“Appiness” is a debut feature from filmmaker Eli Batalion who also happens to be a Canadian Screen Award nominee. Eli created an acclaimed web series entitled “YidLife Crisis” and is excited to be officially getting into films.
In “Appiness” Eli portrays the character of Eric Newman, a down-on-his-luck pencil pusher who seeks to become the next tech boy wonder with his high school buddy Raj, but finds that success is elusive. “Appiness” has won awards around the globe, including the Debut Filmmaker Award at the Calcutta International Cult Film Festival, Best Actress for Goldfarb at the Canada China International Film Festival, Best Comedy and Best Screenplay at the Vegas Movie Awards, as well as Best Editing, Best Feature and Best Humor at the Top Indie Film Awards.
Eli recently discussed this film and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you decide to enter the film industry and which genres most appeal to you?
Eli Batalion (EB): I’m not sure if there was a conscious decision to enter, so much as an enjoyment collaborating with my longtime fringe theatre partner Jerome Sable; as he started pursuing a film degree, it just seemed natural for me to come along for the ride and evolve our creative partnership into film. The first project we did was a short horror musical comedy called “The Legend of Beaver Dam” (stumpysam.com) which ended up having a really great festival touring life that continues to this day. Having done musicals for the stage, this seemed like a very natural place to start.
While it’s gotten a lot of traction within the horror community, I think for me comedy is pretty much my go-to genre. Within that, I’m into a wide range of projects, from the most absurd or surreal comedies to comedy documentaries.
MM: Why did you decide to make your debut film a comedy and why did you base it in the tech industry?
EB: I think I’ve always been drawn to comedy, be it on stage, on the page or on screen, and so my interest has always been how to elicit laughs and a sense of life relatability by putting characters in situations and seeing what comes out of them character. While I’d done this sort of thing in other formats, including my web series “YidLife Crisis” (yidlifecrisis.com) with partner Jamie Elman, I’d never done a full feature film, which is obviously a different beast than individual web shorts, let alone stand-up or sketch comedy.
A feature must be tied together by a story and a journey (or at least should be – I’m an advocate for bucking convention for those willing to try!) and I think my choice to go in that direction was affected by some of my own journey of being in the tech world for a brief stint in my life ). It was a real eye- opener and I found a lot of interesting and comedic material in it because things are very exaggerated – the lows are very low, the highs are very high, and the process of hustling is, not dissimilar to casino gambling, a pretty crazy ride. I also think the whole time I was immersed in the world, I looked at it with the kind of comical eye that a Mike Judge probably did when working off of his corporate experiences which led him to write Office Space, and my feeling was that the tech/geek subculture as it stood in this new startup era was worthy of a satirical pass.
MM: How long did it take to film and how did you manage to secure the cast and locations?
EB: This film was filmed in a remarkably quick period of time, mostly because of the constraints such as the low budget of the film within the Telefilm Talent to Watch program (a microbudget film talent incubator from Canada’s film funding body Telefilm ), and also attributable to the professionalism of the cast and crew in being able to make things happen quickly. Experienced pros like my Executive Producer Philip Kalin-Hajdu and seasoned DP Benoît Beaulieu really made this much smoother, so that in the end, we were able to wrap in just 11 days. I mean, I’ve seen indie features that were done in 20 days and was impressed by that brevity, but this was next level!
We had some great casting help in Bruno Rosato and Kate Yablunovsky, who even in this microbudget project threw their talents together and found over 25 comedy acting roles together. Montreal is known more for its French talent than its English so finding this depth and breadth of talent in the city with specific roles and requirements (including being funny!), was kind of miraculous.
The locations were all around Montreal, which ultimately is a really great place to shoot with some very friendly and supportive small businesses making it easier to pull off low budget shoots. Some of the locations drew on the general areas where Philip and I, friends since high school, grew up.
MM: How did you find a production company to work with?
EB: Well, I created my own to specifically do my comedy work, so that helps!
MM: What’s your favorite part of the movie and why?
EB: There’s a part of the film where Eric and Raj, the two main characters, get into a massive fight when the shit really hits the fan. We did this whole scene with steadicam walking along a bridge over a canal that provides a really scenic view of Montreal. This was another situation where magically, and literally at the magic hour, we were able to get some really nice footage and, as per most of the project, made it happen in the few “oners” we could fit in the very short time frame. Something about doing it in that scenic setting, so naturally and, theatre-style, all in one take, really made the scene work its best.
MM: What’s the most memorable behind-the-scenes story you have?
EB: Being about a grassroots startup, a lot of stuff took place in a hipster café. We found the perfect café in Montreal, and true to form, like all hipster cafes, it lacked air conditioning (I’m not sure what it is about hipsters that makes them incompatible but with A/C, but I digress). It was literally a sauna in there. It was brutal shooting all day in there with lights, cast and crew and of course having to remove even the fans that were there while shooting. What’s amazing to me is how in the cut you would never even notice it, all part of the magic of film I guess. I thought the cast and crew did an incredibly professional job of maintaining their decorum in hipster café hell! I could learn a thing or two from them…
MM: What other films have you written and what are they about?
EB: My “YidLife Crisis” project (YidLifeCrisis.com) is a web series I do with partner Jamie Elman that takes place in Montreal about two best friends and debating adversaries Chaimie and Leizer who interestingly and somewhat surreally speak in their grandparents’ old tongue of Yiddish. This is a special comedy project playing tribute to what we learned about this language and its culture growing up in Montreal (where it was once the 3rd most spoken language) and the Yiddish comedy and theatre tradition that we were exposed to growing up. It’s also about the Jewish take on the mid-life crisis, but specifically in this case, how to reconcile our traditional “ethnic” elements of upbringing with living in a modern and secular world. Jamie and I have been invited around the world to present it and in doing so started to film other Jewish communities in the world, developing our own documentary content all about different global Jewish Community. This actually evolved into a feature length documentary that we’ve put out called “CHEWDAISM: A Taste of Jewish Montreal” which uses comedy and food, two excellent entry points for cross-cultural discussion, to tell the story of the history of Jewish Montreal in the last 100 years.
MM: What are your ultimate career goals?
EB: I would like to entertain and teach through comedy, and as a producer, build not just a series of memorable films and entertainment projects but really what I might call “brand communities”. For “APPINESS,” while the film is the main “event” it’s in some ways a tipping off point for community around a comedic take on technology in our lives, which I think is something that a lot of people could relate to and find solace in; the more science fiction becomes reality, this community and sense of relating to this conflict we have in comedy is probably likely to grow . For “YidLife Crisis” the idea of a community that relates to the comedy of how we try to honor the old while living in the new is something we’ve found not only touches the Jewish community but well beyond as the notion is so universal.
MM: What projects are coming up for you soon? Also, what plots might you like to explore in your next film?
EB: I’m writing more, trying to explore darker areas of comedy, (in particular, a financial crime dark comedy), and at the same time, trying to explore much further in the “YidLife Crisis” world to build out the characters and tell longer stories like I did in APPINESS. The YidLife Crisis documentary “CHEWDAISM: A Taste of Montreal” is still playing at various North American film festivals in this time as well.
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to talk about?
EB: I should just share all the fun places where people can find “APPINESS”! If you’re in the US, the film is available on a whole buncha sites:
Vimeo OnDemand: https://vimeo.com/ondemand/appiness
If you’re in my native Canada, you can buy it/rent it through:
or through the NFB: https://www.nfb.ca/film/appiness/
If you’re elsewhere, I guess hold on!