'Silvio': Turning a Vine Character into a SXSW Feature
“I just want something fun and odd.”
Silvio is a feature film about a puppet-wielding gorilla, named Sylvio, wearing sunglasses and struggling to express himself. Even the film’s Co-Director, indie-film favorite Kentucker Audley, sometimes forgets how strange that premise is. He stopped by the Atlanta Film Festival after the Sylvio screening for a Q&A.
“Sometimes I see it from an outside perspective. I’ve been making this movie for three years. I just pop in my head [to a screening] and say, ‘Oh yeah, it’s a guy in a gorilla suit. I hope that’s okay with people.’”
Audley’s career didn’t start this way. He made his name writing, directing, and acting in “mumblecore” with a Southern flare. As his name in the Indie film world has expanded, so has his experimentation. In 2014, he launched a Change.org petition to “Stop Making Indie Films” as satirical backlash to media claims that too many Indie films are getting distribution. In 2015, he launched a Kickstarter to raise $308 for a hat that says “movies” on it in a tongue-in-cheek attempt to revive the film industry.
With that in mind, the fact that “Sylvio” emerged from a series of Vine videos suddenly doesn’t seem so surprising. Audley and Co-Director Albert Birney made videos Silvio and, on a separate account, his puppet Herbert Herples. Silvio’s account, Simply Silvio, gained over 500,000 followers on its own. Unfortunately, Vine’s fairly sudden demise didn’t do the filmmakers any favors.
“We had built quite a following for this character, Sylvio, who would do all of these little exploits, he would text or walk in the woods or pump gas, just ordinary things… It kind of gained popularity because of its novelty and weirdness. We have a background in movies so we decided to make a movie based on this… We made the movie, Vine just disappeared two months ago out of nowhere, decimating our audience… We had many many followers and all that so we’re still in the bitter stage of like, ‘You took away our audience, but we’re gonna move on.’”
The team took to Kickstarter and ended up raising just over $50,000 for the film. Their campaign hinted at the film’s knick-knack joy and offbeat, pastel-colored, humor. It’s hard to imagine backers being anything but delighted by the end result. This is not typical festival fare, and that’s the point.
“We think that movies have gotten a little too serious, and we’re really influenced by 80’s and 90’s movies. That’s where we grew up, that’s where we first started loving movies like Teen Wolf. These movies that aren’t serious, that not smart, they’re not about relationships. They’re not about people talking about profound and emotional, back-and-forth. They’re really simple. We love those movies. Albert has more background in weird, surreal, visual stuff. I actually have a background in naturalistic, micro-budget, talkie movies, so this was a departure for me. I got back to that initial spark of loving movies with synth soundtracks and weird, surreal, plots, and characters that don’t make sense and acting that’s all over the place… Basically just trying to return to a more simple, less intellectual, approach especially in the film festival circuit… I don’t want another smart movie. I just want something fun and odd.”
Audley, Birney, and company had their title character and money for the film, but they still had to turn a series of six-second videos, with a very strange subject matter, into one cohesive movie. To make it work, they gave Sylvio a very human struggle that wasn’t a driving subject of the Vines. Sylvio’s puppet show is his great passion, but it isn’t what brings him success.
“We tried to keep it a simple struggle, being misjudged, being seen in one way and pigeonholed into that one thing that people expect out of you. I think that can be incredibly damaging to a psyche, to a soul, to be put in this place that people expect you to be. What you feel inside is not always reflective of what people expect you to do. We wanted to keep it simple, universal. Going from a six-second Vine account that had no story, we felt like we needed to have a message, have an overarching trajectory that the character went through. I felt that being judged from the outside is fertile ground in the cinematic way to show the rise and fall of the expectations versus self-realization and back and forth.”
Sylvio premiered at SXSW to some pretty good reviews and is currently seeking distribution. Expect to hear more about the film while it’s on the festival circuit, but if you catch a screening, don’t ask Kentucker Audley about what camera they used to shoot the film.
“Don’t ask me what camera we used. I’m not a technical guy.”
We forgive him.
ATLFF Photos courtesy of B. Eng.