Comedy is serious business for filmmaker Abrahamson
January 22, 2014
Imaging joining a band where the lead singer is a mysterious artist who wears a giant fake head.
Some people may mistake that as a publicity gimmick, but in Lenny Abrahamson’s comedy "Frank," the title character is an artist who makes music because he loves the creative process.
Abrahamson, who is known for his award-winning feature "What Richard Did," said "Frank" came together in a "peculiar way."
The film was written by Jon Ronson and Peter Straughan.
"Jon has been interviewed on ‘The Daily Show’ and is one of those funny journalist-type guys," Abrahamson said during an interview with The Park Record. "When he was young, he lived in Manchester and joined this band called Frank Sidebottom, who is a creation of punk musician and comedian named Chris Sievey, who was a maverick and very creative person."
Frank Sidebottom’s thing was to wear this big, fake head.
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"This became the basis of the film, although our Frank is as much Daniel Johnson, Captain Beefheart, Rocky Erickson or one of those fragile but fascinating anti-musicians that people are fascinated with," Abrahamson said. "That’s how it began and then morphed into something else."
The script was written a few years ago and went through some changes before it was given back to Abrahamson.
"The essentials were and still are the same, such as the idea of going off to a place in the wilderness to record an album, and things like that," he said. "That appealed to me because there was a combination of slapstick and real pathos. And what happens during the recording situations do come up in real bands."
"Frank" examines the band as a microcosm of society.
"Bands are like families," he said. "They love each other. They hate each other and they are stuck with each other.
"Sometimes success can be a real disaster for a band, because it can imprison them in that world, but that’s not a danger that our band in the film has to worry about," Abrahamson said with a laugh. "However, I was interested in Captain Beefheart’s ‘Trout Mask Replica’ recording and any number of anecdotes that comes with the bizarre, claustrophobic craziness that happens around album recordings."
Abrahamson has some experiences with that universe.
"I once, with a bunch of friends, set up a recording studio in Dublin," he confessed. "It was financially disastrous, but artistically successful and I know a lot about that world. So the musical part of ‘Frank’ is really close to my heart."
Dealing with a film that features a singer with a huge plastic head was something Abrahamson had to dissect before he started filming.
"I think you have to get to a point where you really inhabit that world you want to capture," he said. "You have to think your way into the film. You have to learn the film, even if you’ve written it yourself.
"You have to be able to look at it from many different angles," Abrahamson explained. "You need to have a sense of it so if you adjust things you can have an idea of what those adjustments will do later in the script."
So his final approach was to allow the madness to remain, but observe it with a straight face.
"I needed to take seriously the characters in the film, and present them as honestly as I could, no matter how extraordinary or bizarre they are," the filmmaker said. "That’s something that is particularly true with a comedy. If you try to make your comedy too funny and you push it, it becomes forced."
Abrahamson also relied on the main cast — Michael Fassbender, Domhnall Gleeson, Maggie Gyllenhaal and Scoot McNairy — to bring the characters to life.
"It’s really a combination of the script moving towards the actors and the actors moving towards the script," he said. "Once you start to cast, the actors will bring different flavors to the characters and the project.
"It’s an organic thing, and hopefully the actor and the character merge into something that works," Abrahamson said. "That’s testament to the quality of the actors we cast. They took hold of these quite bizarre characters on paper and made them believable on the screen."
Lenny Abrahamson’s "Frank" is a Sundance Film Festival Premiere and will have a final screening on Saturday, Jan. 25, at 12:15 p.m. at the Eccles Theatre in Park City. For more information, visit http://www.sundance.org/festival.
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