Jun 9, 2022
If there's a moral to be taken from the fact that Austin-made sexual drama Three Headed Beast is getting its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival, it's to never give up.
Directors Fernando Andrés and Tyler Rugh almost did. After all, they knew it would be a tough sell: an experimental and sexually frank story of two people in an open relationship, with no dialogue for most of its duration. Andrés called it "something we just wanted to make to feel like filmmakers, to be able to express something that we wanted to and not wait for financing."
He said they were proud of the film, but then came the long cycle of submitting to film festivals, and when you're paying the bills as food delivery drivers ("Doing Uber Eats, that's how we funded the movie," Andrés recalled) then the submission fees mount up.
After a series of kindly phrased rejections, Andrés was starting to give up hope of getting a spring slot, and the duo started considering restrategizing for the fall festival circuit. That's when an ad for Tribeca popped up in his Instagram feed. "I went, well, maybe I should submit to Tribeca, I always wanted to – but the deadline date had already passed. So I wrote an email to their programmer, and I said, 'Hey, do you take any late-late-submissions?'"
He was surprised to hear back that yes, they would take a look – but there was still that pesky matter of the submission fees. "That day, it was a pretty good day of delivery driving, and I got some pretty good tips. At the end of the day, and I'm not kidding, this is how close it came to not happening, I went, 'Ah, you know what? It's gonna hurt my bank account, it's not gonna happen, but whatever.'"
A month later, they mailed him back to say yes, Three Headed Beast had been accepted. The news, he said, "was what I imagine a heart attack would feel like if it wasn't painful. The shock of it, the weird out-of-body feeling of, 'What are you asking right now?' And then the emails come in, and even then it doesn't feel real."
Austin Chronicle: This is a story where you could do it as a conventional relationship drama, but this one simple decision – of not hearing a voice for much of the duration – that makes it daring. And scriptwriters tend to be nervous about silences.
Fernando Andrés: That came out of thinking what was important to the film. The main point is, what if you made a film about three people and their relationship dynamic, but there's the single entity that they have become? They do have their separate lives, but in a sense they are the same sad, yearning, horny mess. They're one unit, conjoined by their emotions.
That's just such a tall order for emotions, and a lot that needs writing out. There was a scripted version of this film that we started out with, but we just kept losing dialogue, because we went, "This would be so much more interesting if it was expressed with an action or a movement."
“We knew that we were going to play around in the filmmaking sandbox in a way that we’re probably never going to be allowed to be that free again.”- Fernando Andrés
With such limited resources, we knew that we're going to play around in the filmmaking sandbox in a way that we were probably never going to be allowed to be that free again. While making movies with money is great and does give you power, it also takes away freedom. So we're like, "If we're going to make this film for essentially no money, and it's these themes of people doing things out of impulse and not really checking in with each other about their feelings or their problems, what if we made that the main point of the film?"
AC: But just because there's rarely dialogue, it doesn't mean it's a silent movie.
FA: Hopefully, the more people watch this in theatres, and the more people watch this in a good home video setting, they'll get that the sound design really carries a lot of it, and the music. When we were in the sound mix, we were essentially mixing skin and breathing and other action sounds at the same volume that dialogue would normally be recorded. So the sound effects are the centerpiece in a way that they're not normally centered in a film.
AC: On a lot of sets, sound is often the last consideration – there's an old joke about the sound engineer on set being easy to recognize because they're the saddest-looking person there – so it's interesting to hear that you were so sound-centric.
FA: This film had a very, very unorthodox sound recording tactic, which was that, on set, we had either Tyler [Rugh] or Connor Clift, our co-producer, running sound. But I would say that 75% of the film is constructed through ADR. So if we have a boom microphone picking up a lot on these wide shots we did throughout the film, it's going to be quiet. So what we did was we filmed it, and we essentially had a second filming, but this time there weren't any cameras, and it wasn't a lot of the actors: It was just Tyler brushing up against himself.
Three Headed Beast screens as part of the 2022 Tribeca Film Festival in New York, June 8-19. More info at tribecafilm.com.
Village East by Angelika, Mon., June 13, 9pm
Cinepolis, Wed., June 15, 9pm
Tribeca Film Center, Thu., June 16, 8:15pm
Streaming in Tribeca at Home starting Wed., June 15, 6pm