The Movie Waffler Interview - REALITY QUEEN! Director Steven Jay Bernheim | The Movie Waffler

Interview - REALITY QUEEN! Director Steven Jay Bernheim

Steven Jay Bernheim interview
Bernheim discusses his upcoming satire.

Inspired by the likes of Christopher Guest and early Kubrick, producer and filmmaker Steven Jay Bernheim put pen to paper on a wonderfully witty tale about a reality TV star who just can’t let go of her one-time fame. Sound familiar?

reality queen poster

Why was the time ripe to take the mickey out of reality TV?

I was triggered by an on-line post from a woman in her early-twenties who was at the Coachella music festival and happened to see Paris, who was all decked out in typical teenage festival garb. The young woman found it rather ridiculous to see Paris trying so hard to fit in with the kids – largely teenagers half her age. That inspired me to ask, what if Paris tried to make a comeback?

And how did the idea change over the course of developing the film?

The core idea was intact from start to finish. But developing the story, the vignettes, and all the jokes took me and a team of eight other writers half a year. And then I allowed the cast to ad-lib dialogue on set. Plus, I chopped a two-hour initial cut to 84 minutes, after obtaining audience reactions. There were some potentially controversial bits that I chopped out of the first cut – I didn’t want to risk offending anyone unintentionally.

It has a similar vibe to ‘90s classic Drop Dead Gorgeous but also shares similar traits with the likes of Best in Show and I’m Still Here? Were any of those films inspirations?

Best in Show is a great film from the genius of Christopher Guest and company. Guest was one of the creators of the film that most inspired me to make Reality Queen!This is Spinal Tap!, which I can pretty much recite from start to finish. Mel Brooks’ The Producers, which I’ve also memorised, was another inspiration, as was Stanley Kubrick’s  Dr. Strangelove. There are homages to each of those directors/films in Reality Queen!. There’s also a lot of Monty Python in there somewhere, not to mention a bit of Woody Allen.   

And without saying who the lead character is inspired by - I’m not sure you’re allowed to? - how would you describe her?

"London" was largely inspired by Paris-you-know-who. I mean, could it be a total coincidence that their given names are both major European capitals? And London’s surname is "Logo," suggesting that she’s as much of a brand as she is an actual person. Who does that remind you of?

Is what you see, what you get with London – or is there more behind that porcelain phizog?

Part of our point is that there’s definitely more than what there seems to be on the surface. Yes, she’s not got a high IQ. Yes, she’s totally ignorant of anything intellectual or artistic. Yes, she has no talent as an actor or DJ or as any type of artist or creative. But she has brilliant instincts when it comes to mass manipulation and salesmanship. That’s why we reveal at the end of the film that she planned everything ahead of time - and it all worked out - not just for her, but also for everyone in her circle, even her rivals - the “Kim” sisters.

What does Julia Faye West bring to the role?

I auditioned dozens of actors for the role, but Julia really nailed it. When she did the dramatic scene where London appears to be at the end of her rope - truly and desperately alone - the crew applauded her at the end of the take. I’ve never seen that before. And our crew was the usual rough-and-tough bunch of cynics who’ve seen it all.  I think that says a great deal… and, Julia happens to be my ex-wife. Really.

Its core reason for existence seems to be to give audiences a good time – but is there a message to the movie too?

Well, the number one raison d’etre is to give everyone as many laughs as possible – that’s job one for all comedy films in my view. But we intended to deliver a message as well. As London herself puts it “America doesn’t know what it wants. . . until it’s TOLD!” Put differently, “We’ve met the enemy and she is. . . US!” The point is that we ordinary folks empower these famous-for-no-reason billionaires, by buying into their images and their product lines. So we shouldn’t criticise them – we need to criticise ourselves! Along with that goes the message that Paris, Kim, etc., do lack education, knowledge of the broader world and high IQs, but they more than make up for their deficits with brilliant instincts when it comes to mass manipulation.

Are reality stars celebrities? That’s a big question, right…

Well Kim and her family are definitely celebrities. Paris certainly was, and still is, at least to some people.

Who do you classify as ‘stars’? Who deserves that billing?

To me, there’s a difference between a “star” and a “celebrity.” Being the “star” of a reality show to me just means you’re one of the leads. Nobody may have heard of you. “Celebrity” requires fame, and also implies a certain degree of salesmanship.

Does it anger you to see social media users and YouTube vloggers suddenly be classified as huge stars or celebrities? Is it deserved?

I’m certainly not angry at them; it’s hardly their fault. It’s our fault – we empower them - and that’s what bothers me. And as mentioned, they do have brilliant sales instincts, if not actual talent, traditional intelligence or broad knowledge. Perhaps they deserve some reward for that.

Reality Queen! is available on DVD and Digital, as well as screening in select US cinemas in January.