I’ve been bowling since I was a kid. But the idea of a professional bowler always seemed ridiculous to me. You roll the ball down the lane and knock some pins over. How could anyone get paid for that?
The archetypal bowler in my mind was always Bill Murray as Ernie McCracken in Kingpin. Even though Ernie’s a fictional character, I know there are crazier people out there than him. Kingpin must have influenced director Sean Dunne, because he went out and found a real-life weirdo who's more nuts, philandering, and balding than Ernie on his wildest day.
Rocky Salemmo is the star of Dunne’s short documentary The Bowler, but it’s his hustling, hooking, and failures that take center stage. It’s hard to believe that this greasy sleezebag he has no qualms owning up to his failures. Watching Rocky cruise through his days talking about backroom blowjobs and ditching debts by sneaking out of bathroom windows is deceptively charming. The guy is the definition of scumbag. But at the same time, you have to respect his hustle.
Sean Dunne is a New York based documentary filmmaker with a number of award-winning shorts under his belt including American Juggalos, The Archive, and others. His first feature documentary Oxyana premiered at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, where he won Best New Director and garnered a special jury mention for the film. Oxyana depicts the scourge of Oxycontin on a small West Virginia mining town. It’s a fucked and an incredibly powerful portrait of the failures of the American Dream. Watch that film at Oxyana.com starting July 1st. More of Sean’s work can be seen at Very Ape Productions.
I caught up with Sean and asked him a few questions about The Bowler and his creative process. Check it out below.
VICE: All of your documentaries follow peculiar, but emblematic American characters including Juggalos, a record collector, musicians, druggies, etc… What's your process for finding your subjects?
Sean Dunne: It varies from film to film. I'm drawn to a certain type of stripped down honesty that seems to be more plentiful on the fringes of society. So if there were a process, it starts with simply opening myself up to the world, going outside my comfort zone, and just listening. For me, that's when the most inspirational stuff happens. If something or someone captures my attention and the ideas start flowing, then I'll come back with the camera. It's natural. I wouldn't want to force that part.
How do you get these people to open up to you, especially as a white New York filmmaker who maybe isn't in with any of the crowds you depict?
We keep a really mellow vibe when we're shooting, we don't really make a big deal about it or go out of our way to make our subjects feel they are under the microscope. It's a casual and simple approach and my subjects seem to respond well to that. I learned a lot from listening to Howard Stern. The way he interviews people really intrigued and influenced me. It's a give and take. If you want people to open up you have to earn it, not expect it. How long did you hang out with Rocky before you knew you could find a compelling story in him?
It was love at first sight. I had this idea for a short doc called The Bowler about the type of dude I used to see at the bowling alley where I grew up. I had a pretty fleshed out vision for what I wanted it to look like and feel like, but I didn't have my subject. As a total shot in the dark, I put word out to a few people that I was looking for one of these old school, New York, Bowling Alley rats. A couple weeks later I got a call from my boy Stone Roberts saying that he had hired a limo driver to take his friends to a concert and the driver wouldn't shut the fuck up about all his bowling exploits. Seemed about right. We arranged to meet at The Gutter in Williamsburg a couple days later. The second Rocky walked in the door I knew we had our guy. We partied hard that night and he hustled my ass for $100 in bowling. We shot the film a week later.
Is there a story you wish you could've told, but couldn't get the access?
Rocky was an open book. His only concerns were that the IRS would come after him for talking about how much money he had won. It struck me as advanced thinking for someone who doesn't really concern himself with consequences. While making Oxyana we had a good lead on an interview with a police officer that we understood was struggling with prescription pill abuse. It would have been a courageous and potentially career threatening move for him to speak to us, so I suppose he thought better of it. I really wanted that one. Unfortunately, down in southern West Virginia, we didn't have to look far to find a story equally as harrowing and compelling.
What are you working on now?
We are entering into the world of online sex shows and the women who make their livings performing them. It's called Cam Girlz. We're shooting that now. It's a fascinating online subculture that offers so many insights into real world issues like sex, empowerment, exploitation, independence, morality, and vibrator preference.
Jeffrey Bowers is a tall mustached guy from Ohio who's seen too many weird movies. He currently lives in Brooklyn, working as an art and film curator. He is a programmer at the Hamptons International Film Festival and screens for the Tribeca Film Festival. He also self-publishes a super fancy mixed-media art serial called PRISM index. @PRISMindex Previously - I'm Short, Not Stupid Presents: 'Boobie'