What happens when a group of friends from different cultural backgrounds get together to write a movie script? The answer is hilarity. The madcap journey towards making a film that encompasses everything a viewer wants and expects in a movie happens all in one Swiss film titled ‘Who Killed Johnny’ from Yangzoom Films. (Check out the trailer here)
Written and directed by Swiss actress Yangzom Brauen (Manne Zimmer, Cargo, Aeon Flux opposite Charlize Theron), and produced in association with German actor Gerold Wunstel (co-writer), Shari Yantra Marcacci (Asst. Director), and a slew of talented individuals who helped bring this film to life, ‘Who Killed Johnny’ is a riot of humor mixed with drama, sprinkled with adventure, and topped with a dark twist. I laughed my proverbial butt off.
Since its debut on the film festival rounds, WKJ has received awards for Best Comedy Feature at the Costa Rica International Film Fest 2013, Best Screenplay at the Chicago Comedy Festival 2013, and a Best Actress nod at the Hoboken International Film Fest 2013 to name but a few. Brauen best explains all the ins and outs of the making of WKJ in this exceptional interview.
As the writer, what inspired the story for you?
It all started when a friend and I were sitting down and started talking about writing a script. We realized that after a whole afternoon brainstorming that there are so many ideas and at the end we realized that this will be the story of our script. The actual conversation about what we shall write, who are the characters, which genre are we going to explore. That was the base of our script. I then asked Gerold Wunstel, the co-writer of Who Killed Johnny?, if he was interested in writing with me and we went from there. A lot of the characters and stories in the film are real, some are fiction, but there is a fair amount of real-life story. It is the city and the people we know which inspired us to write the story.
What personal experiences played a part in contributing to some of the structure of WKJ?
As I said before, there are many personal experiences in the film. For example the character Hasso who is played by Gerold Wunstel is based on the actor Gerold Wunstel. I realized that all the profession he learned, all the stories he told me about his life are so different then how the average human being lives that we decided to create HASSO. The house where we shot ‘Who Killed Johnny?’ is the house I live in, and it is like in the film a house where people just arrive unexpected; Simon, the British painter who recites Shakespeare at night till he falls asleep after bottles of white wine, The friends who use the pool frequently while we try to work inside creating a script...
What a mix of languages and nationalities! I recognized the German, but some of it seemed not quite German (my German is a mere two college semesters worth) so was it me or was there either a third language spoken or a particular dialectal/regional version of German spoken?
The main language of the film is Swiss-German. We are mostly Swiss, (then) some Germans, and the rest are Americans. We realized that living in LA we do switch languages every day. With my Swiss friends we speak in 3 languages, (and) when there is a German present we switch into German. I felt that the diversity of languages is an important part in the movie because the humor is different in each of the languages. I realized that some of the Swiss jokes are hard to translate because it is so language based, but we always tried to find the closest translation to it for Germans or Americans.
How did the cast come together? How did you choose your actors?
Carlos Leal, Melanie Winiger and Max Loong are big movie stars in Switzerland who all moved to NY or LA some time ago. I knew them and asked them if they are interested in playing a part in my first movie. They all loved the script and agreed to be in my movie. All of the actors are friends of mine or Gerold who we cast in LA.
Some of the humor defies political correctness (contributing to the cultural authenticity). Did you ever second-guess whether or not some of the zingers went too far?
Because a lot of the actors themselves are foreigners; Max is from Singapore, Melanie is half Indian, Carlos is Spanish, Ernest, who plays Jambo is half Ghanese, and I am half TIbetan, we dont' have to be political(ly) correct. We can make jokes about Asians because we are Asians. The characters are all not the regular all-American beauties. The blonde girl, Jordan Carver, who plays Gurdun knew that we weren’t looking for someone with small breasts. It was part of the script. We try not to take ourselves too serious, we can laugh about our flaws and differences and I don't think we step on anyone’s toe or went too far.
Where did you find your Johnny Depp look-a-like, Ronnie Rodriguez?
I went online and looked around (for) who could be the best look-a-like who lives in LA., and there we found Ronnie Rodriguez, our Johnny Depp.
WKJ has seen success in several film festivals. What’s next for the movie (I see that it can be downloaded on Google Play and the DVD purchased online), and what other projects are your working on?
WKJ had its theatrical Swiss release last summer, and its TV release in winter last year in Switzerland. We found a wonderful Distributor in L.A. who brought our film on Google play, Mgo, and in October WKJ will be on iTunes, Vudu, XBox and many other online platforms. Currently I am writing the sequel of WKJ. What happens next to the 3 Swiss actors? They will go on a road trip down to Mexico.
Okay, now I can’t wait to see what happens when this cast of characters take their many personalities and cultures south of the border. Jambo in Mexico? Oh my goodness!
Special thank you to Yangzom Brauen for the interview.