The Fat of the Lens

From man-breasts and money comes a local documentary film star

"We had a budget," Landsberg says. "I had done a music video for a band in L.A., Joy Zipper, and I was contacting them about doing the music for the film, and they were being such pains in the asses about it — 'make me an offer' type of shit — and I was like, 'You know what, I know a lot of musicians down here,' and it's a little bit of a cliché — keep it in Miami — but you know what, when you can, I think it's really important. Pretty much all except for a few are from South Florida, and half of which recorded here live. They just played what they felt."

As interesting as Fatboy's local angle was, however, it wasn't going to make a movie about dieting and the food industry any more interesting. Landsberg knew that recording a bunch of talking-head nutritionists spitting facts about slow food trends and attempting to deconstruct the meanings behind the nutritional information on a can of Pam cooking spray would make for zero entertainment. The goal was Sundance, not PBS, so over the film stock, Landsberg injected catchy graphics and animation to explain all the textbook stuff. Gastric bypass surgery: a pair of animated scissors cutting through an animated stomach; the growing rate of diabetes in children: a comic book-style drawing of a kid holding a drumstick as he gets fatter and fatter.

"My responsibility as a director," Landsberg says, "was to make it as entertaining as possible, because we have so much information that people need to hear, but no one wants to be preached to. There are a million videos that tell you three-quarters of the facts that are in our film, but they don't get your attention. So from day one I wanted to sort of approach this thing as sort of a television show on acid. I felt that making it as entertaining as possible was important — not by guiding Miles, but with graphics. Hopefully, that way, we'll get some kids to pay attention too, not just the middle-agers who are a built-in audience for this kind of thing."

Forman began working out in the gym by himself and with a personal trainer to lose fat and redistribute muscle
Colby Katz
Forman began working out in the gym by himself and with a personal trainer to lose fat and redistribute muscle

The flesh-and-blood cast of Fatboyproved to be one motley crew itself. There's Mike Manno, the personal trainer, who rocks the long, Eighties metal-hair look and gets fired up at the discovery of contraband buttered popcorn in Miles's kitchen. Think Richard Simmons meets Gene Simmons. Jeff Novick is the "fact guy" and in a Bill Nye kind of way explains why Pam cooking spray is fat-free. ("The serving size is one-third of a second of spray. Have you ever known anybody to use one-third of a second of these sprays?") Judging by his smart glasses and wily college professor delivery, one would never guess he owns copies of every Grateful Dead concert ever recorded. Oh, but he does. There's the soft-spoken colon cleanser, Nayima, who says all kinds of insightful things like, "Right now that water looks like drinking water. But you wouldn't want to drink it, because it's coming out of your rectum."

"We called like 30 places and no one would let us in with a camera, and finally this little Russian bath in the basement of a Howard Johnson's in North Miami said yes. And the woman was so incredible — I was laughing out loud while we were shooting. The drive home after that was such a rush. It's nice going out and not knowing what you're going to get," Landsberg recalls.

Although the idea of a documentary about obesity and the food industry is nothing original — Morgan Spurlock's Super Size Me, which followed the lanky director on a month-long McDonald's binge, was nominated for Best Documentary at last year's Academy Awards — it's fitting that South Florida is the setting for a story about a fat guy. Unlike, say, Wisconsin, where you can't chuck a ButterBurger ten feet without hitting a pair of man-breasts, South Florida is the home of the South Beach bod, and with such an abundance of tanning salons, plastic surgery clinics, and places to get waxed, it's a wonder there's anyone between Coral Gables and West Palm Beach who isn't dark, beautiful, and hairless.

Granted, the fact that women wear Brazilian jeans and stilettos to do their grocery shopping, and men consider Creatine a food group, promotes a somewhat distorted image of beauty, but the truth is, if you're young, single, and within ten miles of a beach, you best be able to wear a swimsuit in the middle of winter. Forman claims his goal, when he began the film, was never to become a world-class bodybuilder or a supermodel, but there's no doubt living in such an image-conscious part of the country distorts his image of beauty. "It truly does," says Forman. "I'm thankful for the time I spent in Montana [during summers] as a kid. I had a perspective at least, that it wasn't like here everywhere. But I could never imagine growing up not having been anywhere else and thinking this is how it is. I'm just happy I can go to the beach now and take my shirt off. That means more to me than how I look. Because I still don't have a great body. I'm not a volleyball player. I tell my trainer I want to look like Val Kilmer and Tom Cruise in that scene in Top Gun, where they're playing volleyball. If I could get half that, I'd be happy."

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