There are two important differences between Daniel Scheinert’s first movie (2016’s Swiss Army Man) and his second (this week’s The Death of Dick Long).
The first is that Scheinert made this second film without his other half. To this point, Scheinert hasn’t really been Scheinert. He’s been one of two—the two—Daniels. The other Daniel is Scheinert’s longtime writing-directing partner, Daniel Kwan. Even if you don’t know their story, you know their story: The Daniels met in college, disliked each other at first (Scheinert never shut up, Kwan hardly participated), and then, like every pair of mismatched leads in a buddy comedy, became an inseparable unit. Together, they made a number of beautifully bizarre shorts, some absolutely wild music videos (“Turn Down For What,” anyone?), and then: Swiss Army Man.
Better known as “the farting corpse movie,” it was weird, too. Daniel Radcliffe gave his best performance—yes, ever—as a corpse named Manny who washes up on a deserted island, and both spiritually and literally saves a stranded man named Hank (Paul Dano). It was the talk of Sundance in 2016. A24 picked it up. It didn’t do great numbers, but it was a thing. The Daniels were on their way, and then…
Well, there’s actually no scandal or ugly split to recount. Instead, what happened next is that Scheinert linked up with his other best friend, the screenwriter Billy Chew, to direct a script Chew had been thinking about since college. “Billy and I are so close that it didn’t feel like a solo film,” Scheinert says now. And actually, he adds, it was “really good” for his relationship with his other Daniel. “We’re more excited than ever to make more stuff together. It’s kind of like the band did some solo records and now we’re so excited for the next album.”
But, The Death of Dick Long. It’s set in Alabama, Scheinert’s native state and Chew’s home state. And it’s just as strange—and even funnier—than Swiss Army Man. But the second important difference: Unlike Swiss Army Man, which was billed—brilliantly—as “the farting corpse movie,” there’s no snappy tagline for The Death of Dick Long. I can’t tell you why it’s so sublimely weird and hilarious, just that it is.
I can, however, also tell you this: Dick Long (Scheinert, as a beer-chugging bumpkin in a bad rock band) does indeed die. And his two bandmates, Zeke and Earl, spend much of the film covering up how he died. I can assure you that you do eventually find out how Dick died, and that the way he died is where things really get weird. Also, like Swiss Army Man, The Death of Dick Long’s not just weird for weird’s sake. It’s actually pretty deep—about love, secrets, and shame. But that’s it. I’ve probably already said too much. The less you know the better. Except for what Scheinert’s about to tell you…
GQ: So why this movie now?
Daniel Scheinert: The year I decided to make this movie, shitty dudes were in the headlines like ten times a day. Billy [Chew, the screenwriter,] had been trying to get the movie put together, and I’d been part of the project for years and years, reading different drafts and stuff. And while it’s not a preachy movie, it explores something that was very much on my brain—the shame that so many guys live with, and the way that shitty dudes’ behavior is rippling out across the country.
And then we talked about where to shoot it, because it wasn’t explicitly set in Alabama. But Alabama’s where I’m from and it’s where Billy was living when he wrote the movie. And Alabama was in the headlines every week last year and the year before, too, and I was like, “I want to go back and explore this place—the bad and the good.” Who gets to frame the narrative around Alabama is always a bummer. Usually the people framing the narrative aren’t the majority of Alabama, which is women and people of color. It’s some white dudes. It’s Roy Moore, Jeff Sessions, and George Wallace.