BIGNATTYDADDY – Interview with Director John Merizalde
11th September 2019 by Will Stewart
American teenager Bignattydaddy gained online notoriety from his use open use of anabolic steroids on his social media channels, a controlled substance which are illegal without a prescription in the USA.
We caught up with film maker John Merizalde to ask him a few questions about BIGNATTYDADDY. If you’d like to see your film on MadeGood.tv, then please feel free to make a submission.
MadeGood – Please can you tell me a bit about how this film came to be? I see it premiered on BBC 3, was it a commission from them, or did you approach them with your film/idea?
John – I was up late one night on a deep internet forum dive and came across a thread about a teen steroid user. It linked to an instagram account – Bignattydaddy. In the niche internet bodybuilding circles, he had gone viral. This kid, 15 years old, was not only enthusiastically chronicling his gear usage and progress openly, but was also trolling all the haters that commented on his posts. He revelled in the attention. His persona, combined with his open steroid use, at that age, begged so many more questions. I knew immediately I had to make something about him.
I messaged him and he immediately got back. I got him on the phone and told him what I wanted to do. Surprisingly (or maybe unsurprisingly) he was totally open to the idea. Literally a week later, myself, my DP, and my editor all packed into my car and drove across the country to interview him. This was all done on a shoestring budget as we were completely broke at the time.
Months later, after we cut a piece together, I showed it to my UK reps, who suggested sending it to BBC3. They were into it and asked us to premiere it on their youtube channel.
MadeGood – How was it working with BIGNATTYDADDY? You seem to have fairly open access, and he’s quite comfortable talking to you about the drugs he’s using etc (which I assume are illegal?). Was there much work to do convincing him to trust you, or was he keen to be involved from the outset?
John – It was very easy working with him, and I think that’s solely because of the level of trust we had. Before I reached out, he had already been contacted by some very large media publications, and had turned them all down. I think he was cautious to be painted as some kind of freak show, as I’m sure many journalists would have done. My angle was honest – I just wanted to get to know his story better without casting judgement or tricking him. It wasn’t a “gotcha” kind of piece.
MadeGood – What are your personal views on steroid use in general, and in particular when someone as young as BIGNATTYDADDY is using them? I’ve seen a few good documentaries recently about the effect social media is having on young people. Do you think his instagram use etc has affected his body image in such a way that he feels encouraged to use drugs?
John – I’m not a fan of drug criminalisation. Although anabolic steroids are illegal in the United States (without a prescription), the issue requires more nuance than say, fentanyl or meth. One of the best documentaries that wrestles with the moral/legal/philosophical implications of anabolic use is the film Bigger, Stronger, Faster (2008). I highly recommend checking it out.
Now teen steroid use in general – there’s a body of evidence that it’s probably not a great idea. That being said, there are many famous examples of actors, athletes, and even politicians using at a very young age. It’s present in schools across the country, and I’d never seen a film tackle the youth aspect of it. That was where more of my curiosity came from.
As far as social media, I absolutely believe it warps people’s sense of identity, expectations, and self-image. I don’t think the social aspect has encouraged his drug use as much as it fuels the culture of vanity that promotes broadcasting the most intimate details of your life publicly as if you’re a reality tv star.
MadeGood – When I last interviewed you about your film MX Punk, you told me that you like to work with friends as much as possible. Is that true of this film too? Please tell me a bit about your team on this one.
I was very lucky that my editor Chad Sarahina basically fronted the entire budget for this project (and in the process became producer). He also ran sound on set. Our DP was Jake Ures who we’ve worked with on many other projects as well. I had a little post production help from some other friends, but it was essentially the three of us that put this whole thing together. I’ve been on a lot of big sets, but one of the most fun things to me still just making no-budget stuff with your friends.
MadeGood – From what I can tell, BIGNATTYDADDY has all but disappeared from the internet. Do you know anything about this, or what he is up to now?
John – At some point after the film came out, he deleted his infamous online persona. I’m not exactly sure why, but it was probably the right call. I do know that he’s out of high school now. Hopefully he’s doing well.