Natalie Gravenor | Wednesday September 3rd, 2014
Bright Blue Gorilla are Robyn Rosenkrantz and Michael Glover, two globetrotting singer-songwriters cum filmmakers who are the embodiment of indie ideals: creating culture that is as joyful for the artists to produce as it is for audiences to watch. Four Bright Blue Gorilla films are available on realeyz. We caught up with Robyn and Michael at the Berlin premiere of their latest, the French-flavored romcom GO WITH LE FLO, for an exclusive interview.
The beginnings of Bright Blue Gorilla – how did you meet and form the group?
Robyn: We started as musicians. Both Michael and I were in many different bands. We met on the Sunset Strip in Hollywood at a show, wrote a song together and fell in love. That’s when we formed Bright Blue Gorilla. In 1990 we quit our L.A. jobs, sold everything we had (except our guitars) and bought one-way tickets to Europe. Our dream was to travel the world and play music. We’ve been traveling the world making music and movies ever since!
Michael: Meeting Robyn was a “big break” for me. When I met her I’d already been a professional musician for a long time and I was burned out on the entertainment business, burned out on music too. I got into a punk/new wave band when I was 13 years old and it became very popular. (The band was “The Philisteens”. We toured the country a lot and opened for the Ramones at our peak.) I’d already had about 10 years of hard touring when I met Robyn. She was so fresh and positive about music and the music business. She believed that you could do anything if you tried. (I started out that way, but by 1989 I was fried and cynical.) Her positive personality was contagious and slowly I came back to life… When we bought our one-way tickets to Europe in 1990, I was pretty scared. In fact, I had my first-and-only panic attack when we landed in Amsterdam. I couldn’t get out of the plane. My hands were gripping the chair. All I could say to Robyn and the very concerned stewardesses was: “I don’t think I can do this… I don’t think I can do this…” We were the only people left on the plane. Robyn and the stewardesses encouraged me to let go of the seat and get up and go on the adventure. (Now that I think of it, that was actually a wonderfully comical scene for a film.) After I got up and left the plane everything went very well… Magical in fact.
Where does the name “Bright Blue Gorilla” come from?
Michael: Robyn was reading the book “Gorillas in the Mist” and she wanted to have a band name with “Gorilla” in it somewhere, as she loves animals (and we are both vegetarians). She came up with “Blue Gorilla”. I thought that sounded like a depressed gorilla so I added the “Bright” part. I remember where we came up with the name. We were having lunch at a hotel on the beach in Santa Monica. Very nice setting for figuring out a band name.
Robyn: We wanted a name that people would remember, a name we could have fun with, something to remind ourselves not to take ourselves or our career too seriously. We had previously played under our own names, which felt a little too “ego”. It’s been a blast having this name and we like being called “Gorillas!”
What attracted you to Europe and specifically Berlin?
Robyn: We’ve been touring Europe since 1990 and didn’t really discover Berlin until around 2007. That was a wonderful experience, discovering this city which still has so many artists in it. After we got to know a lot of artists here we thought it would be great to get them all together and create a Berlin film that Michael had an idea for, which turned into GO WITH LE FLO. In the end we had 200 people from 20 different countries working on the film!
Michael: The first four films we did were shot in Los Angeles. I thought it would be fun to have a “foreign film” for the USA and other English-speaking markets. Fortunately, our fellow-artist friends in Berlin agreed and we got together and made the film. We’re thrilled that it turned out so well and that people really like the film – not only in the USA but in Europe too, and even China! Amazing what can happen if you try.
What came first – music or film? How do these two forms of expression go together in your work?
Robyn: Our songs have always had a visual element to them in the lyrics. We met a bass player in Holland, Leon Giesen, who was also a director, and sometime around 1997 we made our first music video with him. (For “Juliet’s Asleep”.) Then we made another music video – it was shot on film – in Hollywood with an up-and-coming director there. That was the start of our working visually. Michael was also writing a lot…
Michael: The change from music to movies was gradual and natural. While we were touring the world giving concerts, I started writing short stories and then plays for the stage. Several of my stage plays won playwright contests in America, including the prestigious Eugene O’Neill Theater contest. After that, I started directing the plays I’d written, and also directing voice-over – working with stars like Mark Wahlberg. Then I got a job at MTV as an editor on the show, “The Osbournes.” That taught me how to edit. We had been making videos of ourselves on tour for many years, so we were also learning how to use a camera. The final piece of the puzzle came when we got roles in an Alec Baldwin movie (playing songs on-camera, basically playing ourselves as Bright Blue Gorilla). It was a major Hollywood movie called “The Last Shot” and because it was a major movie it paid well. That’s how we bought our first movie camera. Then we started making movies and we keep doing it. GO WITH LE FLO is our fifth feature film!
Where do song and film ideas come from?
Robyn: We have slightly different ways of writing. Usually, when I find a cool guitar riff I’ll just play it over and over and sing some sounds with it until words start to come. I’ll just jam on the idea for hours until it starts to show itself. Michael often starts with lyrics and then figures out the music to go with it. (A lot of his songs were written on a notepad on a train or even backstage at a show.) When one of us has an idea sort of worked out we’ll go to the other and finish the song.
Michael: It used to be that we wrote separately, then showed each other the finished songs. But for the past 10 years of so we co-write on pretty much every song. We’ve gotten used to each other’s styles and so we can contribute to each other’s work without interfering with the flow. With movies, I usually write the script – sometimes with a co-writer, like with Mea Machrowiak on GO WITH LE FLO. Robyn helps to shape the movie a lot though, as producer, and also in the editing process. I edit the films but Robyn has a natural ability to see what’s right or wrong with an edit. Sometimes it’s a matter of a second or split-second – holding on an actor or cutting to the next scene – that makes a scene work.
GO WITH LE FLO is your first film with a highly specific setting – Berlin. What made you decide to feature the city and its specific multicultural population?
Robyn: As you know, when you walk down most any street in Berlin, you’ll hear several languages. The city is a magnet for people all around the world. It’s a beautiful mix of old and new here.
Michael: Berlin is one of the best modern cities around because there are still a lot of artists there. It’s not just a city for rich people – as many big cities become. It’s still an affordable place to live and for artists to work. That gives it a special atmosphere. I wanted to capture the romantic feeling that you sometimes get walking around Berlin. It wasn’t hard to do working in a city like Berlin. I wanted Berlin to be one of the characters in the film. It’s a city that lives up to it’s reputation as a special place.
GO WITH LE FLO is your biggest release to date. How has the promotion at international festivals been?
Robyn: GO WITH LE FLO was screened at many festivals, a real blessing for us indie filmmakers! It played very well with the audiences in USA, China, Germany, UK, and India. Festivals are a great way to “test” the film. For Michael – as the editor – to see how it plays with an audience and make changes as necessary. I guess we’re getting the hang of it though, because he didn’t have to change much in GO WITH LE FLO. It played great from the first screening. He adjusted the timing of a few lines which were being covered by the laughter of the previous line. Festivals also give the film credibility. There are so many movies out there that it helps the audiences to trust that it’s a good film if festivals have selected it.
Michael: We watched the film about 12 times with festival audiences. Aside from the fact that it’s a perfect “test” setting, it’s so rewarding to sit in the audience and hear the people laughing and reacting to the film. That’s why we make them. We want to give the viewer something that changes their mood, that improves their state-of-mind for a short time. Personally, I love to watch movies whenever I’m down or discouraged or just tired of it all… A good comedy from Billy Wilder or Howard Hawks or a film noir from John Huston will always improve my mood and get me ready to face the world again.
What are your next plans?
Robyn: Right now, we’re touring cinemas with GO WITH LE FLO, doing Bright Blue Gorilla concerts, too. (We like to play unplugged in the cinemas right before we show the film.) We’re also in pre-production for the next two films…
Michael: The next project is “Mr. Rudolpho’s Jubilee” a comedy/fantasy to take place in Berlin and Italy. We’re planning that now and we start shooting in July 2015. I’ve also written an Iranian/American comedy called “Hero Pizza” – based on the novel by Fred Beshid – which we’ll be shooting in Los Angeles in late 2015 or early 2016.
Interview: Natalie Gravenor