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An Interview with Nick Grant, Director of Gutboy: A Badtime Story

by Mike Haberfelner

January 2017

Films directed by Nick Grant on (re)Search my Trash


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Your new movie Gutboy: A Badtime Story - in a few words, what is it about?


Gutboy is about a guy who’s tricked out of his skin and the fun he has enacting revenge. It’s also about ANOTHER guy who amasses power through acts of Unspeakable Evil, and the comeuppance he receives. And finally it’s about two women whose lives are abominably joined by the evil or weak or oblivious men who surround them.


Basic question of course, why marionettes?


Marionettes are a fantastic vehicle for the surreal and the uncanny. Sometimes they foreground the limitations of their bodies, but other times they move in a disturbingly lifelike and spontaneous way. They’re like the watercolor of puppetry. And preparing a field for weird moments of unexpected beauty is most of what we were trying to do. I think a few key moments that worked out this way were Besto’s shudder after the birthing sequence and Sophieguts’ grumpy movements during her hangover.


Do talk about the marionettes in your movie for a bit, and did you have any influence on their design?


The puppets were designed mostly by Daniel Fay (the marionettes) and Heather Piper (the “supporting cast” of rod puppets). With both of those folks we had meetings and traded sketches beforehand, then they would work, and occasionally I would want a little change. We went back and forth on how fat Gutboy would be, the presence of eyes, and how skingirl would end up looking. I think the places we initially disagreed and ended up compromising on came out among the strongest visual features of the puppets.


What were your sources of inspiration when writing Gutboy: A Badtime Story?


There are a ton - it’s definitely a script in a tradition. The key sources were Hans Christian Andersen (for the harsh moralizing structure & island setting) and The Brothers Grimm (for the grotesqeuries and black comedy). Fairy tales generally liberated the script from the strictures of plot that McKee insists on. There’s more in there too though - burlesque, vaudeville, Punch & Judy, certain Tarot cards & ancient Mexican gods, alchemical manuscripts, Broadway musicals, Wondershowzen, Tim & Eric, WWE, personal experiences at fairs, circuses, and bonfires…


Gutboy: A Badtime Story is pretty much an "anything goes" story - was there ever a point when you thought you might be going to far?


Aside from the Golden Giant wrestling sequence, whose efficacy is a matter of debate amongst pretty much everyone who sees the movie (I, for the record, continue to love it - and I know I’m not alone!), the part that still gives me the agita every screening is Beautiful Sophia’s Pretty Little Song. The images, the singing, and the writing are all pretty extreme, in their own ways. I do think they come together into a vision of the sort of sheltered young woman that Goot would idolize, but it’s one of those moments of embarrassing honesty that makes me anxious every time.


Do talk about the your overall directorial approach to your story at hand - and how does directing a marionation movie compare to directing a live action movie, how closely do you work with your puppeteers?


My general directing philosophy for Gutboy was to try and lay the groundwork for my collaborators to make decisions that they thought were funny, or strange, or beautiful. I think as a result of this the movie bubbles and froths with life. It’s like - when I was a kid I heard that some folks thought that in the afterlife you were literally conjoined to everyone you’d ever had sex with, and I spent a while trying to imagine the geometry of that for these networks of individuals collapsing and reemerging around some central, shared identity. I think we kind of get that with Gutboy, because it was intensely collaborative.

As far as working with the puppeteers went - they were very much a unit. We would talk on the level of like - what the puppet appeared to be doing. But I would never (maybe very rarely) try to get into the nuts and bolts of the puppeteering with them. Puppeteering of this kind is very specialized and our puppeteers were very skilled, so I was happy to let them own that.


You of course also have to talk about the music in your movie, and why song-and-dance scenes?


Our composer Cormac Bluestone is really fantastic. He was able to nail the traditional Broadway stuff and the weirdo stuff equally well. And the montage song - we were trying to buy the rights to Hall and Oates’  “You Make My Dreams Come True”, but couldn’t afford it. And then Cormac just says “Hold on, I’ve got an idea” and comes back a few days later with this fantastic original song of his own concoction. He’s great.

Why the song and dance scenes is a complicated question! Gutboy is less like a journey and more like a garden with many strange perfumes: song and dance are one performance style among many arranged into the narrative of Gutboy.


Do talk about your voice cast for a bit, and why exactly these people?


I think everyone was great. Will Cooper (Gutboy) especially sounded just so precisely like Gutboy in real life, I couldn’t believe it when I heard him. Nick Reed (Besto) is an old friend who has been in pretty much every project I’ve made, and Anthony Herrera (Kug) was someone I met in college and worked on a lot of sketch comedy with.

One funny thing that happened - so we had cast Kubble when she was a much smaller role, then we recorded the vocal track before shooting. But after the recording we decided to add the “Kubble’s Night Out” segment - full of uncast roles and a lot more lines for Kubble. So our producer, DP, gaffer and I went and recorded a temp version of that vocal track so that the puppeteers would have something to play off of. Well it turns out that in the meantime the actress who played Kubble had moved to Atlanta and couldn’t come in to record the rest of the lines. Everyone loved our DP (Sean Hardaway)’s Kubble so much that we decided to have him take a pass at the whole character. He’s not a singer - and Pearl is exceptional - so we left her song in, but all the other voice work on that character was done by Sean.


What can you tell us about the shoot as such, and the on-set atmosphere?


The on-set atmosphere was really fantastic. The key creative team was all really insistent that the set be fun. I think it comes across in the movie, too. There’s a theory that we talked about - that basically… say there’s $100,000 of unavoidable costs in your movie. Well if you plan to spend $110,000 - the extra bit on unnecessary amenities - everyone feels taken care of and does better work and feels better. Why not spend the extra money?


The $64-question of course, where can your movie be seen?


We’re working on that! Hopefully it’ll be out there in the world for private home viewing soon, but in the meantime if you “like” us on Facebook then we’ll update you on where it’s screening and how you can get your hands on it.


Anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of Gutboy: A Badtime Story yet?


Gutboy is very divisive - either you love it or you hate it. Regardless, people usually have something to say! It seems to do well with young people, drugs people, weirdos, and do poorly with the uh… classically-minded.


Any future projects you'd like to share?


Somehow, no! I’ve got a bunch of projects in very early stages of development, and we’re trying to see if any of them can take off… but there’s nothing ready to talk about yet.


What got you into filmmaking in the first place, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?


My dad is an actor, and he got me started in theater & performing at a pretty young age. We had a narrative radio show - The Night Bright Kids Club - on a few radio stations in Texas when I was a kid. As soon as it was offered I jumped into the theater program at my school. Then in high school I shifted focus to filmmaking because I wasn’t gelling as well with the theater program there… then I majored in Radio-Television-Film at the University of Texas and moved to New York to make movies!


What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to Gutboy: A Badtime Story?


Prior to Gutboy - in high school I made a number of shorts, and in college I made some class projects and sketch comedy. When I moved to New York I started working in infomercials, and eventually became a production manager with an infomercial company, which is what I was doing when I took off for Gutboy.


How would you describe yourself as a director?


I try to get people pumped, and help them to a place where they’re willing to be themselves and make bold choices. I think generally directors have a small sphere where they have direct creative involvement, and the much larger sphere where they just have to try to hire good people and get those people the support they need. My skills generally run: Writing > Performance > Art Direction > Camera Movement/Placement > Editing > Sound Mix > Music. I’m trying to learn more about audio, but luckily our very talented cinematographer / editor Sean Hardaway is great at that, and Cormac is a fantastic composer.


Filmmakers who inspire you?


I think the best filmmaker of all time is Andrzej Zulawski. His achievements in terms of vigor are herculean. Whenever I watch a movie of his I come away buzzing. I also get a big charge out of Werner Herzog, David Lynch, Derek Jarman, Aki Kaurismaki, Jan Svankmajer, the Marx Brothers, Whit Stillman… I could go on all day! I love movies.


Your favourite movies?


Ah, I have a list for this ready! is a great website. My four favorite movies are: Devil (Andrzej Zulawski’s, not Shyamalan’s!), Daisies, Duck Soup, and Gremlins 2. The attitudes of Daisies and Gremlins 2 had a lot to do with Gutboy.


... and of course, films you really deplore?


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Thanks to everyone who worked on Gutboy, & thanks to you for having me here!


Thanks for the interview!


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Thanks for watching !!!



Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD