We’ve all known people that are lacking social skills that push the boundaries of what’s tolerable in a friendship, not through malice but because they just don’t know any better. When these characters are portrayed in the movies, they’re usually these oddballs that live within their own little bubble. The comedy that they generate comes from their clueless interactions which irritates the movie’s straight man. That’s not the case in Donald Cried, the dark comedy from director Kristopher Avedisian, which he co-stars and co-wrote with Jesse Wakeman. There’s plenty of comedy from Donald’s offbeat personality but Avedisian, Wakeman, and co-writer Kyle Espeleta give Donald an emotional core that doesn’t exist in characters of this type before.
“That’s really the whole kind of point of the movie,” Avedisian said of giving his central man-child an emotional core. “The movie ends on him opposed to ending on what would typically be the protagonist leaving and stuff. Yeah, it just wouldn’t be fun or it’s not cool if he was just one-note like that. I think that was something like a struggle in the script of how do you bring that out of him without being ridiculous or over the top.”
He added: “Caring about him as a person and not just being a one-note thing was very important.”
“Which then moves back to wanting it to exist in a real world. We were joking about Donald sequels this morning,” Jesse Wakeman said. “Then I mentioned What About Bob? a film like that. We love that movie but it’s an absurd movie if you watch it, the stuff that he does and everything. We were operating in a very real world. I mean, we were wondering, ‘What if we made a documentary world? What would it look like?’”
Donald Cried has its origins in a short film that Avedisian and Wakeman made back in 2012, and eventually they expanded it into the feature. “There just wasn’t much time in that perception of who Donald was or what this relationship was. The arc came with changing the audience’s perception,” Avedisian said of expanding the short into a feature. “It was really just figuring out how to retain that same thing but also making it move and having these movie kind of turns, twists and turns, but keeping it real and keeping it in a 24-hour period, just having the idea that a change could happen in the protagonist. It was just trying to figure out how to be true the short and what the short was able to do and how the short was able to kind of stick to a reality. It was turning it into a movie without turning it too much like a Planes, Trains [& Automobiles], just keeping the reality there and not going too far into movie land.”
“There was just a confidence in that character dynamic,” Wakeman added. “That really came in a way that we totally didn’t expect. We made the short, and it was like, ‘Alright!’ We’d been working on micro-budget features and we’d been trying to make our feature for a while, but making that short, yeah, really was like, ‘Yeah, these characters – I could watch them for longer.’ And audiences responded, too. The short got around a little bit on the festival circuit. People were responding to it. So it was like, ‘Yeah, we can kind of build from that.’”
The naturalistic flow between the characters might lead one to think that much of Donald Cried was improvised, but that simply wasn’t the case. “It was all pretty scripted, but, you know, we try to leave room for off script stuff and try to keep it loose. But it’s very much a puzzle and the scenes are, yeah, what needed to be said. Maybe there’s lines here and there, but a lot of the joke, a lot of the stuff existed in the script,” Avedisian said of the scripting process.
“It just couldn’t have worked the way it did in the puzzle-like sense without having it built out. So much of the work that was done was in outlining,” Wakeman said of his role in expanding the story. “But we all know where it was going. The in points, the out points for the scenes; what the scene’s about; what kind of energy are you supposed to leave with the audience in the close of that scene to go against in the following scene.”
The character of Donald seems like a variation on somebody that everyone has encountered at one time or another, and there’s a specificity to his eccentricities that seems as if it were based on someone in real life. “We’ve all had versions. I know of them. Jesse has one. The actual character isn’t based on any one person,” Avedisian said of the character. “Mark Borchardt was referenced. We talked about him for his glasses and such. Even seeing parts of American Movie after the short or after Donald [Cried], it was funny how similar that stuff was. It was never directly referenced, but no it wasn’t based on a specific person.”
As for Wakeman’s straight-laced Peter, he might be closer to Donald than most people realize. “The Peter character, I feel like he functions a little bit different. He’s not like a typical straight man, he’s kind of this douchey, walks this fine line,” Avedisian added. “The interesting part of the movie was to sympathize and empathize with Donald in life and to see that these guys have feelings and stuff like that. But then they’re both the same. That was the thing bringing them together in the car at the end, talking about how both their parents are deceased. Just how they’re both loners in their own right.”
What does the future hold for Kristopher Avedisian and Jesse Wakeman? “We’re working on a TV series,” Avedisian said, “like a two season Vice Principals format which exists in kind of the Donald world, same kind of tone. And we have other projects that we’re working on together and separately. I wanna make a movie, another movie. We’re really working on getting this TV show going.”
While they may have been joking around, I still had to ask about those potential sequel ideas they had for Donald Cried. Not that the movie has any loose ends for a sequel, but after talking with them the possibility of sequel does sound enticing. “We talked about Jamaica, where Peter would move back home, failed in New York, and ends up with the real estate agent in this shitty relationship. And then Donald wins the lottery and wants to go to Disneyworld and Peter convinces him that they should go to Jamaica and tries to use the money to do this real estate opportunity,” Avedisian said with a laugh.
“It was gonna be this big genre flip. We were gonna tap into that Club Paradise kind of ‘80s stuff where the Caribbean was a really happening thing,” a wide-grinning Wakeman added.
“We talked about today the more serious one,” Avedisian added to the proposed sequels. “Because I was like, ‘What more of this story is there to tell? What do we not know about these characters or something?’ I guess the idea of why can’t they be friends for real? Like Peter can acknowledge Donald and acknowledge the importance of the relationship, but why can’t he really be friends with him? And then we were just talking about Peter maybe having cancer and then Donald comes back into his life but Peter has a family and kids.”
Just don’t expect any potential Donald Cried sequels to happen in the near future. “It’s been so long,” Avedisian said with a bit of weariness from years of production and promotion for the single film. “Between the short and making this thing, and now two years since we made it. I don’t really care to revisit him for a while. It’d be fun to do when we’re older. With an edge and make it darker, maybe less funny.”
Donald Cried is currently play in select theaters