The masterminds behind Saturday Night Live’s digital shorts, Kyle Mooney and Dave McCary, now land in movie theaters with their Sundance hit, Brigsby Bear, a unique films about a children’s show crafted for an audience of one. Mooney plays James, a young man raised in an underground bunker by what he believes are his parents. He obsesses over the tapes of a children’s show provided to him, Brigsby Bear, but his world comes crashing down when it’s revealed that he was kidnapped as an infant. Now James must encounter a strange new world, a world where nobody knows about the show that has been such a key part of his life. Brigsby Bear is funny and surprising touching with its emotional earnestness.
James takes his passion for Brigsby Bear and finds a creative outlet for it by collaborating with friends in the hopes of making a Brigsby Bear movie that will wrap up the story.
“We definitely drew from our experience in falling in love with filmmaking together,” director Dave McCary said of the film’s approach to portraying creativity. “We’re meticulous, precious people with our videos. Regardless of how much you like the comedy or the story of someone who is creative or a filmmaker, when you see how much love they put into what they do it’s more charming than when you can sense the laziness of this is just someone trying to capitalize on some topical thing, pumping out material to get quick views.“
“It’s easy to speak to our lives, Dave and I and our relationship. We’ve known each other since we were ten,” Kyle Mooney, who stars and co-wrote the film with Kevin Costello, said. “Maybe we didn’t become creative together until, like, middle school or high school, but it’s been a constant through-line in a way to relate to one another and also the loves of other person’s being creative is something to share between us, whether it’s music or movies or TV shows when we were kids. It’s just been a way to add an extra layer to the friendship that isn’t just, ‘Hey, man, I’ll see you at the party.’ We were in a hip hop group in high school. We were in a pop electronic group in college. We started making videos as I got out of college. His father is a pastor at the Seventh-day Adventist Church in San Diego and we would draw rollercoasters together in church.”
Brigsby Bear draws a lot of influence from the children’s shows of the ‘80s and ‘90s, but don’t expect any one show to provide the foundation for this unique movie. “I couldn’t say there’s one piece of work. I’m kind of an obsessive person generally and I will deeply invest myself into something that interests me. As a child, I was into He-Man and Star Wars and Thundercats, and stuff like that. And Saved by the Bell. And these are things that I still go back to,” Mooney explained. “I’ll be in my apartment in New York City or something like that, have a couple glasses of wine, and all of sudden put on like a Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers tape or something like that. It’s all important to me because it does something to my brain and brings some level of comfort.”
For McCary, it took him a little longer to become familiar with the shows that his close friend had obsessed with. ”I discovered all the children’s shows much later in life through Kyle rediscovering them in his twenties. I grew up a sports fan and didn’t really consume all the cartoons. Kyle and I really connected on the TGIF lineup because Kyle and I really loved Saved by the Bell and Full House. There was a time in my life where I really love wrestling as a kid, WWF – that’s kind of fantasy and reality because you’re pretending that it’s real and these characters have genuine hatred for each other and are hurting each other. But also realizing that it’s a big show.”
“I think generally we’re all toeing that line between fantasy and reality. Any media you consume is to a degree fantasy, even if it’s like Beatles record. We’re all pulling from that in our daily lives,” Mooney added.
Though Brigsby Bear’s main character is an offbeat eccentric, the film refuses to make the audience laugh at James. Instead the film takes the character and the audience on an emotional journey where the laughs come from the situations. ”I’d like to think that a lot of work even prior to the movie – there’s so much tangential, I apologize. We did this character who interviews people in public places and they’re always like awkward interviews, but it never comes from a malicious place. There are so many persons out there who would make a man on the street video where, ‘I’m just gonna go up to these nerds at Comic-Con and make fun of them.’ I don’t think we get any joy out of that and I think the same goes for this movie. I think the general theme – there is a general theme and it is accepting outsiderness and why undermine that by making him a joke,” Mooney explained of how they crafted the character with empathy in mind.
“I think we’ve also very fortunate to be embraced by so much by our friends and family over the course of our aspiring filmmaker journey. Our voice has always been a little off and not totally accessible to wide audiences, but we felt so much love from people and support going after our more bizarre characters and ideas,” McCary added. “And kind of feeling like even though we’re on SNL, which is this big institution and we’ve been validated that way, we still feel we are kind of somewhat separate from the show and the main audience from that show doesn’t love our stuff necessarily. Internally, all of our friends and higher ups at that show have embraced us and support us so much and I think that kind of feeling we’ve felt through most of our lives comes across in the movie. We feel a little bit like outsiders.”
“The experience that James goes on is kind of naturally funny,” Mooney elaborated. “It’s an experience we all share where it’s like going to a party where you don’t know anybody. It is weird and awkward and uncomfortable, so we don’t need to add anything else on top of that. I think the script had a lot of that with this character, him experiencing the world around him there’s going to be inherent comedy so we don’t need to poke fun.”
As James learns in Brigsby Bear and Kyle Mooney and Dave McCary found out in reality, making movies isn’t such an easy undertaking.
“Money and casting,” Kyle Mooney said of the biggest obstacles facing the production.
“Not because there wasn’t interest. We originally had financiers who ended up dropping out who didn’t see exactly the vision we saw and the tone, and how we wanted dramatic actors to surround Kyle’s character,” McCary added. “There’d be a laundry list of people we wanted to go after and sometime the financiers would go, ‘They don’t have enough value. We’d really like this actor,’ who to us felt too broad. Then you’re like struggling internally, ‘Is this movie not going to get made unless we let the financiers go after this broad actor and does that ruin the movie or change the entire tone of the movie?’ Fortunately, things all just kind of worked out. It was a big learning experience to stick to your guns and going for it. If we know the tone we’re going after I don’t think I would ever fold to a situation like that. And we really didn’t. The reason the movie looked like it was going to potentially fall through was because we were being so stubborn about those choice. We also learned a lot about how important foreign value is to getting a movie made.”
“The reality is Kyle Mooney is not a name that’s going to sell movies anywhere,” Mooney said with a bit of self-deprecating humor.
“There was a point where I felt I was compromising the movie being a first-time director, so it could be difficult to secure the types of actors we really wanted or to secure the funds we needed to make the movie. Credit to everyone involved for staying with us,” McCary said with air of relief.
“I feel like the producers and our representation were pretty confident once the money fell through we had at that point a couple people attached as actors that we’d be able to get it made. They didn’t let the fear take over,” Mooney added.
“Also having The Lonely Island and [Phil] Lord and [Chris] Miller attached as producers really legitimized the package. I think without them it really could’ve been a huge struggle,” Dave McCary said.
Thankfully, it all did work out and Brigsby Bear with its irreverent tone is now in select theaters.