Film Courage: What was life like growing up?
Nathan Alan Bunker: Growing up in Michigan was great. I lived in a small town with dirt roads and green fields and it was relatively quiet; not much crime and just about everyone knew each other. Living there helped a lot when I came out to California and began living in a large city with millions of people and no one knows who you were. It let me see there’s more out in the world than what you know and are comfortable with.
Film Courage: Did your family encourage creativity?
Nathan: My family has always been behind whatever I do. They’ve made it very easy for me to venture out and create without worrying what they may think of me.
Film Courage: Where did your love of animation begin?
Nathan: My love for animation began, like many people, just watching morning cartoons. My dad was big into Looney Tunes and enjoyed watching different episodes with us kids. Later, my dad turned me on to the movie Heavy Metal and it blew me away. I liked the loose animation where it made people’s bodies move in ways they necessarily weren’t supposed to. I had really only seen talking animals walk and talk in this way prior to Heavy Metal, so when I saw people and entities and goblins all mixed into one, I thought it was fantastic.
Film Courage: How long have you been thinking about directing and acting in your own project?
Nathan: I discovered Directing as a hobby through some high school projects that needed a video presentation. I decided to pursue filmmaking as a career during college but never had interest with being in front of the camera. My acting experiences go as far as shooting commercial contests with friends and us needing someone to fill a role for free. I highly prefer to not act in my projects. The decision to be the voice for MARK was solely based on the fact that I do that voice for fun to freak out my girlfriend so when it came time to think about who should do it, she cast me.
Film Courage: When did you get the idea for Sad Motivator? How long did it take you to write it?
Nathan: The concept came in mid 2012 and we began filming in February of 2013. The writing process was about 5 months and I continued to make tweaks into filming.
Film Courage: Where were you in your life when you wrote the story for Sad Motivator?
Nathan: When writing Sad Motivator, it was more about getting something out there than anything else. It wasn’t necessarily that I ‘had to tell this story’ or had considered this idea for years and never could get it off the ground. I basically needed to get something out creatively and this idea stuck with me so I wrote it. So I guess you could say I was antsy.
Film Courage: How soon do you share your first, second, or final draft with people close to you?
Nathan: I am very open with sharing my ideas with friends and asking them to review drafts throughout my writing process. Even before I begin writing I will talk about my ideas with a few friends to see their reactions and hear their thoughts. I have luckily surrounded myself with filmmakers that take the time to read a few drafts and provide great feedback. I also enjoy receiving ideas and thoughts from friends and family not involved in the entertainment industry. I am not very private about my projects.
Film Courage: What is your character in Sad Motivator?
Nathan: I am the voice of MARK, the green blob.
Film Courage: What drew you to incorporating an animated character in the role of Mark?
Nathan: The decision came from wanting to get involved with a creative department that I haven’t worked with before. I didn’t want to make MARK a person because I didn’t think the comedy would be there and a puppet would’ve been a little more difficult on set. With animation I was able to shoot plates and make changes in motion and dialogue in post all I wanted. A lot of the dialogue for Mark changed in post so it was helpful.
Film Courage: What was your preparation for the role of Mark? Have you had a ‘Mark’ in your own life?
Nathan: I luckily needed very little preparation to come up with the voice and tone of MARK. I’ve done this creepy voice for years joking around, so it was a quick and easy decision to make. I have never had a MARK in my life so far, but I believe there is that inner voice we all refer to on certain occasions, whether it’s on a first date or a job interview.
Film Courage: Why are mischievous friends who counsel a troubled one so interesting to watch?
Nathan: I found humor in the idea that someone so insecure and vulnerable could actually find rationality in heinous and mischievous suggestions like Mark gives. The more insecure Kevin became the more jaded he was with realizing that Mark’s advice was anything but constructive. Maybe people can relate to a time when bad advice seemed great, but in this case the advice is a little excessive.
Film Courage: What other animated characters drew you to write Mark?
Nathan: I think Mark is a little combination of Jabba the Hut and Slimmer. With the personality of Hannibal Lecter.
Film Courage: How did you cast your actors? How did you know they were the characters?
Nathan: All actors involved in this project were people we already knew or knew of. The casting director, Andrea Rueda, had worked with our lead actor Timothy Cole a few years ago, and she learned about Amanda Bauer through auditioning her for a few projects in the past. Everyone else; Ben Begley, Renee Dorian and Angela Relucio are all good friends of Andrea’s and mine. We were already very familiar with everyone’s work and acting capabilities.
Film Courage: When casting your actors, what additional factors played in giving them the role? Did you look at their IMDB credits/page, social media numbers, etc?
Nathan: The only role we did a lot of research for was Sasha. IMDB ranking and the amount of Twitter followers was never a factor in the decision-making. We simply watched a lot of YouTube videos and skewered through UCB and other comedy schools. We watched audition tapes from past projects that Andrea worked on. The only factor that played into filling any role was their talent.
Film Courage: Where did you shoot most of the episodes? Where did you do voiceover for Mark?
Nathan: I wrote the script knowing I had a micro budget to work with so we shot everything in my apartment. My producer lent me his apartment for a couple of days as Sasha’s apartment and the rest was all exterior shots in the North Hollywood neighborhood. A local cafe was very generous as to lend us their space for a few hours during their down time.
Film Courage: Was there a moment when the production almost fell apart? How did you salvage it?
Nathan: Luckily we never reached a point where I thought it might fall apart. I hired and worked with people I knew very well so the process was friendly and smooth. I regret wearing too many hats on set, and wish I hired an Assistant Director. I was stretched pretty thin and learned my lesson on that but I did save myself a lot of money by making that sacrifice and the episodes came out with little reshoots, so it was still a win.
Film Courage: What is your plan for the series?
Nathan: Season 2 was actually already set up about the same time as the first season. I already knew where I wanted the second season to end up so I wrote the first season out and have the 10-episode second season basically completed and hoping to shoot some time soon.
Film Courage: What have you learned about releasing content online?
Nathan: The biggest learning experience about releasing online is that not everyone you think will watch, no matter how easy you make it. Short 30-second videos about babies laughing are easy to rack up views, but having a series just under 5 minutes an episode is a lot tougher and, as of right now sadly, viewers aren’t as keen to spend that time on something they aren’t familiar with. But it’s progressing.
Film Courage: From years of working on other people’s sets, what values and tone did you want to bring to your set on SAD MOTIVATOR?
Nathan: Everyone getting along well and not having any ego’s on set goes a long way. The whole team was game for anything and everything. We all just wanted to have fun and make a project.
Film Courage: What can you share with a new crew member on conducting one ‘s self on set?
Nathan: Never complain. Unless you feel you need to.
Film Courage: What’s next for you creatively?
Nathan: As stated earlier, Season 2 is slated soon to be shot and hopefully get it out some time next year. Outside of Sad Motivator I’m working on a time travel feature film as well as a couple shorts to be filmed soon.
Nathan earned his Bachelor’s Degree at Columbia College in 2007 and has been working in film and television ever since. While producing for reality television, Nathan has continued to write and direct, leading up to his first web series.