LIL BUB & FRIENDZ Directors Juliette Eisner and Andy Capper Talk Telling Tales of Celebricats – TFF 2013
Photo Credit: Matthew Caron, Vice Media. © 2013 Vice Media
A few weeks ago, it would have seemed highly unlikely that a cat would be the toast of the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival. And yet, thanks to one of this year’s selected documentaries, celebricat Lil Bub has accomplished the improbable.
Lil Bub & Friendz explores the Internet cat video phenomenon and tells the tales of Bub and several other celebrity cats who have used the Internet to mark their territory in thousands of hearts worldwide. According to The Hollywood Reporter, even Robert De Niro has hopped on the Lil Bub bandwagon, agreeing with his Tribeca Film Festival co-founder Jane Rosenthal when she said that “Little Bub needs to meet Big Bob.”
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Lil Bub & Friendz directors Juliette Eisner and Andy Capper about the genesis and making of their hugely popular documentary, and they told me that it all began with a film festival.
The 1st Annual Internet Cat Video Festival, that is.
“I read an article about the first ever Internet cat video festival at the Minneapolis Walker Art Center,” said Eisner, and “I thought it was pretty funny that such a renowned, awesome museum…was going to be holding a film festival for cat videos.” “Originally,” Eisner continued, “it was going to be a short, fluff piece for the [VICE] site about the festival and seeing all the weird cat people….[and] I thought it would be fun to get a cat celebrity onboard with us. I [had] heard about Bub before, so I reached out to her owner, and he came along.”
Having little clue what they were in for, Eisner and Capper headed to the 2012 CatVidFest. “It was wild. 10,000 people showed up. They were expecting a few hundred I think,” said Capper. Agreeing, Eisner added that the festival was “a shocker….an ocean of people sitting in an open field watching cat videos all together…oohing and ahhing and laughing. It was crazy.”
After meeting Bub and her human Mike Bridavsky, Eisner and Capper saw the potential for something more. “[I] knew there was a great story there, so I decided to convince people to give me more money to make it bigger thing,” Capper explained, adding “I love what Bub stands for, and the story of how she changed Mike’s life and offers daily inspiration to people really made me think we could make a movie about internet cats that had some emotional depth.”
Asked about Bub’s behavior on set—i.e., whether, compared to other talent, she was a diva or easy to work with—Eisner laughingly replied: “Oh, such a diva!” With more sincerity, she continued: “Bub was the most un-diva celebrity I’ve ever met…. She’s very easy to work with…. No special requests or anything. She was great.” Working with Bub was “[e]asier than 99 percent of most humans,” Capper added—”[a] dream gig.”
Throughout the filming of Lil Bub & Friendz, Eisner and Capper also met and interviewed other celebricats—including Keyboard Cat, Grumpy Cat, and Pudge—and their owners. “You would think that it could get to their heads a little bit…not the cats’ heads—their owners or…managers,” Eisner said, “[but] [e]verybody was super, super friendly and nice.” Many of the celebricat owners even use their ever-growing Internet popularity and television appearances on programs like Good Morning America and The TODAY Show to do some good, and make a point of “giv[ing] a lot of the money that they make back to charity,” Eisner added.
While in Minneapolis for the 2012 CatVidFest, Eisner and Capper also interviewed a number of non-famous, self-described “cat people,” only some of whom made the film’s final cut. According to Eisner, there was “not a lack of people who wanted to be on camera and talk about their cats and how much they loved their cats, and how famous their cats are going to be, and how excited they were for the festival.” For those interviews that made the film’s final cut, no creative editing was necessary to match their tone to that of the film. “They told their own stories,” said Eisner, “[w]e didn’t really exaggerate anything.” The remaining footage yielded what Capper calls “three pre-Lil Bub movie mini docs,” released by VICE via YouTube.
Speaking generally about making a documentary film, I quoted Samuel Goldwyn—“Pictures are for entertainment. Messages should be delivered by Western Union.”—and asked Eisner and Capper whether they think the legendary producer was correct, based on their experience making Lil Bub & Friendz. Both replied that Goldwyn’s theory is not a universal truth—a film can simultaneously be entertaining and deliver a message. Lil Bub & Friendz “look[s] at how you can use the Internet in different ways today and even a make a career from being a celebrity online,” Eisner explained, and “also [has] the extremely nice story about this little cat that is the underdog and rises to fame.”
Ultimately, Eisner hopes that audiences will “like [the film], and laugh and cry, and just enjoy themselves.” And, if there is one message they hope audiences will take away from Lil Bub & Friendz—other than being wholly convinced of Bub’s copious cuteness—it’s “[t]o cherish and love the people/animals in [your] li[fe],” said Capper, “[e]ven if they make you act crazy from time to time.”
Lil Bub & Friendz is streaming free as part of the Tribeca Online Festival (until April 28).
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