A movie centered around artistic, angsty highschool loner, suddenly confronted with a classmate suddenly diagnosed with cancer seems like a minefield of cliches waiting to happen, but Alfonso Gomez-Rejon's Sundance favorite, Me and Earl and the Dying Girl, which won both the Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize, flouts the formula with engrossing performances, heartfelt moments, and Mike Nichols-worthy characters.
In the film, socially-awkward protagonist Greg Gaines (Thomas Mann) and a friend he calls his "co-worker," Earl (RJ Cyler), make short films that string the whole film together. "The formula was, we took a film we liked, we made the title stupider, and then made a new film to reflect the new title," Gaines explains in the film. This results are gems like A Sockwork Orange (A Clockwork Orange) 2:48 P.M. Cowboy (Midnight Cowboy), Don't Look Now, Because a Creepy-Ass Dwarf Is About to Kill You!!! Damn. (Don't Look Now), and more, all of which are shot in DIY mixed-medias that would be available to a couple of broke high schoolers.
To create the rough-around-the-edges films as a love letter to the films that influenced him, Gomez-Rejon enlisted the help of young filmmakers and artists Edward Burcsh and Nathan Marsh. "I kind of re-discovered papier-mâché," Marsh tells The Creators Project. "We were trying to choose media that would be feasable for highschool students, and papier-mâché is really fun." Skateboard dollies, claymation, sock puppets, and thrift store chic costumes were their bread-and-butter as they shot masterpieces like Scabface, Senior Citizen Kane, and Eyes Wide Butt, many of which are complete short parodies of the films that inspired them. "The full cut of Breathless, or Breathe Less, is beautiful," Gomez-Rejon says. "We only show a few seconds of it, but the three-minute version is a beautiful piece."
In the featurette above, Bursch and Marsh detail some of the extremes they went to while shooting each film on a budget. Gomez-Rejon hopes Me and Earl will serve as an example of what's possible to budding filmmakers. “Don’t just go out and make something—finish it. And show it," the director says. "Sometimes starting something isn’t as hard as finishing it, and then showing it—with the fear of the rejection or success that comes with it—is hard too.”
Now, here's a full list of the stupid funny short films Marsh and Bursch made for the film:
Blue Velvet: Brew Vervet
Breathless: Breathe Less
Burden of Dreams/My Best Fiend: Burden of Screams
A Clockwork Orange: A Sockwork Orange
Contempt: Can't Tempt
Death in Venice: Death in Tennis
My Dinner with Andre: My Dinner with Andre the Giant
Don't Look Now: Don't Look Now Because A Creepy-Ass Dwarf Is About To Kill You!!!
Harold and Maude: Harry, Old, and Mod
Mean Streets: Grumpy Old Cul-de-sacs
Midnight Cowboy: 2:48 PM Cowboy
Rashomon: Mono Rash
Peeping Tom: Pooping Tom
Seconds: Second Helpings of Dinner
The Seventh Seal: The Seven Seals
The Conversation: Complete Lack of Conversation
Vertigo: Vere'd He Go?