One of the many reasons we all look forward to the Tribeca Film Festival every year is because movie-goers are almost guaranteed to find some small gem of a film that introduces them to a new favorite actor or director. There’s also the chance that you’ll see a favorite Hollywood star pop up in one of the indie productions, which is exactly what happens in Michael D. Ratner’s romantic comedy short, The 30 Year Old Bris. Along with Chris Elliott, Donnell Rawling has a major part in the film, and for those of us who remember the good ol’ days of Ashy Larry on Chappelle’s Show, this is a pretty sweet surprise. Paste caught up with Ratner to talk about his first time at Tribeca, the “totally twisted” plot to his film, and his connections to the wonderful world of hip-hop.
Paste: What’s your experience at Tribeca been like so far?
Ratner: Well, I had a piece in SXSW two years ago, and that’s just such a different vibe from Tribeca. This is my first time doing the Tribeca thing, and I’m having a blast. We have four different screenings, and we’re done with two of them, so the nerves are all out because they went extremely well.
Paste: That’s great!
Ratner: Yeah, it’s just a long stretch, partly because we’re in the “Totally Twisted” category, so the screenings are late.
Paste: The premise of The 30 Year Old Bris is just hilarious. How did you come up with the idea?
Ratner: I jokingly answered at the Q&A that I wanted to relive the first party that my parents ever threw for me, which I can’t remember since I was eight days old.
Paste: (laughs) Sure.
Ratner: But I wanted to tell a story about an interfaith couple. I think it’s pretty fascinating, especially now when people seem to marry whomever they want. So the question I’m asking is, “How far would you go for love?” And I wanted to layer that question with light-hearted humor. If you’re not that religious—which Bradley [the protagonist] isn’t in the story—but there’s this overbearing father, and this person that you love and want in your life, then why not commit? That was really the reason I made it. And then I wanted it to be as funny as possible, and there’s really nothing scarier that a woman could ask you to do.
Paste: That’s a good point. I’d also seen that you did some work for Hot 97 in the past. Is that why I heard Peter Rosenberg’s voice at the end of the film?
Ratner: That’s exactly right. So, Peter Rosenberg is my business partner, and we had actually just finished doing a pilot together—it’s amazing that you picked up on that, by the way.
Paste: I thought it was so funny!
Ratner: Well, he went on a rant recently on his show about how he’s a movie star now. He said as he walks down the streets of New York the “Tribeca Film Festival Official Selection” sign follows him everywhere.
Paste: That’s hilarious.
Ratner: We met two years ago, when I was 22. I asked him if he would let me, for free, come in and just shoot some stuff for Hot 97. And he said, “Okay we’ll give you a shot.” So I went there and we started doing these comedy shorts. I don’t know if you ever saw Ratchet Turn Up Molly, and we did Stay Sleepin’, which was a parody of Rick Ross’ Stay Schemin’.
Paste: No way! I loved that one!
Ratner: So Rosenberg and I are really good friends, but more importantly we have tons of projects together, and on this one I needed a voice-over. We thought the people who would get that joke of Peter Rosenberg doing it made the whole thing well worth it.
Paste: I was also thrilled to see Donnell Rawlings and Chris Elliott. How did you get those guys involved in the project?
Ratner: I met Donnell while I was at NYU film school, before I graduated. I would spend nights at different comedy clubs like Caroline’s and Comedy Cellar, and I’d see him around. Then, when I was out in Los Angeles, I ran into him and we got to know each other. I told him I wanted to give him this script. It was kind of a long shot, but he’s such a funny guy. He mostly does stand-up, but he’s done some acting before like in Chappelle’s Show. So he read it and thought it was so funny. He started calling us the Jew-Tang Clan (laughs), and he was really great to work with. The improv that he came up with was better than anything I could have ever written.
Paste: That’s great.
Ratner: Now Chris Elliott was kind of like a hero of mine growing up. Everything he’s done is so funny. I worked as an intern for The Weinstein Company after my freshman year of college, and I stayed in touch with a lot of the people I met while I was in that intern position. Chris is represented by Mosaic, so I reached out to one of the people I kept in contact with over there. They got the script in his hands, and Chris thought it was great. There was only one day that he was able to film, so I actually changed the script for him so that he could play the mohel in the dream. And we just made the dream sequence weirder and weirder.
It was one of the greatest directing experiences of my life working with him. We talked about the role in-depth before hand. And he just kept having these ideas and saying, “Well, why don’t we go weirder? Why don’t we go weirder?” (laughs) And the next thing you know he was eating beef jerky—which is the most horrifying thing you can do as a mohel—and he’s wearing an army fatigue coat, and then he came up with this back story where he was also a taxi driver. It’s just amazing to see what happens when the collaboration is there, and you just keep pushing things.
Paste: I really don’t want to ask this, but I have to know. What did you guys use to make the little baby penis?
Ratner: (laughs) We actually went to a prop shop. And I’m extremely queasy, so I had a bottle of Gatorade with me and they showed me different molds of penises. I had to sit there with my producers, and they’re going, “Well this is one mold, and this is another.” Finally I just asked, “Well, whose are these? Where did these come from?”
Ratner: And the guy looked at me—dead serious—and to this day, I don’t know if he was kidding or not. He said, “That’s my penis.” And I said, “Okay, we’ll take it, then.” And then he said, “Well, I’m not circumcised, so I’ll add a layer of foreskin.” I left there pretty speechless.
Paste: (laughs) Yes! I can imagine!
Ratner: So basically, that prop was connected to a wire that was connected to fake blood. And we had one take for that scene, so Chris did it once and looked up and said, “I think you got your shot.” He was covered in blood.
Paste: It was a great shot. You’re getting your MFA next month, right?
Paste: That has to be exciting. What’s next for you?
Ratner: I’m exploring several options. I certainly want to get into some features that I have in development right now. Tribeca creates this platform where that becomes far easier to do. We’re getting to show our films in a real market and agents and distributors are seeing it, so I’m exploring that. I’m also really into music—hip-hop specifically. So there’s this show we have in the works, and more recently I produced Diddy’s new music video with Meek Mill. I collaborated with Eif Rivera on that one. He’s worked with Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj, and he worked on 50 Cent’s upcoming Animal Ambition album. So I want to keep doing that stuff. Music, romantic comedies, and another thing that really interests me is sports documentary, so I have a few of those kinds of projects in the works.
Paste: I can’t wait to see more of your stuff. Thanks for talking with us today.
Ratner: Thanks so much. I really enjoyed it.
Shannon M. Houston is a New York-based freelance writer, regular contributor to Paste, and occasional contributor to the human race via little squishy babies. You can follow her on Twitter.