Features and Columns · Movies

30 Things We Learned from the Swiss Army Man Commentary

“Spoiler alert. This movie’s full of scientific inaccuracies.”
Daniel Radcliffe In Swiss Army Man
By  · Published on November 17th, 2016

Welcome to Commentary Commentary, where we sit and listen to filmmakers talk about their work, then share the most interesting parts. In this edition, Rob Hunter digs into Daniels’ directors’ commentary track for Swiss Army Man.

This week we’re giving a listen to the commentary behind one of the year’s most creative films, a laugh and gas-filled exploration of depression, companionship, and the importance of ignoring your haters, and it’s called…

Swiss Army Man (2016) Commentary

Commentators: Daniel Kwan (writer/director), Daniel Scheinert (writer/director), Jason Kisvarday (production designer), Brent Kiser (sound mixer/fartist)

1. The opening shot of debris in the water was one of the last they filmed. It’s nautically inaccurate as most of the mini boats are either puppeted with sticks kept vertical through the addition of a hammer anchor.

2. The island is not actually an island. It’s just a section of a beach they liked with the rest of the shoreline digitally cropped out of view.

3. They digitally removed instances of visible breathing and blinks on Daniel Radcliffe’s part.

4. They originally had a “hard fast rule” regarding no flashbacks to real things as they instead only wanted to allow the imagined re-enactments, but they made an exception to show Hank (Paul Dano) sitting alone on the bus. “It wasn’t until the edit that we decided okay let’s break the rule for just this one very specific moment.”

5. “Paul can’t grow a real beard, so it wasn’t even an option.” They used a fake beard consisting of a main piece and some smaller patches.

6. Hank’s joy at finding the bag of cheese puffs is inspired by a video they saw on YouTube of an Arctic traveler who gets excited by a bag of cheese snacks in the middle of the snowy tundra. “We love the idea of taking things that most people would hate to find in the real world and making it the most exciting thing in the world. That’s the whole film, just sort of removing context from these shitty things and making them exciting.”

7. They thought there were visual glitches in some shots of Radcliffe on the beach, but it turned out to be small, white sand-crabs jumping around his face. They digitally removed the crabs.

8. They couldn’t afford to shut down the beach for filming so they had people hanging around wondering if that was actually Radcliffe. They tried telling people it was a mayonnaise commercial, but the locals caught on.

9. The first cave sequence on the mainland ‐ shot from inside out ‐ was filmed on a lot, and it’s the same cave opening used in some of the old Batman episodes.

10. The raccoon’s focus on Manny’s mouth wasn’t intentional, but Radcliffe had accidentally dropped a cigarette in there and the animal smelled it.

11. The poop is actually made of brownie-mix.

12. They tried to get multiple brand sponsors, “but everyone said no except Hostess.” Apparently they saw a positive gain from the use of Twinkies in Zombieland and now say yes to any placement.

13. The animatronic wiener is controlled via a joystick and wires.

14. Kisvarday snuck a sasquatch into the film (played by Radcliffe’s bodyguard) telling only one of the directors, and he whispers around the 33:18 mark “Where’s Bigfoot?” They don’t point him out but do acknowledge he’s in here somewhere. They even say if you can find him they’ll give you a Daniel Radcliffe towel, twenty bucks, or maybe even a re-tweet.

15. The phone’s power on/off tunes are modeled on Hank’s mumbled singing.

16. Neither director has seen Weekend at Bernie’s.

17. The shadow theater montage includes nods to Jurassic Park, Say Anything, and others, but when Radcliffe saw the Superman one he thought it was a Harry Potter reference.

18. They lost one of their sets to a herd of cows that trampled through after a day of production and carried it all away leaving only fecal matter in exchange.

19. They like that the film was released around the same time as The Neon Demon and The BFG as they would make for good double features based on necrophilia or farts. “Spoiler alert! She has sex with a dead giant?!”

20. Radcliffe doesn’t like to swim or tread water, but he’s SCUBA certified.

21. The scene where Hank and Manny burst from beneath the water up into the air features a fake butt and real stuntmen being yanked out at twenty miles per hour (or so). The last shot of the sequence features Radcliffe’s real behind, but they were worried it showed too much crack and told him so. He gave them the okay saying it’s the movie he signed up for.

22. They struggled between aiming for a survival film or an art film and settled on structuring it like a romantic comedy.

23. Scheinert is not a big fan of The Spectacular Now. I’m no longer alone.

24. Tag the bear worked for marshmallows and ice cream sandwiches.

25. Shane Carruth (Upstream Color) and composer Andy Hull cameo in the scene where Manny’s body is taken away on the gurney. Carruth is friends with one of their producers, so they told him if was going to loiter on their set he’d have to be in the movie.

26. The ambulance says “Eestborough” on it as a nod to Westborough MA where Kwan grew up. There’s a west, north, and south borough but no east.

27. They apologize for doing their news report in the wrong aspect ratio. “There’s never been an anamorphic news report, but it was too distracting to go 16:9.”

28. One of their regrets regarding audience members who walked out of the film before it ended is that they didn’t get to see the end scene where they ‐ the haters ‐ show up as the critical, disapproving characters on the beach.

29. Keep an eye out for the sequel, Swiss Army Man 2: Big Manny in Japany. “It’s Manny washing up on the shore in Japan, making friends with a bunch of Japanese schoolgirls, and fighting giant monsters.”

30. The film is the only in history to feature a credit for a fartist, and Kiser couldn’t be prouder.

Best in Context-Free Commentary

“We’re gonna make the most interesting commentary.”

“Well this commentary sucks so far.”

“If this is your first time watching the movie, turn off the commentary! Go watch the movie idiot.”

“We really want this whole commentary to be all about Donald Trump.”

“Aspect ratios don’t hurt anyone’s feelings that matter. Sorry losers.”

Final Thoughts on the Swiss Army Man Commentary

I’ve loved this movie for nearly a year now, and the Daniels’ commentary track offers some fun insight into its origin and production. They’re creatively goofy guys, and it’s as evident hearing them speak as it is watching their work. It’s a good track for young filmmakers too as they explain how they accomplished various shots and sequences including their marriage of practical effects and digital clean-up.

Read more Commentary Commentary from the archives.

Related Topics:

Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.