Director Dave McCary & 'Saturday Night Live’s' Kyle Mooney Talk ‘Brigsby Bear’
Kyle Mooney as James. @ Brigsby Bear Movie, LLC. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
“Can anyone do it?” – Of all the questions James, protagonist of feel-good comedy Brigsby Bear, has of the new reality he inhabits, this one is perhaps his most illuminating.
After finding out his parents (played by Mark Hamill and Jane Adams) stole him from the hospital as an infant, James (played by the film’s writer and Saturday Night Live cast member Kyle Mooney) is thrust into a strange, new family and struggles to adjust to modern-day norms and social cues. What seems to be the bridge between his world and theirs, however, is an affection for art and the idea that yes, anyone can pursue it.
Brigsby Bear – named for the childhood TV show James obsesses over throughout the movie – is director Dave McCary (who writes for SNL) and Mooney’s first foray into feature filmmaking. The two childhood friends cut their teeth by recording comedy sketches in college and posting the videos online in the early aughts of YouTube.
McCary and Mooney founded their comedy troupe Good Neighbor in 2007. By 2013, their videos were raking in millions of views by poking fun at awkward situations, obtuse characters and social scenarios, establishing themselves to be quirky enough for SNL material.
In short, the pair – alongside Brigsby Bear co-writer Kevin Costello – know a thing or two about turning one’s fandom into creative endeavors.
“I remember when we convinced Kyle’s dad into buying us a $4,000 camera,” McCary said during their recent press stop in San Francisco. “When we first started playing around with that camera, I just remember feeling that energy of, ‘We can do anything with this.’”
(L-R): Kyle Mooney and Director Dave McCary on set. @ Brigsby Bear Movie, LLC. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
In the film, the character of Brigsby Bear and his twin sidekicks, The Smile Sisters, spend their days thwarting antagonist Sun Snatcher’s attempts to destroy – go figure – the sun. To create this universe, Mooney drew upon his own obsession with obscure VHS tapes and children’s television shows (“The weirder, the better,” McCary said) and pulled inspiration from programs such as He-Man and Teddy Ruxpin. According to Mooney, seeing James’ room filled with Brigsby paraphernalia solidified the relationship between the film’s main character and the TV show.
James’ Brigsby fandom is the frame he views the world through and which, after he is rescued from the bunker, subsequently becomes the vehicle he uses to navigate his new one. The Brigsby television show features a human-sized Teddy Ruxpin-esque bear created by Hamill’s character to impart life lessons upon James within each episode, though some are more dubious than others (one Brigsby slogan plastered on a poster reads, “Curiosity is an unnatural emotion”).
“[Brigsby] represents a moral compass for James – a way to look at life, a way to be a good person, a way to be a decent family member within his unit,” Mooney explained.
Much of Brigsby Bear’s heart arrives from watching James come into his own via a universal affinity to anything pop culture: He’s drawn to his sister Aubrey when she plays her music loud from her room; He and his biological father bond over B-list movies; Aubrey’s friend Spencer is the first real human James connects with over Brigsby. Ultimately, it’s Spencer who sparks the idea to finish Brigsby’s story under James’ direction.
Brigsby Bear touches on fandom, nostalgia but most of all, creativity throughout the film. The characters within it all embrace an appreciation for some art form – whether it’s television, theater, music or film – but James’ will to channel that adoration into a work uniquely his own is an example of why people adore pop culture in the first place. It’s through Brigsby that James can discover and tap into what he’s capable of and figure out where he fits in, even as a fish-out-of-water.
(L-R) Andy Samberg and Kyle Mooney. @ Brigsby Bear Movie, LLC. Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.
“[James] looks at Brigsby who goes on these great journeys and James’ character comes into the world unafraid of going on journeys – even social journeys – when he’s with friends or this adventure in filmmaking he tackles,” McCary said. “I think when you grow up with [a] favorite sports hero, you want to play that sport; You grow up with a favorite cartoon hero, you want to take on the values of that cartoon.”
Going from creating sketches to a feature film was a challenge in various ways, but McCary and company viewed the process as “ultimately something that both of us see ourselves transitioning to and felt really comfortable doing it.”
With some help from fellow SNL cohorts, The Lonely Island (made up of Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone), and Lord Miller Productions, McCary and Mooney were able to carve out character arcs and production details they otherwise don’t have to address with SNL.
“Whenever we hit a snag or had a question, it was nice to have these mentors who had been through this experience, who really knew where we were coming from and had such a similar path to ours,” McCary explained. “They were our idols when we first started making videos so it was really special to have them be supportive throughout every stage of the process.”
Mooney said, the film “was made with love by people who are friends in real life.” The Good Neighbor fellas nearly paralleled their own story straight into Brigsby Bear (sans abduction). A storied passion for comedy led Mooney and McCary to work with their own Lonely Island idols; that same passion, written into James, earned him a chance to finish Brigsby’s story and close off a portion of his life that is no longer accessible. Though James may have come from a different place as his friends, the universal power of art is what strings all other aspects of his new life together.
Brigsby Bear is now playing in San Francisco.