Juliette Eisner and Andy Capper delve into the odd and adorable world of cat memes in their film Lil Bub & Friendz. The documentary provides an overview of the internet cat phenomenon, with special focus on Mike Bridavsky and his famous cat Lil Bub.
I had a chance to speak with Eisner, Capper, and Bridavsky briefly last Saturday at the Tribeca Film Festival prior to the free outdoor screening of the film. Though I wasn’t there for that night’s festivities, I did attend the premiere of the doc two nights before, which played to a large crowd of cat meme enthusiasts. (Thanks to Steve at Unseen Films for his red carpet photos that night.)
I began talking with Eisner and Capper about the making of the documentary. While that was going on, Bridavsky and Bub were just a few feet away taking photos and meeting a small and adoring crowd. I admit, as soon as Bub was nearby, my usual semi-professional veneer melted and I sort of acted like a goofy cat fanboy. Such is the power of that cat.
Look for our review of Lil Bub & Friendz tomorrow. If you live in the United States, you can actually watch Lil Bub & Friendz and other select festival films online as part of the Tribeca Online Festival.
[For the next few weeks, Flixist will be covering the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival, which runs April 17-28 in New York City. Check with us daily for reviews, interviews, features, and news from the festival. For all of our coverage, go here.]
Can you talk about how the documentary started?
Juliette Eisner: So I heard about the first ever Internet Cat Video Festival being held in Minneapolis, and I thought it was hilarious that a museum was going to have a festival dedicated to cat videos. I pitched this idea to Andy, who’s a senior producer at Vice, and he came along. We actually invited Bub with us to be our token celebrity cat.
[laughs] So you have some celebrity cred.
Juliette Eisner: Exactly! Right? But after going to the festival and only expecting like 300 or 400 people to turn up and instead seeing 10,000 people there, we realized that this was a big deal. And then on top of that, Bub was just an inspirational creature, and we loved her story and got along really well with Mike.
Andy Capper: [Bub] just looked great on camera, and the story behind her was really compelling. It was like emotional depth in it, so we thought, “Let’s do this.”
Juliette Eisner: I think it was a combination of the festival, on top of so many people who wanted to share this cat video experience and realizing how how big of a deal it was to them, and then Bub– [Editor’s note: We all looked over at Lil Bub getting photographed and started giggling.] It was a golden ticket right there.
Since it started with the Internet Cat Video Festival, how did you decide what direction to take the rest of the film?
Andy Capper: We saw Bub and realized how special she was, looking-wise and acting-wise, and the story of how she was found was fascinating — a little girl found her in the woods of Bloomington in the middle of nowhere, and like saved her from coyotes. There’s an element of drama there already.
Juliette Eisner: Yeah.
Andy Capper: Natural drama. And Bub’s health problems, and how important she is to Mike, and what it means to loads of other people, there was tons of different elements.
Juliette Eisner: I mean, this cat has a lot of [health issues] — she’s a special-needs cat. She has a lot of deformities and has gone above and beyond it and has become a celebrity in her own right. It’s very much a story about being the underdog and coming out on top as well.
In terms of shooting, how much did you hang out with Mike to get Lil Bub on camera and everything?
Andy Capper: At Vice we do a lot of immersive journalism, so you live with a person. You kind of have to– It was easy to befriend Mike because he’s such a good guy and we came from the same background, so you become friends during the process of the movie. This is how you get intimate moments. I end up staying friends with most subjects as well; such a weird, large selection of friends.
Juliette Eisner: We speak to Mike everyday.
Andy Capper: Interesting people like Mike. It’s one of the perks of the job.
Juliette Eisner: And the same thing goes for Tabatha, Grumpy Cat’s owner. She was such a pleasure to work with, and we wanted to stay in touch with her as well. Everybody in the cat community fairly friendly.
There was an interesting moment in the doc where it talked about the internet as the dog park for cats. Had either of you had that impression before?
Juliette Eisner: Ummm…
Andy Capper: I hadn’t thought about it.
Juliette Eisner: I think with the Internet Cat Video Festival, that was the big eye-opening moment when we realized that so many people had come out to watch these. There are so many people sitting behind their computer online who are looking at cat videos, and they want to share this with the rest of the cat lovers. I mean, 10,000 people were at this event.
Andy Capper: It’s kind of really simple, this secret to the success of cat videos: people’s lives are really complex, stressful, dramatic. You enter into different situations and usually you turn out a loser. [laughs]
Andy Capper: If you go on the internet and look at a cat video, usually 99% of the time you come out a winner. It’s made you laugh or it’s made you go “aww.” It’s a reliable go-to thing that people like. It’s really simple.
Could you talk about editing and shaping your documentary once you had all your footage?
Juliette Eisner: I think the editing process started with post-it notes–
Andy Capper: The post-it note method. Pioneering it. [laughs]
Juliette Eisner: Andy and I just sat together and decided how we wanted it to look, and then we brought Devin Yuceil on board, our editor. He’s actually from the UK.
Andy Capper: And Danilo [Parra], the main DP, he also edited some sequences together.
Juliette Eisner: And it was a very tight-knit group going back and forth everyday talking about what we wanted the project to look like, and everyone was just laughing the entire time.
Could you talk about the experience you had at the big cat rescue center? That was a sequence I didn’t expect. [Editor’s note: About this time is where Mike and Lil Bub joined the conversation in progress.]
Andy Capper: I wanted to make a wildlife movie after that, just being so close to them.
Andy Capper: Next to those tigers. I snuck in a bit that you weren’t meant to be in, and had like the gnarliest tigers in the whole thing. Six of them around me, and I’m filming them like this, “Oooooh fuck!” And one of them roared behind me. The noises and everything, just amazing.
Juliette Eisner: But that too was just a whole new perspective on people who love cats. This person, Joe Taft, who owned this center, he just dedicated his whole life to rescuing these larger cats.
Andy Capper: The lengths people go to.
Juliette Eisner: He, like Mike, is a very good caretaker for these animals.
Andy Capper: It’s more of a movie about why people love cats rather than trying to explain modern internet politics. I have no interest in the second subject. Other people do, but…
Juliette Eisner: I think we do touch on how this is a big, culturally relevant thing on the internet.
Andy Capper: That’s in there if you want to hear about that, but mainly it’s supposed to be like an E.T. Vibe or something — do you know what I’m saying?
It’s like there’s these wonderful little creatures and people are all about them. Actually, Mike, could you talk about the experience of being the subject of a documentary along with Lil Bub?
Mike Bridavsky: Yeah, it came out of nowhere really. I never planned on this happening, so it’s all been sort of a crazy ride. She got famous from a photo, and things started blowing up real fast. We never sought out any of these opportunities, we just do things as they come. You know, at any point I was waiting ready for [the internet sensation] to wind down and I could go back to my regular life, but it keeps getting more intense.
Part of that is this documentary, and working with Andy and Juliette’s been great. I feel really fortunate that the people who decided to make this documentary about my cat are now my pals, you know? I’m not sure if it always works out that way. [laughs]
Juliette Eisner: [laughs]
Andy Capper: [laughs]
[laughs] Whoop. Let me just wait for this plane to pass by. [Editor’s note: A plane passes overhead.]
Mike Bridavsky: [looks up at the plane then down at Lil Bub] They’re not coming for you, Bub!
[laughs] So are you all looking forward to the drive-in tonight?
Juliette Eisner: Yeah. It’s funny because this is essentially like our own Cat Video festival. [laughs]
Juliette Eisner: Except it’s our movie instead of like 60 other videos.
Andy Capper: I think they’re going to show our film at the next [Internet Cat Video Festival] they have in Minneapolis, right?
Juliette Eisner: Oh. Umm, maybe.
Mike Bridavsky: Are they going to show [Lil Bub & Friendz] at the New York one?
Juliette Eisner: Maybe. [laughs] To be determined. We’ll see.
There’s a New York Cat Video Festival?
Mike Bridavsky: Yeah.
Andy Capper: We should just franchise and make Lil Bub concerts.
Juliette Eisner: This is going to be fun, like–
Andy Capper: We’d become like, who knows–
Like Lil Bubchella. [Editor’s note: I should have said “Bubaroo.”]
Juliette Eisner: Yeah.
Mike Bridavsky: Or Rocky Horror. Like people with cat food just throwing it at the screen.
Andy Capper: [laughs]
Juliette Eisner: [laughs] But I think this is what it’s all about! Getting people to come together and laugh about cats. There’s no better place to do it than an outdoor free festival.
Andy Capper: I want to take it on the road, actually. Promoters need to get in touch with Juliette!
Mike Bridavsky: I wonder if the crazy cat person term will disappear and won’t be crazy anymore. Like it’s crazy not to like cats.
Juliette Eisner: I mean, I think it already has to a certain extent. There are people with like 80 cats at home who are definitely not socially accepted. I think being a cat person, as Grant Mayland would say in our film, is cool. Urban Outfitters sells t-shirts with cats, you know?
It’s like you’re a cat enthusiast rather than a crazy cat person.
Mike Bridavsky: Yeah. It’s fashionable to like them.