AFF 2012 Interview: Todd Berger, 'It's a Disaster'

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Todd Berger

The comedy It's a Disaster will be one of the Marquee Screenings at this week's Austin Film Festival, screening Saturday, Oct. 20 at the Paramount. This the first time at AFF for filmmaker -- and former Longhorn -- Todd Berger. His documentary Don't Eat the Baby: Adventures at Post-Katrina Mardi Gras (Jette's review), played AFF in 2007, and he returned in 2009 with the hipster-noir comedy The Scenesters (Jette's review). In 2010, you might have seen him onstage at the script reading for The Hand Job

I asked him a few questions via email about It's a Disaster, which premiered at Los Angeles Film Festival earlier this year.

Slackerwood: How did you conceive of the idea for this apocalyptic comedy?

Berger: It all started when I read an article about how George Romero's Night of the Living Dead is public domain. I came up with an idea to shoot new footage, Dead Men Don't Wear Plaid style, and insert it into the old movie to turn it into a comedy about a bunch of couples that get together for a party and are overrun by zombies.

I then bothered to watch Night of the Living Dead and realized how hard that would be, so being lazy I abandoned the idea -- BUT I still liked the concept of a bunch of couples stuck in a confined space during something horrible happening outside.

What are It's a Disaster's Austin connections?

Berger: I graduated from UT along with producer/actor Kevin Brennan. We met at the student television station KVRV- TV where he hosted the music review show See and I was doing a sketch comedy show called Campus Loop.

We both ended up moving to Los Angeles and formed a comedy group called The Vacationeers with a couple other dudes (who are also in the movie) and this is now our second feature, the first being The Scenesters, which played AFF in 2009. Also our editor Franklin Peterson and our post supervisor Michael Suter are both UT grads and our UPM [unit production manager] Molly Christie Benson is from Austin. The Burnt Orange Mafia runs strong out in LA.

Since this is your first film with a big cast of well known actors, was the experience different from your previous movies?

Berger: Well, everyone was extremely down-to-earth and there was no diva behavior that I can dish about (unfortunately) but I did quickly realize that the reason actors become well known in the first place is because they're damn good at what they do. More than just in performance, there's a degree of professionalism and preparedness that made me as a director feel very comfortable.

How long were you filming It’s A Disaster? What was the general mood on set?

Berger: We shot the entire movie in 14 days. Since there were pretty much only eight actors and it's all set in one house, the mood turned very much into a loose summer camp vibe. Especially because it was hot. Very, very hot.

Was much of the final product improvised, or did the cast tend to stick to script?

Berger: The final product is pretty faithful to the script, but I did encourage the cast to improvise in the larger dinner sequences where the characters were supposed to just be chatting and catching up. I wanted the characters to actually feel like old friends who talk over each other and interrupt each other -- I told them all to watch Gosford Park for inspiration.

What are you working on now?

Berger: I just finished writing Where's Waldo for MGM and also have an R-rated puppet movie in development at the Henson Company called The Happytime Murders that Brian Henson is going to direct. I've also written a couple more low-budget inside scripts that I'm looking to get off the ground, including another one for the gang from The Scenesters and It's a Disaster to do together.

What are your favorite places to eat (or hang out) in Austin?

Well of course the classics like Kerbey Lane and Stubbs, but I gotta say no trip to Austin is complete without a drunken Taco Cabana stop at 3 am. The chicken soft taco plate and some tortillas and queso. Mmmmmm ... Also I used to deliver pizza for Double Dave's, so I have a soft spot for their pepperoni rolls.

Also, Jette is wondering if your character's name (Hal Lousteau) is meant to be Cajun. =)

It's true! The character's name is a hybrid of two of my friends, Hal Neely and Michael Lousteau, whom I met at UT but are both from Louisiana like me. We became friends as we bonded of being Cajun. Despite looking Irish and having a German last name, I'm mostly Cajun. Aiyeeee!!!!!

[Image of Todd Berger via the It's a Disaster Facebook page]