By Ellexia Nguyen
Edited By: Colleen Page
“Karl Manhair, Postal Inspector” tells the story of a man who feels that his job as a Postal Inspector (played by Geoffrey Cantor) no longer matters to anyone. Feeling unimportant and useless, Karl acts upon the advice of his life coach (played by Amy Rutberg) and attempts to take charge of his future. The Art of Monteque interviewed Chandler Kauffman (writer, director, co-executive producer) and Hillary Cutter (co-executive producer), who candidly share their thoughts on the making of the short film.
What inspired you to pick this story premise for your film?
Chandler Kauffman: Like many great stories, the genesis of “Karl Manhair, Postal Inspector” began with a bunch of dumb teenagers in Queens. In 1998, I was fresh out of film school at NYU and living in Astoria while working as a PA on Saturday Night Live. I had the good fortune of licensing my senior thesis film “The Next Big Thing?” to a PBS show called Independent Images, and while the royalty fee wasn’t enough to move me out of the flight path of LaGuardia, I was ecstatic to get my first paycheck as a writer/director.
My enthusiasm began to wane as weeks passed with no check, despite assurances from PBS that it had been sent. Frustrated, I paid a visit to the local Post Office where I was informed that the whole block was reporting missing mail and that the full might of the USPS would be brought to bear on the mystery of our disappearing letters, magazines and bills. A USPS Postal Inspector would be dispatched to stake out our block and crack the case!
Captivated by the idea of a Postal Inspector, I found myself peering into every parked car and panel van expecting to see a grizzled investigator with binoculars in hand laying in wait. I never did catch a glimpse of the stealthy gumshoe who eventually busted the group of criminal genius tenth graders who were absconding with our mail and throwing it down the gutter for kicks on their way home from school. Glad to finally receive a new check from PBS, I was left with a lingering curiosity as I imagined the kinds of people who become Postal Inspectors. As the years progressed and the USPS’s troubles made the news, I started to wonder how someone like that was dealing with their increasing irrelevance, an old west sheriff set adrift with no frontier town to police.
Cut to the recent financial crisis when a lot of people, close friends included, suddenly and through no fault of their own, found themselves feeling irrelevant. This reawaken for me the idea of a character struggling with his place in the world and in particular what living with the threat of a loss of purpose would be like for someone whose identity was tied to their job.
The title of your film is “Karl Manhair,” why “Man” and “Hair”?
CK: The story is about someone suffering through one indignity after another so it seemed only right to give him a liability of a last name.
Overall, the cast members in your film are naturally funny and well-suited to their roles. Did you write the script with Geoffrey Cantor (who played the Postal Inspector) and Amy Rutberg (who played the new-age life coach) already in mind?
CK: Thanks! No, we found our actors working with two casting director friends once the script was completed. I was fairly specific about what I was looking for, and it so happened that Geoffrey and Amy not only looked the part ,but also brought the deeper characteristics that the roles required.
How much time did you devote in rehearsing the actors before going into production?
CK: I would have loved to extensively rehearse with our cast before hand, unfortunately scheduling and budget constraints made that impossible. All of our leads are seasoned actors with some pretty incredible credits to their names. In hindsight I found that the time we spent talking about their characters and the story, combined with our actors’ professionalism and innate talent, made rehearsals almost redundant.
What was your biggest challenge in making the film?
CK: Time and money! Interestingly enough, those are the same factors that helped to focus my creativity and give parameters that ultimately helped the project be better, even if the execution becomes more difficult. It’s a double edged sword that way.
As a writer/director, you seem to have a flair for comedy. Which screenwriter and TV show(s) greatly influenced you?
CK: Thanks! Wow, that’s a long list. One of my biggest influences is the Coen Brothers. They’re such original storytellers and they’re geniuses at using humor to tell a deeper story. I’m really interested in the intersection of comedy (sometimes dark) and character development. I love light comedies, but digging into the inherent humor and strangeness of life is what inspires me. A few other inspirations in no particular order: PT Anderson, David Fincher, Breaking Bad, The Sopranos, John Cleese, Kurt Vonnegut, Woody Allen, The Simpsons, early David Letterman….
The Wayne Mersky character (played by Peter McRobbie) gives off this humorous and engaging Clint Eastwood-esque vibe whenever he appears onscreen, was that intentional?
CK: Interesting, hadn’t thought about the Clint connection, but I totally see that now that you mention it. Peter was a revelation and a sort of master class for me as a director. He’s worked with almost every filmmaker you could want to hear about (PT Anderson, Spielberg, Ang Lee and many more) and a consummate professional. He’s also an incredibly sweet guy. I wrote the part as a humorless bureaucrat with a sort of insular world view and Peter expanded that with his intensity and talent. As you can deduce I loved working with him.
What message do you want the audience to take away from this film?
CK: Man is a bad animal. Okay, that and the idea of struggle in life. Both for survival as well as meaning. I’ve always seen Karl’s struggle as one small and strange example of the struggles we all experience in life.
What’s your next project?
CK: I have a couple of other short scripts I’d like to shoot as well as a feature and a TV pilot I’ve been working on. They all share the theme of comedy mixed with characters fighting for something in their lives. I also keep busy directing commercials, network promos, web content and that sort of stuff.
Let’s bring out Hillary Cutter, the co-executive producer. Please tell us a little bit about your background. How did you get involved in producing?
Hillary Cutter: I studied Television-Radio-Film production at Syracuse University and upon graduation in 2000, I landed my first job in production in NYC at a boutique production company that produced mainly TV Network Promos and Branding Campaigns. From there I got the television commercial production bug and put my independent filmmaking dreams aside (at least during the day) and worked for 3 different production companies over the course of 5 years where I got hands on training in the production management side of the business. Alongside my various day jobs in the industry, I was building up my own roster of filmmakers who were working in commercial production and films in various crew positions but also developing their own independent film projects. While maintaining full time staff positions at various production companies, I also lend my hand (for free) as a line-producer and post producer to several of the filmmakers I met along my commercial production career to help them bring their independent projects to life. Fast forward 15 years later and I now own a commercial film production company where I manage a roster of directorial talent and produce commercials and film projects for clients/brands such as MTV, ABC Entertainment, Under Armour, Nikon and USA Today. My passion has always been to support independent film projects while also helping directors use their unique creative abilities to attract advertising agencies and television networks for work-for-hire projects so they can focus on their art, but also get paid doing what they do best!
What attracted you to the film project?
HC: Chandler and I met onset in 2001 when we were both moving up in the film business. I was production managing / line producing and he was gaffing. He told me about a couple of spec projects he wanted to direct to build his commercial directing reel and I jumped onboard to help him launch his career. In the fall of 2012, when he approached me about Karl I was pretty much onboard knowing how talented he is after having worked with him for 10+ years at that point.
Lastly, what was the overall budget for “Karl Manhair, Postal Inspector”?
HC: $35,000.00 [TAOMR]