Honest, authentic, surreal: An interview with ‘Brigsby Bear’ creators Kyle Mooney and Dave McCary

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They’re best friends, and they make movies together. It’s a description that can be said of many in Hollywood — Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson, Seth Rogen and James Franco, even the fictional Greg and Earl of “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Now, it’s time to welcome to the stage Kyle Mooney and Dave McCary, who turned their childhood dreams of filmmaking into a reality with the strange and sentimental film, “Brigsby Bear.”

Their creation is difficult to explain without giving too much away. Simply put, it tells the story of a man named James (Kyle Mooney) and his obsession with the television show “Brigsby Bear.” Haven’t heard of it? Neither has anyone else in the world — Brigsby Bear and his morals-filled adventures with the Smile Sisters were created exclusively for James’s viewing pleasure. When James finds out that he’s the only person who knows about the more than 700-episode series, he must figure out how to relate to a world that knows nothing about the most important part of his life.

James’ adventure into the Brigsby-less world is strange, sad and, more than anything else, heartwarming. According to director Dave McCary, that peculiar mix of emotions was intentional. “From the beginning, (we) always wanted to tell a pretty sincere story that had humorous elements,” he revealed in an interview with The Daily Californian. “We were just excited to surprise people with how honest and authentic each scene could feel, given how surreal of a concept it was.”

Surreal it is indeed: Mooney spends a good chunk of the film dressed in an animatronic bear suit, complete with a moving mouth and eyes. It seems like kid stuff, and it is — kind of. “Brigsby Bear” is, after all, a film about a collision of sorts between childhood and adulthood.

Its creators know that feeling well.

Mooney and McCary have been friends since childhood. Initially rivals for the coveted title of class clown, they ultimately found themselves the same carpool. The rest, as their fans will know know, is history: they started making movies together in high school, gained a respectable following on Youtube, and got hired by “Saturday Night Live” as a featured cast member (Mooney) and writer and segment director (McCary).

In a way, “Brigsby Bear” is a messed-up version of their own lives that plays out on screen. A lot of the movie’s substance, according to Mooney, pulls from his own interests and hobbies — “Eighties and ‘90s children’s television shows and VHS … animatronics, puppets and walkaround suits. Cartoons and all that” — props that are more the stuff of B-grade horror movies and low-budget daytime children’s television shows than anything one might expect the artsy movie circuit to find attractive.

Nightmarish or not, it’s these ghosts of childhood that inform “Brigsby Bear.” So, too, do the less troubling parts of the movie pull from the creators’ own lives. A line of Ted Mitchum’s (Mark Hamill) was inspired by Mooney’s own father. McCary and Mooney themselves were amateur filmmakers once, just as the film’s main characters are. Even the film’s more emotional scenes mirror Mooney’s own life experiences.

“I feel like we all feel like outsiders at times,” explained Mooney. “I certainly do. I think a lot about the party scene, where obviously James has never experienced anything like this, so it’s going to be incredibly foreign and weird, but I think like I and most people have experienced that even knowing what a party is.”

As much as the creators’ lives inform the film, it is nonetheless somewhat surprising to see such a tender product come from two people known for their silly humor. You might have heard of their early comedy from stoner friends in high school, who probably cracked up over the character Kyle’s bumbling stoner lingo (“Let’s box hot, dude”).

That brand of comedy makes few appearances in “Brigsby Bear,” and McCary and Mooney are aware of that. “I think a lot of people go into the film, if they don’t know anything about it, but they know who’s behind it … it’s hard to expect this heartfelt of an attempt at a movie,” McCary said.

“I think it’s a refreshing experience as an audience to watch a film that doesn’t have that much cynicism,” McCary noted. “There’s no real villain. People are just kind of treating each other pretty well, and operating out of love, and accepting someone’s differences and embracing outsiders.”

Heartbreaking and heartfelt, “Brigsby Bear” is a love letter to filmmaking and to friends. As McCary explained, “At the end of the day, Kyle’s and my experience of falling in love with filmmaking together as best friends is very much mirrored in the movie. That’s a really magical part of our journey.”

Contact Sarah Elisabeth Coduto at [email protected].