March 13, 2014  |  Film
“I’m All About the Cheap”: A Brief Conversation with Buzzard Director Joel Potrykus
Buzzard. 2014. USA. Directed by Joel Potrykus

Buzzard. 2014. USA. Directed by Joel Potrykus

One of the highlights of this year’s New Directors/New Films festival, Joel Potrykus’s Buzzard is a darkly comical look at a slacker office temp who gets by on cold SpaghettiOs while getting off on stealing refund checks from his employer. Filmed on a shoestring budget, often guerrilla-style, in the writer-director’s native Grand Rapids and Detroit, Michigan, Buzzard stars an unforgettable Joshua Burge as an angry young man who, through a series of small, increasingly unhinged mutinies, sticks it to corporate America on behalf of the great unsung 99%.

I spoke with Joel Potrykus about his hometown, showing his work at ND/NF, and the making of Buzzard. Here are some highlights:

On working with leading man Joshua Burge…

“I knew Joshua as the front man for Michigan’s coolest anti-folk band, Chance Jones. His stage presence is like Michael Jackson meets David Bowie. I thought if I could capture just a tenth of his madness on camera, we’d have something great. I prefer working with performers, rather than actors. I feel musicians have an innate ability to project emotion. We both get each other. Very little direction is needed. Usually just a gesture and a nod and we’re on the same page.”

Joshua Burge in Buzzard. 2014. USA. Directed by Joel Potrykus

Joshua Burge in Buzzard. 2014. USA. Directed by Joel Potrykus

On living and working in Grand Rapids, Michigan…

“The Midwest is home to creative money-makers and scavengers. Abandoned homes are raided for scrap metal, people cut corners to save money everywhere. And the Midwest is nice and pleasant, as well. It’s a weird dichotomy that inevitably weasels its way into my work. It’s so easy to live cheap in Grand Rapids. I’m all about the cheap.”

On a dream double bill partner for Buzzard

“I would pair up Buzzard with [Trent Harris’s] The Beaver Trilogy, only because it’s criminally under-seen and easily one of the most fascinating things I’ve ever seen. Of course, [Alan Clarke’s] Made in Britain would make for a nasty little one-two punch.”

On what it means to be in ND/NF…

“Being in ND/NF means that my work is respected as art. Even though my films are flooded with junk food, heavy metal, and dork culture, I consider them far outside the mainstream pop world. It’s important to me to expose this vision to new audiences.”

On how he filmed Buzzard‘s infamous “Bugle scene”…

“The Bugle scene was nailed in one take. That’s all I could handle.”

If you want to see the “Bugle scene” for yourself, Buzzard is screening on March 23 (at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater) and 24 (at MoMA). Tickets are on sale now, and you can watch the film trailer below.