Swiss Army Man: Interview with directors Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert

Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe in, "Swiss Army Man" 

Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe in, "Swiss Army Man" 

Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (known as “Daniels”) have been friends since College. They met in film school but their love for film and video instantly bonded them, so the two Daniels decided to work together professionally.

After graduating in 2010, the Daniels lived hand to mouth for a year, their pitches constantly being rejected before booking a string of great projects in 2011. That year, they hit the jackpot shooting 10 music videos and three short films. The first big name to discover the duo was the indie band Foster the People, for whom they’ve directed two videos. After that, they worked with indie greats Passion Pit, The Shins, and Joywave. But their most viewed music video came out in 2014, to the tune of the incessantly catchy “Turn Down For What,” by DJ Snake and Lil Jon.

Then they decided to make a feature-length film, which led to this year's Sundance breakout hit “Swiss Army Man.”  The bizarre little movie which stars Paul Dano and Daniel Radcliffe ( yes, he of Harry Potter fame) has caught a lot of attention.

Me with Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert

Me with Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert

The film features a young man named Hank ( Paul Dano) who has been stranded on a deserted island leaving him bored, lonely and without hope. As a rope hangs around his neck, Hank prepares to end it all, until he suddenly spots a man (Daniel Radcliffe) laying by the shore. Unfortunately, he is dead and quite flatulent. Using the gassy body to his advantage, Hank miraculously makes it back to the mainland. However, he now finds himself lost in the wilderness and dragging the talking corpse named Manny along for the adventure.

While the movie is definitely original and clever, it’s getting recognized as the ‘controversial fart movie.' It's really much more being sweetly sincere, and diving into feelings of longing, embarrassment and the difficulty of just being human. But, if people want to call it the fart movie, the directors are perfectly fine with that as long as it gets people interested.

“We love that,” Daniel Scheinert said during our interview in Toronto where he and fellow director Daniel Kwan spent the day promoting the film. “It’s the bait and switch of this movie. People hear about itand have a knee jerk reaction. That sounds like a terrible movie, why would anyone want to see a movie about farts. But then you hear other people talk about it and say that it’s actually good. It’s about so much more than a dead corpse who farts. It’s been good for us because people are curious but come out really enjoying it.”
Daniel Kwan was quick to agree, “I think it creates empathy and I believe it’s how you can get over your prejudices. Just give something a chance and you might be pleasantly surprised.” 

The Daniels are humble about their successes so far and are still a bit stunned at how things are turning out for them, “We really love doing this and try to keep an open mind on each project. We manage to turn things in on budget and on time even though they sounded really ambitious,” Scheinert said.
The transition to directing a feature was much more difficult than the duo expected but they persevered. Especially when they were able to get such top notch talent on board, they didn’t want to disappoint anyone. “Paul Dano came on board first and we even thought we had a long list of actorsasked him who he wanted to play Manny,” said Kwan. “ He listed Daniel Radcliffe, so we sent the script to him and were shocked but so happy he wanted to do it.”

As for the chemistry between Radcliffe and Dano, it was pretty much instant. The two spend the entire film on screen together so the director’s wanted to make sure the guys clicked.  “I think their relationship worked so well was because they truly wanted to work together, said Scheinert. “They trusted each other and became fast friends. You know, being on a set with the same person in primarily most of the scenes that were for the most part pretty intense can do that. We couldn’t have been happier with the way paul and Daniel hit it off both on and offscreen.”   

Playing a dead body was a challenge for Radcliffe but he was all in from the get-go. He also insisted on doing as many of his own stunts that the directors would allow, which on some days scared the Daniels. “We would have to tell him, stop, you’re going too far,” said Kwan.
Scheinert added, “He would get to the point where he would actually hurt himself.  There was a moment on the first day where he hit his head on a big rock and I was like, ‘you just hit your head on that rock. Let’s take a break.  But he really wanted to keep going insisting he was fine. Until a few days later he admitted that he had hit his head pretty hard and was feeling it. He got a real kick out of taking risks and doing anything that was needed to make the film the best it could be.”

For now, this directing duo is happy to have a little bit of a break, relaxing and enjoying their newfound popularity. “You make a movie that probably should end your career, and then you get offered this commercial that’s bigger than the budget of your movie,” Kwan said. The guys are thankful and are taking nothing for granted, “It’s a pretty rare occurrence in this business,” Scheinert said, “and we’re overjoyed to take advantage of every opportunity we get.”

“Swiss Army Man” is playing in New York and Los Angeles, and opens nationally July 1.