An Interview with Rob de Riche
What inspired One’s A Crowd?
I was filling in as temporary caretaker on a remote, 50-acre off-grid hobby farm on Maui in spring 2019. I had worked there years before, so I had the routine down pat–feeding chickens, collecting eggs, mowing with a biggish tractor, pruning trees, harvesting fruit, exterminating pests, maintaining solar power and rain catchment systems, etc. It sounds like a lot, but the work gets spread out quite a bit, so I had some free time and felt really inspired by the setting, one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been. I wanted to document it somehow. At the same time, at night I was watching a lot of “so bad it’s good” cinema–The Room, Birdemic, Neil Breen, and so on–and it inspired me to let go of my perfectionist tendencies and just try to make a narrative film with whatever was at hand. I only had a couple of weeks left in which to shoot, but I set myself the challenge of telling a straightforward story in as coherent a manner as possible. Instead of writing a script out of the blue, I looked at the location and “props” around me and improvised a story around those elements.
What is the story?
Well, the basis was the situation and all the work I was doing in the natural course of any given day, so the premise became a last man on earth scenario, because that’s sort of how it felt because there were no neighbors in sight and days would go by when I wouldn’t see another human face or even speak. But there wouldn’t be much conflict in that, so I started inventing other characters. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do completely different people convincingly, so I made it about a mad scientist and his family of clones and their struggle to survive when what they thought was paradise turns against them—a drought and blight that pushes them to the brink.
Did you write an actual screenplay?
I started with a few simple scenes of conflict once I established the characters in my mind. They’re broad types: a hippy-dippy artist, a no-nonsense handyman, and a tight-lipped hunter, so the conflict was inherent in these antagonistic personalities. At that point nothing was written down, I just had basic ideas and started shooting. The trick was having to shoot one side of an encounter, then change outfits and shoot the other side of the conversation from memory. The plot gelled after a few days and once I saw the big picture, I wrote what scenes I needed on index cards, so there was never a proper script, just a shooting outline.
How did you keep track of what to say when?
I just sort of winged it. It’s not My Dinner with Andre, so the specifics of the conversation aren’t that important. The talk was mostly to advance the plot. I was able to create an illusion of back-and-forth in editing, and even when it came out disjointed, I felt that was kind of accurate to how actual conversations go; there’s always an element of non sequitur and people ignoring each other in the rush to make their next point. Basically I just tried to get in the head of each character and say what they might say.
What were the characters?
Hanamanaman is the patriarch, the mad scientist who clones himself so he won’t be alone—
After, incidentally, killing off all of humanity?
Oh yeah, that! Yes, he’s the biggest mass murderer of all time, killer of seven billion people, but let’s not dwell on that.
He creates a deadly virus—was this before the Covid19 pandemic?
Yes, simpler times. But the idea of a virus running rampant is old hat and just seemed a convenient way to stick them on this island and prevent them from ever leaving. Anyway, he’s part mad scientist, and maybe part wizard, but his core character is that of a type I saw a bit of on Maui, the insufferable guru who spouts platitudes about spirituality while milking credulous rich people of some of the excess money they might have a guilt complex over. And to me it’s kind of funny to have that type of person ultimately responsible for the death of humanity. Just the sheer hypocrisy of it.
Did you have anyone specific in mind?
No, he just represents a common type of holier than thou huckster. But, really, all the characters are just aspects of my own personality. Like Hanamanaman, I’m prone to waxing philosophical and being a little bit of a know-it-all. Handy is my practical side, the get-it-done guy, and I channeled some of my New York roots into his speech and temperament. Hunter is the type of redneck I’ve grown to admire, the skilled outdoorsman (although in his case he never seems to bag anything but a rooster, which is something I really had to do and doesn’t require much skill). Happy is my artsy-fartsy side, an element that used to be prevalent when I was a coddled undergrad. I think we all balance different and sometimes opposing traits within ourselves, and seeking a contented life is largely a matter of striking the proper balance between them.
What about Hottie?
Obviously, my feminine side. Can’t really say much about her without getting into spoilers, but if there’s any subtext in this film, it might have something to do with how men tend to objectify women. That’s a commonplace thing to say, but I don’t think it really goes in the other direction, and I suspect this has a lot to do with evolution, where men just go around fucking anything that moves, whereas women have to probe a little deeper before making a reproductive investment.
This is a deep movie!
But you said you were inspired by so-bad-they’re-good movies?
I’m inspired by outsiders of all kinds, people who just go ahead and share their vision, even if the results are unintentionally comical. It’s liberating to just say fuck it, I’m going to do this to the best of my abilities, given the time and resources I have at my disposal.
So you didn’t try to make a deliberately bad movie?
Is it bad? I hope not. I tried to do the best I could with what little I had, but I’m aware that the result might be a little shaky. The challenge I set myself was to see if I could push the story through, which is why I call it a Story Forward Production (my fictitious production company). If people hang with it and the story tracks, on that level I’ve succeeded.
One’s A Crowd doesn’t take itself too seriously, but I wasn’t aiming low either. Self-awareness is a curious thing. Everyone knows you can’t make a so bad it’s good movie on purpose—just look at the difference between Birdemic (good bad!) and the sequel, which tries deliberately to be out of step (bad bad). But how self-aware am I, really? I like to think that everything in One’s A Crowd is intentional, but the peril of any creative output is others will see things in your work (and, by extension, you) that you are blind to, because you take it for granted. Like my friend Erg used to say, “I know that like the back of my head!”
You’ve called One’s A Crowd a documentary. How so?
That’s a joke, but it might be a true joke. One’s A Crowd can be viewed as a simple narrative, or it can be seen as a document of what happens to a guy when he spends too much time alone. Maybe it’s a symptom of undiagnosed mental illness. I mean, 79 minutes of mostly me on the screen might be a sign of runaway narcissism…
Not to mention Hanamanaman as a manifestation of delusions of grandeur.
…Or the fact that I’m really just you pretending to have a conversation?
THIS INTERVIEW IS OVER!