Welcome to Commentary Commentary, our long-running series of articles exploring the things we can learn from the most interesting filmmaker commentaries available on DVD and Blu-ray.
Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead have made three films together now, and while my personal favorite is the beautifully romantic creature feature/travelogue Spring you can’t go wrong watching any of them. Their latest sends two brothers back to the cult-like compound they escaped years prior, but what they find isn’t quite what they expect.
The film hits Blu-ray next week, and as a fan of their Spring commentary, I decided to give a listen to this one too. Keep reading to see what I heard on the commentary track for…
The Endless (2017)
Commentators: Justin Benson (writer/director/actor/producer/editor), Aaron Moorehead (director/actor/producer/editor/cinematographer), David Lawson Jr. (producer/actor)
1. The story grew out of “an abandoned improv project” called The Untitled UFO Cult Comedy which they started making while on the road doing press for Spring. It didn’t go anywhere as they’re “not that great with sketch comedy,” and part of it is available as an extra on the Blu-ray.
2. Their first film (Resolution) was funded by personal savings, their second (Spring) was financed by Benson’s father mortgaging his house. “This was the first movie that we actually got adult, grown-up, movie-business financing to go make.” A commenter on Reddit inquired about this one after a post they wrote about the difficulty of financing, and they ended up being part of a film fund.
3. They’ve had final cut on all three of their films.
4. Composer Jimmy Lavalle cameos at [7:43] along with wife and kids.
5. An early cut removed the therapy scenes, but feedback suggested people were far too confused without them.
6. They were able to use “House of the Rising Sun” because the lyrics originated in an old folk song.
7. The “hoodoo” rock formations — like stalagmites as they come up from the ground as opposed to stalactites which come down from the ceiling, which is easy to remember because stalacTites have a T for Top — were inspired by Stephen King’s Desperation.
8. They start to mention a story during the drone shot at [12:55] but decide they probably shouldn’t do so publicly. “Ask us… we’ll tell you that story.” So yeah, clearly someone needs to ask about this at their next film festival appearance.
9. The guy walking past their car at [13:09] is Shitty Carl, and he’s mentioned in all three of their movies.
10. “Everyone here has a vague idea that they’re going to live forever,” so they’re attempting to master a single skill. No one at the camp aside from Tim (Lew Temple) has succeeded so far, “which is why he’s so disillusioned.”
11. That’s a real blackbird at [36:31] and a fake one at [36:41].
12. That’s the same storage container from Resolution.
13. “The smaller the physical geographical loop the shorter your [time] loop is.” This is said in reference to the glimpse of a tent and guy from the 1900s. It’s a small circle, so it’s a small loop.
14. Hal (Tate Ellington) is meant to be a father figure of sorts for Aaron’s character, but Ellington didn’t realize it until he watched the film’s premiere at Tribeca. The conversation the trio have at the 1:00:00 mark is the only scene he’d like to reshoot after learning that.
15. “Good performers who have been through rehearsal equals chemistry,” but in the case of Peter Cilella and Vinny Curran — who recreate their characters from Resolution here — “they have actual chemistry.”
16. The origin of Shitty Carl came out of an improvised line by Curran during Resolution, and after referencing him again in Spring they decided to actually bring him to life here.
17. The scene recreating the opening sequence of Resolution was done from memory as they had no access to the film (or the internet).
18. The mountain lion is crafted from stock footage “from like Peru or something with visual effects applied.”
19. The silent dinner scene at [1:34:41] is the only time Smiling Dave (Lawson) is seen without his fanny pack, and it’s totally because “he knows that when the loop is rest there is a chance that his fanny pack could be damaged. And that’s just not a risk he’s willing to take.” Lawson clearly loved his character and fanny pack and would collect things during the shoot to store in it before gifting them to other cast members.
20. “Blood on indie film sets is terrifying,” and while they used an augmented blood cannon shot here it’s ultimately why many films go the CG blood route. The time it takes to clean and reset for a second take is often time that’s not available or affordable on low budgeted movies.
21. The Camp Arcadia shack filled with dated film reels and VHS tapes “has a lot of footage from the 1940s in particular.” One of them asks what happened in the 40s, and the commentary goes silent until Benson returns saying “I just whispered about what happened in the 1940s.” Curious!
22. The brothers’ escape breaks their own “inter-personal loop,” but it’s left up to interpretation as to whether or not they’re still in a bigger one. “In terms of the science fiction component to this ending, we’re not gonna tell you that in this commentary because we know it and it’s more fun if you figure it out on your own.”
23. Both Benson (@JustinHBenson) and Moorehead (@AaronMoorhead) enjoy engaging with fans on Twitter and actively encourage people to seek them out with questions and comments. Someone ask about that story they cut short (possibly regarding permits?) and the 1940s bit, and please tag me (@FakeRobHunter) so I can catch the answers too. Thanks!
Best in Context-Free Commentary
“And then we gave the script to Dave and had the biggest argument the three of us have ever had.”
“I only wear free tee-shirts.”
“You’re not watching this movie for the first time with the commentary?”
“You go into it thinking it’s a movie about cults, and you realize the cult’s completely benign.”
“We tried to get a Post-It Note sponsorship for this movie, but they didn’t go for it.”
“If you’re listening you have to play a drinking game with us.”
“As soon as you do an action scene you’re competing more or less with Transformers.”
Benson and Moorhead say a lot of clever and smart things in the commentary, but as engaging as they are it’s Lawson’s thoughts on the fanny pack that will stick with you. All kidding aside, though, it’s another solid track from the pair as they offer an interesting look at both the narrative and technical side of filmmaking.
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