Eugene Kotlyarenko: FEAST OF BURDEN
A group of young friends get together for a dinner party. Sounds innocent enough, right? Wrong. One only needs to watch roughly thirty seconds (not even past the opening credits) of Eugene Kotlyarenko's twelve-part webseries, Feast of Burden, to start to understand the twisted, absurdist, surrealistic vision about to unfold onscreen. Through the ominous stench and haze of saturated fatty acids and wine, a nightmarish and very camp fantasy introduces us to a handful of weird and fiendish characters who could well be you or I, give or take a supernatural power or two. Released through MOCAtv's 'Presents' programme, Feast of Burden is - for those familiar with Kotlyarenko's first film, 0s & 1s - fairly representative of the filmmaker's style; a modern and tech savvy look into the more bizarre aspects of the human condition. In Episode 1 we are introduced to Jimmy Yukon - played by Kotlyarenko himself - an obssessive lover and no-hoper who lusts after the object of his desire, Kia. Obviously Jimmy is a bit more forceful and and direct in his approach to relationships than what might be considered normal, or appropriate, but you get the picture; the guy needs love. Following this initial glance into Yukon's world the plot thickens, revealing expected and unexpected twists and turns and a surprising amount of character development, given the individual episodes average about four minutes. With each part ending as abruptly as it begins, Feast of Burden makes for gripping viewing. Really! We caught up with Eugene for a quick chat about the series and what to expect from the filmmaker in the near future.
Jack Smylie: Is Feast of Burden entirely your creation?
Eugene Kotlyarenko: Moviemaking is inherently collaborative. Hopefully — if the director communicates it properly — there is a single vision that everyone is contributing towards with their own special talents. As the director you pick your collaborators because you love their skills and their style, otherwise you'd just do it yourself. You work closely with everyone (actors, designers, composer, cinematographer, etc) and facilitate conditions where they can feel comfortable doing their thing and try to push them to unexplored territory for the benefit of the project.
If you're referring specifically to my name in the title, that for me is just a little film joke. Doing that can be very exploitation-y or the insignia of an auteur. Like when you watch "Fellini Satyricon" or "Alfred Hitchcock Presents..." or "Zalman King's Red Shoe Diaries," you know what you're getting; the names are practically brands. But with "Eugene Kotlyarenko," you're like "who the fuck is this?" (lol)...and yet you still can't deny that any proclamation of authorship is inherently intriguing. (shout out to clive barker)
JS: Where did the concept come from? And how did MOCAtv get involved?
EK: There was a strange period where I found myself at a bunch of dinner parties and I was either acting really over-the-top or completely disengaged. Scarfing or puking, ya know? So I wanted to explore the emotional energy that can arise in such an event.
MOCAtv didn't actually get involved until the finishing process. The show was produced by the tireless Mieke Marple, who is co-owner of LA-based Night Gallery and wanted to get "into the movies." (lol) I loved working with her and am dying to do it again...whenever that busy, young artrepreneur finds the time! Only after we finished shooting did MOCAtv get on our radar and we thought it would be an excellent fit for the show. Luckily they agreed and licensed the show, which in effect allowed us to pay for it, and placed Feast into the "MOCAtv Presents" environment, where it is now happily streaming. Big ups to MOCAtv!
JS: Was it always intended to exist primarily online?
EK: Yes. Based on the minuscule budget, we decided to make a high-production, jam-packed narrative webseries, rather than a shitty- looking, over-extended feature film. Literally, when the decision was made, I said several times, out loud, that I intended to make the best webseries ever...regardless of the fact that I'd never seen any webseries. Viewers can be the judge of whether the prophesy has been fulfilled, but I'm satisfied.
JS: The aesthetic influence of John Waters and David Lynch seem fairly apparent in the series. Who or what else influenced you when making these films?
EK: I love watching movies. Movies keep me alive. And in a way everything you watch becomes an influence....but beyond that, I definitely thought about: the extreme emotions in Andrzej Zulawski films, the self-conscious melodrama in the work of the Kuchar Brothers, and the fine line between earnestness and comedy that all the best satirists (De Palma, Allen, Verhoeven, Blier) practice and preach. Also I listened to a lot of Baroque music on iTunes when writing the script -- Purcell, Bach, Scarlatti, lots of "Barock" radio; it's one of the iTunes Classical stations. (lol) I think the show has a very "Baroque music streaming on iTunes" vibe.
JS: There's an epic amount of manic spontaneity involved in the episodes - how much of the dialogue was pre-scripted?
EK: All of the dialogue was on the page. I wrote most of the characters with specific actors in mind. For the ones that required auditions, I re-wrote those characters immediately after casting the actors. Then I rehearsed with each of the actors— all of whom are wildly creative— and re-wrote the lines based on those meetings. On set, I think everyone was really respectful of the script because they'd gotten comfortable with it. Actually, only I took my lines for granted since I figured I wrote it, and so I was probably the one that modified dialogue with any frequency...because I didn't remember anything (lol). Definitely, if there was a take where an actor's unexpected utterances yielded gold, I was extremely happy to embrace that. Paul Gellman (who plays the landlord, Petey Cruzer), was especially talented in that regard, and always had everyone cracking up. I would also say, the manic spontaneity you mention is a result of the way I wanted scenes to be quick for internet audiences and worked towards that very consciously in the writing and editing stages.
JS: At the time of writing, there is a single Youtube comment under Episode 3: "Eugene Kotlyarenko, you are one crazy motherfucker". What do you make of that?
EK: Guilty! Any artist who doesn't seem a little bit like a "crazy motherfucker," is probably making something boring. And just to be clear, Episode 3 ends with my character, Jimmy Yukon, jerking off on a bench outside the party while emotional music by Jon Mandabach fills the soundtrack. Immediately followed by a scene of Kia Rio (played by the wondrous Tsien-Tsien Zhang) being accosted by an angry male prowler with huge breasts --- breasts belonging to the one-and-only Kim! So that comment seems perfectly reasonable to me.
JS: For those unfamiliar with your work, are there any obvious similarities to be found between Feast of Burden and previous films you have made?
EK: I would say all of my work is satirical and tries to push the viewer into an extreme headspace. My first movie 0s & 1s, about a frustrated maniac who loses his laptop, looks like a computer's Operating System. Meaning the story is told through multiple windows, on-screen text, endless music and texting phones all shown at the same time. It is meant to overwhelm and awe, while still being completely comprehensible to the modern viewer. My second movie, Skydiver, is about a lovestruck fool (me) who turns to domestic terrorism and is comprised entirely of webcam conversations. This choice immerses the viewer in a uniquely voyeuristic fashion and then hopefully has them questioning what is "real." I think Feast pushes and overwhelms in different ways, but like the others exists in a world that acknowledges modern technology and the way people really interact nowadays. It seems obvious, but many simple and real facts of contemporary life, are unfortunately excluded by several of today's great directors — Quentin Tarantino and Paul Thomas Anderson immediately come to mind.
JS: Do you have any other projects lined up? A follow-up perhaps?
EK: In terms of a follow-up, I am writing one webseries about a dominatrix that runs a coffee shop and an animated webseries about a teen hacker group, similar to LulzSec. There are two mid-90s period pieces I'm developing, one is a TV series about a pornography enthusiast who has a show on New York Public Access television, and the other is a movie about a prodigious brothel Madame in LA's Chinatown, who falls for the undercover cop sworn to take her down. And then I have two erotic thrillers with recently completed, elegant scripts. Get this man an agent! These projects need to be financed and made, pronto! (lol)
Photographer - Eugene foliage portrait by Madeline Poole