Swiss Army Man, which debuted at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, became one of that fest’s most-talked-about and notorious titles, provoking headlines like “Daniel Radcliffe Farting Corpse Movie Prompts Walk-outs.” The movie stars Paul Dano as Hank, a man stranded on a deserted island who makes his way back to civilization with the help of a very handy dead body with post-mortem digestive issues, played by Radcliffe.
The idiosyncratic film was created by the writer-director duo known, collectively, as the Daniels, and individually as Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. Known for their short films and music videos — they are responsible for DJ Snake/Lil Jon’s “Turn Down for What” video, which has attracted more than 500 million views on YouTube — Kwan and Scheinert are making their feature directorial debut with Swiss Army Man, which opens theatrically June 24.
Scheinert and Kwan — originally from Alabama and Massachusetts, respectively — began working together in 2009 after meeting at Emerson College.
The Daniels, who have a tendency to finish each other’s thoughts and answer questions for each other, spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about their transition to feature filmmaking, those Sundance reactions and their dream project.
How did the idea for Swiss Army Man come about?
Daniel Scheinert: We had been making short film and music videos for six or seven years, and [Swiss Army Man] was one of those ideas that we had been batting around for a while that didn’t quite work as a short film and didn’t work for any band.
Daniel Kwan: There was an evening we came up with the concept of “a suicidal man having to convince the corpse that life is worth living.” That was the real inception of the movie — we thought, what if we started a movie with a guy riding a corpse that farts across the ocean but then take it into an exploration of the human experience?
Scheinert: We really hate talking about Freudian shit, but we are starting to realize our filmmaking is where we are chasing after images and trying to capture those images.
Kwan: So it’s kinda like therapy.
Scheinert: It’s where we can work out all our issues with our wieners.
What was hardest part about the transition from shorts and music videos to your first feature?
Kwan: Just the stamina. It was difficult to hold it all in our heads, all at once.
Scheinert: One of the hardest parts of making the feature was finishing it and then not being able to release it right away. It’s so weird trying to market your movie instead of letting it speak for itself.
At Sundance, How was watching Swiss Army Man with an audience?
Scheinert: It’s a rare treat when we get to screen a short or a music video at a festival, because most of the time it is just us reading YouTube comments.
Scheinert: (laughs) They’re so fun.
Kwan: Reddit has better comments than YouTube.
Scheinert: With Swiss Army Man, we just can’t wait to see how people react to it when they are in a room with strangers.
Kwan: The bummer is that most people won’t have the same experience that the people at that first Sundance screening had, where they knew nothing about the movie going into it. I remember when the end titles came on during that first screening. There was just such a wonderful spectrum of people screaming and laughing and gasping. We weren’t even aware that people were walking out because we were having such a good time listening to everyone.
Did you have a favorite Sundance reaction?
Kwan: My favorite person we talked to was a lady that came up on stage afterwards, which she wasn’t supposed to do.
Scheinert: And she goes, “I know I am not supposed to be up here, but I have one friend who can fart in front of me and I have another friend who can’t and I know he would be so much happier if he could.” Then she just started crying, and Paul Dano gave her a big hug. We all sort of left the stage shell-shocked, like, “Did that really happen?”
Kwan: She wasn’t really talking about farts when she was talking about her friends, but we gave her a really strange metaphor to process why she thinks her friend is unhappy.
If you guys could go back to when you were first starting production on this movie, what advice would you give to your younger selves?
Scheinert: I would say, “Hey, you should schedule in a few breaks.”
Kwan: I would have said: “Don’t wait until the movie is done to go to therapy.”
Are there any actors you both are dying to work with?
Kwan: We really want to work with Jackie Chan and Rowan Atkinson. I was a huge Mr. Bean fan when I was a kid, and I know [Atkinson] was a wonderful theatrical actor, he just never gets to do it. Oh, and Shia LaBeouf!
Scheinert: We just got to find the right project.
What would be the right project for Shia LaBeouf?
Scheinert: Something where he lights his hair on fire and it doesn’t ruin the movie. Some sort of concept where the actor goes insane.
Kwan: Whatever his acting choice is, I just want to give Shia a box to play in.
Scheinert: Like our version of Bad Grandpa.
Do you have a dream project?
Scheinert: Every project we make is us trying to reach some sort of weird and silly cosmic dream.
Kwan: What about your White Chicks dream?
Scheinert: Oh! One of my dreams is to make White Chicks as a hard-R, Oscar-worthy drama, starring the original cast. It would be about gender and race relations in the 21st century, starring the Wayans brothers. I don’t know if you have seen White Chicks lately, but it has a lot of meat to it and explores everything, like class, gender, race, the handicapped, age.
Kwan: But it explores it in the worst way possible.
What’s the summer movie that you are most looking forward to?
Scheinert: I am looking forward to watching Popstar in theaters again, because it may be the best movie of all time.
Kwan: I really want to watch Finding Nemo.
Scheinert: You mean Dory.
Kwan: Oh yeah, I mean Dory.