'Frank' Talk: Inside the Head of the Oddball Indie Comedy

Magnolia Pictures
Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson in <i>Frank</i>, a Magnolia Pictures release. 

Maggie Gyllenhaal, Michael Fassbender and Domhnall Gleeson not only portray down-on-their-luck oddball musicians in an avant-garde rock band in Frank, they had to become proficient as musicians to give realistic performances.

Director Lenny Abrahamson and composer Stephen Rennicks drew on outsider artists such as Captain Beefheart, Daniel Johnston, the Residents and Benjamin of the band Smoke to create a musical identity that’s “partially silly, partially pretty, partially strange, partially familiar,” says Abramson.

The comedy touches on multiple elements affecting the contemporary independent music scene: Touring and recording on severely limited budgets; building a fan base on YouTube; securing a slot at SXSW; and the infighting that tears apart bands. It premiered at Sundance 2014 and opens Aug. 15 in the U.S.; a soundtrack release is in the works.

Prior to seven weeks of shooting in New Mexico and Ireland, Abrahamson and Rennicks worked with the actors in the band to determine musical abilities and create a system for writing rule-bending songs. Smartly, they cast a working drummer, Carla Azar of Autolux and Jack White’s band.

“We didn’t want the band to have a particular genre -- we wanted the band to be exploring,” says Abrahamson, who organized music rehearsals before shooting began but left open improvisational possibilities. “To give them that freedom and not tie them down was difficult – the music had to be particular. The miracle of the movie is that the music works.”