate of the part—was the least limiting of any I would ever encounter. This is a more literary way of approaching than I might have had as a kid reading the comics, but you have to get specific. ... He's not wired up the same way. This guy has survived nuclear waste immersion here. Even in my own life, people have said, 'There's nothing sacred to you in the area of humor, Jack. Sometimes, Jack, relax with the humor.' This does not apply to the Joker, in fact, just the opposite. Things even the wildest comics might be afraid to find funny: burning somebody's face into oblivion, destroying a masterpiece in a museum—a subject as an art person even made me a little scared. Not this character. And I love that."

From The Making of Batman

13. ON BASKETBALL

"I've always thought basketball was the best sport, although it wasn't the sport I was best at. It was just the most fun to watch. ... Even as a kid it appealed to me. The basketball players were out at night. They had great overcoats. There was this certain nighttime juvenile-delinquent thing about it that got your blood going."

From Esquire's "What I Learned"

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There's a Simple Trick to Sort Movies and TV Shows by Year on Netflix
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Netflix

Netflix is stocked with so many movies and TV shows that it’s not always easy to actually find what you’re looking for. And while sorting by genre can help a little, even that’s a bit too broad for some. There’s one helpful hack, though, that you probably didn’t know about—and it could make the endless browsing much less painful.

As POPSUGAR reports: By simply opening Netflix up to one of its specific category pages—Horror, Drama, Comedy, Originals, etc.—you can then sort by release year with just a few clicks. All you need to do is look at the top of the page, where you’ll see an icon that looks like a box with four dots in it.

Screenshot of the Netflix Menu
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Once you click on it, it will expand to a tab labeled “Suggestions for You.” Just hit that again and a dropdown menu will appear that allows you to sort by year released or alphabetical and reverse-alphabetical orders. When sorted by release year, the more recent movies or shows will be up top and they'll get older as you scroll to the bottom of the page.


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This tip further filters your Netflix options, so if you’re in the mood for a classic drama, old-school comedy, or a retro bit of sci-fi, you don’t have to endlessly scroll through every page to find the right one.

If you want to dig deeper into Netflix’s categories, here’s a way to find all sorts of hidden ones the streaming giant doesn’t tell you about. And also check out these 12 additional Netflix tricks that should make your binge-watching that much easier.

[h/t POPSUGAR]

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