Ben Fain: In Moon Dust (2014), your first feature film, we see this dying resort town on the moon that is in crisis, a collapsing consumer fantasy, all unified by a dreamy narcotic palette. Coming away from it, I first wanted to ask you about the sets specifically. I found myself so seduced by them. There are these simple but unbelievable sculptures too, like the one-Twizzler-at-a-time wall dispenser, or the hexagonal toilet bowl. In your Artforum 1000 Words essay on Moon Dust, you wrote about being inspired by Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967) and wanting “the sets and props almost [to] become characters themselves.” I’m curious how much did your own preoccupation with producing the mise en scène dictate the activity and narrative of the film? Rather, did the sets come to you first?
Scott Reeder: I’ve always been interested in film, especially work with a strong visual aesthetic—almost a sense of touch. A lot of early silent films have this feeling of touch—of a world built from scratch; where the filmmakers’ ideas become evident through the sets and props as much as the actors and performances. Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927) is a great example of this. I also love Jean Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast (1946) and Jacques Tati’s Playtime for this reason. Setting a story in the future especially lends itself to this kind of re-invention of the everyday. It’s like playing the role of an architect or designer—everything needs to be constructed from the ground up. But the difference is the room that I design for a film doesn’t actually have to stand up, it just has to last long enough to make it through the shot.
BF: The film has a lot of visual art references too, not just filmic ones. I see nods to art movements, (specifically American Minimalism), with geometric forms cut into and out the sets, as well as careful positioning of grandmas bric-a-brac a la Heim Steinbach or Mike Kelley.
SR: Besides the filmmakers I already mentioned, I’m sure I was also heavily influenced by visual art. I can see some connections to the Light and Space movement in the way colour can be used to define a space or a Land Art piece like Michael Heizer’s work North, South, East, West (1967),which deals with very basic geometric forms—not as positive shapes but as negative voids. This kind of simple geometry is a reoccurring theme in Moon Dust. All the sets, furniture and props are designed around very basic geometric shapes. I was really interested in how actors interacted with these abstracted objects and environments and how the surroundings shaped the dialogue. Another inspiration for me was Robert Breer and his kinetic “floats” sculptures. I like how they sit somewhere between sculpture and performance and even though they are very stark and minimal in form, they are weirdly anthropomorphic in their movement. This kind of low-tech kinetic movement is also a big part of the film.
BF: Right. Like in the opening scene with the janitor/aspiring Kaleidoscope Operator who is coaching the robot on how to clean the hotel room properly. In the beginning, the robot is afraid to go into the room and you kind of feel bad for it. It’s almost like the script is giving the sculpture first aid, and visa versa. There is a lot of drama there and it makes me wonder how you were thinking about narrative throughout the film.
SR: As far as narrative approach, I’ve always been interested in improvisation and a director like Robert Altman, who was really skilled at getting his actors to invent things on the fly. And he also often worked with a large cast of characters with several intertwining story lines—so it’s a pretty democratic approach that has some parallels to how Moon Dust is structured. But my background as painter probably influenced how I approached directing just a much as these other inspirations. As a director I always felt like I want to just get out of the way and let the material surprise me in some way—just like I try to do when I make a painting.
BF: So the film for me coalesces improvisation, sculpture, costume design, painting movements, and comedy but there is irreverence towards all these things. And not just that, the story is really told from the perspective of the crew and not the people who are actually consuming this leisure resort experience, which is complex. There is a clear upstairs/downstairs reveal and working class experience. For example, the conversation between the Cheese Shoppe attendant and the Kaleidoscope Operator who tells the attendant, “Must be difficult to be around these tasty morsels all day long with no hope of purchasing one for yourself.” I see something political here. What are you’re thoughts on that?
SR: I think growing up in the post-industrial Midwest you can’t help but see things in terms of labor and the working class. Marx’s ideas about the worker being alienated from what they produce also probably influenced me; the most ridiculous example in the film are the scenes is the musician that plays his guitar by placing his arms through holes in a wall. He lives and works on one side of the wall but his music is enjoyed and consumed on the other side. It sounds pretty heavy handed but in the context of the movie I hope its also just funny.
BF: That makes me think of your character in the film. He’s this awful middle management boss making everybody miserable. Whenever we see him he's either doing a bunch of blow, taking a bubble bath, or eating a sandwich obnoxiously, bringing everybody down. Who is this guy?
SR: My character became a bigger part of the story as time went on mostly because I was always available. If the other actors were busy or out of town I could always just shoot a scene with Tyrone. And in the end it seemed like the story really needed a definitive bad guy. People that know me have wondered if Tyrone's character is actually my real personality and the more mild mannered friendly version of me is the act. I guess it’s hard to say.