Interview: On loss and laughter in Brendan Boogie’s ‘Sundown’

“Grief has a great way of teaching you things if you’re open to it.”

When Boston-based musician and filmmaker Brendan Boogie describes his work, the emphasis is as much on his collaborators as on his own vision. Though his forthcoming feature film Sundown draws from intensely personal experiences — the loss of his father last year to dementia and the emotional toll of his declining health — Boogie’s orientation is firmly forward-looking, eager to discover new layers of his endeavors through the creative, and sharing learned experiences with his audience.

With a recently-launched Kickstarter for Sundown — a “feature-length independent drama about the ravages and absurdities of a family dealing with dementia” — and a recently-released album Last Words, we spoke to Boogie about the project, expressing ideas through music and film, and the relationship between comedy and tragedy.

Boston Reel: The Kickstarter summary and video make Sundown out to be far funnier than I expected given its subject matter, the loss of a family member who is still physically present. What do you see as the intersection between comedy and tragedy?

Brendan Boogie: I think with this, when you go through something like this in real life, your sense of humor is — for me, anyway — the most powerful coping tool. What I’m trying to do with this movie is how real people deal with this real situation. At least some people. I’m sure some people don’t make jokes, but I know in our house, there was a lot of dark humor.

You need that release valve when you’re dealing with something. If you look at ER doctors, EMTs, soldiers, anyone who deals with death on a regular basis, there’s a lot of laughing going on. There’s a lot of dark humor, gallows humor. That’s not the only part of the movie, but it’s certainly one of the aspects … It tries to capture the sadness, and the humor, and the anger, and all of the real emotions that come through. My favorite stuff has both laughs and raw emotion in it.

BR: You began this project before your father’s passing. How did it evolve in either tone or scope over time?

BB: At each stage of the progression of my dad’s illness, I learned, “Oh, this is what it’s like when this part happens.” It’s not autobiographical; it’s a fictional family, but there are certainly ideas and lines that came from [direct experience].

Grief has a great way of teaching you things if you’re open to it. And as an artist — I hate to call myself that — as a person making things, (laughs) this is one way of processing it. And you learn at each stage of grief what that’s like, and try to process it through creation. There were many, many drafts of the script, and it’s continuing to be drafted, and now I’m at the stage where the actors are involved and bringing themselves to it, and that informs it as well.

Brendan Boogie

BR: Your cast includes members of the film, music, and comedy communities. Through this process, have you discovered any dimensions to Sundown that weren’t initially in the script?

BB: Always. That's the fun part of working with actors, is that I’m not interested in having someone just come in and do exactly what I already imagine. I know some directors work like that, but the reason I cast them is I wanted them to bring themselves and their experience, and how they emotionally negotiate the world. So through rehearsal and through reading, you’re like, “Oh, so that’s what you’re feeling when you’re here. I hadn’t thought of that, but that’s more right than what I thought of.” That, to me, is the exciting part about working with actors, is what they bring of themselves.

BR: How similar or different is it to explore these ideas through film than through music?

BB: It’s similar in a way. Good songs are really like a short movie … What I notice is that the drive is similar. The drive to write is similar, and the working out of issues are similar, whether I’m writing a song or writing a script. The writing process is not that different, in the sense that I feel the same before and after.

As far as the making of either music or film, it’s also similar in the sense that, I’m not going to tell my drummer how to play drums. If I have you in my band as my drummer, unless you’re absolutely fucking it up, I am not going to sit there and go “Play that beat there, that beat there.” I trust my collaborator to do their thing and bring themselves to it. |

For more info on Sundown and Brendan Boogie’s music:
 •Sundown Kickstarter (active through Wed 6.15 11:59pm)
 •Brendan Boogie & the Broken Gates official site

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