Toby Carroll: When did you write the script for Vulgar?

Bryan Johnson: It was completed in August of '95.

Toby: Why did you write it?

Bryan: It actually was a story that Walter [Flanagan] and Kevin [Smith] had kicked around, in a more base form. We were all hanging out at the Quick Stop one night, and they were talking about it, and Kevin said that he was eventually going to write it. It sounded like it would be in the distant future, so I asked him if he minded if I gave it a shot. He said no; judging from Kevin's work so far, it's not the kind of material he tackles. He said, "Go ahead, give it a shot". His only concern was that I didn't make it jokey; he wanted a dark edge to it. That's what I gave it.

Toby: How much did the shooting draft change from the original draft?

Bryan: It was basically the same. The first draft had a lot of extraneous stuff in it; that was simply because it was really the first thing that I had written, and I was afraid it wasn't long enough. By the time I was done, it was about 150 pages, which you know is more than long enough. It had some extra scenes of nonsense that really wasn't necessary. At its core, though, I would say that it's pretty much the same. Maybe the original draft was a little bit darker than the final shooting draft.

Toby: The script seems to have a lot of really dark interpersonal relationships, like Will's relationship with his mother, and the father-son relationships within the Fanelli family. Where did all of that come from?

Bryan: I've always had, ever since I was young, a real interest in the dark nature of people. I love serial killers, because, whenever you see the news, you hear, "Oh, he kept to himself", "He was such a nice guy, he seemed so normal". With the Fanellis, the three rapists, that's what I wanted to do-have three guys who seemed kind of clunky and quirky in normal, everyday life, but otherwise kind of average. When they're in their element, brought into these situations, that's when something just comes out of them, and I've always been interested in that-like I said, the darker side of human nature. The mom was.... I don't want to give my mom a bad rap, my relationship with my mother wasn't like that at all. I just wanted to portray Will, the main character, as a guy who seemingly had nothing going for him; the odds were stacked against him, and somehow he came out on top.

Toby: When did you first become interested in film?

Bryan: I've always loved movies; I'm a big fan of movies. When did I become interested in making a film? When Kevin said, "Hey, why don't you make a movie". He's the only reason I'm involved right now. I'm the dude that would always sit back and say, "God, I could make a better movie than that!" or "Why didn't they do this?", but never the one who'd be motivated enough to put out my own cash, or think that I could do it. He made that all possible.

Toby: Did you have any experience writing or acting beforehand?

Bryan: No, not too much. I took two creative writing classes at Brookdale with Kev, and eventually took an acting class over there. I dropped out halfway through; I just wasn't into it, plus I needed money, so I was working. But other than that, not much experience.

Toby: What was it like directing a film without a lot of experience?

Bryan: It was definitely a learning process. I had seen Mallrats being filmed, and I watched Chasing Amy. I had spoken to Kevin and Scott Mosier, the producer, at great lengths about the process; anything I learned, I pretty much learned from them. A couple of things I picked up from books, like Rick Schmidt's book and John Russo's book.

Toby: How did you go about casting it?

Bryan: I wrote with certain people in mind, like [Brian] O'Halloran for the clown. Everybody else was pretty much hand-picked, or we had auditions at Sandy Hook. We held open auditions for two days, and let a ton of people come over. We watched a bunch of local talent give it a shot.

Toby: Was Ethan Suplee the only cast member from the West Coast?

Bryan: Yes, I believe he was.

Toby: Did you do any rehearsals with him before he arrived?

Bryan: Ethan arrived two days before we started shooting. He's just genius; I was never really worried about him because of conversations that we've had. We talked a lot on Mallrats-he shares that fascination with the darker places in human nature; being into crack whores and shit like that. Not soliciting them.

Toby: How much time did you spend rehearsing with the cast?

Bryan: It depended on the character. I spent a lot of time with O'Halloran, and a lot of time with Jerry [Lewkowitz], the guy who plays Ed Fanelli, the ringleader of the Fanelli boys. Simply because I felt that-nothing against Jerry-but it was such an important character-I was very close to it-that I wanted the performance to be exactly as I had imagined. Other people... The woman who plays Brian's mom, we spent about two days rehearsing with her. Matt [Maher] came down once or twice. He was absolutely genius; he brought so much to that character. One of the things going into it that I was kind of afraid of was that I didn't want it to be a paint-by-numbers kind of production, where I told these guys exactly what to do and used them as tools, but I wasn't sure of any other way to do it. With Matt, he opened up so many new ideas, and was really enthusiastic. He went out shopping for his own clothes, and came up with a backstory that we talked about one day that was pure genius.

Toby: Was there a lot of improvisation?

Bryan: The only improvisation that took place was between Ethan and Matt, for more than a couple of reasons. One of the reasons being that it would let them go with some of their energy-these are two dudes that had a lot to say, and brought so much to those characters that I said, "Do whatever you want". Another reason was for the comic relief.

Toby: What was it like for you to act in the film as well?

Bryan: I wouldn't do it again. One of the reasons being that I found that I couldn't really focus on the task at hand as much as I would have liked to. I would've liked to just sat back and watched exactly what was going on. Having to think about what I was doing, and if I was in a scene with O'Halloran, is he doing exactly what I wanted him to do.... It became distracting. Plus, during editing, I watched myself, and I'm just not that good.

Toby: How satisfied are you with the film as a whole?

Bryan: I think it's great; I'm really happy with it. I'm sure, like any filmmaker, I'd like to go back and redo certain things, and if you have the money, you can. There are a few "oh, I wish I had done this", or "I should have done this". Overall, with the whole project, I'm pleased.

Toby: What do you still have to do?

Bryan: We have a couple of inserts to shoot to bridge scenes where things didn't really meld together. After that, we have to do the sound mix and put some music to it, and we're ready to shop it around.

Toby: What have you trimmed out of it?

Bryan: We've trimmed quite a bit. We started out with two hours' worth of stuff, and we're down to about an hour and thirty-five minutes now. We wanted to keep it real tight; my goal when writing it and editing it was to keep it flowing. I always hate lulls in movies; if a movie wants to keep my interest, it has to keep on going, and never slow down.

Toby: Do you think working with Dave Klein as the DP was helpful?

Bryan: Oh, absolutely. Here's a guy who's shot three of Kevin's movies before I ever worked with him, and he taught me so much, and really helped when we were planning out the shot list. He had a lot of really great ideas. Had it not been for his experience, it would have looked a lot different. I think it looks awesome.

Toby: Were there any visual influences on the film?

Bryan: There were certain things that I had seen, either than I stole from other movies, or ideas that I had that I wanted to do. He was real open to any input that I had.

Toby: Are there any filmmakers in particular that you admire?

Bryan: Well, you've got to give the props to Kevin Smith. Here's a guy who's probably the greatest motivator that I know, personally. He just will force you to see your potential. I'm the kind of dude that's not really high on self-esteem, and I'll sit around and go, "Oh, I'm an asshole. Why would I even try to do this?" And he'll be the guy that comes up and goes, "Yeah, but you're an above-average asshole, so you should go for it". As far as other filmmakers, I'm a big fan of David Lynch, I like Kubrick, Joel & Ethan Coen, Oliver Stone, Tobe Hooper, Jess Franco... More towards independents, I'd say Hal Hartley. I've watched a lot of Hartley's stuff, and I kind of dig it. I really dig the performances, how he has a really flat kind of effect with all of the actors. I'd say those are probably the main directors that I have followed.

Toby: Do you have anything else written that you're planning to do?

Bryan: A couple of other things. A script about the Jersey Devil. You hear the name "Jersey Devil", and it doesn't have that same feeling to it as "Loch Ness Monster" or "Bigfoot" or any of the other legends and myths. It kind of goes beyond the local myth and is kind of visual and surreal and horrifying. There's something else that I'm writing with Scott Mosier, about a fallen teen 80s star who had made a pact with the devil. One of the parts of the contract was that she wouldn't remember the deal until it was time to pay up. These three souls from hell come up and try to claim her; it's kind of a road trip, you know? Another surrealistic kind of flick.

Toby: Do you see either of those being shot any time soon?

Bryan: I'm hoping to do the Jersey Devil one next. I don't know; it's such a crap shoot. With filmmaking, so many people attempt it and so few.... So many people come up and ask, "Well, what are you going to do next?" I'm like, "I don't know; work at the comic book store until we find out what happens with this one". So many people think that if you get to make one movie, you've won the lottery, and it's riches from then on in, but that's really not the case. I'm just praying that anybody pays attention to this one.

Toby: What have the people who have seen it so far thought?

Bryan: Not many people have seen it, because it's still in such a raw state. Kevin's seen it, he really loves it. Bob Hawk, John Pierson.... Everyone's been pretty complementary; no real naysayers.

Toby: What was it like directing people like Kevin and Scott in the cast?

Bryan: I'd say Kevin was kind of daunting, because you take a guy who's done so much and knows so much, and you're going to turn around and be like, "All right, why don't you do this?". He took it really well. I guess, being a filmmaker, he understands. Also, as I forgot to mention before, he was the other dude who wanted to improvise. He did a bit. Scott went out there, read what was written, and did a great job.

Toby: Have you done any writing in any other areas?

Bryan: None aside from the short stories that we did in creative writing, but not too much. I'm sure a lot of people, should anything happen with this movie, are going to be like, "Why this dickhead?" Because I've never been like, "Oh, I've always dreamed of being a writer or a filmmaker or a director or whatever". It was just kind of handed to me. Total nepotism. That's kind of a bitter pill to swallow for some people, I guess.

Toby: Anything to say in closing?

Bryan: Let me think..... Hardcore rules.

Interviews Askew