PUNK MAESTRO DANNY DENIAL LAUNCHES NEW WEB SERIES ‘BAZZOOKA’ CHECK IT OUT AND CATCH OUR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
By Nathan Leigh
January 22, 2021
“Seattle is burning, bitch.”
Danny Denial is increasingly one of those artists where it doesn’t matter what they do, we’re intrigued. The filmmaker-musician-producer-actor has been constantly pushing boundaries since their 2018 visual EP DEATHHEADS U.S.A. BAZZOOKA is their most ambitious to date, an omni-genre sprawling narrative that brings together some of the best talent in the Seattle scene and beyond including Danny, Eva Walker of The Black Tones, and Beverly Crusher’s Cozell Wilson. Oh and the soundtrack is EPIC. Stream the first episode below. New ones will be released every week through the Spring.
What motivated you to get BAZZOOKA off the ground?
BAZZOOKA has been something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. The concept of a politically-charged BIPOC-powered series with an all-black soundtrack that intersects music, film and drag, has always been the dream. It’s what I wanted to do in 2017, but couldn’t quite pull off (with my film Kill me to death). I think it took 2020 being the tipping point, because I’ve never felt more like WE as black artists have ever felt more like a talking point than actually represented and spoken for. And that pisses me off. So this is my way of talking back at the culture, and creating our own platform on our own terms.
It feels like each of your projects tackles a unique vantage point. How do you challenge yourself to try new storytelling angles?
I think that’s mostly because I get bored. With music, I’m always feeling limited by storytelling from a singular point of view drawn from my own very intimate, very personal experiences. I’m more interested in other people’s stories – especially others I identify with but have their own distinctly unique experience. There’s something abundant and exciting about filmmaking for that reason, it’s sprawling and it feels limitless. You never run out of stories to tell. With film I get to think outside of the box, and for that reason I’ve been inspired by BAZZOOKA on a level I never get to with my music.
Who is the cinematic icon people would be most surprised to hear you look to for inspiration?
Gregg Araki is my guy til I die, and is probably the only filmmaker I most resonate with since he approaches cinema with such a queer and punk attitude. But I don’t think anyone’s gonna be surprised to hear that, so a filmmaker I think might surprise people is Walter Hill. In working on BAZZOOKA, I rewatched The Warriors and drew a lot of the scrappy spirit from that film. I like to say this series is a little bit The Warriors, a lot of The Doom Generation and Dope, and a splash of Kim Possible.
How did your push to have BIPOC talent in front of and behind the camera impact the story and the way you told it?
It made the entire production experience feel wholly authentic and organic. As ambitious as it was to make, BAZZOOKA felt so effortless once cameras started rolling. It just felt like we were on a roll, and I’ve never worked in that kind of flow. We were always fearing for the worst– our shoot intersecting with riots, production delays, anxiety around the election, etc, but nothing went catastrophically wrong. We turned it out. I think that’s just a testament to how we as artists of color empower each other, and make shit happen when we come together.
What are the challenges of making a film during a pandemic?
Safety was my biggest concern from outset, and for a while I thought shooting in 2020 was going to be impossible. We spent almost a month over Zoom making a plan for a COVID-safe shoot. I tried to incorporate the idea of masks and government surveillance in the script to employ a number of masked scenes, but it really came down to enforcing PPE, temperature checks, tests, and limiting the number of people physically together. We eventually had to shut down production around Thanksgiving when WA film laws adjusted to the second lockdown, and we haven’t resumed since then. I want to finish the last two episodes we have left, but at this point we’re making the call to wait until the science is more on our side. I’m proud of what we accomplished and how diligent we were with on-set safety, but don’t want to take any risks while cases are spiking again.
What kind of safety precautions did you have to take on set?
It became clear off the bat that, aside from the core band BAZZOOKA, we wouldn’t be able to have a lot of guest stars and cameos shoot together at all. A lot of those were green screened and done virtually. And the band shots of the core five cast members, we shot a lot in singles (the on-camera talent unmasked, the off-camera talent masked, and vice-versa). Our one group band shot in Episode 3 we shot as a composite of three different takes, where one actor was unmasked at a time, and then we cut them together. On-set, we had our COVID Safety Officer running thermometers, enforcing masks/visors and followed production rules by the book. We worked really hard to create our desired aesthetic while following the rules and creating a safe environment for our cast and crew– that in itself was probably the hardest and most stressful thing I’ve ever had to do.
Were there any unexpected creative opportunities they opened up?
Well, shooting in the way we did – primarily in singles, cheating closeness where actors were actually quite spread apart – created a strangely warm and intimate feel to a lot of the visuals, which I think distinguishes it from my other projects (which heavily rely on chaos and crowds). It brought you pretty up close and personal with all of the characters, on both sides. The extreme closeups of Eva’s Gab and Andrea Hays’ Mayor Jan are some of my favorite shots I’ve ever gotten, and I don’t think I would have made those choices pre-pandemic.
What do you expect to carry with you to future projects post-pandemic?
It’s hard to tell. To be candid, I’ve never felt as fatigued as I feel after one year of continuing to do music and film through the pandemic. It’s always been hard work, but doing it under the “new normal” might not be the most sustainable for the artist’s psyche. I’m hoping to wrap up BAZZOOKA’s last episodes before the summer, but I find myself looking for ways to adapt beyond that and find ways to operate within my means. I have a graphic novel I’ve been working on virtually with an artist R.J. Crow that’s flexing a whole new muscle for myself, so I’ll definitely be staying busy. But I might need to show some restraint with my more ambitious projects for a few years. There’s definitely some needing to accept the things I cannot change in that regard.
Music is obviously so integral to your work, how did you go about curating the soundtrack?
The soundtrack is my favorite part of this! Similar to Gregg Araki, music is like its own character in my filmmaking. Ex-Florist’s “.925” was a track that dropped around the time I was writing the script and suddenly, I could SEE the script, it was incredible. I was so moved by it that I wrote in Ex-Florist (F.K.A. Guayaba) as their own character, kind of like the Log Lady of BAZZOOKA. Then there’s so many artists I’ve gotten to connect with over the years who are incredible BIPOC musicians like The OBGMs, Troi Irons, King YoungBlood, Black Ends and DoNormaal and I am such a fan of them all. I was humbled that they were interested in the project and contributed, because in so many ways it’s really these artists that inspired BAZZOOKA as a concept.
Get more from Danny Denial on Instagram @fuckdannydenial