"A Post-Apocalyptic Landscape of Subhuman Demons and Freaks,"
Or: What's A "Chumscrubber"?
As the various storylines of The Chumscrubber pinball off each other--interweaving in almost musical theme-and-variation patterns, expertly buttressed by James Horner's haunting score--the viewer is treated to recurring glimpses of "The Chumscrubber." A ubiquitous pop culture totem, the headless, animated "Chumscrubber" springs up everywhere in the film--in video games and cartoon television shows, on hats and t-shirts, on posters and stickers.
The scenes of "The Chumscrubber" cartoon and video game, designed by Frantic Films (a post production house that contributed much of the effects work on The X-Men films), register as a rebuke to the film's mood of enchanted, white-picket-fence perfection. Industrial, bleak, and futuristic, the hard-edged look of "The Chumscrubber's" landscape operates at once as an antithesis of suburbia and a likely manifestation of the psychological topography inhabited by its teenagers.
While "The Chumscrubber's" presence is felt throughout the film, tellingly, there are no other pop culture signposts to be found anywhere in the movie. "It's interesting that 'The Chumscrubber' is everywhere but the adults just don't get it," says Curtis. "What is it about 'The Chumscrubber' that the kids are connecting with? I think he represents how they feel. That he's this sub-human monster the kids feel they are becoming." (In this respect, whether intentionally or not, "The Chumscrubber" neatly inverts a classic nature vs. nurture bugaboo. Here, pop culture expresses--rather than inspires--teenage alienation, violence, and rage.)
"The Chumscrubber" is at once a fantastic visual coup; a portal into some other, darker movie; and an extravagantly freighted symbol. A conversation with Posin about the enigmatic figure's meaning quickly devolves into some heady psychological depths, touching on both Freud's theory of repression ("If you push something down, it manifests itself in some other way.") and Carl Jung's theory of the collective unconscious. ("The town represses everything and denies everything; this collective repression gives birth to this fictional character.") But perhaps the most beautiful and satisfying thing about "The Chumscrubber" is how open-ended a symbol it is.
Mysterious, unnerving, and omnipresent, what, finally, is "The Chumscrubber"? "We can define 'The Chumscrubber' in any number of ways," says Curtis. "But we will be told by the audience."
A Director Prepares
Or: "No. 1 Helper"
"Before I started I held a 'first film festival' for myself," says Posin, describing how he screened roughly twenty debut films from directors he admires including Mike Nichols (Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?), George Lucas (THX1138), Steven Spielberg (Duel and The Sugarland Express), Ang Lee (The Wedding Banquet), and others. "It was a good exercise. It shows you where the bar is set, and how much there is to learn, while forcing you to think big."
From all accounts, Posin was incredibly meticulous in his preparation for his first film, and had a natural-born moviemaker's proclivity for thinking of The Chumscrubber script with each production department in mind.
"He's a real director looking at the material on multiple levels," says Bender. "He's thinking of the script on an emotional and intellectual level, and also imagining how to shoot it in a visually interesting way, and how to bring it in on time and on budget." Concurs Curtis: "Something Arie shares with Steven [Spielberg] is that one of the things that makes him a great director is that he's also a great producer. He understands how to get the movie made."
"There comes a moment for every filmmaker where you have to put the script down as a writer and go through the process of making the movie in your head as a director," explains Bender. "Where you have to work up a shot list and ask yourself if it's possible to make this movie? Arie did that and more. He has a profound understanding of the material."
Posin created a detailed shot list for the entire film and storyboarded certain complicated visual sequences in great detail. He also burrowed deep into the screenplay, performing pass after pass on the script, breaking it down scene-by-scene. First, Posin approached the script on a broad thematic level--What is the point of this scene? Why is this moment in the story? What is the verb of the scene?--then, he considered each scene from the point of view of various production department heads--What props would help get this idea across? What costumes would contribute to the meaning of the scene?
"When you make a mistake on a feature, it costs you," says Posin when asked about his level of preparedness. "It doesn't go away, it just keeps getting bigger." Posin, who counts Krysztof Kieslowski as a major influence (in particular, Red, the final film in his magnificent "Three Colors" trilogy), quotes the late Polish filmmaker: "The director's job is to be the number one helper on the set."
Preternaturally poised and prepared on the set, Posin impressed his industry veteran producers. "We were so busy and frenetic trying to get to that first day of shooting, that the first week we didn't know minute-to-minute whether we'd be shooting," says Curtis. "It was about a week into the shoot before we saw any dailies, and around day three or four I remember thinking: 'What if I was wrong?' So I sat by the monitor with Arie while he was working and saw what he was doing. I saw he was in a rhythm and knew exactly what he wanted, how meticulous and detailed and decisive he is on set. . . He's the real thing."
"You Never Know Until You Ask"
Or: James Horner and The Chumscrubber Waltz
Well-known for crafting stirring scores for epic blockbusters, and his longtime association with filmmakers Ron Howard and James Cameron, multiple Academy Award&61650; nominee James Horner is perhaps best-known for composing music for Titanic (1997), Aliens (1986), Die Hard (1988), Glory (1989), Braveheart (1995), Apollo 13 (1995), Ransom (1996), The Perfect Storm (2000), A Beautiful Mind (2001), and Troy (2004).
What made producer Curtis think of Horner for a relatively low-budget, offbeat project like The Chumscrubber? "You never know until you ask?" laughs Curtis, who cannot speak highly enough about Horner's contribution to the finished film. "James saw the first cut and not only did he flip for it, he got it. He got all the layers, which was so important for Arie. And once he took on the project, James dedicated his heart and soul to it."
Curtis relates how Horner and Arie spent five days together on a soundstage, with the composer trying out different musical arrangements for the director, playing all the instruments himself on a keyboard. The result is a hauntingly original score unlike anything Horner has created before.
"The music for The Chumscrubber is very hip, and odd, and beautiful," says Curtis. "It strikes a perfect balance of beauty and oddness." For his part, Posin describes it as "dramatic with a wink and a smile to it," while Bender contends that one of the film's leading themes, The Chumscrubber waltz, reminds him of "music you might hear in post-Brechtian, pre-World War II Berlin."
A special musical surprise awaits viewers who stay for The Chumscrubber's closing credits: Elliot Smith's unforgettable (and previously unreleased) cover version of "Figure Eight" from the classic seventies educational cartoon Schoolhouse Rock. "There's something about an adult playing a child's song, but singing it with a kind of world-weary gravity, that's just right for this film," says Posin, for the first time sounding more like a fan than the amazingly accomplished young filmmaker he reveals himself to be with The Chumscrubber.
ZAC STANFORD (Writer)
A native of Portland, Oregon, The Chumscrubber screenwriter Zac Stanford was raised in Port Angeles, Washington and currently resides in Burbank, California.
Stanford first met The Chumscrubber director Arie Posin in a Dairy Queen in Fresno and soon found themselves running into each other at Worldfest Houston while on the film festival circuit¡XStanford behind his 2001 short film Marked, and Posin in support of his award-winning Over My Dead Body. ¡§At the festival, Arie had the funniest film I¡¦d ever seen, and mine was the darkest,¡¨ Stanford says, foreshadowing The Chumscrubber¡¦s unique sensibility,
Stanford¡¦s talents include playing the hammered dulcimer, and mastering the unicycle places high among his long-term goals. The Chumscrubber is Stanford¡¦s first produced screenplay; Stanford and Posin are currently at work on their second project together.