By: Sarah Chaisson-Warner
Laura and Laurence, founders of Butthead Films, won our 2022 Short Film Fund Grand Prize with their script HE WOKE UP TO DEFLATING NEWS. The comedy, about a man who wakes up to find he is being turned into a coffee shop, will star deadpan stand-up legend Michael Redmond (Father Ted, Brass Eye, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle).
Here, Laura and Laurence share what motivates and inspires them, fill us in on the exciting work they are doing to produce HE WOKE UP TO DEFLATING NEWS, and offer advice for other writers.
The Early Writer
Before they met and began their own production company, both Laura and Laurence dreamed of writing. Laurence, born in Kent, England, and like most writers and filmmakers, worked various jobs before taking the plunge into filmmaking. Laurence sold milk door-to-door, pursued a philosophy degree, and worked at a cheese corporation doing statistical analysis. Laura was born and raised in Italy and started her writing career as a journalist. She soon moved into translating novels and films.
Funnily enough, Laura and Laurence both wrote their own first novel at eight years old. “One was a magical-shapeshifting-princess-kidnap-heist-adventure and the other was an epic-generational-migration-tragedy-but-with-insects,” they said. In addition to being budding writers at a young age, both also created a series of home-made comics. “Visual storytelling was a no-brainer for our futures.”
After meeting in film school, the two co-founded Butthead Films and describe it as “the awkward child of neurodivergent dream-duo Laura Spini and Laurence Brook, birthed to house and incubate the pair’s tragicomic body of work.”
How did they come up with the company’s name? At film school, they fantasized about “having a really stupid production company name with an obnoxious identity just solely to embarrass a really self-serious collaborator we were working with at the time.” The name humorously comes from the dominance ritual of their favorite dinosaur, the pachycephalosaurus.
Inspiration for their films comes from their own lives and experiences, situations, and characters. “Life often throws up events, situations and characters that are more absurd than those presented in the movies, so we just try to keep our ears to the ground and not disconnect too much from real life and usually certain things will stick with us,” they said. “If they are worth remembering then they are worth writing about. Sometimes you’ll have to tone down the real-life inspiration because it weirdly might seem too unrealistic for film.”
When inspiration strikes, Laura and Laurence tend to write intensively. “People often ask us about our process writing as a duo, but for each script we use different methods.” Sometimes they write alternate segments, other times they write from start to finish together. Sometimes they use a detailed treatment and other times they don’t.”
Production On Their Winning Script
Laura and Laurence entered our 2022 Short Film Fund with HE WOKE UP TO DEFLATING NEWS. “We saw it as a great opportunity not just to reach the production stage, but to receive incredible support offered from development to delivering the film to audiences at festivals and beyond,” they said.
The idea for the film, which centers on a pensioner being turned into a coffee shop against his will, started at Edinburgh Fringe after seeing comedian Michael Redmond perform his stand-up routine. On their way home, they saw a very well-known coffee shop and a few steps later they saw that another branch of the same coffee shop was being built. “That’s when one of us said ‘What if…’, and the other one of us completed that sentence. We like to write what we see, sometimes literally.”
The film, which is currently in pre-production, stars Michael Redmond. “We originally wrote the script for Michael because we are big fans of his deadpan stylings,” they said. “We tend to write for the talent that inspires our ideas and we have been pretty lucky that a lot of the talent has responded well and come on board. Our process is basically: come up with impenetrable idea, message unattainable star out of the blue and inshallah.”
The team has found a “fantastic location” for shooting, and their production designer, Sophia, is working on how to turn a man into a shop. “Typically, you don’t have to turn a pensioner into a human shop, so we’d say we are facing a lot of atypical challenges on this one,” they said.
The one thing that stays consistent though in their writing process is the ability to “have our marital arguments over scripts and live a harmonious life outside of the writer’s room (living room floor)!”
Other Projects at Butthead Films
Currently, Laura and Laurence are also busy developing a six-part dark comedy crime series based on their previous short, A DISAPPEARANCE, as well as a first feature.
They are very excited, as well, about a collective art project they are working on. “One of the most joyful things we are doing is curating FANTASTIC CADAVER, a collective art project that is basically a series of one minute films from different creatives around the world that all flow into one another.”
Based on the legendary “Exquisite Corpse” by surrealist artist Ted Joans, each collaborator will contribute a short segment of the story, based on seeing only the previous segment. Each segment is free to go wherever the contributor imagines it, creating a surreal and ever-changing landscape of locations, events, and dynamics.
Advice for Writers
What advice does this duo have for other writers? First, write what interests you, not what you think someone else is interested in, with one caveat – “If anyone tells you differently, they are probably a producer and you should write whatever they tell you to write,” they joke.
Laura and Laurence also encourage other writers to be thoughtful about feedback. “Hold onto the feedback that resonates and disregard the feedback that doesn’t,” they said. “Make sure the feedback you act upon is coming from a place of mutual understanding of what you are trying to do with your project, and if it is it will make your film 100% better.”
Their final words of advice? “Value the connections you make, drink water, and cherish dogs.”
Interested in learning more about our Short Film Fund? Click here!
After 15 years of working in state and national politics, Sarah Chaisson-Warner is moving into the entertainment industry. As the former Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Athena Magazine for Girls, Sarah is now focusing her passion for creative arts through screenwriting. Many of her feature-length scripts focus on the often unseen experiences of gay women throughout American History, and she is also currently writing a sci-fi TV series and a family Christmas script.
Don’t miss a deadline. Download our Contest Calendar!