- LOS ANGELES
Brandon LaGanke and John Carlucci, aka the directorial duo Ghost + Cow, have roots at the South by Southwest (SXSW) Film Festival in Austin, Texas, as well as in the advertising industry. On the latter score, both have ad agency backgrounds, first meeting at TBWA\Chiat\Day New York where they were thrown together in LaGanke’s edit room and quickly developed a rapport which led to their coming together as filmmakers. But their team effort gave way at one point to solo directing gigs when LaGanke got an opportunity from producer Matt Bonin (now managing partner, head of entertainment + production at Alto) to go over to Ogilvy NY. This evolved into LaGanke individually directing via Ogilvy’s then in-house Eyepatch unit. There he helmed varied projects, including the emotionally moving short A Ticket To Visit Mum for British Airways, which in turn earned LaGanke a slot in SHOOT’s 2014 New Directors Showcase.
Meanwhile Carlucci’s solo run included his serving as a video content director at Tribeca, turning out a heavy volume of work autonomous of that NY festival.
However, LaGanke and Carlucci have for the lion’s share of their careers been a close-knit directing team, dating back to their first project 10 years ago, a music video for Brooklyn band Warm Ghost, which started their run at the SXSW Fest. The clip was one of several short-form pieces from Ghost + Cow that made the cut at SXSW in different years. And LaGanke and Carlucci remain active in short-form fare through Brooklyn-based Greenpoint Pictures which continues to handle the directing duo for commercials and branded content in the U.S.
Next month, though--on March 15 to be exact--LaGanke and Carlucci’s SXSW odyssey will take on a new twist as their first feature film, Drunk Bus, makes its world premiere as part of the festival’s Visions lineup. Visions filmmakers are described by the fest as “audacious, risk-taking artists in the new cinema landscape who demonstrate raw innovation and creativity in documentary and narrative filmmaking.”
LaGanke and Carlucci said they were both gratified to have their feature selected for the SXSW lineup, particularly the Visions program which Carlucci described as “the coolest category at the festival,” underscoring that the filmmakers in it are doing something that “sets them apart, letting people know that they’re doing something different, untraditional, thinking outside the box.”
Drunk Bus was spawned by LaGanke’s own experience during his college days at Ohio’s Kent State University in the early 2000s. Back then he drove the drunk bus which had him navigating a late night route between the bars and student housing. There was no Uber or Lyft, just a bus to help prevent drunk driving, getting kids safely home from off-campus watering holes and parties. “It was a fun route. The service was free to students,” recalled LaGanke who took on driving duties because, he quipped, it was “the highest paid job on campus aside from nude modeling and I didn’t want to do nude modeling.”
LaGanke recalled looking back on the bus experience as a potentially rich storytelling vein to tap into for a film. Fast forward to today and that coming-of-age dramedy feature from LaGanke and Carlucci is poised for its premiere at SXSW.
Written by Chris Molinaro, Drunk Bus stars Charlie Tahan (Ozark, Super Dark Times) as Michael, a young, directionless campus bus driver, and newcomer Pineapple Tangaroa as the character Pineapple, a charismatic punk rock Samoan security guard who is hired to protect him on the night shift as drunk college students are ushered from one party to the next. A mismatched pair, Michael and Pineapple form an unlikely friendship and together break out of the endless loop into a world of uncertainty, excitement and incredibly poor decisionmaking. The cast also features Kara Hayward (Moonrise Kingdom, Manchester by the Sea), Zach Cherry (Netflix’s You, Crashing), Dave Hill (Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt), Sarah Mezzanotte (Search Party) and Tonatiuh Elizarrarax (Vida, Chicago Med). Tangaroa makes his acting debut on Drunk Bus, having actually been a security guard on a drunk bus in the early 2000s. LaGanke and Carlucci took a chance on him, citing his uniqueness as a person, personal magnetism and personality. A 300-pound Samoan with facial tattoos, Tangaroa is a genuine character unto himself.
Carlucci said the storyline drew him in, noting that Michael is in a strange funk, post graduation and post-breakup with his sweetheart, “stuck in a metaphoric place driving in circles. Pineapple forces him out of his comfort zone, to take steps he would not have normally until he decides to take the ultimate next step of his life.” For Carlucci, it’s a story about grappling with “not knowing what you’re doing right after college. But that’s okay. As long as you keep growing and moving forward, you’ll find it, you’ll realize it.”
LaGanke described the feature film as “Kevin Smith’s Clerks on a bus,” as we see personal growth and coming of age taking place in a single workplace environment.
Drunk Bus is set in northeastern Ohio, though it was actually lensed primarily in Rochester, NY, through snow and frigid temperatures. LaGanke and Carlucci gravitated to cinematographer Luke McCoubrey for the film. Citing the DP’s work on The Clovehitch Killer, LaGanke noted that he and Carlucci wanted Drunk Bus to be shot “like a horror film in a way,” adding to the dramatic aspect of the story.
Body of work
LaGanke is Cow and Carlucci is Ghost, references to names of collectives/entities that each had belonged to years ago. Cow + Ghost was born out of necessity in that the directors wanted a fun name while avoiding at all costs a Brandon and John amalgam-type moniker.
Beyond the feature and earlier alluded to projects, Ghost + Cow’s body of work includes a “Dangerous” music video as well as L1ZY for Big Data--the latter being a short that premiered at last year’s Santa Barbara Film Festival; Funny or Die’s Thoughts & Prayers starring Saturday Night Live’s Darrell Hammond; music videos for such artists as Joywave, Zebra Katz and Chappo; and the hit viral short Drone Boning which gained exposure on the late night talk show circuit spanning hosts Stephen Colbert, Conan O’Brien and Seth Meyers, along with extensive coverage on digital platforms.
Among Ghost + Cow’s ad endeavors is a Johnnie Walker spot that aired during the Grammys. The duo has also helmed for brands including McDonald’s, Holiday Inn and Home Depot. The campaign for the Home Depot’s Pinterest partnership received a Silver Lion at the 2018 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.