This summer, Brockhampton somehow found the time to make a movie when they weren't busy dropping three albums.

Kevin Abstract and the rest of the crew usually prefer to keep everything in-house, but they trusted writer Alex Russell with the task of creating the screenplay for their Saturation film. After a chance encounter with Abstract at Rolling Loud music festival, Russell quickly developed a natural, productive working relationship with all of Brockhampton. He explains, "It’s all a matter of taste, as Romil would say. When you’re on the same page in terms of taste, you can trust each other’s instincts."

That trust allowed for the film to be written in two weeks and shot in ten days—all while recording Saturation III. Being pulled into the fast-paced, prolific world of Brockhampton opened Russell's eyes to the advantages of moving at such a fast pace. "The fact that I knew I had less than two weeks to write a hundred pages is what actually allowed me to finish," he says. "When that’s the situation, you don’t get caught up in every detail or get bogged down by over-thinking. Perfection is your enemy."

Inspired by films like Training Day and The Social Network, Russell wrote a script that had eerie similarities with the actual life and personality of the movie's lead actor: Ameer Vann. "I think the coolest part for me was when Ameer first read the script, because at the time we had only met once or twice," he notes. "Everyone was kind of taken aback by how much this written character resembled elements of his actual personality. They were asking me if I had studied him or somehow gotten in his head, when it was really all just material that came out of my own little experiences."

Brockhampton changed their original plan and shared a short version of the film called Billy Star in mid-December, but Abstract promises that a full-length movie will eventually be available to watch in theaters. With the direction of Abstract and a small team including Alex Mallis, Spencer Ford, Jenny Grossbach, Jon Nunes, Kevin Doan, Ashlan Grey, Joel Marsh, Kayla Hoff, Nick Lenzini, Henock Sileshi, Kealey Odonnell, and more (check out the full credits at the end of Billy Star) they pulled off the feat in an incredibly short amount of time.

Read our full interview with Alex Russell below, in which we discuss his background and what it was like working with Brockhampton as a team. Stick around for some cryptic hints at the content of the Saturation movie.

You've spent some time as a touring DJ, used to intern with Complex, and now youʼre writing movies with Brockhampton. How did you get from point A to point B?

There’s a Frank Ocean tweet that said: “If you’re a writer you can write anything… prose, songs, raps, novels, plays, films, laws... take the governor off your gift. Note to self.” I know I sound lame for having that memorized. But it’s very significant to me, because it affirms something I’ve thought for a while: The realms of creativity are much more fluid than they appear—especially in writing. So in my case I had been writing profiles, stories, comics, music video treatments, and short films for a while. 

At a certain point the smaller projects start to feel like Legos and you want to start building with bricks, so your ambitions naturally grow to be things like books, shows, and movies. Just in terms of working with Brockhampton, though, it was probably predestined. I met Ian (Kevin Abstract) at Rolling Loud, actually, which is hilarious in retrospect. Roberto was there.

Why do you think they trusted you with the task of writing the script?

We had worked together before, actually on an episode of Helmet Boy that we made about a year ago but never put out. That's fortunate because the basic concept of it made it into Billy Star. Beyond that, Ian and I have just talked a lot about what inspires us and what we think is cool, and there’s quite a bit of overlap. We both love The Social Network, for example. It’s all a matter of taste, as Romil would say. When you’re on the same page in terms of taste, you can trust each other’s instincts.

Had you written any big projects prior to the short film, Billy Star, and the full movie?

A couple pilots. One with my friend Zack for the Viceland network that did get made, and another intended for the FX show Atlanta, written on spec.

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Photo by Spencer Ford

How hands on was Kevin Abstract during the writing process of the film?

We talked on the phone pretty much every day during the couple weeks I was writing. He didn’t really ask me to change anything but we made sure to discuss the progress I was making. This was while they were still on Jennifer’s Tour.

What about the rest of the guys?

From what I understand, no one in the group other than Ian read the script until the first draft was done. Later, Ameer was very helpful in revisions. He kind of had to be because he plays the lead and we needed to make his performance carry the movie. We workshopped his lines to the point that they sounded exactly how he might say them in real life. And we would try to watch a different movie we both liked every night for inspiration. Training Day was a big one for us. And bear in mind, this is all taking place while Saturation III was being made, if you had any remaining doubts about how hard the group works.

we would try to watch a different movie we both liked every night for inspiration. Training Day was a big one for us.

Dom was also helpful. He had a really strong grasp of the script and was able to go back and forth with me about details. Romil was helpful just in terms of putting the process into perspective for me. While I was making revisions, Joba would call me over periodically to listen to soundtrack ideas he’d been working on. It would always be some year 2057-sounding shit, and it just inspired me to envision an even darker, more surreal tone to the whole project.

Kevin Doan was also instrumental to the pre-production process. In the public eye he’s a K-Pop star, but in regular life he’s very driven and multitalented. A lot of the things none of us knew how to do early on he just went and figured out. I should also mention our producer Alex, who took this abstract script and chopped it down into language that we could logistically pull off in 10 days of shooting.

How did you guys pull everything off in such a short span of time?

Tupac made The Don Kiluminati in three days.

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Alex Russell (left) with Kevin Abstract. Photo by Spencer Ford

Where did you guys get the idea for the movie?

Ian and I just talked about the mythology surrounding the two worlds of the Brockhampton videos and the Kevin Abstract videos, then tried to construct an interwoven story out of them.

What did brainstorming and writing sessions typically look like?

“Bro, I got this idea for summer.”

“MY KING.”

everyone was kind of taken aback by how much [AMEER's] written character resembled elements of his actual personality. They were asking me if I had studied him or somehow gotten in his head

Do you have a favorite story from the writing or pre-production days that you want to share?

I think the coolest part for me was when Ameer first read the script, because at the time we had only met once or twice. Everyone was kind of taken aback by how much this written character resembled elements of his actual personality. They were asking me if I had studied him or somehow gotten in his head, when it was really all just material that came out of my own little experiences.

That was a huge relief just to see that it resonated, because this process of writing with casting already in mind is so much different than thinking up whatever kinds of characters you want. You’re writing to your actors, almost.

Were you involved with the filming process at all?

I was there up until the first rounds of editing, but once we started shooting I mostly tried to stay out of the way. It wasn’t really a situation where I could be forceful about the script because it was just such a loose, experimental, time-constrained production. I truly internalized this after asking Kevin Doan to make a toy plane out of cardboard for this flashback scene right before we shot it. I realized I was too married to certain details and I just needed to step back and let everybody do their jobs.

Kevin said that there is a full version of Billy Star that is going to play in theaters. What can you tell us about that?

I can tell you that if he said it, then there’s a decent chance it will happen. He can be mercurial at times, which I think is to his advantage, but if he’s excited about the final product at the time of its completion, he’ll make sure everyone sees it.

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Photo by Spencer Ford

Will scenes from the short appear in the longer film, or is it more of a prequel?

Well, to clarify, they’re both from the same source material.

Why have two versions? Did that strike you guys during writing, or once you finished compiling ideas?

I found out about the short when everyone else did, which is to say that it was probably a decision made based on in-the-moment gut feeling. The way a lot of things happen in Brockhampton is someone gets excited about an idea, then the group rallies around it, it feels right, and then they just go with it. That’s what determines their path.

When they made the song that would eventually be called “BOOGIE,” someone played it in the living room and everyone started bouncing off the walls. It was clear in that moment that it could serve as the album’s best foot forward.

But no, it was not our intention from the beginning to release a short film at all. I think they saw the potential to put out something iconic in conjunction with the album, like Kanye did with Runaway.

What do you think will surprise fans most when they see the full movie?

The violence.

A part of why we made this one was to show people what we can accomplish with next to nothing. Watch what happens when you do give us something.

What will surprise them most about it compared to the short film?

There’s a whole other world of the movie no one has seen yet.

What did this whole process teach you about yourself as a creative?

So much, but here’s the big one, and this will be the most helpful thing I can say to anyone who wants to do shit like this: You can’t wait around for inspiration. Force yourself to do things, even when the conditions aren’t perfect. There’s this big misconception that some kind of spirit fills you up and suddenly writer’s block disappears. In reality, you’re just letting time finesse you. Put the pressure on yourself, even if it’s arbitrary like a deadline.

The fact that I knew I had less than two weeks to write a hundred pages is what actually allowed me to finish. When that’s the situation, you don’t get caught up in every detail or get bogged down by over-thinking. Perfection is your enemy.

Another related misconception is that creative work should be fun. It’ll be fun sometimes, but mostly it’s work. You’re breaking through walls slowly and every time you tunnel your way through to the next plateau, that’s what’s fun. Then you have to get right back into the drudgery of it. Ian will tell you the same thing. He came up with the hook for “SWAMP” when the sun was coming up and he was super tired. Most people throw in the towel in that moment and say they’ll try again tomorrow.

Any word on your next big project with Brockhampton?

A part of why we made this one was to show people what we can accomplish with next to nothing. Watch what happens when you do give us something.

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