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Alumni-Directed "Swiss Army Man" Wows Audience at Bright Lights Screening

The 2016-2017 season of the Bright Lights Film Series opened with a full house of 175 students, faculty and alumni all buzzing to watch the “fart movie” that sparked walkouts at Sundance this year.

Swiss Army Man was the quirky creation by directing duo Daniels, comprised of Emerson alumni Daniel Scheinert ’09 and Daniel Kwan ’10, who won the Directing Award at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival despite the controversy.

Following the Tuesday, September 13, screening, both directors participated in a discussion via Skype to give insider knowledge on everything from why they made the bloated corpse movie of this generation, to their favorite Emerson experience, to what it was like to work with Daniel Radcliffe.

Swiss Army Man follows the story of Hank (Paul Dano), a suicidal man stranded on a deserted island who discovers a dead body washed up on the beach, names him Manny (Daniel Radcliffe), and puppeteers him to be his best friend as they journey home.

In the post-film discussion, Scheinert said that the elevator pitch that convinced Dano to join the cast was one simple sentence.

“We told him we wanted to start the movie with a fart that would make you laugh and try to end the movie with a fart that would make you cry,” he said. “We wanted to do something that people aren’t used to seeing on screen. We liked the challenge, and so did he.”

One member of the audience told the crowd that it was his fourth time seeing the movie, and asked how they managed to cast Daniel Radcliffe, star of the epically popular Harry Potter series, in their first feature film.

“We reached out to Paul Dano first,” said Scheinert. “He was excited about the script and we asked him who he would like to work with and who he thought would be right for the role and would be game to play a corpse.” When Dano suggested Radcliffe, the directors hadn’t even thought to set their sights that high. “He really loved the script and we even started to rewrite Manny to make him a hyperbolic version of Daniel Radcliffe,” says Kwan.

Swiss Army Man definitely wasn’t what some people in the audience were expecting.

Audience member Emma Lukens ’17 was pleasantly surprised by the emotional depth the film provided. “You go into this film thinking it’s going to be a weird movie about farting and being best friends with a corpse, but you come out of it reevaluating all the relationships in your life and thinking, maybe I should befriend a corpse. It was truly an emotional experience,” she said.

One of the last audience questions was asking the directors what their favorite Emerson experience was. For Scheinert, it was a simple answer. “When I was a freshman I got hit by a car… It made me feel really cool.”

For Kwan, it was the EVVYs. “I did graphics for the EVVYs every year. We only had the week before the show to do all the graphics, and so I spent a week in the computer lab eating, sleeping, and drinking everything in that room. That was probably the closest experience I had at Emerson that resembled the real world,” said Kwan.

Bright Lights curator Anna Feder explained that this movie was an obvious choice for the film series. “I personally am a fan of the film, and I thought it was a film that would attract a lot of students particularly, because it’s a film made by two alumni who met at Emerson, who are young alums, who made their first feature film and it got distribution! And it got into theaters and it’s awesome. It made sense to start with this film.”

One excited freshman approached Feder after the screening to tell her that she wanted to come to every single screening Bright Lights had to offer for the rest of the year. 

Bright Lights screenings take place every Tuesday and Thursday evenings, followed by a discussion with someone affiliated with the film or an Emerson faculty member. All events are free and open to the public.

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