Chris Diani Kickstarts Furry Comedy

Chris Diani, director

by Rasmus Rasmussen on August 2, 2011

Filmmaker Chris Diani (Creatures from the Pink Lagoon) caught my attention when he successfully funded the pre-production of his second feature film, “Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits” (LPWBR), using the site Kickstarter. I asked if he would be interested in sharing a bit about his project and his Kickstarter campaign, and he was. We met up downtown, Diani with an easy smile and wearing a furry bunny suit for the occasion. That’s when I knew this would be fun.

AP: Where does your drive to tell visual stories come from? What makes you take on the enormous task of making a feature film? At the end of the day, what do you take away from the process and seeing the final result?

CD: I’ve always been a creative person, writing stories and poems as a young child, then switching to comic books, then novels and stage plays. But I had a hard time finishing projects, and the ones I did complete always lacked a certain something. It wasn’t until years later, when I started film school, that I realized I’d been writing for the screen all along. The first time I stepped behind the camera – at age 30 – I knew the cinema was where I belonged. So I’ve got three decades of half-finished stories, clamoring to be told properly.

I love the collaborative aspect of filmmaking the most: being on set, working with artists and technicians, banding together to create something weird or wonderful. It’s the reward for the long weeks and months spent writing, which I often find lonely and frustrating. But I’m an auteur at heart, so I struggle through the writing to get to the good part: seeing my vision realized on the screen.

Finally, I’d be a liar if I didn’t admit it’s thrilling to watch an audience respond to my work. But it’s also quite educational. I’ve learned more about comedy and pacing by sitting through multiple screenings of Creatures from the Pink Lagoon than I ever did in the classroom.

AP: You first moved to Seattle without knowing anyone there. What made Seattle a good fit for you? Did the fresh start influence your work, and what did you learn from taking the chance on such a move?

CD: I was in pretty dire straits before moving here. I’d failed as an actor, I was in the closet, working too many hours at a job I hated, literally losing my hair from the stress of it all. I had no clue what I was going to do with my life; I just knew I needed a change. I wish I could say there was some logical methodology behind choosing Seattle, but the reality was I was a pop culture junkie, and so much of what I was enjoying back then – Twin Peaks, grunge music, Singles, Northern Exposure – came from the Pacific Northwest, that it seemed like a good idea to move here. I was 22 years old.

Thankfully, it turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life. Not only did I learn exactly how tough and resilient I am – I moved 3138 miles from home to a city I’d never been to, after all – I immediately started to flourish in Seattle’s much more liberal, accepting atmosphere. I came out of the closet. I joined a theatre company. I made some amazing, lifelong friends. Basically, I got my groove back.

As for Seattle’s influence on my work, it’s incalculable. I’m imagining what my films would look like if I’d stayed in Massachusetts – and this is assuming I’d be making films at all – and I’m picturing lots of mopey dramas about unfulfilling friendships with homoerotic undercurrents. And lots of scenes set at the Exit 5 Rest Stop.

AP: You’ve said that Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits (LPWBR) is partly inspired by old screwball comedies, but what made you center it around Furries? What kind of research have you done and what has the initial response been? How do you make a comedy with Furries in it, without doing it at their expense?

CD: The idea to make a modern screwball comedy came to me in 2004, when my then-boyfriend wanted to take a weekend trip to Vancouver and I told him I couldn’t really afford to go. He replied, “I wish you made more money.”

I was furious; here I was, pursuing my dreams, working the graveyard shift to put myself through film school, and he was pouting because I couldn’t skip off to Canada at a moment’s notice? And why didn’t he wish he made more money? I started to think about how difficult it was to negotiate finances in gay relationships, and because I’d recently watched The Palm Beach Story, I thought, “I should dump his ass and go find a sugar daddy!”

I didn’t ditch him (not then, at least), but I did start developing a new script in which a gay couple, both struggling young artists, agree to break up in order to find sugar daddies to support them. Because I was working on Creatures from the Pink Lagoon at the time, I back-burnered this project, adding it to a folder with my other orphan ideas.

A while later, I saw a rerun of the infamous furry episode of CSI and thought it might be a funny twist to make one of the sugar daddies a furry. Then I met a real-life furry, who shared with me a bunch of great stories about the fandom and the various conventions he’d attended. Things were starting to take shape, but it wasn’t until I read an unintentionally hilarious article about a meet-up of lightning strike survivors that I had all the elements to write a truly screwball script.

That’s when I moved into research mode, with a vengeance. I watched furry videos, frequented furry message boards, read furry fiction, studied up on the adverse effects of lightning, read about dating services that catered to gay millionaires, even attended Seattle’s furry convention, Rainfurrest. I pounded out a first draft, workshopped it with my actor friends, and launched our Kickstarter campaign.

The initial reaction has been mostly positive, though there are a few members of the furry fandom who have been critical of the project. Thankfully, I knew to expect this – one of the benefits of doing so much research – so I’ve been able to anticipate most of their qualms and respond to them via Twitter, email, and message boards. And I do get it; CSI and reality TV have sensationalized the fandom and given mainstream viewers the impression that furries are all weirdos and sex-crazed fetishists. That would make me suspicious of any outsider looking to make a furry movie, too. But that’s not what I’m going for with LPWBR. I’m poking fun at a handful of characters who happen to be furries, not taking aim at the fandom as a whole. And just like I did with the characters in Creatures from the Pink Lagoon, I’m starting with stereotypes and filling them out, creating recognizable, well-rounded human beings (who in this case happen to dress like animals). In fact, through my interactions with my furry naysayers, I’ve come up with some great ideas for the new draft of the script, including a running joke in which that infernal episode of CSI is the punchline it so deserves to be.

AP: Using Kickstarter, you successfully raised $12,000 for your pre-production. Why did you go with that approach, and how was the experience? How did you spread the word about your campaign, and would you use Kickstarter again?

CD: Crowdfunding is all the rage in the indie film world right now, and rightfully so. It’s an excellent source of development funds (or post-production funds, if your budget comes up short), but it’s also a fantastic way to float your idea in the market to gauge audience interest. My Kickstarter campaign drew over 170 supporters, most of whom contributed at the $25 level or higher. Aside from being a strong show of support for my concept, that’s a great number to bring to potential investors: I have 170 pre-orders of the DVD and I haven’t even made the movie yet!

I spread the word through social media like Facebook and Twitter, via email blasts to my mailing list, by issuing press releases and doing media interviews, and by dressing up in various fursuits and handing out postcards at film festival parties, gay bars, and Pride events. It was a great experience and I’d definitely do it again.

AP: With your Kickstarter funding secured what’s next for LPWBR? How are you going to put the cash to use, how do you raise what’s needed to finish production? And then what?

CD: Unfortunately, much of what the Kickstarter cash will be paying for is the less glamorous side of moviemaking: development of our business plan & investor packet, legal counsel, web presence… a lot of behind-the-scenes and business development stuff. But I’ll also be working to attach a couple of bankable stars to the project, and once that happens we’ll shoot a teaser trailer to woo potential investors. I’m also planning to partner with a more seasoned producer for assistance in attracting investors, and for the first time ever I’ll be pursuing product placement deals to fund some of the production. I’m really excited about this part of the process – I love producing nearly as much as directing – and I’ll be posting exclusive updates about each new development on Kickstarter, which is one of the great rewards promised to those who backed our project. The next few months are going to be very busy, and – if all goes according to plan – very exciting. I can’t wait!

Find out more about “Let’s Pretend We’re Bunny Rabbits” on Facebook and Twitter. Follow Chris Diani on Twitter too, and check out his first feature film, Creatures from the Pink Lagoon, also available on Netflix.

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