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Quendrith Johnson

Quendrith Johnson is Los Angeles Correspondent covering everything happening in film in Hollywood... Well, the most interesting things, anyway.
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RED ROCKET rendezvous with screenwriter Chris Bergoch

by Quendrith Johnson, Los Angeles Correspondent

RED ROCKET shot off as a commando Award Season contender this year on the film festival circuit, and you’ll really be in for a ride on Dec. 3 when this new film from Director Sean Baker hits the multiplex. Baker is known for THE FLORIDA PROJECT and TANGERINE, both of which were co-penned with Screenwriter Chris Bergoch, who also co-wrote RED ROCKET, which is handy because we buttonholed him for this quick hit-and-run encounter.

To recap the film’s plot in a movie announcer voice: Mikey (Simon Rex) returns to his “super ghetto” Texas hometown from LA after his porn career hits the skids, but blows it with estranged wife Lexi (Bree Elrod) when counter-girl Strawberry (Suzanna Son) materializes at The Donut Hole to reignite his porn-fame dreams by rocketing her to porn star glory.

And no, Strawberry in real life is not underage, and her Instragram handle is @TheStrawberryButcher, so be warned. For the record, actor and influencer Suzanna Son has about 53K followers on Instagram right now, but expect that number to take a nosebleed uptick after the film opens wide, because Mikey won’t be the only one falling for the forbidden fruit here.

That’s not exactly a spoiler because things go more than sideways when Simon Rex’s Mikey goes length-wise; if you get the picture. Better to hear the lowdown from Chris Bergoch, though.

Q: When you and Sean spitball these gritty movies, how does the magic realism float in there, say in THE FLORIDA PROJECT and now in RED ROCKET, and is ‘fantasy’ a better term for the twists you guys infuse?

CHRIS BERGOCH: Sean and I never go into a story with any agenda, with The Florida Project, it’s not like we started out with a plan to infuse magical realism into it, I think with these kinds of things, as with many, they grow and evolve and the story takes on a life of its own and they begin to speak to you, you know? 

They tell you what they are, what they need from you, and it becomes something out of that, something even greater than you originally planned. That’s when you know you’re onto something fun! 

I pitched The Florida Project to Sean back in 2011 or so, and over the course of our research and numerous trips to Orlando, it evolved quite a bit! But that’s the fun, seeing where these creative journeys take you and putting the puzzle pieces together.

As for the fantasy elements… I don’t like to use the word “fantasy” personally, because these stories are intentionally left open to discussion, and we love that, and to say they are a fantasy is telling the viewer what it could be, but IS it though? 

A fantasy I mean? That’s not for me to say. 

And sometimes Sean and I see it two different ways, which I think is cool. It’s like, did Dorothy really go to Oz? Or just dream it. That always stuck with me and perhaps this is a twist on that. But yeah, Sean likes to keep these things open. 

Same with Red Rocket. It’s great fun for me eavesdropping on audience members exiting, discussing the ending.

Q: In a Q & A at Film Festival 919 In Chapel Hill, where I know you have fans and a presence there since your early career, the interviewer joked “here’s one of the smut peddlers now,” and we all laughed at the joke; but how do you field those viewers who don’t see the full frontal funny in RED ROCKET, if you’ve had that experience?

CHRIS BERGOCH: So far, so good on that front! I hope people can relax and have a good time with Mikey’s adventure and not get too… hung… up on that aspect of it.

Q: With the Gotham Award nomination recently, and Sean in Rome for the film, how special was it to pick up an early Screenwriting Award at Film Fest 919 for both you and Sean as co-writers, and does it feel like a bellwether of things to come this Award Season?

CHRIS BERGOCH: Oh wow! It’s surreal. Very amazing and very surreal. My arm hurts from pinching myself! For me, with these films, there have been so many stories locked away in our brains over the last twenty years, and the fact a few have managed to sneak out and get up onto a giant screen is simply incredible. 

It’s always an uphill battle, convincing people to write a check for a story, especially things that are not the most mainstream.

So, the fact we got a few made, for me, that’s the real award.

Just that we had the chance to tell another story and people have the opportunity to see it on a big screen. I hope they enjoy it. I’d love the opportunity to let more escape my brain!

Bonus Question: How do you phonetically pronounce “Bergoch,” and since The Donut Hole is a main location in RED ROCKET, what’s your favorite sprinkle color on donuts?

CHRIS BERGOCH: Oh, it’s like Osh Kosh B’Gosh! They called me Osh Kosh in school. Ber-gosh! And I love the rainbow sprinkles! Yummm! But I’m doing Keto right now so don’t tempt me, Quendrith!

Yes, that is a very chic Cannes Film Festival mask Chris wears in that candid iPhone shot above, it’s already been a big year with this film’s buzz going back to the 74th Festival de Cannes in July.

So see RED ROCKET, and remember when movies were for adults with a sense of humor, or as Chris says “this movie may not be for everyone, but we hope everyone enjoys it.” 

Directed by Sean Baker, and written by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch, A24 will release RED ROCKET Dec. 3, visit here for more info.

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