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An Interview with Oliver Simonsen, Director of The Absurd, Surreal, Metaphysical and Fractured Destiny of Cerebus the Aardvark

by Mike Haberfelner

April 2022

Films directed by Oliver Simonsen on (re)Search my Trash

 

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Your new movie The Absurd, Surreal, Metaphysical and Fractured Destiny of Cerebus the Aardvark - in a few words, what is it about?

 

It's kinda a "folly of man" - or should I say aardvark - kinda story J Basically, in an effort to fit in, Cerebus the Aardvark exchanges his barbarian helmet for a merchant vest - this seemingly small event has major repercussions forever fracturing his destiny.

 

Before we dig deeper into your movie, could you give us a quick introduction to  the Aardvark, the comicbook by Dave Sim, and its significance to the world of indie comics?

 

In the grunge era 90s, Cerebus was called the "Godfather of Indie". It really encapsulated much of the spirit of the time - even that of resisting easy definitions J The comic started in '77, hot on the heels of punk, and was seen by many as starting and leading the way for alternative independent comics. Readers of Cerebus and such were often referred to as comic book elitists even as it sought to cater to a more mature sophisticated audience. It championed creator rights - and had one of the largest female followings in a  time when comics were mostly seen as a boys' thing.

 

What inspired you to make a film about Cerebus the Aardvark, and how close did you stay to the source material?

 

I had been reading Cerebus practically from the get-go. Even though those early issues were uneven and unpolished they held tremendous appeal to me. As a kid I was hoping to do something similar with comics, animation and film. The film is mostly based on Cerebus issues 1, 4, 5 and 13 seen through the prism of the revelation in issue 196 that Cerebus the Aardvark fractured his destiny by trading his barbarian helmet for a merchant vest in issue 4. This act basically catapulted and informed the rest of the series' run.

 

Outside of Dave Sim's comicbooks, what were your sources of inspiration when writing The Absurd, Surreal, Metaphysical and Fractured Destiny of Cerebus the Aardvark?

 

The original idea was to expand issue 1 into a full feature - the comic is practically the length of a Looney Tunes cartoon... so there are remnants of that still in the film. There's a bit more on the town dynamics with what luckily seems topical with a condemnation of Trump though it was done way before.

 

Do talk about The Absurd, Surreal, Metaphysical and Fractured Destiny of Cerebus the Aardvark's approach to both fantasy and humour!

 

Lol. I do have an appreciation for the absurd and surreal. Much like the comic there is a parade of characters that enter stage right and exit stage left. What people might call random humor - even though a reason for this is given in the film much sooner than in the comic J Not that a reason is needed. I'd imagine some might see this kinda apparent whimsy as frivolous, but alas I think it cuts to the core of human existence. There's a "sarcastic zen" like quality (not always shared by its protagonist J) in showing how absurdly funny the world is in its endless chaoticness.

On that note, a Dave Sim quote - https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/dave_sim_200358 - is among 21 zen sarcastic sayings J - https://blog.sivanaspirit.com/sarcastic-zen-phrases-need-life/ 

 

You've told me that The Absurd, Surreal, Metaphysical and Fractured Destiny of Cerebus the Aardvark was made on virtually no budget - now this is an computer-animated feature film, so how is that even possible?

 

Films referred to as low budget, or even shoestring, are still made with enormous sums of money, usually millions of Dollars - more money than any of us will ever see in our lifetimes. It really did have no budget. And this was in a time when personal computers weren't as powerful, the internet was slower and there was less software and apps, some of which got discontinued or updated to the point where old files became incompatible. If we had cameras on our phones back then I would probably have done that instead J I think this might be the first no budget full feature CGI film in history. Everybody including voice recording studios invested/gambled their time and energy. Not that anybody was holding their breath on it paying off. Jeff Seiler, who voiced "Elrod the Albino", and who sadly passed away just before the film was released, said: "Oh, and you should know that since Larry Hart left his boots in the back of my van after we got back from SPACE (an indie comic book convention), I had to mail them to him. I told him not to worry about reimbursing me, and he said he'd send the money to charity. So I suggested he help pay for the recording session. He said that he had *actuallly* earmarked $30 for the postage, so he sent me that to cover the cost of the session. Synchronicity is what he called it." So I guess I lied. We had a $30 budget J

 

Apart from lack of budget, what were the main challenges of bringing The Absurd, Surreal, Metaphysical and Fractured Destiny of Cerebus the Aardvark to the screen?

 

It's hard to put into words how not having a budget permeates every aspect of the process, but it did allow us to overcome maybe the biggest hurdle which was that of creator rights. Having a budget would have complicated that. Admittedly it would maybe have been a nice problem to have... I know some might wish I was rich even - hey, how do you think I feel? J

 

We also overcame a fire - the Tubbs fire, which till then was the most destructive wildfire in California history (a year later it was the Paradise fire - both due to the utility company PG&E) - special thanks to former firefighter Robert Morgan, who lived down the street, and the three brave Santa Rosa firefighters who fought alongside him for saving the film which was left behind as we fled in the middle of the night. Also, thanks to Red Cross, FEMA, the Buddhist group Tzu Chi Foundation, Metallica for their benefit concert which helped more than just about anything - all so wonderful as we had to stay in various hotels. It took a while getting resituated after something like that.

 

For those of us uninitiated, do talk about the production process of The Absurd, Surreal, Metaphysical and Fractured Destiny of Cerebus the Aardvark!

 

It started in a forum, which got closed down and so we migrated to another forum which again got closed down etc. Various file-sharing services closed over time. Facebook was taking over and so most of our work continued on our Facebook page, production blog and YouTube. Everything was done transparently, warts and all.

 

You of course also have to talk about your voice cast!

 

Yuell Newsome as the "heist brothers", who employ Cerebus' mercenary services, was an acquaintance. A Cerebus fan and indie comic creator. Truly a great guy and was, I think, the first voice recording we did. The recording studio was super generous, offering their time, expertise and resources albeit a bit of a drive. We also recorded Brian Lee Moore as Bran Mak Muffin, Head Farmer, Farmer Bully, Guard and Tavern Keeper there - an indie filmmaker and Cerebus fan who came to visit from out of state. 

 

For Cerebus I had been referred to John Di Crosta and we met at a Starbucks. As soon as he did his first sentence as George C Scott I exclaimed that was it (and likewise with Groucho Marx). A different recording studio that was nearer invested us with 30 minutes, maybe an hour... I forget, but almost everything was done in one take.

 

Similarly yet another recording studio, with Stephen Mendel as the Wizard, invested us with 30 minutes. An English buddy of mine was sure he was actually a fellow native. Jim Johnson actually is English - and does it get any more like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards than that?! Georgina Leahy though local is from England as well, and sings the Cerebus song over the end credits followed by an after credit tease of her as Jaka (actually a reporter who looks like Jaka). An idea by Dave Sim was to have her interview an old Cerebus as the framework for the film. That's actually Dave Sim as old Cerebus at the very end. Like Blade Runner we might have multiple versions one day J Btw Dave really liked the music video I was working on of her and her then boyfriend, Chris Mullings, who she did the song with - https://youtu.be/q2HinF5taL8. Chris was a Cerebus fan and followed our Facebook page - even gave some praise and feedback on my son's music and invited us to the studio he was running. Beach Boys' old studio no less.

 

Daniel Geduld (Arnie, Boobah, Leonardi, Luzzo, Farmers etc) did a Cerebus radio show, and had I thought of it sooner I might just have had him do everything lol, it would have been easypeasy J You can find the radio show episodes at Jeffrey Tundis' amazing site "> Cerebus film) - http://www.cerebustheaardvark.com/Cerebus_The%20A-V%20Room.html

 

Most had their own means of recording set up, such as Scott Reyns (Trotu), John Munt (High Priest), Simon Vause (Bear, Artist), Guy Harris (father) and Bronson Pullen (flowers) were able to record from their location and email me the files. I still have to pinch myself that so many artists lent their skill and talent to this project. Sadly both Jeff Seiler (Elrod the Albino) and Michael Petranech (Necross the HAHAHA Mad, Thrunk, Despuess, "Twerp", Pigts, Bran Muffin, Shop Keeper etc) passed away before we finished the film. Each such a tremendous creative force and like everyone went above and beyond for this movie.

 

The $64-question of course, where can The Absurd, Surreal, Metaphysical and Fractured Destiny of Cerebus the Aardvark be seen?

 

The film is available on the following streaming services so far - no registration needed and free to watch with commercials:

Tubi: https://tubitv.com/movies/640736/the-absurd-surreal-metaphysical-and-fractured-destiny-
of-cerebus-the-aardvark
 

Plex (which is worldwide): https://watch.plex.tv/movie/the-absurd-surreal-metaphysical-and-fractured-destiny-of-
cerebus-the-aardvark
 

and Comcast's Xumo https://www.xumo.tv/channel/99991733/free-comedy-movies?v=XM0CLEVSZBPQCX&p=50760 

For commercial-free it's available on "Vimeo On Demand" for $.99 to rent and $1.99 to buy

https://vimeo.com/ondemand/363684 

 

What can you tell us about Dave Sim's reaction to seeing his creation come to the screen for the first time? And anything you can tell us about audience and critical reception of The Absurd, Surreal, Metaphysical and Fractured Destiny of Cerebus the Aardvark so far?

 

Just about everybody has been very kind - with a project like this you are a bit vulnerable from purist Cerebus fans on one hand and Cerebus haters on the other lol. Not to mention the expectations for anything CGI now are so high and almost impossible to meet even if you aren't indie. Most people don't understand why it's expensive. To be fair I learned a bit on that front myself lol.

 

Here's Dave's reaction - truly one of the greatest moment in my life: https://twitter.com/CerebusFilm/status/
1470159547666866189
 - and here is an earlier reaction to some of our progress back when we were working on his Cerebus TV venture: https://youtu.be/ElwkmvbbdH4 

 

Could you ever be tempted to make another Cerebus the Aardvark-movie? And/or any other future projects you'd like to share?

 

I'd love to do a Cerebus sequel if we had a budget. Like the comic's trajectory High Society would then be more polished. Money would speed things up, of course, but also the advances with render technology would make all the difference. At least half our time was spent rendering. These days you can have real time rendering - meaning there would be zero render time.

 

What got you into filmmaking to begin with, and did you receive any formal training on the subject?

 

I was a film major at CSULB, took some Cartoonist Union classes, did West Hollywood Public Access Channel and worked on film sets.

 

What can you tell us about your filmwork prior to The Absurd, Surreal, Metaphysical and Fractured Destiny of Cerebus the Aardvark?

 

I made Super 8 films as a kid, later student films, storyboard artist, flash cartoons, CGI corporate logo mascot animation stuff and even this little behind-the-scenes featurette for the Cerebus film J

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nw00YJCjEvw  I've worked on quite a few small movies in a small capacity - movies like High Strung featuring up-and-comers like Steve Oedekerk (who would go on to create ThumbmationKung Pow, Barnyard etc) with cameos by young Jim Carrey and Kirsten Dunst.

Worked on several ambitious shorts from Oscar winning Chanticleer Films such as Birch Street Gym and Without a Pass. I also worked in their office between films. And straight up B-movie fare like the sword and sorcery film Eyes of the Serpent. And even the occasional TV commercial and big budget movie like Man Trouble with Jack Nicholson and Ellen Barkin. Though usually long hours there was also such a great sense of community.

 

How would you describe yourself as a director?

 

As someone who can be counted on with a big budget.

 

Filmmakers who inspire you?

 

During my high school and college years in the 80s a lot of exciting filmmakers were emerging on the scene like Spike Lee, Alex Cox [Alex Cox bio - click here], David Lynch, Tim Burton, Jim Jaramusch, Amy Heckerling, Robert Townsend, W.D. Richter, Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson, Terry Gilliam, Keenen Ivory Wayans, Stuart Gordon, Kathryn Bigelow, Paul Verhoeven and John Hughes to name a few. It was a surprisingly very inspiring time.

 

Your favourite movies?

 

Like most of my generation I can't deny Star Wars and Empire Strikes back lol (throw in American Graffiti too J). But before then grew up on 50s, 60s and 70s cinema.

As far as old classics: Citizen Kane and The Third Man. Lords of Flatbush on TV while still watching Happy Days was big. Watching the talking heads of  Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? The independence of Easy Rider. And of course there was the Bruce Lee, Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood films. Oh and Abbott and Costello J

On the artsier side: 8 1/2 and Fanny and Alexander (long version) - the latter I saw when released. The stuff you see as young stays and holds a special place, unfairly so maybe lol, there is also so many great newer masterpieces to unpack - not to mention old stuff to catch up on.

 

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

 

Nothing but love here J

 

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Your/your movie's website, social media, whatever else?

 

We should probably do better on that front but here we go:

https://twitter.com/cerebusfilm 

https://www.instagram.com/what_comics/ 

https://www.facebook.com/cerebusfilm 

https://facebook.com/captainzap/ 

 

https://youtube.com/whatcomicsentertainment

http://whatcomix.blogspot.com/

https://whatcomix.wordpress.com

https://whatcomicsentertainment.com

 

Anything else you're dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?

 

So much I've probably forgotten to say that I will probably think of later J

 

Thanks for the interview!

 

Thank YOU - very kind!

 

© by Mike Haberfelner


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