Hello Interwebs! Today I offer a behind-the-scenes exclusive on the stories and creative process behind TPM’s YouTube short Why So Curious. This is perhaps our strangest project to date as a company (and we’re the same guys who created Seagull-Man), so you probably have some questions. But before you read on, I have to ask: Why So Curious?
Warning: Spoilers for Why So Curious? Ahead if You Don’t Watch the Video
Why So Curious? Behind-the-Scenes Stories
Thought Plane Media was in a strange era of its history when we created WSC. In many ways, we’re still in that period. This was a time when our crew almost never got together for filming. And on the rare occasion we did, it was always for something big like Planet of the Beavers which couldn’t be released for a long time. The day we filmed Why So Curious? was, to my memory, our first all-hands-on-deck shooting day in nearly a year! We actually completed multiple “reshoots” for Planet of the Beavers 3 and Why So Curious? in the one afternoon/ evening.
PoB may have been our main focus that day, but WSC was the project everyone was more excited to film. See, TPM hadn’t produced anything that could actually go on our YouTube channel in a while! This short was a refreshing change of pace for the team because, for once, we produced something which could be completed quickly. Sometimes our crew gets emotionally drained at the very thought of our production timeline. There’s even been times when we question the point of making content, considering our efforts frequently end up trapped on an editing computer, never to be seen (for various reasons)… WSC was a rejuvenating jolt of validation for our work. It was like: “You mean we can film something and have it come out within a few weeks? Wow. It’s possible! Our work isn’t for nothing.”
Why So Curious was an idea I’d come up with a few months prior to our shoot. I saw it as somewhat experimental for Justin, Matteo, and I as filmmakers. There was a darkly comedic, unsettling tone to the project which we’d never attempted before. I was particularly excited to attempt a story of misdirection where the camera never moved. I’ll get more into the logistics of this later. Suffice it to say for now we were playing with new narrative and storytelling techniques. Did the final product come together as intended? Sort of. I’m not entirely convinced our approach worked, but I’m glad we tried. Where’s the fun in filmmaking if you never challenge yourself?
After beginning the day with some new PoB scenes (which have yet to be released), our crew visited some stores and picked out various pieces for Matteo’s Batman outfit. Yes– WSC was so impromptu we built the Batman costume on set. Getting that cowl right was terribly difficult for us! We couldn’t do it in our Batman 1966 video, and we couldn’t do it this time either… So we cheated and just used a mask.
For anyone wondering why we didn’t use the same costume as in the B66 short, we tore that costume apart and scattered the pieces amongst our crew years ago. There was no hope of discovering the whole thing that day. Besides, we preferred the Michael Keaton inspired Batsuit for this dark and atmospheric project rather than the light grey outfit from the Adam West adaptation.
Creating that Joker look was another last-minute design. Matteo’s girlfriend thankfully bailed us out here! I believe this was TPM’s first attempt at a makeup job, and none of us guys knew what we were doing. We didn’t even have any actual makeup on hand, so we had to improvise. Matteo’s girlfriend (I don’t want to share her name in case she’s opposed) knew just how to apply cooking flour on Justin’s face to create a smooth, makeup-like effect. I then uncovered an old tube of my mother’s lipstick and Matteo’s GF applied that famous red smile to Justin’s lips. I’m glad we had her around that day because, otherwise, the Joker reveal may have looked ridiculous. She did a fantastic job for the limited supplies we gave her. My only gripe with the ultimate product is that we couldn’t pull off Joker’s iconic green hair. Justin’s long blond locks had to do.
After the shoot, we grabbed dinner at a local pizza place. Justin was still in full Joker make-up and jump-suit… You know what? That’s just how these things go at TPM. It’s not the first time we’ve randomly walked into places wearing costumes. Won’t be the last. I guarantee.
One of the best things about this film, from a technical stand-point, is that we got to try out Foley work (and other more complicated audio editing). For those not accustomed to the lingo: Foley is when filmmakers record sounds/ audio separately and put them in films later because we didn’t/ couldn’t record them on set. As I said earlier: we like to challenge ourselves and try new things with every film we create. Maybe we could have pulled off the audio effects more convincingly somehow, but hey, we’ll improve with time.
Here’s a few other behind-the-scenes tidbits: 1) we intentionally colour-graded this film to look like a Zack Snyder movie. Considering the story was set in Arkham Asylum, his grim DC film tone seemed appropriate inspiration. Snyder’s work often features a muted and somewhat grey-looking palate, yet with strong reds in particular.
2) Justin performed the voice of the gagged woman.
3) Justin’s Joker laugh still gives me nightmares sometimes. I think he nailed it!
Why So Curious Narrative/ Filmmaking Analysis
Why So Curious operates on a simple matter of misdirection: get the audience to question the mystery behind the door so they ignore the suspicious behaviour of the guy right in front of them. The short lives or dies on this premise. It’s like any magic trick: your attention is led one way so you miss what’s really happening. And, just like with a magic trick performed on a stage, the perspective of our audience is limited to one position for almost the entire show. We deprived ourselves of simple filmmaking techniques like moving the camera (for most of the short) because we wanted to attempt an in-camera illusion of sorts.
NOTE: Personally, I believe we could have handled our misdirect better. There was a certain lack of subtlety to Justin’s suspicious behaviour. It wasn’t his performance so much as the script. That’s on me. Once again, I think of all these things as a learning experience.
The first step to our misdirection: atmosphere. Right away we’re met with harsh, unflattering lighting, muted colour-grading, drilling sounds, and the distorted, ambient noise of people talking. Something feels off about this setting before our two leads even exchange words. The unsettling atmosphere is further created by the identical jump suits my and Justin’s characters are wearing. Some of you might have related our costumes to prison uniforms straight away, if only unconsciously. With all these elements taken together, you’re intended to question what this place is, what these people are doing there and, most importantly, what’s happening behind that door? Even before you know something is happening behind it for sure, we are always watching the thing. It’s only natural to be curious.
We then drop more clues: my character is obviously lying about his actions from the first words he utters. He’s also caught screaming at somebody. One of the times the door opens, we can even hear someone yelling desperately in the background. Ultimately, he comes out of the room with a bloody knife, intensely stares down Justin’s character, and all but reveals himself as a cold-blooded murderer.
Justin’s character is also meant to be suspicious, with all his seemingly random pass-by’s, the things he keeps carrying, and his relatively cold composure when faced with an obvious hostage situation. However, you, like him, are hopefully more drawn towards what’s happening behind the door. And maybe you’re even wondering if Justin will interfere in any meaningful way. After all, he seems to care enough that he keeps asking questions every time he hears something bad. Of course he’s definitely got some weird situation of his own going on. As we later find out, he’s actually the Joker, and this is set in Arkham Asylum. Beyond the fact Justin is the Joker, the real misdirect of WSC is supposed to be the fact that, not only was Justin’s character doing something weird, he’s even more evil than the other guy, though he comes off as relatively normal (at first).
If you’re paying attention, Justin’s character becomes more Joker-like as the film goes. The first hint is his voice. Though not obvious at first, Justin’s vocal performance is distinctly similar to Heath Ledger’s famous interpretation of the Clown Prince of Crime. Like the link between jump suits and prison, you’re supposed to feel a sense of familiarity the first time I utter the phrase “Why so curious?” Of course this sounds a lot like Joker’s famous “Why So Serious?” line from The Dark Knight. If Justin had said the line with his vague Joker-voice any earlier than the end, the connection would have been too obvious. But the phrase was intended to form just strong enough a remembrance to old Batman movies that you begin to associate my character with villainy.
The weapons Joker carries are a major clue to his real identity. First he walks with a rope: an innocent enough thing to carry around, and something which shouldn’t grab too much attention. Next: a pair of cutters. Why would someone need a rope and cutters? By this point, you ought to assume Justin isn’t a maintenance worker, or anything of the sort. Maybe you even suspect (rightly) that they’re for torture. Finally, Justin carries in a crow-bar: a tool strongly associated with the Joker as a murder weapon (because of the famous Death in the Family comic book: a classic story of the Batman mythos). By this point the pretense is dropped and you realize Justin’s character is almost assuredly insane, like the man behind the door.
So what’s going on in this story anyway? There’s a bit of ambiguity on the proceedings, but this is how I imagine it: The Joker causes a prison break at Arkham Asylum (the hint he’s at fault comes from Batman, who asks what the Joker is “planning”). Something to do with the planning of this thing required Joker to wear makeup and look like a regular person. Batman arrives to stop the chaos, but Joker knocks him unconscious. Joker binds Batman, then discovers a rope nearby he can use for further insurance.
But, on his return to Batman, Joker hears drilling from behind a closed door. Joker can’t help his curiosity. Drilling is probably an uncommon noise at the Asylum, especially during a riot. He knocks on the door (he finds irony in being polite with chaos around him) and finds a prisoner on the other side. Joker genuinely wonders why a prisoner is using a drill, but he assumes the guy simply found one. Joker quickly loses interest in the man, so he leaves to find a torture weapon.
Returning with cutters, Joker hears muffled screaming behind the door: “Gonna have to gag you! Stupid little- Gonna have to gag you harder.” This reignites his curiosity, so he bothers the man again. Joker is convinced there’s a prisoner inside– possibly the warden, or some poor nurse/ doctor. The man is a terrible liar, but Joker finds the man’s act amusing, so he goes along with it. Joker then drops his cutters off in the room with Batman.
Coming back with one last weapon, probably as an excuse to eavesdrop on the man, Joker hears an obvious murder behind the door. He decides to have a little more fun. This time the man holds a bloody knife but he still denies what he’s doing. The man’s sheer commitment to an utterly unbelievable story causes Joker to break character and have a good laugh at the man’s expense. The man doesn’t comprehend that Joker is on to him. He may suspect, for an instant –hence the hard stare– but is relieved when Joker leaves. Joker is never worried once, because he does not consider this man a threat.
Joker apologies to Batman for all his comings-and-goings. Batman, unamused as ever, bluntly asks the Joker what he’s planning, to which Joker replies “why so curious?” Batman won’t get the joke but, to Joker, it’s a great punchline. Thinking on the other man’s blatant lies once more, Joker is overcome with a fit of laughter.
See? It’s actually supposed to be a dark comedy! People are often rightly confused by the point of this skit, but watch it again with this perspective in mind: the Joker is just messing with somebody. You might look at it a whole new way. Or maybe not. To each their own.
What did you take away from Why So Curious the first time you saw it? Should TPM do more experimental shorts (maybe not always so dark)? If you have any ideas for future articles, or any questions, let me know. Also be sure to Like this article on Facebook and share if you enjoyed!
Till next time