In Bad Milo!, Ken Marino has a problem. The stresses of his life and constant stomach issues manifest in the form of a pint-sized creature living inside of his intestines. And when Ken’s complications worsen, said creature introduces itself to the world by crawling out of his ass and destroying anyone who poses a threat.
The film – a ridiculous and hilarious tale – is the spawn of director and co-writer Jacob Vaughan, an assistant editor on Mark and Jay Duplass’ Cyrus and Jeff, Who Lives at Home and the editor of Black Rock. And, thanks to his previous collaborations with the Duplass brothers, Bad Milo! was able to become a reality.
Tonight, the film is going to be screening at the Fantasia Film Festival in Montreal and in our continuing coverage of the fest, we spoke to Vaughan about his creature feature debut which also stars Gillian Jacobs, Patrick Warburton, Peter Stormare and Stephen Root.
Shock Till You Drop: This is a wacky idea, so we have to begin with the usual ‘where did this all come from’ question…
Jacob Vaughan: [laughs] Yeah, it is. I had been working on a few ideas with my co-writer Benjamin Hayes for a little bit. We were talking about horror and which horror films we really loved. I was a huge fan of Gremlins and creature featurs of the ’80s. I grew up with stomach problems my entire life [laughs] and I had the idea that maybe there was a creature living inside me that had to come out of my ass. It just made me laugh and seemed like a great opportunity to put a lot of my own experiences in there with this main character who was stressed all of the time. I thought nobody would take me seriously if I write this movie, but who cares? It’s making me laugh, so Ben and I wrote it. I had known the Duplass brothers since film school and I was working on their films. I gave it to Mark to read and they wanted to help me make it and attached themselves as executive producers. We gave it to Ken Marino, he was the first person we approached.
Shock: And the rest of the cast followed? It’s an impressive line-up.
Vaughan: Casting is always difficult because everyone’s schedules are so complicated. We gave it to Ken and he was into it and on board. From there, casting is tricky because you don’t know who you’re going to be with. It wasn’t until our second day of shooting when we finally locked in all of our cast and we had a chance to step back and look at who was in our film and how incredible they all were. At first Stephen Root said ‘no’ because he had a scheduling conflict and at the last minute he said yes. That’s amazing, Stephen Root! Everyone, Peter Stormare, Patrick Warburton. Everyone gave to the table with ideas for this crazy concept.
Shock: Kudos for the use of practical effects and puppetry…
Vaughan: From the beginning, I knew that I wanted to have Milo be a rod puppet or some sort of puppet. CG is great and amazing, but it’s off. I always know it’s CG. When I know that something is physically in this world and we’re photographing it, the audience picks up on that and it’s exciting and something we don’t see that much of any more. I wanted something for the actors to interact with. Something I can shoot them in the same frame with and not looking at a tennis ball that would stand in for Milo. And it was great because Ken would be able to improvise with Milo because Milo had facial expressions thanks to the puppeteer. I could give direction to the puppeteers, Frank Langley and Bob Mano, and they could just go with it and interact with Ken.
Shock: Who’s responsible for Milo’s design?
Vaughan: Aaron Sims, a huge big time creature designer. He was a fan of the script and he took it and ran with it. Once we got funding for the film, we went to a company called Fractured FX and we were their smallest film, I’m sure. They took the concept art and designed Milo from that, struck a mold and put servos in his face. He was coming to life. And you have to do one move at a time with Milo. Like, he reaches over and grabs a letter opener – and we’d do that over and over. Then we move on to the next move. It’s not like a CG character where you have to animated something running across a room and jumping on things – that doesn’t work here. It was challenging with a puppet but the benefits are there. You get this organic and flawed look that’s great. We added digital eye blinks which makes it hyper real. It was a fascinating experience and I look forward to doing it again.
Shock: How many designs did you go through before settling on what we see now?
Vaughan: Not too many. The only change we made was to make his arms and legs a little bit longer and his body a little bit bigger so that he could have some semblance being able to run across the ground or cut people.
Shock: Who, out of your cast, gave the best reaction to Milo when he first arrived on set?
Vaughan: [laughs] Everyone who came on, when they first saw Milo, immediately fell in love with him. We had gentle Milo and angry Milo and he’s just so cute, but Ken, when he first saw Milo, he was like ‘Oh yeah, this is good.’ Gillian, during the scene where she’s wrestling with him, in between takes she’d be kissing him and dancing with him.
Shock: Well, I’ve heard a few people already ask where their Milo plush toy is, so you might be on to something here.
Vaughan: Nobody wants a doll more than I do. I want to create a Milo doll more than anyone. This is a whole new world for me and I don’t know how merchandise works, we have the rights and want to do it if there are companies out there willing, but there has to be a need for it. If the movie does well, maybe we’ll get a Milo doll.
Bad Milo! arrives on VOD August 24th and opens in theaters October 4th.