Film Independent Wed 8.5.2015

Manson Family Vacation Team on Mixing Comedy and Serial Killers

One of the funniest movies you’ll see this year revolves around one of the most disturbing figures in American history.

Writer-director and Film Independent Fellow J. Davis’ Manson Family Vacation screened at the LA Film Fest in June, and, considering its inspiration, it’s almost shockingly lighthearted. The film follows two brothers: one, a workaholic family man, the other, an eccentric who is inexplicably obsessed with Charles Manson. Played by Jay Duplass and Linas Phillips, respectively, the unlikely pair takes a tour of all the places in Los Angeles Manson and his “Family” famously visited.

“I thought it would be pretty easy to play a guy super disturbed by Charles Manson… and Linas Phillips,” Duplass said at the Q&A after the screening. Phillips said he didn’t have an actual Manson obsession when he signed on for the film, but has developed one since. He said that getting cast in the project “started two years of intense Manson reading. My bookshelf looked very scary when girls came over.”

The film was inspired by Davis’ own fascination with Manson. One scene in the film, in which a little boy is caught reading Helter Skelter (Vincent Bugliosi’s best-selling crime book on the Manson murders), was taken from Davis’ own childhood. “My grandfather caught me and put it on a high bookshelf, where he thought I couldn’t get to it anymore,” Davis recalled. “But I did. I got kind of into the case as a kid.”

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 14: Director J. Davis and actors Jay Duplass, Linas Phillips, Leonora Pitts and Davie-Blue speak onstage at the "Manson Family Vacation" screening during the 2015 Los Angeles Film Festival at Regal Cinemas L.A. Live on June 14, 2015 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Akisha Rundquist/WireImage)

LA Film Fest programmer Jenn Wilson asked stars Leonora Pitts and Davie-Blue whether they were interested in “Charlie” at all, to which Pitts replied sarcastically, “I’ve been a big fan of Manson forever.” She laughed, “No! It’s one of the scariest legends of this city. I think it’s terrifying.”

At this point, Duplass commented, “I like the fact that the current question is, ‘how do you feel about Charles Manson?’”

Both the Q&A and the film itself were so funny that it was easy to forget that everyone was talking about a famous serial killer. “The crew and the cast are the most soulful, weird group people that I’ve ever worked with in my life,” Pitts said, “and I think that you see that in the film, and that’s why it could be a weird, scary, off movie, but it’s not. It’s full of heart because of the people who made it.”

Mary Sollosi / Film Independent Blogger