Climate change awareness is delivered through vintage VHS porn stylings in the short film Hot Winter: A Film by Dick Pierre, by Jack Henry Robbins. Robbins (who also directed Ghostmates and a mockumentary about amateur DJs, Ultimate Ultimate, out now on Funny Or Die) shared intimate details about shooting porn with no sex, the importance of comedy, and following one’s weirdest parts.
How did you first get the idea for Hot Winter?
To be honest, I’ve been obsessed with VHS for awhile. I think VHS has the most amazing comedic potential. Some of my biggest inspirations are Tim and Eric from “Adult Swim,” absurd comedy like that. A few years ago, I did a music video on VHS and loved it. And then, we wanted to do something a little longer form. There are certain things from that time that only existed on this format. Like televangelists. Aerobics videos. And one of the things was porn. So I was like, ‘OK, well, that’s funny.’ Me and my writing partner [Nunzio Radazzo], who plays Dr. Manly, were like, ‘OK, so we’re going to do a porno,’ but the only problem was obviously, we can’t do sex… So we thought, ‘What if we did a conscious porno, the first porno to talk about a serious issue,’ and the first thing we thought about was global warming because it’s one of our most pressing issues, and it also has to do with heat, it just fits perfectly.
The actors seem to be having fun. As a director, how did you guide them?
A good example is when Rico comes. That actor [Cameron Simmons], in between takes, he was like, ‘Are you sure this is OK?’ I was like, ‘Yeah dude, it’s perfect.’ He was just following the silliest, weirdest parts of himself and that’s always what I try to encourage on set. I usually do long takes where we’re constantly keeping the energy going. There’s usually a lot of improv in my films, and there was very little improv because I think the script was so funny.
That approach must bring a certain creative freedom, as opposed to, say, always trying to be perfect.
VHS is very freeing, especially this project. For example, there was this one shot where one of our crew members was in the background, and the boom would sneak into the shot and it ended up part of the project… On a porn set they probably had one take. You kind of have to go into the form of it.
It’s interesting that some audiences familiar with old porn can watch Hot Winter with another layer of awareness that makes it charming and funny, or even ironic. How do you find it works for other viewers?
We were at Sundance in a new environmental program called The New Climate program, there were all these really amazing documentaries and our film. So what I said is, our film is not as important as An Inconvenient Truth follow-up with Al Gore [An Inconvenient Sequel]. It’s not as important, it’s not as well done, but the thing it does have is, there might be a few people who would never turn on an Al Gore film but will watch our movie, just because they think it’s funny, or they think it’s porn in the first place! Someone who would never touch an Al Gore lefty movie would actually watch Hot Winter because it’s ridiculous. I think one of the most important things in this world is comedy, the levity we all look for. When you’re combining comedy with consciousness, I think that’s really important. And it’s absurd. It’s absurd that it’s done this well. I’m very excited to release it on a bigger scale and I hope it brings more consciousness and it’s positive, because that’s why I do what I do.
True! Why does a serious issue need to be packaged in a sombre way to be effective?
We all do need to laugh and be ridiculous sometimes. I want to do more conscious pornos, I want to do a series. It’s definitely absurd. It’s already done so much good.
How did you come up with all these great porn names?
Dr. Manly was easy. We wanted him to be a doctor and a masculine figure. In our idea he was a leading climate scientist… and a bodybuilder. Rico was just that we always saw a stereotype of a guy with long hair who delivers pizzas. But we ended up finding this guy who doesn’t look like a Rico but we thought that was really funny. Another name was Janine, Ms. Frost, we wanted a name that portrayed global warming, and that she was frosty, reserved and not really approachable. And then all the scientists are just named Scientist.
There’s a kindness to the film, a sense of positivity; Hot Winter feels almost like an unusual homage to the genre.
I never try to make something dismissive. And also the last thing I want to do is make a movie that was at all offensive towards women, which is hard when you’re making a porno. But that was something that was very conscious on my mind. I think that just came from everyone wanting to be on set and loving the idea, we were all positive… It was one of the most fun shoots ever.
And you collaborated with your dad Tim Robbins on this, he was executive producer?
Yeah, I mean, it was definitely a weird conversation. ‘Dad I’m making a porno with no sex in it.’ So far he’s made money on every single movie he’s given me money for. We’re, like, three for three at this point. I remember the first conversation I had with my mom about it was… really awkward. When you pitch a movie it’s either a good pitch or a bad pitch, and I didn’t pitch it the right way with her and she didn’t get it, so there was a really, really weird moment when my mom was wondering if I was directing a porno. But it’s just amazing, it says a lot about creativity that sometimes you’ve just got to follow the weirdest parts of yourself and they lead to great things. I mean, I got into Sundance! If you would have told me I would get into Sundance with this movie I would have laughed in your face and now I get to open for this movie I’ve heard so much about, Donald Cried.
That’s great creative advice.
I think the key is, if something makes you want to follow it, you should do it. I was really blessed that I had the freedom to get money to make this crazy idea and follow it and it’s led to so much positivity. I hope more and more people see it.
Hot Winter will be screening at the Phi Centre April 18, before Donald Cried.