Hungry for laughs

DW Thomas on monsters, comedy and Too Late

by Jennie Kermode

Ron Lynch and Alyssa Limperis in Too Late
Ron Lynch and Alyssa Limperis in Too Late

Comedy is a tough business. It’s highly competitive and those at the top often guard their positions jealously. Violet (Alyssa Limperis) has been a loyal assistant to Bob (Ron Lynch) for many years, but recently, seeing herself passed over for opportunities, she’s begun to find it frustrating. What’s more, she knows a secret about Bob that no-one else is privy to: he’s a literal monster and every month he swallows somebody whole. Having covered up for him for years, she’s finally beginning to feel that she should do something about it.

“Me and my husband, Tom Becker, who wrote the screenplay, what we first wanted to do was to make a low budget film,” says director DW Thomas when we meet to discuss the film, Too Late. “We started coming up with ideas that we thought we could do on a low budget, and people that we knew. And so, Tom was good friends with Ron Lynch. And we just started building it around Ron Lynch. Then Tom and I both wrote the story. And then I sent him off and he wrote the screenplay. And that was pretty much how it came together.

Violet is stuck in Bob's shadow
Violet is stuck in Bob's shadow

“We love the idea of telling a story about a monster in the comedy world, because I mean, there are figurative monsters in comedy and in a lot of different areas of entertainment. Making it more of a literal monster was something that we thought was really funny.”

I ask if she has a background in comedy and she explains that she’s more of a documentary maker but that comedy is something she loves. “I've been moving more towards comedy. Tom, who wrote it, started off doing stand up, and he's an actor. And so he has a background in stand up. I've always loved adventure, and keeping adventures light and fun, so this is a lot of fun for me.”

The comedy club at the centre of the film feels like a fun place, lively and atmospheric. How did she capture that?

“We actually brought together actual stand up comedians,” she says. “Through Tom work’s in stand up, he made a lot of friends, and he gave me a list of stand up comedians that I chose from, and then they actually did a set of their own. So all of the stand up is is real comedy by those comedians, and they are also talented actors, too. It worked out really well. I wanted to keep it authentic and I wanted to build that real comedy atmosphere. I‘ve seen some other movies where the screenwriters wrote the stand up, and it can be funny, but there's something about stand up and something about stand up comedians doing their work for hours and hours and hours to different audiences. It's a different way that they've perfected it, and so you really need someone who knows. It really make it feel real.

We tried to set it up more like a documentary. We set it up with an audience and they had someone who was actually responding to the jokes. And the stand up in the coffee shop, it was very much like stand up happens in a coffee shop, when they do book shows, there's usually just a few people here and there, and a lot of people are reading or eating. It's almost begrudgingly listening to comedy. We tried to keep it as as natural as possible and use a lot of the natural lighting. And then for Bob’s show, we lit it like a show and we had the spotlight and we had an audience and we gave the stand up comedians five minutes a set. We really just filmed it in real time. So it was a lot of my documentary experience, filming with a number of cameras, and yeah, trying to keep it alive and have that real feel of being in a comedy show.”

Real comedians take the stage
Real comedians take the stage

There’s quite a bit in the film about women in comedy and the position that women find themselves in in that kind of business, the way that men tend to dominate it still. Was gender an important issue for her?

“Definitely,” she says. “That's why we wanted to make our lead a woman because it is a very different experience for women in comedy, just being taken seriously, or finding your voice and really putting yourself out there on your own. I think I think it can be harder in a lot of ways for women. I think it's changing though, there's so many talented people coming out that other women are saying that it's possible, so it feels like a great time for women in comedy. But I think that dynamic of the assistant and she's, you know, she's subservient, and she's sort of vulnerable, and then having having her boyfriend kind of swoop in, and he sort of gets the things that she wants – it's something that happens with, I think, a lot of people just coming up in any industry. Sometimes you can feel like everyone around you is getting all the breaks, and you're working your ass off but you kind of get passed over and maybe you're too good at being an assistant and they don't want to let you go. And that can be a big thing, too. It's like, when do you say ‘No’? And when do you say ‘Alright, I'm going to go out on my own.’ I think that that’s a really cool thing about Violet, is she's really finding her voice and putting herself out there.”

Anybody who's had a boss who's constantly dominating them like that is going to relate to that experience, I suggest.

Violet finds someone she can talk to
Violet finds someone she can talk to

“Yeah, and also I like that Bob, of course, he is a monster, but he he's also kind of vulnerable. He really relies on Violet. There's kind of this father/daughter dynamic where she pushes her boundaries yet he kind of puts her in line. It was a fun dynamic to kind of play with. And in a lot of times, I kind of felt for Bob. You know, he's a monster, yes, but that's what he is. And really, it's Violet who's more of a bad character. Bob is just being Bob. So I love playing with that. It's not black and white. She's not just a victim. She's responsible for her own choices. And so when she has to make the decision of what to do, it's much more of a stake for her, with her life.”

So when they decided that they were going to have a literal monster, how did they start working out what they were going to do with that?

“We brought on Mo Meinhart who did all of our visual effects,” she says. “I wanted a monster that actually swallowed people whole. I love the idea of a monster kind of absorbing people because that's also the metaphor – that Bob gets his energy and his comedy from other comedians, absorbing their comedy. And so we wanted a creature that could swallow them whole. When we were doing it, we were researching folklore and found a folklore monster in Australia. It’s Aboriginal...”

She pauses, having forgotten the name. Tom, who is in the next room, shouts through “Yara-ma-yha-who!”

“Okay,” says DW, remembering. “And so it's actually this creature that that will swallow its victims whole and then regurgitate them and then swallow them again. And if it swallows you three times, and you actually become it. We were like, ‘Oh, what an interesting idea – having this monster that that's the way that you transform, through going through its system a number of times!’ So that was kind of in the back of our heads when we were creating and of course I wanted it to be realistic. And so we wanted to keep Bob sort of human-like and and that's where Mo started creating his look and and his suit. So there's a couple different iterations before he eats after he eats, and then later on in the movie when he starts falling apart a little bit he has another look. It was so much fun for us and I think Ron enjoyed playing the monster more than anything else because it was really a chance for him to explore his different, you know, monster behaviours. It was a lot of fun.”

Bob has a bad day
Bob has a bad day

It did feel very much like a folk tale in some ways. Did she see it that way when they were creating it?

“Definitely. I think it's very archetypal. You know, I think folktales are analogies for existence and for life. And I think that that was definitely in the back of my head – having a person overcome the monsters in her life. And that's very much a folk tale.”

I tell her that, in contrast to the fantasy elements, one of my favourite scenes concerns two characters who have to dispose of a body and go about it in what I think might be the most realistic way I’ve ever seen onscreen – in a really disorganised and messy way, with no idea what they’re doing. She laughs and says that yes, she loved the dynamic between the actors in that scene.

“They just had so much fun doing it. I'm really glad it’s very realistic. Because it's pretty crazy to think that people can dispose of a body in the middle of a city, you know? That's one of my favourite moments in the film, because I just love watching those two act together.”

So did they write it or develop the story with particular people in mind?

“Yeah, well, it was written for Ron. He was definitely in our minds. Everyone else, let's see... we had the stand up comedians in mind, and Alyssa Limperis and Jenny Zigrino, they just they both came through a casting director, and we really lucked out with them. And they were terrific. Same with Jack De Sena. And we worked around Ron Lynch when we were looking for a couple of the other side characters. They were [played by] Fred Armisen and Mary Lynn Rajskub, and he actually reached out to them, and they loved the script and they wanted to come on, so that was really lucky. And it was really all Ron Lynch, because he's just got such an incredible esteem in the industry of comedy, and everybody loves Ron Lynch. So it was kind of like, people wanted to come and get involved. And yeah, it was really cool. We were very lucky.

Too Late poster
Too Late poster

“It was really small budget so we actually shot primarily in one location. It was this this warehouse in downtown LA and there were about seven different rooms and so our production designer, Sam Slosburg, he outfitted them all and it was kind of amazing watching him work. I guess that was my favourite part, being in one part of the set and filming something and then he would be over and be excited to show me what he had done with, like, Bob's apartment, and it was amazing just how he transformed it. In one day, you know, in a couple hours we're just moving from apartment to restaurant to the the stand up and, yeah, but it was so fast. It was a 15 day shoot so so fast. But we did have so much fun, and watching the stand up comedians is fun.”

So how does it feel having the film out there now?

“Oh, gosh, it's a definite emotional roller coaster,” she says. “Putting yourself out there vulnerably and waiting to see what people will think. But, you know, I'm holding back. I love the movie and I hope people will find it who will love the movie and so far we've been getting a lot of great reactions and responses. It's exciting and I'm so excited for Alyssa Limperis and for Ron, for Will Weldon and Jenny Zigrino and Jack, and I just think that their performances were great. I'm excited for them to get out there.”

She’s now working n a new screenplay, set in Los Angeles and utilising more ambitious visual effects. Her excitement about getting to work on it is palpable.

Too Late is in US cinemas and on digital platforms from Friday 25 June.

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