Daniels is the Los Angeles-based writer-director duo of Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert. Their debut feature film Swiss Army Man premiered at Sundance 2016, garnering the Dramatic Directing Award and a nomination for the Grand Jury Prize. Daniels have won acclaim for their interactive short film Possibilia, which premiered at Tribeca 2014 and won the top prize at the Future of StoryTelling conference. Their short Interesting Ball screened at SXSW in 2015. Daniels have also been nominated for two Best Music Video Grammys and won the MTV Best Director VMA in 2014 for DJ Snake and Lil’ Jon’s “Turn Down for What” video.

Written and directed by Daniel Kwan & Daniel Scheinert (or Daniels), Swiss Army Man premiered at Sundance 2016 and won the Dramatic Directing Award. The film stars Paul Dano as a man deserted on an island and Daniel Radcliffe as the talking corpse he befriends on his journey home.

A 1999 film written and directed by Paul Thomas Anderson, Magnolia portrays interrelated characters searching for meaning in the San Fernando Valley. Starring Tom Cruise, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy and more, Magnolia garnered critical acclaim for its storyline and performances and was nominated for three Academy Awards.

Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, or Daniels, as they like to call themselves, have co-written and co-directed movies together since 2009. These include DJ Snake and Lil’ Jon’s “Turn Down for What” music video with its 450 million views on YouTube and the short SXSW film Interesting Ball wherein one Daniel takes an anatomical journey through the other. The two are set to release their feature film Swiss Army Man, which won the Dramatic Directing Award at Sundance 2016. The film stars Daniel Radcliffe as a flatulent, talking corpse who befriends and rescues a man stranded on a desert island, played by Paul Dano. The Daniels discuss Swiss Army Man, delving into personal territory and Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia.

Daniel Scheinert: You used to be very actively religious up until we met and a bit through us knowing each other. At the same time, you and I fell in love with the same movies—we both really love some really fucked up movies. Do you look at those movies differently now than you did back then? What was it like for religious Dan Kwan to watch Magnolia?

Daniel Kwan: As a religious person, Magnolia was really interesting. You can take any story and turn it into a religious allegory—it doesn’t matter what it is. And then the movie is okay because it’s like mythic Old Testament where everything is horrible. But things that happened in the Old Testament are way worse than what happens in Magnolia. Actually, Magnolia ends with Exodus 20—a plague.

DS: I guess that’s one of the cool things about religion—about Christianity—is that it has that ability to speak to so many themes. It’s all over the place, but in a kind of beautiful way.

“I think a lot of the time we make
movies as therapy.”

DK: I remember going to a screening of Zack Snyder’s classic 300 with a bunch of Christian guys and my college’s Christian group. Watching it I was like, “Dude, this is gory and there’s violence and sex—I wonder what all these guys are going to think?” Even amongst the group, I was a bit more liberal than some of the others, and it was interesting to watch them wrap very Christian values onto this narrative—to view it as, like, Christian soldiers putting on the armor of Christ. I think in Ephesians they talk about the different metaphorical pieces of armor you wear and how you use it to fight against the many demons in our day-to-day. They wrapped [this into] the underdog story of 300 Spartans versus the Persians. It’s interesting because you can do this in any movie. In Magnolia, there is a sense that everything is connected and there is potentially a reason for everything. There’s a higher power overseeing it all.

You wanted to quit filmmaking after making this movie. What were you going to do?

DS: I was like, “I’m going to act because then [the final product is] not all my fault.” I specifically wanted roles where I would be the butt of the joke, the villain or the stunt man. But I OD-ed on being in charge and started judging other people who were in charge, like, “Look at you on your high horse. You love being the boss. You suck!” It’s a weird feeling. No wonder it drives people crazy to be CEO.

DK: Yeah, it’s not fun.

DS: No wonder Donald Trump is crazy. You can’t stay sane bossing everyone around all the time.

DK: That’s why they say that sociopaths are better CEOs.

DS: Do you remember at Sundance during one of the screenings when I turned around and said really passive aggressively, “Are you fake laughing during our screening to make other people laugh?” Was fake laughing helping you? Did it make it more pleasurable for you? And then the follow-up is: Were you angry at me for asking you to stop?