Cory McAbee: Interview

Because of the amount of money and people it takes to make a film, it’s very rare you get someone who is willing to try completely new ways of doing things. Cory McAbee‘s latest film, Stingray Sam, is made up of six 11 minute episodes, designed to be watched on mobile phones as well as cinema screens and was released for download minutes after its premiere (which itself was streamed live on the web).

And he’s quite a renaissance man. He writes, directs, stars in, provides the music for (with his band The Billy Nayer Show), choreographs and even paints his films. Most pertinent for us, he is also a keen uker. Stingray Sam has two scenes of McAbee ukeing for his real life daughter and on-screen co-star Willa Vy McAbee (check out Lullaby)

And he was kind enough to answer a few questions for us.

How did you come to pick up the ukulele? What keeps you playing it?

My best friend, music/film producer and drummer for The Billy Nayer Show, Bobby Lurie, brought me one from Hawaii. A girl I knew had an antique booklet on how to play the ukulele. It had some basic chords and the sheet music for “Frankie and Johnny” and “Old Black Joe.”

The scenes with you playing the ukulele for Willa are adorable. Is that something that goes on at home as well?

It used to happen a lot. That was the inspiration for that scene. Music happens around the house spontaneously. My 2 year old son also likes to contribute. Mostly he loves to dance. He has a crush on a cartoon mouse named Angelina Ballerina.

Do you approach writing songs for the films differently to writing Billy Nayer Show songs?

Songs usually occur for different reasons. The ukulele piece entitled Lullaby Song in Stingray Sam was written for the film. Most of the songs for Stingray Sam and some of the music for The American Astronaut were written on the ukulele. I think part of the reason was that I can leave a ukulele sitting on my desk and reach for it without preparation.

Stingray Sam is made to work on small screens and is in YouTube sized chunks. And I, like many people, discovered American Astronaut on YouTube. How do you feel about people sharing your stuff on the net?

People share it for different reasons. When they share it because they like it, I’m happy, as long as they don’t put the whole thing up. The people who do that mean well, but it works against filmmakers. There are also now a lot of sites that aggressively advertise their websites using my films. They give my work away for free to sell ad space, subscriptions and so on. It would be a fulltime job to fight them. They protect themselves by working from countries that don’t have copyright laws. US sites link to those so they take no blame. They post every film they can get their hands on.

What advice would you give to people who are making their own music and videos and putting them up on the net?

If it makes sense for the kind of work that you do, then it’s perfect. But what’s good for one artist isn’t always good for another. For example, the Grateful Dead became enormously famous through live events. It wouldn’t have happened for them on youtube. Or so I think.

You’re one hell of a mover. What are your top dancing tips?

I usually make it up when I’m writing. Sometimes I come up with a dance a day or so before a shoot. When I work with other actors we work together on their moves based on what they can do. Thanks for saying that, by the way.

What can we expect from you in the future? More Stingray Sam? More episodic films? Werewolf Hunters of the Midwest?

I’m hoping to begin Werewolf Hunters of the Midwest within a year. I’ll keep you posted at There’s a link to everything I’m working on posted there.

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