The release of the new movie Butt Boy—like basically everything in the world right now—has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. Slated for theatrical release next month, many of the theaters scheduled to premiere it have temporarily shuttered. However, unlike a number of other major films, Butt Boy has not had its theatrical release canceled entirely. As of Friday, the movie is still expected to see limited theatrical release on April 3, to be followed by a digital release on April 14. As IndieWire critic David Ehrlich put it on Twitter, “Butt Boy is undaunted.”
To find out why, I spoke to Tyler Cornack, who directed, co-wrote, and stars in the film—which, for the record, received positive reviews at Fantastic Fest and currently maintains a 100 percent fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes—about what it’s like to release a surrealist comedy in this surreal and tragic moment. The conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Slate: I’d like to start by asking you to describe, as concisely as possible, the plot of Butt Boy.
Tyler Cornack: It’s an absurdist comedy about a man struggling with addiction. But the addiction is something you wouldn’t expect. The basic plot is about a guy who goes to get a prostate exam. He has a revelation about the insane feeling that it gives him, he becomes addicted to that feeling, and that feeling just so happens to be … putting things up his butt. All kinds of things. Objects. People. But it’s handled with care. It’s played 100 percent straight. As his addiction grows, he gets into trouble. He joins an AA program where he meets a detective, and it becomes this crazy cat-and-mouse game, because the detective is onto him. The detective is trying to prove to everyone that he is guilty of this crazy act.
It’s a very original concept. Can I ask what drew you to the idea?
So we [Cornack and collaborators Ryan Koch and Bill Morean] have a comedy group that’s rooted in dark weird humor, and this started as a short film that we did. It was one of our favorite projects, so we talked about expanding it online, and then, through several discussions, we decided it really should be a movie. The whole idea was to totally spin people’s heads, to make them think “What the fuck is this? What am I watching?” It’s funny and strange, and you can’t really tell what’s going on. It’s kind of an Andy Kaufman thing. Playing with cinematic tropes that people are familiar with: the cat-and-mouse crime thriller. But the circumstance is … what?
As I am sure you are aware, many studios have recently delayed movie releases as a result of the coronavirus. Was there a point at which you considered doing the same? Why did you decide to move ahead? What sorts of things factored into that decision?
I can’t even fully answer that, because I think it’s still not known. I don’t think it has officially been cancelled yet, but we are all assuming the worst—that it’s not happening. That is a real bummer for us, but it’s pretty small compared to everything else that is going on. I mean, I know I wouldn’t want to go to a theater right now. So we will see how it plays out. The theatrical release was a pleasant surprise, but we made the movie for people at home, for the on-demand experience. And obviously a lot of people are staying home right now, and if they watch it that way, we’ll be pumped about that.
So what you’re saying is that whether or not the film is released in theaters is not your call? Who is making that decision?
No, that’s Epic’s call. And the Alamo Drafthouse, the theater chain. But no, we have no say. I think it’s more of the individual theater’s decision. The actual big premiere with the full cast and crew was cancelled. But that’s all we know.
Do you think the current circumstances will alter how Butt Boy is viewed and received?
Yeah, I mean, it’s a fun film. It would have been really fun to see in a theater with a group of friends, but we are honestly really glad that people are going to get it at home too. We are a small indie film. Theatrical releases are cool and all, but where our audience is, and where we’re really going to thrive, is online, through word of mouth. People sharing the movie with their friends. It is weird enough to have a kind of cult quality to it.
Have you adapted your marketing strategies since the outbreak? If so, how?
There are a lot of things going through our minds. For the most part, Butt Boy is finished already and we’re just awaiting release, so it hasn’t been as impacted. But we’re in production for another project that we had to wrap up several days early. Our last filming day was Friday, and you could just feel that things were getting really crazy. We had a lot of extras drop out, and we began to feel uneasy about asking people to come to set, so we just shut down. We’re editing now, which is good timing, because it can be done entirely in isolation. But we don’t really know what is going to happen. I don’t think anyone does.
Are you worried about the livelihoods of people who worked on the movie who are depending on its success?
Strangely, being so small-budget, I think we are actually in a better position than some larger studio projects. Because we’re so small, we didn’t have any back-end deals with producers and, as far as the cast and crew goes, everyone has been taken care of. But I have lots of friends in the industry here, and everyone has been impacted by this. Everyone is out of work right now. It’s horrible. All their projects have been cancelled. Many banks are backing out of big loans, so, even if it was safe to work, the studios now don’t have money to make these movies that they have promised a lot of people they were going to be making. What’s really crazy is that it’s not just the film industry. Every industry is going to be affected by this.
What solace do you think Butt Boy can offer to people during these troubled times?
I mean, the way things are right now, it feels like we are in a movie. It feels like a film, and it’s a good film [in the sense that] I have no idea where it’s going. In a way, I think absurdist comedy is the appropriate tone for this moment. Things are looking really dark and crazy. I hope people will watch Butt Boy at home and at least get a laugh out of it. I mean, it will make you laugh. And not in the way you think you’re going to laugh. In a different, altogether weirder, way. Perhaps it will help remind people that there is so much in the world that is ridiculous and joyful and silly. Movies are the best way to do that.