Interview by Bears Fonte
Filmmaking is a tough career choice. Although honestly, slogging away on your project in the privacy of your own home until you deem it ready for public consumption is nothing compared to a comic going out every night on stage, trying new material out on (often hostile) audiences and then doing the same exact thing the next night. Austin filmmakers Kent Juliff and Shannon Cloud combine the two hardships in their just released ten-minute short, LAST NIGHT, set on the final night of a DIY stand up comedy tour around Texas that maybe has not gone as well as planned.
In a film that blurs narrative and documentary styles together, LAST NIGHT follows five comics on and off stage, but mostly off, as they travel to and from the sometimes poorly attended gigs and stay on borrowed couches. Lives intertwine, just as images do on screen, giving the audience a whirlwind experience of life on the road in a mere ten minutes. I had a chance to see the film when it premiered at SLAMDANCE, a festival perfectly suited for the renegade nature of the story and characters involved, and sat down with the two create forces behind the film – Writer/Director Juliff and Co-Writer Cloud.
Bears: So are these friends of yours, these comics? How did you meet them and how did you decide they’d be interesting to film?
Juliff: Well, we met them all through Austin stand-up, the stand-up scene in Austin.
Cloud: They’re all around the same age as us too.
Juliff: The comics are doing a bit weirder stuff in Austin. It’s a great scene and everybody’s really nice, but I think there was a group of younger comics coming in, probably headed by Joe and Martin, more than anyone. They were both in it— Joe’s the shorter guy and Martin’s the Hispanic guy. And they were known as younger, weirder comics in Austin. I think a year or two after they’d been doing it, maybe four or five more of us joined and then we just got lumped in with them.
Bears: So you both do stand up with these guys in the film?
Cloud: I produce. I’ll help run shows, and book the venues.
Juliff: Shannon runs one show that became synonymous with what I was just talking about.
Cloud: The youth culture.
Juliff: Yeah, the youth scene.
Cloud: It’s in the CO-OP basement off campus. It’s a party basement. It’s a very dirty place.
Juliff: Yeah, it’s a CO-OP basement. So you walk down and— they’ve been doing a show for three years now?
Bears: So these comics came together out of common perspectives. And then you tried to capture that on screen?
Juliff: It was almost like the scene put us together, that group, and then they felt like they were the easiest to talk to, and doing some of the more unique stuff on stage. They were all really themselves. I think it seemed like they were all doing themselves. Which from a directing stand point was good to find because it makes your job easier.
Bears: So it’s very interesting that you did what looks like a documentary about comics where we don’t actually see them do any of their stuff. But it’s actually a narrative film, yes? Scripted? Because it feels so natural.
Juliff: Yeah, it’s scripted.
Cloud: We originally pitched it in a class called Narrative Production. With Kat Candler.
Juliff: I had been on a little tour like this where it was like, “we’ve been doing stand-up so much in Austin, let’s go around Texas.” We didn’t really have people who were asking us to do it, but let’s just try to find all the scenes in Texas in any city we can do it in, and contact people who have been around and see if we can do a show. We even set up some in places like Beaumont where there wasn’t a comic who had been traveling with us from there. But we said, “let’s see if we can put some of this together.” Over the week-and-a-half, two weeks, there were some interesting experiences where it felt like everyone was just so close. In a car, everyone’s physically close. We’re all speeding through space, but all really close. You’re also moving places all the time, so you’re trying to keep track of all of your stuff, not lose anything. I think what that did in terms of tension and also bonding, it seemed like a really interesting environment to me.
Cloud: And for me, because Kent does stand-up, I think the more interesting parts of the tour for Kent weren’t the stand-up. Maybe they were, but I think that’s why the story that’s being told is much more about what happens off-stage.
Bears: Or talking about what just happened instead of seeing it.
Juliff: I think we’re all pretty funny but the performance aspect could be the most underwhelming, even for us. You spend so much time, like, “you have to get here, be at this place, and do this.” We’re really putting it on our backs to make it happen. And some nights, it may be great. But some nights, you might get there, and there’ll be four people in the audience.
Bears: And the energy in the room would not be very exciting. And then how that’s going to translate onto film is dangerously exciting as well.
Juliff: To me, what then becomes interesting is how a night like that translate into the mood or tone of the rest of the night. Or the next day. Everyone coping with things on their own but having to be right there. You’re right next to somebody, even if you’re frustrated and want your own space.
Bears: And you’re staying in somebody’s grandmother’s house. It’s not like staying at a hotel where the space is not a character. You’re existing in someone else’s personal space that you don’t even know. One of the things I really found curious was the way you edited together the film. Sometimes you have clips playing on top of each other. There was one that was almost over on top of something. It was really, really strange. But cool because I’ve never seen that before. So tell me about coming to that choice.
Juliff: We were talking about the idea of trying to escape being in a very confined space, and then having a universal space, also right there. It can feel like you’re escaping, maybe finding a place to go to, but you’re also still there.
Cloud: But then you wake up.
Juliff: But your body is still going to be there, the place where other people are, and you will be affecting them. But the idea of multiple streams but also the distraction—
Juliff: Definitely. All the ads.
Juliff: That was the idea of multiple planes of reality living on screens. Someone really can sit down and have a bunch of interactions— a full day of interactions—
Cloud: Someone’s texting you, with five tabs open—
Juliff: Just on one screen. And navigating those worlds. What do you call that, when things crash together? For a second, you’re in one place and then you look up and in you’re in another, moving around. Different realties. We also have one scene that talks about Twitter, It’s funny, especially Twitter, it’s a place where you supposed to be the most light-hearted and talk about the most flippant things, but this is also a place for my most serious opinions. And breaking news. And sharing these things that could really, REALLY impact people’s lives. It’s a place for things that are completely mundane and that are most important, right there. Back to back. And you’re supposed to laugh at one, when you see a gif or whatever, and think it’s funny, and then look at another one and be like, “oh man, I need to go be an activist.” And then you see another one that’s funny and well, I guess it’s okay then.
Cloud: Life isn’t that bad.
Bears: That’s why you keep scrolling. So what was the rationale for when you were going to cut and when you were going to have a lot of things on screen? What was your thought process?
Cloud: The way we filmed— we didn’t really take cuts. We’d do the same thing over and over and there’d be a lot of extra footage.
Juliff: Yeah, a lot of extra footage to work with in terms of textures and things like that. But in terms of in the editing room, the motivation to cut, it was emotion. I’ll spend a lot of time moving three frames this way, four frames back, because it makes a huge difference just watching. Two frames of one shot can really change how it moves to the next one. I think a lot of those decisions had to do with seeing the chaos in the editing space that comes with a whole lot of footage. A bunch of different scenes, trying to pare down as much as possible. But then also just trying to feel when is it right to move? Maybe sometimes when it is too fast, it isn’t right, slow it down. Maybe people are now expecting for it to cut quicker. And it’s like, “Oh, okay, I can actually watch this.”
Bears: So what do you like about working comedians?
Cloud: They really put themselves out there for you.
Juliff: They’re always thinking about voice, and who they are, and how to express their voice. And usually in Austin, not a lot of egos. And they also have a lot of free time in the day.
LAST NIGHT is available now online. You can watch it on the team’s website, or below. Juliff and Cloud are in preproduction on their next film.