Volatile Teens: The McManus Brothers on Funeral Kings

The writer/director brothers on their R-rated movie about 14-year-olds and their video store memories.

Fred Topelby Fred Topel

When I saw Funeral Kings at SXSW this year, I thought it should really be one of the films buzzing for a release. I waited most of the year and this week it’s finally coming out in select cities. The raunchy teen comedy is about a group of 14-year-old altar boys who help out with funerals and then ditch school the rest of the day, getting into trouble trying to steal R-rated movies from the video store and crashing older teen parties. I caught up with Kevin and Matthew McManus, the writer/director brothers of Funeral Kings, who are also in Los Angeles to talk about the film and their humble filmmaking beginnings.


CraveOnline: Most teen comedies go with older teens. Was doing young teens different?

Kevin McManus: Yeah, what we tried to do was really talk about, take an honest look at what it’s like to be 14-years-old. I think that was really our goal the whole way around it.

Matthew McManus: Really it’s a much more volatile of a time than it is in the late teens.

Yeah, more hormonal.

Matthew McManus: Yeah, exactly, and it’s right before puberty. As a boy, you felt like you should be 19 already but you look like you’re 12 years old and you’re always fighting against it, but you don’t really have the bite of really having experience to back it up.

Did getting a boner in church really happen to someone?

[Both laugh]

Matthew McManus: No. I’m afraid it didn’t. Actually I’m pretty happy that never happened.

What was your R-rated movie holy grail at the video store?

Kevin McManus: I remember in the ‘90s I think it was Cruel Intentions. Me and my buddies were obsessed with “Buffy, the Vampire Slayer” and Sarah Michelle Gellar. It was like, “Oh man, Cruel Intentions, the one with Sarah Michelle Gellar in it. We’ve got to check it out.” It’s so lame when you look at it now.

Were you really disappointed when you finally saw it, not because it’s not good, but it’s not very revealing?

Matthew McManus: Oh yeah, I mean it was fine but we were thinking, “Oh, it’s going to be a sexy thriller.”

For me it was 9 ½ Weeks when I heard Kim Basinger had done an erotic movie. Even though you see some more in that, it was just so stupid. And still is as an adult.

Matthew McManus: It’s kind of embarrassing to look back and you’re like, “That was it? Really?”

So could Funeral Kings be that R-rated rental movie for this generation?

Matthew McManus: That would be great. The funny thing is, it’s one of those things where they curse a lot and everything, but I think a 14-year-old kid would see this and go, “Yeah, that’s about as genuine as it can be.” I don't think they’d be shocked by anything.

What will this generation do in the age of VOD and streaming content when there’s that unattainable R-rated movie?

Kevin McManus: Yeah, that is definitely the question. It’s so weird looking at the way things have gone, I’m kind of curious where it’s going to go. It seems like everyone’s trying to figure that out right now.

Matthew McManus: Well, I assume it’s probably a lot easier for them to get their hands on R-rated movies than it was for us when we were kids. They can just download it.

The funerals are really only the jumping off point and the film moves towards the party. Would you talk about that and how it’s still the title of the movie?

Kevin McManus: Where the film got its start was a story my dad used to tell me about when he was a kid and how he used to serve these funerals and it gave him the perfect opportunity to sneak out and be able to go do something usually pretty harmless like grab a milkshake or something like that, because all of his teachers still thought he was serving the funeral when it was over. So we just thought that would be such a great jumping off point for telling a story about 14-year-old kids and giving a little of our own history in there as well.

Matthew McManus: The altar boy thing was kind of a nice hook, but we didn’t want to just stay in that world. There’s not really many stories you can tell while they’re on the altar.

Kevin McManus: It just gave them the opportunity to do all these things that you did when you were 14, while school hours were still going on.

How did you capture that sense that these suburban adventures are really exciting?

Matthew McManus: It’s a good question. We grew up actually on those streets that you see in the movie. We grew up in Rhode Island and they hang out on Main Street. Every day, we’d go to school, go hang out on Main St., get into trouble, see what was going on. It’s really lived in for us, those kind of misadventures.

How much have those streets changed since you grew up there?

Kevin McManus: A lot of them have stayed the same, a lot of them changed. I remember being so upset when certain things had changed, like there was a Newport Creamery that used to be downtown that turned into a bank. That used to be the place we’d always hang out at when we were 12-years-old.

Matthew McManus: That was always the way it happened. Some great place turned into a bank. As a kid there’s nothing worse than turning into a bank.

Is the video store real?

Matthew McManus: You know, it was based on a video store that we used to go to as a kid and that’s gone.

Kevin McManus: Two video stores.

Matthew McManus: Oh you’re right, it was kind of a blend.

Kevin McManus: And some of the characterizations of the actual Iggy character come from a combination of all those guys.

Matthew McManus: But the way we shot that scene, obviously video stores are becoming more and more extinct, we didn’t want to build one ourselves. There’s two left in Rhode Island. There’s one in Narragansett and one in Providence. I remember going to the one in Providence and first of all, it’s a beautiful store. The walls are great, it would look good on screen and it’s kind of a complicated location. We needed it to be a video store and then the back needed to be a storage area and there needed to be stairs down to a back office. This place literally had all of that. It was like right from the script, it was there in front of me.

That’s the way they used to do it. The boxes were empty and they kept the actual tapes in the back.

Kevin McManus: Yeah, totally.

Matthew McManus: This whole place was just an old school video store. It’s still there.

Kevin McManus: All the production design was there too. We didn’t have to change a whole lot.

Did you see any kids who were more like Hollywood kids, or did you happen to audition the right kids the first time?

Kevin McManus: We auditioned so many kids. It started off with auditions in Rhode Island. Then we went to Boston, L.A. and finally New York is where we found most of them. It’s such a tricky thing trying to find the right kids but our guys, some had more experience than others but they all had the same thing in common, just a lot of talent. We could take them all together and they all got along really well. We got really lucky.

What happened for Funeral Kings right after SXSW?

Kevin McManus: We sent it out to a lot of people to see if anyone might be interested in buying it, and then also other festivals just trying to get more exposure out there. Finally it got picked up and it’s screening on Friday now which we’re so psyched about.

The release date got changed a little bit. What happened?

Kevin McManus: We were going to play at the Laemmle in North Hollywood and I guess there was some mix-up with how they could exhibit it, so we ended up getting a phone call from the Chinese theater.

Matthew McManus: Which is great. What’s a better theater than Grauman’s Chinese? I can’t think of a more iconic place to be able to play so we’re excited to be at the Chinese 6.

What are you working on next?

Kevin McManus: We’ve written a couple of pilots that we’re trying to see if we can find any bites on and then we’re working on our next feature right now as well. In the outlinining stage now just trying to get all the pieces together.

What genre would the next film be?

Kevin McManus: This one we’re working on now, how do you describe it, Matt?

Matthew McManus: Well, it’s funny. When we used to do shorts, we would do a short and then the next one we’d try to do something almost completely different than the one before and just try to shake things out. In some ways it feels that way with this new one. It’s a suspense thriller. There’s definitely some suspense and stuff in Funeral Kings but this one is further towards that.

Kevin McManus: Has a strong female character so it’s definitely from a slightly different point of view.

When you were growing up, when did the dream of becoming filmmakers start?

Matthew McManus: It’s funny, there’s all these different moments that I keep looking back at that were getting us suped up about it. One of our best friends when we were a little kid, his name was Andrew Valainis and his brothers wanted to be directors. I remember his brother really wanted to be a director and was talking about maybe putting us in his movie. I think it was like a Star Wars movie or something. I don't know how old we were, must have been like six or seven. Then eventually we got our hand on my dad’s camera. He was like, “Yeah, go have some fun” so we went up to my other buddy’s house, just wore the thing out until it wouldn’t work anymore. Basically every weekend we were making a movie or going to see a movie. It just became a lifestyle.

Kevin McManus: I’d say we got really serious starting probably seventh grade.

Was it always as a duo?

Kevin McManus: It was kind of a trio to be honest. It was Matt and I and then our buddy Andy Gould. The three of us every weekend would just be making movies. Usually it’d be like some kind of horror spoof or it’d be a little action film. I remember one film we made when we were like 13-years-old was about a drug addict. We literally had a pound of flour that we were pretending was cocaine and he gives a dollar to one guy. We’re wearing my sister’s leather jackets like we’re these tough thugs.

Matthew McManus: So ridiculous.

Kevin McManus: Matt is the strung out guy and gives a buck and we give a pound of flour cocaine to him.

Matthew McManus: It’s a bunch of 14-year-old chasing each other around with squirt guns, ketchup everywhere. It was very violent.

What’s Andy doing now?

Matthew McManus: Andy’s in Rhode Island right now. We still talk to him about movies and different ideas but he hasn’t really gotten into the whole entertainment scene, as much as we push him and try to get his butt out here because he’s an incredible actor.

What were those movies you’d go see every weekend?

Matthew McManus: Everything. Every terrible movie. The thing is too, it was before we were 17 so we saw just about every PG-13 movie that came out. So many times the great films are R-rated.

Kevin McManus: We watched a lot of bad movies.

I’m wondering what your era was, what some of the films were.

Kevin McManus: I remember my favorite movie right around that time was The Usual Suspects. That’s probably stuck through until now but we used to watch that movie almost once a month.

So you got started practicing with I assume a VHS camera?

Kevin McManus: 8mm video.

What would you have done if you’d had access to all the digital cameras available today?

Kevin McManus: Oh man, I know, seriously, right?

Matthew McManus: Well, the funny thing is, when we were first starting out, we just had that and a couple old VCRs in the basement. We’d slap them together and we had like a Discman.

Kevin McManus: You could plug in the RCA from the Discman, the other one for the dialogue. Hit play to get the music cue right.

Matthew McManus: So left speaker would have the music, the right speaker would have our voices and stuff. Eventually our parents sprung for this Brand X editing software that was amazing.

Kevin McManus: Then the computer didn’t work so we ended up having to get a whole new computer. It went from a not that expensive Christmas gift to a whole new system, but it made such a huge difference. I remember the first time we edited something and it was so satisfying putting it down, having music in the back, credits coming up. It just felt like a real big deal.

Do you think aspiring filmmakers today might have it too easy with all this equipment?

Kevin McManus: I don't think so. I remember I had some friends that had green screen technology when we were kids, really, really ghetto Brand X green screen technology and they would get a little hung up on that as opposed to really working on the story, so that I think is the only pitfall that you could run into with the new technology.

Matthew McManus: The real trick when you’re a kid making a movie is trying to get your friends on board with making the movie with you. If your friends are excited to do it, then you’re pretty much good to go. I really think that’s a huge part of the reason why we stuck with it.

Follow Fred Topel on Twitter at @FredTopel.