Big Movie, Small Cat Star at Sundance With his story of a missing housepet, director David Zellner of Goliath is drawing raves at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
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Big Movie, Small Cat Star at Sundance

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Big Movie, Small Cat Star at Sundance

Big Movie, Small Cat Star at Sundance

Big Movie, Small Cat Star at Sundance

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/18328932/18328894" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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With his story of a missing housepet, director David Zellner of Goliath is drawing raves at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.

ALISON STEWART, host:

So we came back from the Sundance Film Festival, but they're just going to keep on going with that festival thing. All the big-name premieres, they get all the ink. But it's the small features that really keep the spirit of the festival alive, as Paris Hilton does her best to try to kill it. Now, far from the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, two filmmakers, brothers from Austin, Texas, premiered their feature-length debut they had at the festival. It was called "Goliath." Okay, for the record, Goliath is a cat.

TOURE, host:

What?

STEWART: Yeah. This cat, whose owner is a not-so-lovable loser who's going through a bitter divorce and is being demoted back to the stockroom from his middle manager's perch.

(Soundbite of movie, "Goliath")

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (As Character) We are going to need you to let Alvin go.

Mr. DAVID ZELLNER (Writer, Director, Actor, "Goliath"): (As Unnamed Character) You mean, to fire him?

Unidentified Man #1: (As Character) And, also, you could then fill in, taking over some of his duties on the floor would be great.

Mr. ZELLNER: (As Unnamed Character) Well, that's not what I do. I mean, I'm above that. I mean, I don't - I did that a long time ago. And, well, that's just not my scene.

TOURE, host:

Sounds like a blues song.

STEWART: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: It's got a kind of an "Office Space" quality to it, this movie. But, you know, all just goes wrong for this guy. But when Goliath, his cat, goes missing, the lead character slowly goes berserk.

TOURE: So that's the tipping point.

STEWART: Yes. The unnamed lead is played by the writer and director of the movie, David Zellner. His brother Nathan, who produced and edited "Goliath," is also in the film. We caught up with them in Park City and found out more about how and why they made a film about a man sent over the edge by a lost cat.

STEWART: What did you observe about people or about pets and people and their attachments that that would be the thing that would send your lead character, which you play, by the way...

Mr. D. ZELLNER: Hmm.

STEWART: ...would send that guy berserk?

Mr. D. ZELLNER: We thought it'd be kind of just an interesting crux to play with. And then, it - just because we know people that have pets and cats, in particular, that are just fanatical about them, love them. And then, it seems like they're such an extreme with cat-lovers and cat-haters. And it's not - and so, you don't have - people don't have the universal compassion for the loss of a cat, like they would even other - you know, like a dog or people. And so we just thought it would be kind of interesting that - to play with him at the extreme end of that, and that that is kind of what the last straw that kind of is holding his kind of fragile life together at that point in time.

STEWART: One of the things that happens is he sort of loses his mind. And your character ends up in a huge fight with your character, Nathan. So, Nathan, I'm curious about what was it like to fight your brother onscreen in that way -also consider the two of you have made this movie together?

Mr. NATHAN ZELLNER (Producer, Editor, Actor "Goliath"): Well, yeah. I guess with the fight scene, it's good that we're brothers because we can kind of, you know, make - or trust each other to do it a little bit more than we would with another actor. We've done - and some of other shorts, we've done more physical acting and humor and stuff like that. And it kind of trades off who is the one that gets the full, you know, force.

Mr. D. ZELLNER: Yeah. And lots of - I don't know. For some reason, several shorts have - we always end up trading blows. It just - and one of us is more of the punching bag for the other. In this one, it's more Nathan. And then, just from being siblings, you know, we've, you know, had our share of brawls, and so we have it all down pat. And there's no hard feelings afterwards, so that's the good thing about it.

STEWART: The film gets a lot of its humor from observations about - you don't really know what these guys do, who work in the store. You're not really quite sure what they do, except that they have real potty mouths and...

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: ...find lighting...

Mr. D. ZELLNER: To say the least.

STEWART: ...lighting farts or attempting to lighting farts funny. When you're writing these films or - do you keep a notebook of I just saw that and that would be great in the movie? Or did you ascribe these characteristics to the characters knowingly, okay, that's a guy who would light his farts?

Mr. N. ZELLNER: I think a mix of the two. Yeah, just - I mean, this just -yeah, hearing those sorts of things and not seeing those in other films, we kind of wanted to, I don't know, mix the absurd with the very realistic kind of atmosphere that we've been around at different points in time and have fun with it.

And we also wanted to - this is kind of something we want to challenge ourselves with, was stripping down the kind of exposition to the bare essentials you needed to convey the story. And we originally, like, had - with the coworkers, we had a lot of scenes planned where you see them working and we - but what ended up using in the film was just the banality of them sitting in the break room, talking trash. It seemed much more interesting than setting up what they did beyond that. So...

STEWART: Yeah, for people who haven't seen the film - the fellow, the lead guy, Goliath's dad, gets sort of demoted and ends up in the stockroom of something, where guys wear blue jumpsuits, and are just - they're rude. They're not even funny rude. They're just disgusting.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: The poor guy.

Mr. D. ZELLNER: Yeah.

STEWART: Why doesn't he ever engage in it? Why doesn't he ever - he just seems to feel he's above it?

Mr. D. ZELLNER: He's above it. I mean, partly-- I mean, part of it is because, you know - I don't know if it was a different atmosphere, if he would be like them. I mean, part of it - there's a snobbish element of it, where not so much what they're saying, but just that he is above that. And because he's demoted, he just doesn't - he - I don't know. He can't relate to that, or he positions himself that way, at least. So he wouldn't even begin to make any effort. And we thought that would add some humor to it - to just - and further like, alienate him.

STEWART: Nathan, as you are working on the financing for the movie, how do people react when you said, okay, it's about a guy who loses his cat and goes berserk? What was the...

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: ...what was the pitch?

Mr. N. ZELLNER: You know, it's a love-hate relationship with cats, like what David said, and people really responded to that. And it's, you know, it kind of hooked them into the story and got them, you know, in just one line, like, yeah, I know what it's like to love a cat, or I know what it's like to miss a cat or hate a cat. Or I know people who are like this that drive me crazy. And it just really - it wasn't too hard, you know? They kind of had somebody in their life that they could associate, you know, that with already. So...

Mr. D. ZELLNER: Also, with some other projects we've done, that were similar in tone a little bit, and we - I don't know. We always like to incorporate animals, in one way or another, so that people were able to get onboard easily because of that.

STEWART: And it says this in the credits: no animals were harmed in the making of this movie, right?

Mr. D. ZELLNER: Absolutely. No animals. It would be, they...

Mr. N. ZELLNER: Harmed with love.

Mr. D. ZELLNER: Harmed with love. Yeah, tough love.

STEWART: One of the images in "Goliath," - aside from Goliath the cat - that I don't think I'll forget, is you, David, your character, running down the street with a power saw.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. D. ZELLNER: It's a pole saw.

STEWART: A pole saw.

Mr. D. ZELLNER: Yeah.

STEWART: And you're sort of wearing it like a shoulder rocket.

(Soundbite of laughter)

STEWART: Kind of like you're hitting Afghanistan with this thing.

Mr. D. ZELLNER: Yeah.

STEWART: Do you own one of those? Is that yours?

Mr. D. ZELLNER: We do now. That was part of the budget. But...

STEWART: How does it feel when you strap them on?

Mr. D. ZELLNER: I loved it.

STEWART: Did you have some sort of feeling of power that your character gets out of this thing?

Mr. D. ZELLNER: Absolutely. We - for years, I'd seen them in Home Depot, and like a little kid looking at the toy or something, I wanted to play with it. And also, I just - it's like - I felt like it needed to be on film. And I hadn't seen one of those into a movie before. And it's like a - it's a long spear. It looks like a spear with a chainsaw on the end of it, basically. And I was just like, that needs to be in a movie. And I was so glad to see it wasn't in a movie before. We could use it, and so, yeah, so we incorporated it into the climax of the film. And in the process - it involved me, you know, running down the street, flailing with it. And we got lots of nice response from passersby. But, yes. It was very gratifying to swing that around. Yeah.

STEWART: This is an obvious question, but - Nathan, I'll start with you. What do you like about working with your brother?

Mr. N. ZELLNER: We've just been doing this for a long time, since we were kids. We have a really similar sensibility. We kind of know what we kind of want. And we agree a lot about what the style and the vision and what we're kind of going for. So it's really easy to get things done. It always helps having...

Mr. D. ZELLNER: It works with shorthand.

Mr. N. ZELLNER: Yeah. And so it helps having two people that kind of know what they want, and, when they differ, can figure out a way to make it work and, you know, to compromise. And...

Mr. D. ZELLNER: Well, since we're siblings, we - if we disagree, which we, you know, which happens a good amount, we don't get bent out of shape over it. And we both have different strengths. He has a computer science degree, and I have a film degree. His is much more lucrative, thus far. But, I don't know. It's the way (unintelligible). I'm a little more in the creative side. He's a little more in the technical side. And so we're both able to bring different things to the table, and it - yeah, it works out for the better that way.

STEWART: What's your big hope for "Goliath" at Sundance?

Mr. D. ZELLNER: Well, it'd be great to - I mean, we just finished it, like, in the past couple of weeks. On one hand, I'm like really relieved that we did it and it's all done. And we're really happy with it. I can be honest and say we're really happy with how it came out, because we weren't, you know, we weren't - it was just kind of an experiment for us. We weren't totally sure until we had it done. But I feel good about it. And if we can get any kind of distribution, that'd be awesome.

And then also, we just want to parlay it into getting, you know, bigger projects going and just keep making stuff. So that would be - that would be the ideal situation.

STEWART: David and Nathan Zellner, thanks for being with us. And hey, also, good luck.

Mr. N. ZELLNER: Thank you.

Mr. D. ZELLNER: Thanks. Thanks for having us.

STEWART: That was our conversation with the Zellner brothers from Sundance Film Festival. You can see the trailer for their film "Goliath" on our Web site.

TOURE: And you loved it?

STEWART: I loved it. It's - "Office Space," got to have that little weird sense of humor. But, you know, check out the trailer. You can decide for yourself.

TOURE: Okay.

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