The Knockturnal was on the red carpet for the Tribeca Film Festival premiere of “Buster’s Mal Heart” at SVA.
Written and Directed by Sarah Adina Smith, the film stars Rami Malek, Kate Lyn Sheil and DJ Qualls. In this bold thriller peppered with dark humor and interlocking mystery, an eccentric mountain man is on the run from the authorities, surviving the winter by breaking into empty vacation homes in a remote community. Regularly calling into radio talk shows — where he has acquired the nickname “Buster” — to rant about the impending Inversion at the turn of the millennium, he is haunted by visions of being lost at sea, and memories of his former life as a family man.
“Usually our working relationship is like, you know, we’re very honest with each other. This one was the first time I was like, I wouldn’t change a thing. It had hairs on my neck, everything, the whole deal. So the next step was obviously locations and being inspired by those locations and then extracting the beauty and being true to those locations. The trees in Montana are a certain way, they’re not like the ones in California or in New York State. It’s a very specific look,” the DP shared on collaborating with Sarah.
The Knockturnal: So tell me a little bit about the film. You wrote it as well?
Sarah: Yes. I wrote it and I also directed it and edited it. I even animated the end credits and there’s a little animated whale in the end credits I sat there and did frame-by-frame. That’s called low-budget film making right there.
The Knockturnal: Tell me a little bit about what inspired the project.
Sarah: My first feature was about women in water and I had a notion of wanting to make something about a man and a mountain and for me in some ways this film was an examination of the central paradox of manhood, which really tends to be can freedom and love coexist or are they inevitably destined to compete in some way. This story is about a guy who was born with a bad heart, but loves nonetheless and loves so much and I wanted to tell a story of a rebellious, heroic heart.
The Knockturnal: Tell me about Buster.
Sarah: It’s a thinker and it really asks something of the audience. You have to engage with it. It’s about one man who’s split into two bodies. I’m interested in telling stories where, from the outside, the protagonist seems crazy, but once you slip inside his skin as an audience, you just may find out that he’s getting something right about the cosmos or getting at something true about the universe. It’s a man whose heart was so big and loved so much he could rip space time a new asshole.
The Knockturnal: What was your writing process like? From start to finish, how did you conceptualize the story?
Sarah: Yeah. I approached this very differently than any of my other scripts, which was my only rule for myself was to let things come to me, so that required patience and not forcing anything, so I took a lot of long walks in nature and I actually wrote the story in pictures first, so it was like a series of little images.
The Knockturnal: Like storyboarding?
Sarah: Sometimes it was just a little doodle of an object or something that reminded me of a scene. Yeah, I don’t know. It was like weirdo drawing style. But I had that backbone first and then started slowly translating it into words and the script is actually not a traditional script. It’s a 60-page dense outline that reads more like a short story.
The Knockturnal: So does that mean that there was improv?
Sarah: Yes. There was definitely improv and it was highly collaborative with all departments, but definitely with the actors, for sure.
The Knockturnal: Tell me about working with Rami.
Sarah: Well Rami’s a mad genius, which I think more and more people are starting to discover. He really is and he’s truly one of the most disciplined actors working in this time and so it was a thrill … I think it’s probably a thrill for any director to work with Rami Malek, because he gives he gives it his all.
The Knockturnal: What was your conversation like when you first met?
Sarah: I don’t know if I can recall it for you word-for-word, but we really connected about the work, we really connected about the story, and that’s what counts at the end of the day. We both wanted to ask these deep questions about … People are … They draw parallels with Mr. Robot right now, obviously, that’s in The Zeitgeist, but Mr. Robot is definitely about a man versus the machine of society and this movie is really about a man against the machine of the cosmos, so I think he was interested in asking those questions on a deeper level with me. In some ways, this is like a quasi-Biblical story, so it’s spiritual and asks the audience to dive in all the way with it.
The Knockturnal: Where are you from originally?
Sarah: I’m from Colorado. Yeah, so I’m a lady of the mountains, but I live in Los Angeles.
The Knockturnal: Lily Gladstone is also in the film.
Sarah: I love Lily Gladstone. She’s amazing. Yeah, I really hope to work with her. We’re already talking about projects to do together in the future. She’s one of my favorite people.
The Knockturnal: Tell me a little bit about your collaboration with the director. She said that she made this storybook script outline, and there was a lot of input from the cast.
Rami: She had a script. It wasn’t a completely completed script. When you see something like that, it might scare an actor away. But, I just saw a prowess and capability in her, from meeting her that I felt was worth taking this kind of adventure with a person like that. What she had on the page was so special, and she also introduced illustrations into a script that I’d never seen before. And I could tell she was extremely passionate about it, and it was coming from a real deep personal place in her soul that she wanted to investigate. And Sarah, if you meet her and talk to her, you know she’s very special, and you want to go on that trip with her.
The Knockturnal: Yeah, I did chat with her. She seems like a philosopher a little bit.
Rami: Yes, she’s a philosopher, but she’s down to earth. You know, she’s kind of the person you want to say I’m happy to call … one of your close friends.
The Knockturnal: And what most resonated you about this character and his journey?
Rami: I think just, you know, there’s a lot of questions that we all have today in the world we live in, and how we can effect our kind of existence. And here’s a guy who lives a very mundane life. And it’s not even that it’s so hopeless that there is something exciting about it that it’s dark. It’s just, you know, it’s stale. And I think people live in a certain type of … a lot of us, a lot of people in the world just live in that place, and I wanted to explore what it is to go beyond that, and actually question what our existence is, and if we can alter that in any way, personally, or if we are resolved to whatever some destiny that is beyond us. Sounds crazy …