What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done? Just one seemingly innocent question is the spark that ignites the entire rest of one quirky and fantastic film. Onur Tukel’s APPLESAUCE will get under your skin and inside your psyche.
Every Tuesday night, radio talk show host Stevie Bricks invites his listeners to call in and share “the worst thing they’ve ever done.” Tonight, Ron Welz (writer/director Onur Tukel) is ready to share his story. But soon after he confesses on the air, someone starts sending him severed body parts. Ron becomes paranoid, terrified. His life begins to unravel. His marriage begins to fall apart. He has no idea who’s tormenting him. Is it his insolent high school student? Is it his best friend? His own wife? In a city like New York, there are eight million suspects and each one could have a bone to pick with someone like Ron.
Onur takes upon the role of Ron with hilarious gusto. After he answers “the question”, someone begins to torment him by sending him “gifts” that remind him of what he did. The question not only effects him but his wife and their best couple friends, when they answer the question, as well. Everyone is angry but each is guilty of being haunted by their own past. The fallout spreads like a virus, spoiling the sanity of these four individuals. The circumstances get weirder and weirder, but you’re already along for the ride. This cast clicks and whirs like a well oiled machine. Tukel’s script is filled with pop culture digs and the realities of intimate relationships. It’s a crazy give and take between bizarro land and total nonchalance. I was all in from the beginning.
I had the pleasure of interviewing this multifaceted artist about this truly unique indie. Enjoy.
Liz: Firstly, this is some wacky and wonderful stuff. I’m gonna need more asap. Just throwing that out there. What in the world was the inspiration for this unique story?
Onur: The inspiration was a true story that happened to a friend of mine in college. We were at a party together and he accidentally cut a stranger’s finger off. He was haunted by this event for years. We’ve visited this story dozens of times – over dinners, at parties, at various social gatherings – and it always captivates whoever’s listening. We always wondered whatever happened to the injured person, how it changed his life. My friend and I also agreed that having a character tell the story over dinner would make a terrific starting point for a film. This was, indeed, the lynch-pin. I started with that and the script wrote itself.
Liz: You wear a ton of hats in making your films. Do you find that’s been a necessity or for the love of the project?
Onur: When you make a really low-budget film, yeah, you have to wear a lot of hats. I was the costumer, the production designer, co-editor, writer, co-actor, and co-producer. The DP was also the operator, best boy, gaffer, and grip. The producers are handling props and also working on production design and script supervising. The PA is doing the work of six people. Everyone’s wearing a lot of hats. You have no choice! Of course, love factors into the whole process. But when people get over-extended, it becomes stressful, and that sucks. Still, when that camera rolls and you get a take that really pops, it’s all worth it. Then, in the editing room, when you start piecing it together like a puzzle and it starts to come to life, it’s magic. On the next one, I hope to have a bigger budget and crew so I can focus exclusively on the writing, directing and editing. This will give the other crew members a chance to focus on fewer things, as well.
Liz: For Applesauce, specifically, what was the length of time from page to production? Shooting to wrap?
Onur: I finished the first draft of the script in August of 2014 and rewrote it over several months. We went into production in November and wrapped on December 31, 2014. Just four months later, it premiered at Tribeca Film Festival in April. The schedule was nuts: fast-paced, chaotic, exhilarating and at times, infuriating. I made a vampire movie when I was 26 in Wilmington, NC and we were rushed into production, much like we did on Applesauce. The entire crew of six decided to abandon the movie because they thought we weren’t ready. I recruited the camera operator Bryan Kupko and asked him if he wanted to make the movie with just a two-person crew. He shrugged and said, “Sure.” And that was all I needed to hear. I just wanted a camera rolling; wanted to hear that purr of the film threading throughout the CP-16 as it burned itself up at 24 frames per second. The crew eventually came back on board and we dug in and got the movie made, but I was ready to go with one person. I feel alive on a film set. A group of creative people working together to make a movie is a beautiful battlefield. Even when it seems like films may be losing their cultural significance, it’s an honor to be called a director.
Liz: The dialogue is delicious. Super natural, which leads me to think there was a lot of improv involved?
Onur: Delicious. Super natural. You’re delicious and super natural, Liz. Hope that doesn’t sound creepy. Yes, there’s always improvisation in my movies, but it’s always very scripted at the beginning. We will improv a scene if the words don’t sound real or the dialogue feels flat. I always want the scene to have life and that usually means severing a sentence or two, rearranging some lines, or tossing the dialogue out all together. Sometimes we’ll use 100% of the dialogue. Sometimes 70%. Sometimes none. Plus, I’m rewriting the script during production, so it’s always changing. I just want it to feel real, whatever it takes. If what I’ve written works, great. If it doesn’t, the hell with it!
Liz: Loved the structural choice to use Stevie Bricks as a transitional catalyst. It made for some quick relief from the adult realness (even as those scenes funny as hell) You totally could have gotten away with just having him as the opener. Talk about utilizing that character throughout, if you would.
Onur: The brilliant Dylan Baker gives such a great performance. I used him like a one-night stand. Literally. We had him for eight hours. I squeezed as much as I could out of him during that time, knowing we would edit him into the movie as much as possible. He was very busy working on another project and I gave him maybe 10 pages of dialogue the night before his shoot. He came in and nailed it. I just sat back and watched. I threw in a couple suggestions here and there to feel like I was a big shot and so I could tell people, “I directed Dylan Baker,” but I didn’t do a thing. I didn’t really direct anyone in the movie. That’s why it’s pretty good!
Liz: How does casting generally work for you? Do you have people in mind while writing or do you use a more traditional route with casting directors?
Onur: I wrote the role of Kate for Jennifer Prediger. She’s a dear friend, but I was a fan or her work before I met her. It’s easy to write for her because we kind of speak the same language. We’re self-effacing, jokey, over-histrionic at times, charming when we need to be, yet self-aware when we’re both being sniveling little assholes. I was also friends with Trieste Kelly Dunn long before I cast her. We both have connections to North Carolina, which might be one of the reasons we find the same things funny. North Carolinians can bullshit about anything. I could probably talk to Trieste about a blade of grass for two hours. I always have a blast in her company. The great Max Casella and wonderful Dylan Baker were brought on through a casting director named Stephanie Holbrook. The thought of making a movie now without her is terrifying. I won’t do it. She’s absolutely indispensable. She also happens to be a sweetheart. Lots of lovely people on Applesauce.
Liz: What advice can you give writers/artists in a world saturated with naysayers and Youtube clips/fleeting attention spans?
Onur: Read as many books as you can. The act of reading is creative. Whatever damage technology is doing to our attention spans can all be reversed with reading. Of course, this is easier said than done. Reading is a luxury for those with time. Outside of that, you better use your free time doing your art, whether it’s writing, drawing, recording music, playing music, making movies, etc. After all, if you ain’t doing that, you ain’t an artist. If you are creating art, don’t be self-important. You’re not special and you’re probably not that good. I have to tell myself this all the time. Every now and then, someone flatters me with praise. It’s nice to hear, but the day you start believing that stuff, you’re done. Before you know it, you’re lecturing people on how to make art like I’m doing now. I’m so ashamed. I’m the last person who should be giving advice. You should see my apartment. It’s like Hooverville for roaches in here.
Liz: I want to say THANK YOU for taking the time to chat with me. I cannot wait to see what’s next!
Onur: Thank you, Liz. It’s an honor answering your great questions!