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Kevin and Matthew McManus

The writing/directing sibling duo talk to Screen about the making of their debut feature Funeral Kings, which received its international premiere at the Fantasia International Film Festival.

Developed from their own short, Funeral Kings marks writer/director sibling duo Kevin and Matthew McManus’ feature film debut.

Telling the story of two altar boys Andy and Charlie who try to turn new altar boy David onto the right, rebellious track, Funeral Kings is a hilarious and affecting coming of age comedy, featuring excellent, profanity-spewing turns from the young leads.

Having received its world premiere at this year’s SXSW, Funeral Kings received its international premiere on Sunday (22) at Fantasia International Film Festival, where Screen caught up with the McManus brothers to find out more.

Can you tell us a bit about how the project came together?

Matthew: It’s based on a short film we did and the short film was based on a story my Dad told me. He was telling us he used to be an altar server and used to cut class after he’d served a funeral which we thought was hilarious. He always went out and did something harmless [like] he went out to get a doughnut.

Kevin: He’d be gone for like 15 minutes and then he’d be back, so we decided to make the story and put it with these kids which are a little bit more delinquent, in a charming and mischievous way. We ran with it having the troublemakers in school being these sweet kids who used to serve in funerals.

Was developing the script from your short a long process?

M: It took a while, the revisions mostly. The first draft was like a month of actual writing, but outlining was a few months before that. Actually, we made changes the day before we started shooting. We had a readthrough with the kids and thinking this doesn’t feel like it works yet.

K: I remember we’d just got all the kids in from New York and we had this readthrough, just the three of them and when it was over, we looked at each other and thought we need to fix some things here about the story.

M: So the next day we told our AD “hey, we added a scene and we switched this other one”. She was like “are you kidding me?”

K: But it ended up working out better for it. It’s a way better movie, just a small tweak that really helped.

How did you go about casting the young leads? Were they all first-time actors?

K: It’s a little bit of both. We auditioned tons of places: in Rhode Island where we shot, Boston, LA and finally found most of them from New York. Some of them have stuff under their belt and some guys have been acting a lot but haven’t had big breaks yet.

M: And now they’re all doing a bunch of stuff. Alex is a voice in a cartoon show; Dylan is in a movie with Joaquin Phoenix. They’re all started to do really well now which is nice to see.

And how was the whole process of making your first feature? Was there anything you wish you knew going in beforehand?

K: I think there’s a lot of things that, although you try to prepare yourself as much as possible on the whole process, it’s one of those things that when you finally get all the way through the movie, you’re like ok, now I know exactly how I might do this to make the backend a little bit easier.

M: It was mostly logistics in post-production that I was surprised about – “Oh, we’ve got to do that?” We didn’t worry about that stuff for shorts. I’m glad I know that stuff now and it’ll be a lot easier in the second one, no doubt about it.

Any particular lessons?

M: Don’t give kids doughnuts every day.

K: We got like 5 dozen free doughnuts from a local shop.

M: Every day they’d drop them off and we’d be like “oh great!” First day, everybody’s eating doughnuts, second day everybody in the crew goes “I don’t want to see another doughnut for the rest of my life”. But they were all still getting eaten and we’d talk to everybody and they’d say they haven’t had any. It was the kids; they were jumping off the walls, five/six doughnuts every day, losing their minds and crashing. One of their mums came up to us and said I think you might be having an issue with the doughnuts. As soon as we’d got rid of them, all the actors were even-tempered for the rest of the shoot.

K: Having said that, the doughnut place is great, for the record.

Is there a particular role, be it the writing or the directing, that one of you takes the lead in?

M: We pretty much collaborate strongly in everything. Like with writing, we outline together the whole way through and then one guy will write a scene, the other guy will go in and fix that scene and write the next scene. We try to be as honest with each other as possible. When it comes to directing, it’s kind of the same thing. We’ll put the monitor far away from the actors so we can either look at each other and we’ll know something went wrong, or talk to each other and then one of us would go up to talk to the actors, so that they aren’t getting two different directions from either side of us.

Can you see yourself always working together?

M: We work really well together and I think the nice thing is I’ll write a scene and then get writer’s block on the next one, so I can say “Kev, can you come in and work on this”. Then he’ll write something and I’ll read something and wish that I’d wrote that.

K: It’s good, we up each other every once in a while, especially with that writer’s fatigue where you just can’t work out how to make something interesting and the other comes in to pick you up. We write short stories separately which is fun, but it’s the same thing. It’s like we’re kind of competing with each other and we want to write something a little bit better.

Finally, what’s next up for the McManus brothers?

M: We’re bouncing around some ideas. We’ve written two pilots, actually more than that. Since we were done with Funeral Kings, we’ve been working on those and waiting for someone to take them off the ground. We’re trying to figure out which feature will be next, outlining here and there and seeing which one would be the best fit for the next one.

K: I cannot wait to get back on set and do something.

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