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Turn On, Tune In, and Drop Out: An Interview with Mark Osborne, Director of “Dropping Out”

Mark Osborne and staff member James Brundage recently talked about the media and its affect upon America today… without resorting to ultra-conservative clichés used after sensationalistic acts of violence.

Mark Osborne: Dropping Out is about a bored guy living in the San Fernando valley whose most interesting quality is that he is suicidal. He decides to make his mark on the world. He’s going to videotape his suicide, mail it to his girlfriend, and basically be done with it. ‘Friends’ – ‘Friends’ in air quotes – rally around him, tell him: ‘Can you wait a couple of days, we’re going to get some background material?’ And it basically snowballs into a huge project. It’s a kind of ironic story about someone finding the will to live through not wanting to live any longer. How visual would you say the script was?

MO: Kent and I had talked about the script so much and worked on it for so many years that we had an understanding of the script that kind of goes beyond what was written on the page. People would read the script and want to buy the script from us, but we didn’t want them to because we knew that you couldn’t read the script and do what we wanted to do. When it came to production, I think I brought a lot of stuff to the production that surprised Kent and surprised a lot of the people around us. When people read the script and then looked at the finished product, they couldn’t believe how it had been taken a step beyond the written form. Who tried to buy the script?

MO: There was a period of time in 1996 when I took time off from animation work and decided that we were going to make this movie, so we started meeting with producers. Several really liked the script, but really weren’t interested in the idea of Kent playing Emile. It was a lot easier for people to just take our script and try to make it. There was a producer who was on Down Periscope who wanted to turn it into a Rob Schneider vehicle, and he actually introduced us to Rob, and Rob loved the script and for a long time he was really interested in wanting to play Henry, and we just didn’t think he was right for the part, but he liked Kent’s writing so much that Kent actually became one of his writing partners for a couple of years. One of the central problems with Emile is that he is a post-Cold War kid who has nothing left than the daily routine. Do you think that the routine at some point is what kills us? That the mechanization of everyday life is one of the worst things that can happen?

MO: I think the worst thing that Emile doesn’t live his life, he chooses to watch others live theirs. He watches so much TV and so many movies that his life can’t live up to what he sees on TV. There’s a brief moment where he buys a potpie and he’s happy as the guy in the commercial who buys the pot pie, but it doesn’t continue. What I think the biggest curse is that he sees these ideals on TV and sees these wonderful situations where everything wraps up in a half-hour, but his life just plods along. He doesn’t have much interaction with the people he meets in the first half of the movie. He just stands there and talks to them and doesn’t respond. There’s a lot happening around him, but he doesn’t engage himself until it engages him. To me its more about the over saturation of media and the over saturation of films and TV. It’s weird to make a film about that, because I’m using the media that I’m criticizing, but at the same time I want to make you question it. And that’s why we do all the tricks with our structure, all of those hard left turns and shifting of our gears. I want you to stay in that mode where you’re actually thinking about it instead of just letting it overcome you. Every generation since the Great Depression has been raised more and more by the media. Do you think that’s a standard problem that most people have… that they cannot live up to this ideal that they see in the movies? Take romance. You have a relationship, you look at a relationship in films and you cannot have the ‘perfect’ relationship in films… even if that relationship has its troubles. You can’t even emulate that. You go and have your first kiss with a girl and you’re always comparing it to and you’re comparing it to the last John Hughes movie you watched.

MO: Absolutely, but I think it goes beyond that for our generation because we have watched so much TV. I mean, from the 50s you have these impossible standards to live up to: ‘Ozzie and Harriet,’ ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ and all that. And even in the 70s you have ‘The Brady Bunch.’ Everything’s great at the end of the show. And I think it continued, but the problem as I see it as TV being the most dangerous drug that’s ever been around. People ask me ‘Why is it called Dropping Out? I was expecting it to be about LSD.’ And I couldn’t sleep that night because I was trying to figure it out… and then I realized… TV is the drug of our generation. This movie is for anyone who has ever flipped through the channels and fully around twice without watching or stopping on any show. Anyone who refers to that as ‘going around the horn.’ You ever call it ‘Going around the horn?’ No. But I’ve done that.

MO: Unfortunately not only can you not live up to these ideals but it’s really easy to not do anything at all. It’s really easy to just sit there and watch. I watch way too much TV, and I have a 2-year-old daughter now and she’s going to watch as much TV as I do… and I don’t know what to do about it. I feel helpless… it’s like I can’t stop watching TV. Well the next question kind of has to be ‘Do you think films are to blame for violence?’ I have to ask it. It’s a violent movie. It’s a dark comedy and for some reason this is the rigor morel. It’s in my notes: ‘ask dark comedy guy if he thinks violence in movies influences violence in life.’ Check.

MO: I don’t think specifically, but I think over saturation has a little bit to do with it. I think over saturation of images and media and stimulation has something to do with where we’re at right now, but I can’t specifically say that if a kid sees something in a movie he’s going to go try to copy it. I think the source is in other places. I think media is dangerous, but on a different level, on a sort of undetectable plane. It’s a little more underlying. I don’t think the knee-jerk reaction ‘all violence must be stopped’ is right. I have more of a comment on how the media chooses to glorify it. I mean, how many times have you seen the Rodney King beating? It seemed like there was a period of time where they were just playing it constantly. I was totally hooked on reality-based TV for a while, because it was real. It wasn’t a simulation or an emulation. It was real. Now, ‘Real World’ on MTV just makes me furious because they call it ‘The Real World’ and it is the most bogus thing ever… and they play it off as real? And there are people that think that nobody knows the cameras are there. I really think people have a misconception about it. It’s such a bogus situation. It’s so frustrating. One last question. The film is taking the media and using it for its own purposes. What influenced you to do that? The desire for commentary or the desire to be postmodern?

MO: I think it’s a lot of things combined. I was thinking about that last night, thinking about it being postmodern, but I think where it started from just wanted to be Independent. To be different. Our original intention was just to try to create something that was very different and challenged not only the way that movies are made but story structure and all of the ways that Hollywood is being. So in the end, I think the dust is settling and we’re starting to realize: ‘oh, our movie
is this and our movie is that.’ I like the idea. If our movie is lucky enough to get released and there’s an uproar against this getting released, I thought ‘wouldn’t this be great if it gets sensationalized when it makes fun of sensationalism?’ It’s almost like performance art in a weird sort of way. I’m really happy with the movie, I think it does exactly what I wanted. And when the film ends, if someone feels uncomfortable or weird and they can’t quite tap into what that feeling is, and they can’t recognize that they feel that way because of what we’re trying to say is different from what we’re doing, if it makes them think. I like things that people see a few times, and hopefully once you’ve seen it you’ll want to see it again.

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