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SxSW 2016 Interview: THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK director Joel Potrykus

by Jason Whyte

"Young outcast Sean has isolated himself in a trailer in the woods, setting out on alchemic pursuits, with his cat Kaspar as his sole companion. Filled with disdain for authority, he’s fled the daily grind and holed up in the wilderness, escaping a society that has no place for him. But when he turns from chemistry to black magic to crack natures' secret, things go awry and he awakens something far more sinister and dangerous. [That is] the synopsis on the SXSW website, but if I were drop it direct, I'd call it a Folk Tale from the Crypt. We're telling the story of a hermit messing with alchemy but no old wizards with long white beards. None of that garbage." Director Joel Portrykus on THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK which screens at the 2016 edition of South By Southwest Film.

We have met several times before, both at the Vancouver International Film Festival as well more recently at SxSW 2014 with your film BUZZARD. I have always loved connecting with you at festivals and supporting your work. What are you looking forward to the most about showing THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK in Austin?

I keep hearing about Austin's tacos, but I have yet to find them. I continue to look forward to that search. Where are the taco trucks? Other than tacos, the constant hangover is always a blast.

Your favorite drink/place to hang out while in Austin?

It used to be Casino El Camino but then I stopped eating meat. Damn shame. I'll be back there, but will skip the burger this time. It's a good place to hide out.

After completing your Animal Trilogy after BUZZARD, APE and COYOTE, how is THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK different from your previous work? Where are you heading from here?

Cookbook is the chance to start over and move passed the 'angry white boy slacker' tag. No more dirty urban streets, no more video games, no more white boys. Though, as much as I was trying to do something completely different, people still see my mark all over it. Which is something I embrace. I make movies the way I make movies.

Tell me about the filming process on ALCHEMIST. What was the preparation and filming process like for you?

This is the biggest budget I have ever had and it felt like a real set. There was an art department, hair and make-up, even craft services. It was great. It still felt like a bunch of friends goofing around in the name of art, but we just had money to spend this time around.

I always love how you work with your actors, like with Joshua Burge in BUZZARD in that infamous scene where we watch him eat spaghetti for several minutes. What was it like working with your acting talent in this film?

We tracked down Ty Hickson after seeing GIMME THE LOOT and Amari Cheatom after watching NEWLYWEEDS. I just want actors who don't look like they are acting. Ty is also a musician, so he has rhythm. Joshua is a musician and it's by far the most important trait an actor can have for my movies...rhythm. Ty and I found our language once I told him that we were just playing jazz. We knew all the notes, but decided to play them however we wanted. There's some killer jazz acting in this movie. I normally let the camera just roll and give the actor freedom to mess around. The best moments in BUZZARD and THE ALCHEMIST COOKBOOK were not scripted. There were found in the moment. Sloppy eating needs to just happen. You can't write that good shit.

Tell me about the visual design of the movie and working with Adam J. Minnick, your cinematographer.

Adam is one of my all-time best friends, going back to high school. We understand each other and set out to make the same movie. We watch the same movies before we roll and talk a ton about colors and design. Cookbook was to look dead, but with hints of gold and fire. We found those colors in Michigan. I trust Adam's eye completely. Having a cinematographer you can trust is killer.

Would you say you had a particular “style” to your filmmaking? I have noticed long takes in your previous movies and attention to detail in performances.

Like I said, I love to let the camera roll and watch the actors goof around and get crazy. We rehearse and know everything important that needs to be said and done, then throw the script out the day of the shoot. We're not building a skyscraper with a blueprint like big budget films are forced to do often. As cheesy as it may sound, we're making a little shack out in the woods, held together by imagination. I have no interest in following my own plans.

I admire the success you have had with your previous films. After this movie shows in Austin, where is it going to show next? Any dream festivals or theaters you want to show it in?

Not even sure when we head to next. The Detroit Film Theater inside the Detroit Institute of Arts is unreal. Still have yet to see my work on that big screen.

Aside from SxSW, how many film festivals have you traveled to, and which one would you say stands out the most?

I have traveled to more festivals than I could ever remember. Maryland Film Festival is one of the most filmmaker-friendly festivals. At times it feels like a secret society of film superheroes. Locarno Film Festival will always feel like home. It's wear I got my start. Cinetopia in Michigan is killing it right now. Most filmmakers haven't discovered it yet. That will change.

Name the one filmmaker or actor you would love to work with down the road, even if money was no object.

I just want to stand behind the Dardenne Brothers and see how they pull it off. Same with Jim Jarmusch.

What has been the best compliment anyone has said to you about your work?

I'm not even sure it was a compliment, but a critic for the Seattle Times said Buzzard was "caught between Beavis and Butt-head and Andy Warhol." I couldn't've said it better myself.

You know what annoys me? People misbehaving in cinemas, whether it’s talking, texting or being rude, at either a film fest or regular screening. What would you say to someone who was being a jerk at a screening of your movie?

Trust me, I literally had my life threatened during a screening of ENTOURAGE in my home town of Grand Rapids after telling someone to shut the eff up. I have no problem causing a ruckus if someone's bugging me in a theater, especially if my own movie was playing. My girlfriend is the peacemaker and keeps me on lock down.

And finally, how awesome is South By Southwest?

Mega awesome. Can't wait to tear that town up once again.

We hope you enjoyed this SxSW filmmaker interview as part of our coverage of SxSW 2016. To see the entire series click on the Live Report sidebar on your right. We will have interviews posted all throughout the festival so be sure to visit us often for more coverage!

This is one of the many films screening at the 2016 SXSW in Austin, Texas taking place March 11-19. For more information on this film screening times, point your browser to or use the SxSW GO App for Android and iOS.

Jason Whyte,
Twitter: @jasonwhyte / Facebook: jasonwhyte / Instagram: jason.whyte

link directly to this feature at
originally posted: 03/11/16 04:24:29
last updated: 03/11/16 04:27:58
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