Steven Ellison is perhaps best known by his stage name, Flying Lotus, but soon enough, film fans might start referring to him as “steve.” That’s the moniker—yes, lowercase—that Ellison is using as he takes his first steps into directing: His debut short film, Royal, premieres this weekend at the Sundance NEXT Fest in Los Angeles. It’s not a completely unexpected turn; steve attended the Los Angeles Film School, and got an early start contributing instrumental tracks to Adult Swim. But his journey back to narrative filmmaking all started with a GIF.

Last October, Ellison saw an unconventional micro-short on Twitter: A GIF of himself and Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke at a DJ set—edited to create a comedic dialogue between the two musicians.

“It was hilarious,” Ellison of the GIF; unexpectedly, though, he found himself inspired by the power of the image. So he turned to his friend, animator David Firth (creator of British series Salad Fingers) for help figuring out animation techniques in Adobe After Effects. Soon, Ellison had worked out the story for a feature-length animated project that focused on various relationships in the aftermath of a massive earthquake in southern California.

While on a trip to New York, though, his imagination ran wild. “There’s something about being in New York that just makes me feel like a pervert,” says Ellison. “You get so many glimpses into so many different worlds passing you by, and you just wonder what’s going on in the room next to you or across the hall.” He came up with a second idea: a live-action segment about a couple that would be included in the feature. He began writing the story as he left New York, and had finished it by the time he got home to L.A. Director Eddie Alcazar (whose short film Ellison had previously scored) took a look at the story, and insisted that instead of waiting, they simply move forward with production.

The result is Royal, one of the most explicit shorts to debut this year. It centers on Missy (Iesha Cotton) and Kenneth (Outi Zum), a couple with some troubling skin ailments that only get more disconcerting as they get uncovered—and that’s before one of the characters unveils a secret appendage that the short is named for. (We can’t stress this enough: it’s not for the faint of heart.) Royal doesn’t have any animation, but in addition to writing and directing it, Ellison served as puppeteer for the…titular character. If it’s unsettling to viewers, Ellison’s fine with that; he cites the gross-out slapstick of Ren & Stimpy as a major influence.

That’s not say that it turned out exactly the way he’d wanted. “Making a movie hasn’t been an easy road just because I have a history as Flying Lotus,” he says. The casting process, which was occurring around the same time as the #OscarsSoWhite campaign earlier this year, took longer than anticipated—mostly because Ellison wanted black actors in both main roles. “I really wanted to make sure that we expanded people’s palate of what you see black actors doing,” he says. He also originally sought Dave Chappelle for the role of the title character, but was rebuffed by the comedian’s management team: “[They were] fucking terrified of what I was doing. I’m sure he didn’t even know, but his management blocked me out.”

Chappelle or not, the finished product is wildly discomfiting and grotesquely funny. While Royal will still be part of Ellison’s mostly-animated feature, it will premiere for now as a lead-in to the schlocky horror-exploitation film The Greasy Strangler at Sundance NEXT. Then again, if anything can help him predict whether his feature project has a shot with an audience, it’s how viewers react to the double dose of unapologetic boundary-pushing.

Royal debuts on August 14 at the ACE Hotel in Los Angeles.

Originally posted here: 

Flying Lotus Directed a Short Film, and It Is Seriously NSFW