Executive producers David Gordon Green, Danny McBride, and Jody Hill (among others) enable the story of one man's reintegration into life in South LA.
What sounds like a heavy story of redemption actually finds its way to an light, up-tempo story of a man (Andre Royo, who took home the SXSW Jury Prize for Best Actor) trying to prove himself to the woman he still loves. The cast is rounded out with charming performances by George Sample III (Cronies) and several unknowns, lending a realistic backdrop to the bizarre rabbit hole.
No Film School spoke with Royo, Sample and director Josh Locy about performance, shooting select sequences on super 16, and taking narrative risks.
NFS: How has the reception been so far?
Joshua Locy: I think it's been pretty positive. We've got some reviews trickling out that are positive. I sat through the premiere last night and the people were laughing at the stuff they should laugh at. People are cringing at the stuff they should cringe at. I think it's doing really well.
NFS: How did you get hooked up with David Gordon Green?
Locy: My buddy wrote this book called Goat, and it ended up becoming a movie. David is a writer on that film, and he was signed on to direct it many years ago. That's the way projects go. He's on it as a writer still. My buddy Brad introduced me to David and we became fast friends. It was really weird. I was a huge fan of his, and he needed an assistant on Pineapple Express, and I quit my job and was like, "I'll do whatever you want to do, man." He's been very gracious and introduced me to a lot of his collaborators and cohorts and weirdos. It's just been fun being in their world.
NFS: How did you find Andre and George?
Locy: George I saw on Cronies and immediately when I got out of the movie I was like, "You need to play this guy." He's like, "Whatever you need man."
Sample: Pretty much.
"No one had responded to the script the way Andre responded to it. I was getting my car fixed and I got the email and I started crying."
Locy: Then Andre I actually avoided a little bit — just a teeny bit. I was resistant to him because, in the earlier versions of the script, the character is very close to Bubbles, from The Wire. We had a big conversation when we first met that we wanted to make an effort so this would not be Bubbles.
Andre Royo: We had a mutual friend that said we had similarities. Me and the friend were talking were talking about scripts that we love and she got the idea that I like off-brand shit. I like different shit and I like to read and find stories that have a certain unique feel to it. She read Hunter-Gatherer and said, "I think you might like this script." Sent it to me, I read it. I wrote this email and said, "Look, I don't know if it's ever going to work, but just let me let you know what I feel and see about this movie." It got sent to [Josh] and he responded like, "Oh, somebody out there gets it in that way."
Locy: No one had responded to the script the way Andre responded to it. I was getting my car fixed and I got the email and I started crying. I was just like ... No one had got it. No one got it.
Royo: All of a sudden he comes in, we meet, and I'm not expecting to see this type of perso — you know, 6'2 white boy talking about this. I'm like, "Wow. He wrote this?" It just made me really love what I do. The artistic quality of bringing people together. He said, "What do you think? I love what you said, but it's just like Bubbles." I was like, "I don't see it. I don't see it. I know Bubbles, I know who he is, and I didn't see any resemblance at all." I said, "If you allow me to play this part, we have to trust each other that we won't fall into any kind of stereotypical nuances." We didn't want anybody going, "Oh, that's Bubs." Or, "This is like that." Or, "This reminds me of that." We just really had to believe in each other.
NFS: Was there ever a moment when you guys were shooting where it approached that mimicry?
Locy: I think we nipped a lot of it in the bud at the beginning, and I did some changes to the script, lost a couple of things. We did changes to the wardrobe and the hair. We just tried to physically make him look different; that was our first step. By the time we were shooting, we were good. We were confident and we were ready to move forward. At that point, those were old questions and old problems. Now we had new questions and new problems we were dealing with.
NFS: Some of my favorite sequences in the film are those cross-faded, dreamlike sequences that pop out of nowhere. I just love that. It's a beautiful texture and feeling. How did you arrive at creating those?
Locy: I was interested in a visual language like in Punch Drunk Love, with what they do with those interstitials. I was interested in using images from the film that didn't necessarily have narrative content in it, but could communicate something emotional. I wanted to try it. It was definitely an experiment at every level. I would interview people for different department heads and they would be like, "That's not going to be in the movie." I was like, "Okay cool, I see what you're saying, but I think we're still going to try to do them." We worked hard. We hired another DP, Delaney Teichler, who executed them. We did a test, and when we saw the dailies we adjusted our approach a little bit. We really ended up finding it in the second round.
It always could be chopped out. It was nothing... no narrative juice there, no nothing. Just pure emotion. I thought, if it doesn't work I'm not going to be precious about it, but I had to see it fully realized. By the time we got through the first note screening with my friends, there were other problems, for sure, but that was not one of them. Everyone kind of connected with those moments. We adjusted them and cut them differently, but we had solved that problem. There were new ones.
"There was one scene where I was like, 'I hate this scene.' [Josh] is like, 'Why do you hate it?' You have to be really vulnerable and say, 'Because I don't get it.' That's hard.
NFS: Did you shoot those on different format? I noticed it seems like most of the film seems digital and then at the very end it looks like film.
Locy: Yeah, 95% of the film is shot an Alexa Amira, and all the interstitials and the last shot of the movie is shot on 16mm. We did all the double exposure stuff in camera. They're imperfect. I think that communicates something. If they felt digital, I don't think they would work. All the bumps and bruises and scrapes are what make it feel like an organic part of the film.
NFS: What is the process of doing that in camera, exactly? With film?
Locy: You have to measure your exposures. You want images with a lot of contrast and exposure levels. We would find those images and shoot them, and we always realized after the first take that we needed movement, or something to be moving in the frame. Static, they weren't interesting. You find your exposures and you mark. You notate. Like the top left of this frame is dark, the bottom right is is bright. You take that, you expose the film, you rewind it, put it back in the magazine and you look at your notes and time code. "Okay, 54 seconds, his head was going this way, 54 seconds, her head needs to go this way."
NFS: What did you [George and Andre] do to balance the hot and cold tension between your characters?
Sample: I kind of just vibed off of his energy. He's an extrovert, and my energy is internal, cerebral. I just kind of used that to propel me into the moment. To stay in the moment. You need to lose yourself and want to watch yourself. I can't watch myself; it's not going to be authentic. I just need to go with it, feel it, and trust myself.
Royo: Josh was telling me about one of his favorite books, The Confederacy of Dunces. I read that, and it was such a great similarity to me — between Ashley and that character — because everything he said and did he believed to be true. If it wasn't true or if it challenged him, his brain makes up some other reason why that person is wrong. I felt like there was a certain need for me to always be pushing, pushing, pushing, and I had to isolate myself for a little while. It's really hard to do. I'm a really people person. I really can't function unless I'm around people. When it got time to shoot, I was engaged and wanted to have some sort of interaction. I think it amped up [the experience] a little more.
NFS: I love how on the sleeve that is, too. What do you think some of the biggest obstacles you faced making this film?
Locy: Every stage of it is a new challenge and a fresh experience, even from the beginning of getting people to read the script. That's hard. Getting them to read and understand it, that's hard. Getting them to see the vision of the film is hard. Then you go to finding a location, having the guy bail on you the day before, that's hard. Having people who you want to be in the movie who don't want to be in the movie, that's hard. The sun's dropping in the sky. That's hard. Everything is hard, but it's all rewarding. Everything is worth it. You have to just find new ways to solve old problems, and you have to keep pushing. No one's going to make your movie for you. You're the only one who has that spark. It starts with a spark that turns into a flame. You're the only one that has it. You've got to push.
"I realized at some point that the script turned into a project. No one referred to it as a script anymore, or a movie. They referred to it as a project."
Royo: For me, just that conscious effort to block all doubt. Like, "Am I making the right choice?" This was new. What attracted me about it was that it was new, but then did I pull it off? You're second-guessing yourself. Am I projecting? Am I overselling? You really have to trust that you got it. You got to trust that you understand the story and you can execute and portray the story and then you have to trust that everyone is on the same page. It's hard.
There was one scene where I was like, "I hate this scene, I hate it." He's like, "Why do you hate it?" You have to be really vulnerable and say, "Because I don't get it." That's hard. I like to know it all. Or I like to portray that I know it all. Nobody wants to open up their fucking soul and go, "I don't know what the fuck this means."
Sample: I was totally committed to the role and focused. During the whole process of filming, I didn't watch any television and I didn't listen to any music. I would go home at night, look at the script, get into my character, get into my zone to where it's like muscle memory. When it's time to get on screen and do it I can do it without having to act like I'm acting. Just be in the moment.
NFS: How were you able to find financing for your film?
Locy: Right now, there are a lot of people buying small films. There's a marketplace for them. There are a lot of companies that need to fill their slates. Whether it's Netflix or Amazon, or YouTube is starting to do it now. Those people who are buying films are opening up more financiers on the smaller scale. They're out there; you just have to find a match that works. We connected with Cinetic, John Sloss's company; Jesse Kahn, who used to be there, brought the project to them. He's at Anonymous now, but he kind of gravitated [towards] it. He loved Sara Murphy, they knew each other. He trusted her and loved the script, loved Andre... George wasn't on at that point. He really championed the film to a couple of people and he found the exact right people. It was the first people we met with through him. Mama Bear and Unbundled. Mama Bear is in Chattanooga, Tennessee, which is actually where I went to college. Unbundled is in New York. It was a great set up. They were hungry to make films and they were hungry to get their feet wet.
NFS: Based on the script, mostly?
Locy: The script and Andre. We talked on the phone; we really didn't meet in person, but when you have producers like April Lamb and Sara Murphy, they validate it to a certain point. When Roughhouse is attached to your movie, it validates it to a certain point; same with Andre Royo. When Cinetic is trying to finance it, it validates it. You get these layers. I realized at some point that the script turned into a project. No one referred to it as a script anymore, or a movie. They referred to it as a project.
You have to have collaborators and you have to trust them. April and Sara have been with me since day one, and they're still working on the film every day. They're not getting paid much. They're just committed to the project, committed to me as a filmmaker. They make it bearable. Sometimes you lose it. You lose your mind. Sometimes they lost their minds and I'm the constant. We just all feed off each other.
NFS: Do you have any advice for how to get into a film festival and what to do once you're there?
Locy: It's about meeting other filmmakers and hanging out. Reaching out and supporting other films. Trying to pimp out their film just as much as you're trying to pimp out your film. This was my first film festival that I've been a participant in. There are going to be ups and downs. You're going to have boring interviewers. If you're going to get in your head about it then you're going to have a bad time. If you just process it and work through it, you're going to have a blast.
No Film School's coverage of the 2016 SXSW Film Festival is sponsored by SongFreedom.