Amongst all the heated summer bombast experienced at the Cineplex every year, one or two smaller films usually break through, shinning like a diamond in a dumpster piled high with action clichés, wobbly sequels, and one too many superheroes to care about. This summer's one true surprise comes in a small independently produced musical comedy called Spork, helmed by actor-turned-director J.B. Ghuman Jr..
Spork is a coming-of-age tale that follows a young orphaned girl (Savannah Stehlin) growing up with her brother in an Airstream trailer. An outcast in Junior High, Spork joins forces with a local dance crew to take down a 'mean girls' gang lead by Betsy Byotch (Rachel G. Fox). It's an odd, colorful ode to the musical comedies of the 80s and early 90s, strapped with a unique soundtrack and a quirky charm that is sure to win over even the most hardened summer-hating Cinefile, who truly believes this year's release slate is devoid of anything new.
Spork proves its not.
We recently met up with J.B. Ghuman Jr. to talk about his inspiration behind Spork, and his own history as a break dancing, Enya loving outcast. Here is our conversation.
Not only does Savannah Stehlin's Spork look exactly like Corey Haim's Lucas, she also seems to be channeling his inner spirit, and immolating his voice. Was this a conscious decision on your part?
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: I actually get asked that in person sometimes. The first time I got asked that was at the premiere; the first time I had ever screened the movie. Everyone was gaying out, crying, and being emotional. Someone asked me that, and I said, "What?" I was taken back. But then I started thinking about it. And I really do love that movie, Lucas. Its one of my favorite movies. I don't know any lines from it, but I do remember it very, very well. It did affect me. I started wondering, "Was I inadvertently inspired by that?" I'm not going to say I was. I won't say it was an intentional situation. Because, hmm...Not really. I didn't know I was doing that. I also think its stupid to say that it didn't affect me. Because it is one of my favorite films. Maybe in hindsight it inspired me.
She looks like she could be Lucas' twin sister...
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: (Laughs) It's her glasses. Some random person sent me a picture online. This film kid sends me a picture of Lucas's glasses alongside a picture of Spork. He was like, "Right on! That is such a cool reference!" I was like, "I didn't mean to do that." But every time someone asks what inspires me? Look, I'm nothing special, man. I'm like the Gwen Stefani of movies. I am just a big collage of the things I like. Its all been done before. So if I did it again? Look, there are a lot of things that I did that were very intentional. The NeverEnding Story. There were a bunch of movies that I ripped. Was I inspired by Lucas, though? No. I didn't intentionally do that one at all. But I do see it big time.
Now, Gwen Stefani? She is a huge talent...
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: Oh, she is an amazing talent. But every time she does interviews? I love her humility. Like the lyrics of her first song. She didn't write it, but she loves talking about it. And I was so taken back by her sense of awareness. People will ask her if she is a rip-off of this, or a rip-off of that. And I love how she always...Not mock herself, but she is honest. She says, "I am a cause of my experience." And I probably am too. I am just a giant blender of the things I grew up loving. That's all I am.
This is maybe one of two films that I have really responded to this year. Its one that I really love, and I have watched it twice now...
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: (Laughs) Wow. Thank you. That is awesome.
I don't want to compare it to Hobo with a Shotgun, but its on that level. Hollywood just doesn't make these types of movies any more. So now it's on the shoulders of Independent filmmakers like yourself to create a new Lucas, even though you don't want to call it that.}
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: In Europe, the filmgoers out there come up to you, and they are all super intellectuals, and I am sitting there all stupid. And someone brought up this French director whose name escapes me now...But they said the style of it, the way I set up the shots, and the clothes...Its very apropos to not only the dialogue and the music, but also the way I shot it...This is such an old school way to do something. Even then, nothing was on purpose. I just prayed that the whole thing was in focus. Many things have inspired me. I love movies and music. This is just what comes out of my fingertips when I make something.
Its funny that you don't know certain points of reference. Looking at the scene with the stuffed dog, matched with the score, I'd swear you were also heavily influenced by Rubin and Ed in making Spork.
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: I have never seen it.
There are similar music cues in both movies...
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: The music is nothing. I wish to God...Every single song was in the script. There were certain ones, like I had The Whisperss' Rock Steady in there, and it was supposed to end on De La Soul's Me, Myself, and I...But some of these songs? On a micro-budget, there is just no way...A lot of the songs from the 80s and 90s, they sampled a lot of other groups. So, just to get De La Soul's Me, Myself, and I, I also had to get permission from The Jackson 5. And James Brown. I was like, "Oh, my God!" But there was so much more music. I got lucky with the ones I got. All that stuff is huge to me. I used to DJ back in New York and LA. So I love that stuff.
I actually wasn't taking about the songs in the movie. I was referring to the score you use throughout.
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: Oh, of course! I am so glad you brought that up. Casey James and the Stay Puft Kids did the score. I found those cats on, and I am not even kidding, Myspace. I always had them bookmarked. They only had ten friends. They were this little group who would make music using Game Boys. And the Sega Genesis. And the NES system. The Nintendo. All of which I grew up obsessing over. When we were doing the score, I thought, "I need something that is 8 bit. I want Danny Elfman meets Nintendo. I need something with emotion and strength. I need it to be this Nintendo Powerglove thing. She is wearing the Powerglove I had as a kid on her arm. It's this giant personal piece...I listened to these kids, and I wrote them. I said, "I know this is random, and I don't know where you are living, or what you are up to, but if you are into scoring anything, we should meet up." So we met up, and one of them is scoring SpongeBob SquarePants. Appartently their careers are moving. Apropos, they just worked. They jumped on board. I got a coach to guide them. And they made this awesome, awesome 8 bit score. Betsy Byotch's score was done on the Sega Genesis, because it's black and sleek and dark. Lucy Goosey is a Super Nintendo. And Spork's score tends to be from the NES.
Its so cool.
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: Yes, when I heard it I could barely talk. I said, "This is so amazing." (Laughs)
In terms of presenting the character of Spork...Is it 'transgender'? Is that the proper term?
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: I wrote hermaphrodite into the screenplay, and to this day, I think it sounds like a Greek Goddess. I think it's beautiful. But apparently, its like saying Jew or colored.
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: I didn't even know this. The correct term is intersex, apparently.
The way Spork is presented in front of her classmates, being a member of the intersex community is the least of her social problems. She is ostracized for being a nerd more than she is anything else. The other kids only choose to pick on her for being intersex as an after thought...
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: There was an article in Varity after the movie came out, and I don't know if they meant it as a slap down, or if they were just trying to be descriptive. I didn't think of it as just descriptive...I took it as a compliment. They said, "Her disposition with her gender is more of a window dressing to the whole story." I appreciated the way it was phrased. Because it's the truth. I wanted her to be singular and left of field, maybe a lot left of field, so that we could all relate to her. I didn't want to make a gay movie, a straight movie, a kids' movie. A porn movie. I didn't want that. I know she is a suburban blonde girl, but at the end of the day, it should relate to everyone. We all had to go through that phase, whether we are black, yellow, white, gay straight. We all have to do that weird...Not to get all Oprah, but who am I? Where do I fit in? Hopefully, if you are lucky, you get to that place where you say, "I don't think I fit into a category." Some people never do get to that place. But that was the idea behind it. I didn't want it to be too much of an anthem for one sector of society. That would be such a shame. That's why I didn't make it the center of the story, because it shouldn't be the center.
It displays this amazing tolerance that you wouldn't, or maybe you would, see in a middle school. I don't know. As far as I know, there weren't any intersex kids at my school. I'm not sure how the other students would have reacted.
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: Nor did I. I feel bad when those people do stand up, and they come up to me. I'm like, "Oh, God! I am a little out of touch, honey. I don't really know anyone like this." It's a dark comedy, don't forget. I try to put that out there. I know its called Spork. Is it a spoon or a fork? Is it a girl or a boy? But it's not really a gimmick. Again, it's more like...I don't know how to put it. I like how Variety said it. It's more of a widow dressing. It's a road to get there.
The idea of not knowing that the Wizard of Oz exists, and that there is only the Wiz, is an interesting concept. That there is only a black Dorothy...
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: I am gayer than Peter Pan. You'd think that The Wizard of Oz was my bible. But Judy Garland and all of that shit? I grew up in a lower income family in downtown Miami. I was break dancing, being a badass on the outside, then going home and listening to Enya, closeting myself out at night. I was a total weirdo. I grew up, yes, watching The Wiz. I went to my friend's house. We were talking about this and that. And The Wiz came up. It's not any more, but it was my favorite movie for a long time. Mainly because I was obsessed with Michael Jackson. Michael Jackson actually brought me to The Wiz. But I had never seen The Wizard of Oz. I totally got laughed at. I laughed too. It became more of a story to tell my friends. I didn't know. I felt so stupid. My friend is like, "That's the black version, bro." I was like, "Oh." I grew up in a black community. How was I supposed to know? I thought it was funny. Telling my own story, and pulling from my own life, I thought that was a good way to make it personal and put it out there.
I don't want to pry about your age, but did you grow up as a kid in the 90s?
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: (Laughs) There is no prying about my age. I live in Los Angeles, but I am not that bad. I don't care. I totally grew up in the 90s. I was a B Boy for three years. I was a break-dancer. I wasn't that good. I was called Kid Phoenix, and I was the only white kid. I think that is the only reason they even tolerated me. I was born in 1979. December 20th. I always tell people I was born in 80. I wasn't really hanging out in the 80s. In 1990, I turned ten. In 91, I was eleven. In 95 I was fifteen. My age goes with the years like that. So I didn't really grow up in the 80s. I got my license. Learned how to drive. Snuck out of school. All of that growing up shit, I did in the 90s.
Did you have a dance routine set to Enya?
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: No! But that would have been kind of amazing. I never had a dance routine set to Enya. However, our dance choreographer, during the last scene of the film, she was doing her thing, and I put a bunch of my moves in. Like, where you land on your side, and it's a freeze. I put that in, and the corkscrew. That was the end of my original routine when I was sneaking out of my mom's window, going down to South Beach to break. That is what I put of myself in the film. The Enya? That was me reading sci-fi books at home, with gold teeth. That was a weird part of my life.
Reading sci-fi, listening to Enya, and you have a set of gold teeth. That sounds like a character in a movie I'd want to watch.
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: (Laughs) That was me. I was such a freak.
Now, in regards to Betsy Byotch and these little white girls she runs with...Is this really the way they sound?
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: Yes. Rachel G. Fox, she was on Desperate Housewives. And that is her voice. Oana Gregory, who was Lucy Goosy, she has an insane, voice-over, cartoon gem of a voice. That is all their real voices.
When you were on set, and filming would stop, were there ever any real life dance offs between the two sets of girls? Did it ever get intense behind the scenes?
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: Not with all of the little white girls. But, with all of the little black girls? Yes. The scene in the kitchen, where they are dancing to 'Hey, Little Momma, Why You Dance So Funky?' Which is a remake of an original song by The Puppies...All of those girls who bang on the table, during the montage where Spork is learning the moves, and she is getting excited about this stuff...And they are banging on the tables? They kept doing that. Pounding on stuff. They'd hit those tables to the point where I was like, "Honey, I love you girls, but there are about ninety people eating around you! Please stop doing that!" I would do it with them sometimes. Again, not to be egocentric, but this is all stuff I used to do. I used to be the only chubby little white boy sitting at the table. And the girls were the only ones who were nice to me. And we would sit there pounding on the table, singing this song. I thought it was so cool. It was freeing. We are poor, and we are not necessarily popular. We're not the coolest kids. But who gives a shit? People would ask, "Why are you so happy all the time? It's so bizarre. You should be miserable."
What about Savannah Stehlin? What was her acclimation into this world like?
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: When she came into read, she was in character. She had the hair, she had the glasses with the tape on them. She was wearing the overalls. She had spitballs in her hair, it was all frizzed out. This stuff was all in the script. So she came in to a T. Sometimes they tell actors to do that, and not to do that. But she obviously did it. As a first time writer-director, I will openly say, "I love that shit!' She came in and literally, I could have filmed her in the auditioning room as Spork. Everything that was in the script, she did. She was in a Halloween costume. So I never got to know her. Well, of course, as my lead, we hug out every single day and got intimate. In the real world, she is very outgoing and sweet. But as far as her getting into character? These are kids. It wasn't like Charlize Theron in Monster. They don't really have anything to pull from. They are kids. They haven't really experienced anything.
I didn't mean on that level. I was talking more about with the dance routines and fitting in with these little black girls.
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: Savannah Stehlin didn't do any of the dancing. She had a double for that. If I could get her to stand on her head and do that stuff? That would have been marvelous. Though, she is not the most agile...Well, I won't say that, because that's not fair. I didn't see her as a dancer. Though, after working with the choreographer, she was able to do the dances. But for those crazy moves, she did have a double. She got more and more comfortable. We shot the end of the movie towards the end of the shoot. By then, she had worked on it. She got more comfortable with it. She transformed herself a little bit.
This is such a wonder film for a first time director. Where do you go from here?
J.B. Ghuman Jr.: I have another script called Rhino. I am literally just now finishing that. After Spork, I have all of these people knocking on my door. Which is really humbling, and insane. I'm like, "Oh. God! What if I'm a total loser? What if I am some dumb ass one-trick pony?" I hope not. I have been doing inflation art for a long time. Spork was never a device to make myself famous. I didn't want it to be like this movie over here, so I could make a lot of money. I just want to take care of my mom, go surfing, and create. Spork was just a giant inflation art piece. I wrote it as a short. It turned into a feature. I never really did the LA circuit. I wasn't saying, "Ahhh! I got to get this movie made!" I was just DJing and bar tending, and creating human street art. I was just going with the flow. Spork just got hit by lightening. And it changed my life within a year. Now, everyone is going, "What are you doing? What are you doing?" Now I have this team, and an attorney. It is all so bizarre to me. I want to do what got me here. I want to create and listen to my heart. My next film will be Rhino. Its all based on Prince and the late 70s. It's another weird wacky world with crazy visuals and all this other shit. It will have a new message. That is basically what I will work on.
Spork opens in New York this Friday.