The Duo Behind ‘Moon Manor’ On Making A Movie With No Studio & Their Lifelong Creative Bond

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It was about ten seconds after the first time I met one-time Uproxx writer Erin Granat in person that she said to me, “I can’t wait for you to meet Jimmy!”

This statement was made totally devoid of context. It could have been about her boyfriend. Or the chef at the incredibly weird (and very fun) house party she was throwing. Or one of the many musicians who had ditched their various tours and studio sessions to play for free in her living room.

But Granat wasn’t talking about any of them. She was talking about Jimmy Carrozo, an octogenarian actor.

To be fair, “octogenarian” sounds vaguely like a pejorative in that context and it’s very much not intended that way. And “actor” doesn’t pull its weight in the sentence either. Carrozo, who I’ve gotten to know in the years since, is more of a life artist — an unbridled spirit who brims with verve in a way that reminds me of stories told by the Merry Pranksters about Jack Kerouac’s muse, Neal Cassady.

I didn’t meet Jimmy when he arrived at Erin’s party — he was on mushrooms and not feeling particularly social. I didn’t even glimpse him until indie music darlings The Vista Kicks took the makeshift stage to play some songs from a then-unreleased album. The band led off with a song that felt ripped from the ’60s in which the four harmonizing hippies argued with their parents about their lifestyle and long hair. During the instrumental breakdown, Carrozo leaped from a plush velvet chair and bellowed, “NOW BOYS, your mother and I have talked about this and as long as you’re under our roof…”

From there, he rattled off a monologue that I got the sense very few of the stoned party attendees fully savvied. But for me, it was one of the coolest spontaneous acts of creativity I’ve ever witnessed. Carrozo had clocked the words of the song and used its bridge to position himself as the antagonist father — making his case for why the boys should get haircuts and real jobs. It began at the perfect spot and ended right before the (somewhat bewildered-looking) band exploded into harmony again. An impromptu version of “Father & Son.”

I was deeply moved and reminded Erin to introduce Jimmy to me before I left. She did and though our conversation was brief, Carrozo made a point to tell me, “They’re making a movie about me.”

“I can see why!” I replied.

The “they” in that sentence was Erin and her longtime best friend, kindred creative spirit, and writing partner, Machete Bang Bang. And this spring, that movie came out. As a film, it’s a fascinating experiment. A movie about a real person (Jimmy), playing a character (named Jimmy), who is planning his own death in the face of Alzheimer’s (an affliction that the real Jimmy does not have). Footage from Jimmy’s career is used extensively, as is some private home video (Jimmy was in a long-term creative and romantic partnership with Erin’s biological uncle).

As a project, it’s equally engaging. Granat and Machete made the movie with a mix of well-known and lesser-known actors in the vintage indie fashion — on a very tight, very frayed shoestring. They maxed out credit cards, borrowed money, and used Granat’s home as the primary set. This is not a studio-backed indie made for $15 million with stakeholders giving notes. It’s a movie that feels every bit as buttoned up and well shot as mainstream indies but doesn’t carry the formulaic structure that so many of those movies feature. Or the randomly shoehorned ideas of various execs.

It’s weird and wooly and creatively brave. I loved it.

It’s also a hell of a choice for two first-time filmmakers. A meditation on death and, more accurately, life starring an 80-something. The film features a “death doula” — guiding Jimmy toward the end of his life — and an obituary writer, played by Lou Taylor Pucci. There are hallucinations and spiritual conversions but nothing is neat and tidy. Lessons abound but aren’t ever made easy to digest.

After attending the premiere and having my wildly waving arm missed by the post-movie panel moderator, I was thrilled to talk to Erin and Machete about the movie, its production process, Death Doulas, and the incandescent star that is Jimmy Carrozo.

moon manor erin and machete
KnifeRock

I think one of the interesting things about independent film now is it’s almost come to this point where it’s like if you’re not a Marvel movie, you’re an independent film on some level. Many of them seem to have 12 or 13-million-dollar budgets and are still produced by really big production companies and studios.

This is a different scale. It still feels completely buttoned up and it’s shot beautifully, but it’s truly independent. You had the final cut and didn’t have to answer to anyone creatively. Where did the audacity to do this completely independently come from?

Machete Bang Bang: This is the only way I know how to do it! We both didn’t go to film school. We both started figuring it out ourselves individually and then on some projects, together. I don’t know the ways of the big studio…yet! I would like to though! This is a shout-out to Marvel. Hello, Marvel. I would love to know your ways.

Erin Granat: Right. Find us. We’re ready!

MBB: Erin, you want to add on to that?

EG: I love that you start with that question. There’s a difference when people say “indie” now, they generally mean a visual tone. They mean more of a look and the filter of film grain rather than the “indie spirit.”

The actual concept of indie filmmaking, straight-up early 90s style where you’ve got a couple of grand and you make a whole movie with your friends, it does take audacity. Not to say it isn’t done anymore, but to make a movie the way we have, fully independently, and get to the point where we have a big distribution deal and we’re on major platforms, it’s a massive feat.

As Machete said, we didn’t go to film school, so we didn’t necessarily have all the formal steps ingrained in us on the way things are done. Which I think was a benefit to us. We were bold because we didn’t have anyone telling us we were wrong. But I think the audacity really comes down to the storytelling.

For me, going to Sundance and watching independent films, I would always see this through-line, it rarely has anything to do with the production level. It has to do with the story that’s being told and how convinced you are by the actors, and how invested you are emotionally. And when that’s what makes something really capture you, it actually has nothing to do with how big of a set and how many fancy camera moves you have. And I think just leaning into using what we had available, which was Jimmy, and was the house I lived in, and our really awesome crew of pirate filmmakers.

MBB: It’s also our community. We know so many talented people — and everybody we asked to come on board thankfully said yes — so that also helped majorly with being resourceful. At the end of the day, you have to give yourself that opportunity. You have to say yes to yourself. Always begins with that true inner belief, right? And as the classic line from Field of Dreams goes, “If you build it, they will come.” And they did!

moon manor
KnifeRock

I think one thing that’s really interesting about independent filmmaking to me or your version of independent filmmaking to me, or the film you’ve made is we are so used to really nicely polished stories, right? Like Pixar just knows how to mention the thing in act one that’s going to get buttoned in act three, and all these little moments are going to conspire to create some sort of pathos. They’re great at it, but it doesn’t always read as sincere, right?

Within the “indie” convo, I thought that your movie actually also had a very interesting format. There’s no true consistent antagonist. There’s no deep resolution of the brother narrative. Jimmy doesn’t come back and tell us what the word that was on the tip of his tongue was, which he referenced earlier… There are all these little roads that don’t necessarily have to lead anywhere. Which feels true to life.

That to me was an example of creative freedom that was well utilized. So I guess I just want to know your approach to the script, to the movie, what was hanging on the bulletin board that you two said to each other every day as you worked on the writing? What did you want people to walk away with? What did you feel were your biggest narrative risks?

EG: Calling a spade, a spade, we did fully have the conversations about how much we were breaking all of the Save The Cat and Hero’s Journey rules. We definitely had those conversations and we were also like, “If everything continues as we hope it will with our careers, this is our chance to break all the rules.” We don’t have a studio or a preexisting audience that expects a certain type of story from us. And I think we also just knew from having already done a lot of projects through to completion, to the edit, that there’s this certain soul and heartbeat to a story, that it doesn’t always fit in those categories.

Eventually, we realized that this story also informed those more classic narrative arcs. They’re actually there. It’s just not how you’re used to seeing them. We’re saying in the first minute of the movie the main character’s going to die, and then he dies. He has no Hero’s Journey. And he doesn’t have a big change. He has a moment of fear and doubt, but he doesn’t go through any of the steps of the Hero’s Journey, refusal of the call, etcetera. But Andrew, the reporter, played by Lou Taylor Pucci, does. He’s fully changed by the end of the movie. The religious protestor sidekick character has a full arc. So the classic structure elements are in there, just more layered.

We also had the boldness of each other’s ears. We were the only ones giving notes. We’ve also been friends for so long, we were going to the theater in our tiny Nevada town in 9th grade, watching the one movie that would be released each week, we have such a shared reference library. When we were writing it was like, “Remember that one scene in act three of Harold and Maude when this thing happened? Let’s capture the spirit of that.” And just while I’m on the Harold and Maude subject, I think films such as that, which Machete brought into my sphere in making Moon Manor, which we’re both just completely in love and obsessed with. It breaks all sorts of rules that you’re supposed to do in storytelling, and yet it’s so satisfying.

The end of Harold and Maude is obviously that line, “go and love some more.” I felt like there were some “go and love some more “moments in this, especially with Jimmy and the reporter at the end, which I thought was really beautiful.

MBB: We really trusted that this experimental way of showcasing memories and having a 90s-type ensemble would work. Instead of flashback memories, they happen within the actual scene. You’re taken on this carousel ride within this house a little bit. The Hero’s Journey isn’t a full tactic we used for the main character, he stays his course, and most of the characters stay their course except a few. A great example is Empire Records, not everybody changes within that movie. All the characters pretty much stay themselves, it’s what happens around them that helps create their choices. It’s about all of them coming together to save the record store. And that also helped as a reference point. How many people truly change in a day? So that lent itself to opening up what would happen in this movie. Who would come through this man’s door? Who are the ones to change? And that’s where we got creative with the execution choices as well.

You referenced Empire Records, and “Sugar High” — that movie’s impromptu dance number — is a great example of something you do, where you break the fourth wall and restore it without much commentary. I loved those moments of, “Oh, can we do this? Let’s do it!” Because film audiences are smarter about film techniques than they’ve ever been, right? And they’ve seen fourth wall breaking, and they’ve seen period pieces where people use modern slang. And they’ve just seen every iteration of it. It felt like you had high trust in regard for the audience, which I think works really well.

MBB: We definitely trusted the audience and that the exposition we used would land. We’re going to allow you to have your own interpretation yet create a story that’s fun to watch. I think that’s the real balance. How to set a pace of allowing the audience to feel, absorb information, not make it boring yet not dumb it down. It’s a dance, that’s for sure. I guess that’s why they call it “the craft.” And our movie has a lot of talking heads, so that was a real feat. Most of the scenes are characters sitting and talking. How do you keep an audience engaged within a whole movie where everyone is sitting around? Time to get creative! Cue the moon creature!

EG: In a way, it’s a more European approach where everything doesn’t have to get wrapped up in a bow. And looking at when you’re really focused on one moment in a world, it gives you so much more time to build that world, right? We weren’t trying to track the last 10 years of Jimmy’s life. We honed the story into one day, which allowed us to have the big act breaks and the big turns actually be really subtle, that feels much more true to life.

This movie is “about death” but it’s also about somebody who’s lived this incredibly full life. It’s not a 22-year-old father of three dying. That’s a really hard story to watch. There’s room for levity in Moon Manor. It was a coming-of-age story in many ways, and of all the screenings we’ve had, it seems like so many people are cracking out of their shells to literally laugh in the face of death. And through the prism of Jimmy and his life, they realize how big and weird and wonderful death can be.

The psychedelic experience hangs very heavy over the whole movie. There are sly references to acid, mushrooms, and DMT. And there are no psychedelics in the movie, but it’s clear that had been — whether part of his journey in real life or just on camera — that that was a big part of Jimmy’s story.

EG: Well, one of the original inspiration texts for the whole story is the Psychedelic Guide To The Book of the Dead, which is a book of Jimmy’s that is his go-to manual for how he’s lived and that he wants to be read to him as he dies in real life.

So you’re talking about Timothy Leary’s psychedelic version of the Tibetan Book of the Dead. Is that right?

EG: Exactly. It’s Leary and Ram Dass before he was Ram Dass [Richard Alpert]. In real life, Jimmy wants to go out like Aldous Huxley and take a hero’s dose of acid on his deathbed. So I think the thing that was tricky with the film is as much as psychedelics infuse Jimmy’s real life, and we wanted it to have that spirit in the movie, we had to balance it with more of a psychedelic philosophy and approach to life rather than actually seeing characters doing psychedelics, because we didn’t want to lose the audience. We’re already asking them to take this leap of faith and go on a journey of celebrating that he’s going to end his life.

MBB: This is also our brains. This is how we think. A lot of people ask, “How did this happen?” Well, these are just the ideas that organically came up. And yeah, we definitely are hippies. All of us are. And with Jimmy, we see this happen all the time. Someone will meet Jimmy for the first time and they don’t know what to expect, right? They know he is a great guy, they’ve heard about him and then they meet him. Watching people get to know Jimmy, it’s the same thing as this movie. He just creates a safe space where any idea can flourish, any way of being is allowed. And on the psychedelic note, we all have had personal experiences with psychedelics. So we’re talking from experience, but not trying to, as Erin said, strong-arm folks, and be like, “Do psychedelics, people!”

Speaking about Jimmy, I remember going to Erin’s party, and it’s this young Hollywood party, and there are cool people there, and there are all these attractive people — it’s a weed pairing and there’s a chef. And just all the elements that you’re like, if you wrote about this about Hollywood in a magazine in the Midwest, they would be like, “Wow, it’s so wild and cool out there.” And the person that she is championing is this… Jimmy is an 84-year-old, right? He’s the one person she wants everyone to meet. Tell me what the Jimmy magic is that made you two say like, “Oh, our moonshot, our bet on ourselves is about a movie about an elderly man ending his life!” Because there are not many movies about the elderly. There are not many movies by young filmmakers about the elderly. That’s an even smaller group. And then if you’re like, people taking their one big Eminem moment — this is your one shot — on an elderly man. What was it about him?

EG: We’ve seen so many coming-of-age movies over and over, like the teenager, young adult coming of age, especially with debut features. And we both have experienced death up close and personal. And that was just what we had in our hearts to tell. And Jimmy’s legit one of our homies, one of the inner circle people that we hang out with. And we’d cast him in almost everything we’d ever made — individually and together — because he’s just such a good fucking actor. It’s insane what a good actor he is. But he’s never had his day in the sun. We wanted to give him his big moment.

In our previous projects, he always got the best, biggest audience response. Anything you post about Jimmy gets the biggest response. I mean, I have a family connection to Jimmy, he helped take care of my grandmother who was one of my best friends, and he was my real uncle’s life and creativity partner for almost 20 years… But I think the magic is because I feel like our connection to seniors and the elderly is generally just your grandparents, and to have someone as a peer who’s an octogenarian and yet has an ageless spirit and mind, so much energy even as his body ages, I think when you’re making a big swing, your “one shot” — for your film, for your novel, whatever it is, it’s “What do you have in your life that really is unique?” For us it was as subtle as we have an 80-year-old best friend, that was more than worth building a project around.

moon manor
KnifeRock

MBB: He is one of the best actors I’ve personally ever worked with as a director. I was introduced to him a long time ago through Erin and her family, but then was reintroduced to him as an actor when we shot one of Erin’s TV pilots and she brought him in to play one of the supporting actors. And he was just fucking killer. After that I put him in pretty much everything. He just gets it. I don’t have to direct him. You know what I mean? He is so professional but brings a je ne sais quoi that you obviously can see when you watch the movie.

We’ve had a lot of people say, “You’re not going to get any money for doing this movie with this kind of actor at this age.” And Erin and I wink at each other because once they see or meet him they’ll understand that he’s an ace up the sleeve. And then they see or meet him and do understand because he’s unbelievable. This is me also being like, “People, hire him! Because he’s incredible.” He is so passionate about acting. He is so passionate about art. That is his life, right? He is living art all the time.

EG: Our other muse was people who work in the death industry. Like the obituary writer character, Andrew. He’s the straight man representing the audience’s experience. When writing we were like, “Okay, this is a pretty common device. The reporter who’s coming from the outside in.” But the more we would read about obituary writers, we watched a documentary called Obit that’s really fascinating about New York Times obituary writers, and we were just fascinated with that profession. And as death is trending, death doulas becoming the zeitgeist thing, you don’t hear too much about obituary writers who have been doing this forever. And there’s a line in Moon Manor where the reporter says that “you’re my first pre-dead interview.” That’s a real term that they use, the pre-dead interviews they have on file for famous people so that they’re ready at a moment’s notice when they die. So I think we were really into exploring that idea and also couldn’t really think of a movie where you’ve seen an obituary writer get to have a leading role. There’s a line where Andrew says like, “How they died is just one line. The obituary is really about how they lived.”

I loved that.

EG: We really wanted this film to be an entry point for as many people as possible, not just speaking to our own community who maybe have already embraced these ideas of curating your own death, or even the idea of having your own funeral, or a death doula and all these things, and having a drag queen at your party. We wanted it to be as accessible to as many people as possible.

MBB: Andrew, the second lead, is a straight-laced, all-about-his-career kinda guy. And I think for a young professional, that’s just what life is. We’re constantly career-driven and are so focused in our vision that sometimes it’s hard to see outside of the work track. So when Jimmy tells Andrew, “Write it anyway. The story will find its way,” it’s almost honoring our younger selves. There’s more than this one story. Or one way. There’s more than this idea of a specific idea of career. Having a younger, polished and eager character does lead the audience in, but he’s also really an extension of us. His first feature on Jimmy also incidentally happens to be our first feature.

Source: https://uproxx.com/culture/moon-manor-movie/