Interview with BUFF filmmaker Drew Tobia

seeyounextuesdayBUFF shouldn’t just stand for the Boston Underground Film Festival. It should also be an acronym for bizarre, unconventional, fearless, and filterless because those are the types of films the festival delivers, which started yesterday and ends on Monday, March 31.

It all started as an overnight movie-marathon in ‘98. Now, celebrating 15 years, it’s become a highly anticipated cinematic must-see of over-the-top flicks. The fun part? The best project is awarded a devilish, vibrating bunny trophy (not a joke), better known as the Bacchus Award. The more offensive, the better your chances.

This year’s lineup includes plots from ruthless child’s play with heavy weapons, to “big ass” spiders terrorizing cities. But among the five features and 10 shorts, Scout Cambridge  was able to catch up with Drew Tobia, one of the filmmakers who will be showcasing his 82-minute comedic drama 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 29 at the Brattle Theatre. The flick is called “See You Next Tuesday.”

This isn’t Tobia’s first time showing face at BUFF. “I love the people at BUFF,” he admits. “They have good taste and are playing a lot of really good movies this year, and I’m happy to be part of their lineup.”

Previous shorts like “LEPERFUCK” (a movie about a woman who’s put in a position where she has to mate with a leper) and “Stupid Junkie Faggot” (a short about a queer heroin addict roaming the streets for drugs) premiered years ago, but he says those ideas weren’t working for him and his partner.

Until “See You Next Tuesday,” which critic Bryan McKay calls his “richest creative vision to date.” The film follows Mona, a pregnant, mentally unstable character who’s always in her highlighter orange coat. With a dysfunctional family and no love shown from her “hoochie mama” co-workers, Mona draws her mother, sister, and anybody who happens to get caught in her wake into her downward spiral as she drifts further from reality. Misery does love company.

Like the film, the conversation with Tobia was also unconventional (via e-mail and text messaging). Tobia shares more details about SYNT, and other tidbits that proves he can get away with making BUFF-worthy movies.


What was your inspiration for SYNT? Was this dysfunctional type of family something you personally witnessed?
It was actually really weird because I had been totally stagnant for a really long time and was stuck for ideas. All my short movies were gross and I guess going for a sort of shock value, even when I was trying to make characters people would like and maybe even empathize with.

Then I started thinking about family, relationships, where I was in my life and [SYNT] just kind of happened naturally. I specifically wanted to avoid going for any kind of shock value but have that kind of energy radiating in the background, like these characters are holding it together but they’re all just ready to burst at any moment, especially Mona, and that was the challenge in writing it, that I was sublimating my base instincts (for the most part, anyway. Apparently, tame for me is still pretty abrasive for others).

Characters like Mona, her mother and/or the “hoochie mamas”… Do you have some of those characters in your own life?
I wrote the movie when I was living in Brooklyn, so I wanted to touch upon a lot of characters that were like people I met or knew or saw around a lot. A lot actually ended up getting cut out, but I love those hoochie mamas. Those girls that came in to do those parts were so good, they made me laugh really hard, and were so perfect at being Mona’s main foils while still being funny.

Mona and her mom, you know, you see people walking around in the city and you’re like, “who are you? What planet are you from? What is your life?” and that’s what I wanted to see. Then you have Mona’s sister Jordan and Jordan’s girlfriend Sylve trying to distance themselves from that crazy and they live in a different Brooklyn, the very fun, young, artist Brooklyn, trying to avoid “those kinds of people.” But yeah, I feel like I know all these people. If you live in any city, you’ll see a lot of different people that wouldn’t normally be part of your world.

How would you describe your movie style. What do you want your audience to know you for?
Interesting, relatable characters that you don’t always agree with but can always empathize with and enjoy watching, brought to life by great performances and just a hint of the transgressive. Hopefully, you’re laughing a decent amount too.

What’s the viewer suppose to glean from the film?
I just hope they like it, see something in this weird family that reminds them of their own, see a character that reminds them of somebody they know, laugh, cry and then tell all their friends.

Having lived in Davis Square for a year, what are some of your favorite memories?
That was only like four or five years ago. I would hang out and go to a lot of house shows and make really weird photos and “video art” (I use that term so incredibly loosely) with my friends. I knew some people that participated in that boom thing, which I loved. Was it called boom? Are they still doing that? I saw a lot of movies at the movie theater. For some reason I just always remember it being covered with snow. I remember walking around with a toothache for way too long before I finally relented and went to a dentist who really liked my shoes. I liked that the bodega I went to was owned by this family and nobody ever seemed to be there alone, one of the kids or the husband and wife would be there, so their shifts wouldn’t be so boring. I also liked that they sold doo-rags, but I can’t remember ever seeing anybody in Davis wearing a doo-rag. I had a lot of fun memories there, and I’m actually embarrassed that a decent amount of them involved “Mario” and “Lost,” but whatever, it was cold out, OK?

Who are some of your role models?
In high school, I couldn’t have survived without John Waters. I met Mink Stole once and told her that I think there was a full year where I got high and watched Pink Flamingos just about every other day, and she asked me, “Are you better now?” Lately, I’m really bummed that Enlightened got canceled, because I love Mike White.

Name some quirky facts about yourself/guilty pleasures.
I’ve probably seen every episode of “Buffy” (the vampire slayer) like eight times. I have never been pregnant. My favorite Spice Girl is Ginger. I used to have weird sexual feelings whenever I’d watch the TV show “Wings,” so I never watched the TV show “Wings.” Sometimes I pretend that I’m a vegetarian because I really like Morrissey, but I literally just ate a pot roast (it’s Passover, gimme a break, am I NOT gonna eat my grandma’s pot roast?). I own a flashlight but haven’t used it in about a year. I tell people more things than they’d probably like to hear. Sorry…

Outside of filmmaking, what’s a normal day like for Drew Tobia?
I live next to a mountain so I can go walking on the mountain and bring my notebook up there and not write anything in it when I get to the top, despite my best intentions. I’ve been reading Anna Karenina for like over two months now because that book is really long and cuddling on the couch with my roommate’s cat, Jordan Catalane. I’ve been helping my friends work on other films and music videos, doing some video editing, which is all nice work and I get to meet a lot of different people and be part of cool projects. But mostly I’ve been trying to get this movie out there while trying to write something new, because making See You Next Tuesday was one of the most challenging but most happy times of my life. I just want to be doing that every day. –Angeline Vo

Filmmaker Drew Tobia will be at the premiere of “See You Next Tuesday” 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 29 at The Brattle Theatre, 40 Brattle St. Click here for the lowdown.