Emerson grads are taking over, huh?
Yeah, Emerson has been blowing up lately right? With The Daniels and Tony Yacenda and Danny Madden and Alex Disenhoff and Me. I feel like I’m describing the guest list from the pool party last weekend.
Fill us in on your Producing work leading up to Thunder Road.
I was a producer for years, for Ornana’s movies and then I hopped on as a producer for Patrick Wang’s film The Grief of Others and then Krisha, and then a lot of Lil Dicky’s music videos (Save Dat Money, Lemme Freak, etc). Krisha was the one that got me into directing again, I realized that if you focus on the right stuff you can make movies in your backyard in a bathrobe. I always say now that the largest reason for inactivity is self-doubt. I wish I had been more ambitious after college with my own stuff.
Describe the concept’s origin, funding the short, and your fear/excitement at taking so much on.
I was really down and out for a long time about the quality of content that was getting praised online and in festivals. I wanted to make something like the stuff that I loved, the stuff that made me laugh and cry like INSIDE OUT or the season finale of Summer Heights High. My buddy PJ McCabe told me about a friend of his who had eulogized his mother with a song and I thought, jesus, what did that look like? Did somebody film it? And then I was drunk and heard Thunder Road on the radio and thought that that would be the song that I would eulogize my mom with and then I thought about how horribly funny it would be if I fucked everything up. And then I created a character who couldn’t afford to fuck it all up, this cop with a daughter in front of his co-workers and that had me laughing and crying. So I said yeah let’s do it.
I had gone through a divorce a year and a half prior so I sold my wedding rings to fund Thunder Road, and it was the second best decision that I ever made.
What was the preparation and execution of the short like?
I had a 45 minute commute to work, so I could get through 3 full rehearsals on the drives there and back and I did that for about a month and THAT was the writing process of the film. I wouldn’t change a thing. It was cheap and easy and it was all that I could think about for a month. It became a pet project and nothing was gonna stop me. This movie was me.
Talk about taking on the challenge of acting in the film.
I had acted in Tony Yacenda’s short film This is Jay Calvin (also on Vimeo) and I really loved it. I was acting 24 hours a day in character with real people and humiliating myself, so that was a bootcamp for acting. I always knew that I was decent, and I honestly wanted to challenge myself and create a cool monologue.
So I ran at the challenge, most people are scared of mortality and public speaking. I thought that would be a good place to start.
That reception at Sundance was something huh?
I never thought I’d get in. I never dreamed that any of this would happen. People really loved it. For the premiere there was this dude shouting laughing the whole time in the back of the theater and I was a little offended. Like, his laughter was so loud it was drowning out some of the dialogue in the film and I just kept hoping that it wasn’t interrupting everyone’s experience. My friend Matt came up to me after the screening and said, “Dude, that was Key from Key and Peele” and that’s when I found out that he was one of the shorts jurors this year, which was a pretty good sign. Everybody was so nice up there. I always saw Sundance as this castle in the clouds that I’d never get into, but you get there and it’s beautiful and they’re all about movies and helping artists and I left feeling very full of love. Having said that we did make a fake documentary while we were there and my character freebases cocaine out of Sundance gifts. But they have a good sense of humor over there.
Fullscreen came in and commissioned a series inspired by Thunder Road, that’s pretty cool.
Fullscreen has been awesome. We were in talks with our execs over there in December and they greenlit us to do 6 more single-take movies as a series. They’re all very diverse but just as intense and funny and heartbreaking and I’m thrilled for those to be released. Dustin Hahn, my co-creator, plays the lead in an episode about a parent teacher night that’s absolutely unbelievable. All of those should be out in September.
There was some drama about the song…
Can’t talk about that, unfortunately. Love you!
(Editor: If you’re curious, Indiewire has written about this)
With all the success from festivals, why is an internet launch is meaningful to you?
Now, right now, people are watching this film in corners of the earth that none of us may ever visit, but we’re bringing them America and love and care and kindness and ideas about legacy and mortality in a comedy. I always wanted to release this film online, it’s only after it started to get big that I realized that we couldn’t without a lot more work. The internet and SotW have made me laugh and cry more times than I can count, it’s time I returned the favor.
Love you guys.