SxSW '09 Interview: "The Overbrook Brothers" Director John Bryant
By Jason Whyte
Posted 03/10/09 17:10:19
“The Overbrook Brothers” is a comedy about two arch rival brothers in their 30s who discover they‘re adopted and set out on a hilarious cross-country trip in search of their biological parents.” Director John Bryant on the film “The Overbrook Brothers” which screens at this year’s South By Southwest Film.
Is this your first film in SxSW? Do you have any other festival experience? Do you plan to be in Austin for the screenings?
I actually had two films play at SxSW in 2008; a twisted little short I directed called LOVEolution and a feature I produced called Baghead. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a few short films do well on the festival circuit, and play at dozens of festivals across the world, including Sundance and Clermont-Ferrand. And I honestly feel like SxSW stacks up with the best of them.
Could you give me a little look into your background (your own personal biography, if you will), and what led you to the desire to want to make film?
The truth is, there never was an “ah-ha!” moment for me. I was just always interested in “making movies.” I was reading books on editing when I was in elementary school. When I was in Junior High I started borrowing school equipment and shooting stuff. My friends and I would go out and shoot stuff, and then edit it using two VCRs.
In High School I would take my VCR over to Jason Foxworth’s house (Jason is my long time collaborator, and also co-writer of The Overbrook Brothers) and plug it into his parent’s VCR; and these were the days before “flying erase heads”, so we had to time our edits using cave-man like techniques. I’d press play, and Jason would count 4 and 1/2 seconds and then press record on the other VCR. That was our editing process. And I still have a few of the home movies I made from when I was 11 years old – movies like “Nightmare at Granny’s House” and “Alien Space Monkey’s Invade Earth.”
So, for me, the desire to tell a story has always been there. The hardest thing for me, and I think for most upstart filmmakers, is/was bridging the gap from “desire” to “reality.” How do you make what you want and love to do a legitimate career? A lot of people want to make movies, but only small percentages are able to. And the truth is its tough. There’s no real roadmap out there for fledgling filmmakers to follow. It’s truly a battle of attrition. But, in the end, there’s nothing else I’d rather be doing – for me, getting the chance to direct my first feature was a dream come true.
Growing up, you were no doubt asked the eternal question “When I grow up I want to be a …” Finish this sentence, please!
I toyed with the idea of going to medical school and becoming a doctor early in college. Mainly because it was a “safe” and “secure” career choice. But, my heart was never into it. And I switched my major my sophomore year to Radio-Television-Film and never looked back.
How did this whole project come together?
“The Overbrook Brothers” is really an amalgamation of ideas. The initial idea to do a story that centered around two brothers evolved from a long conversation my co-writer (Jason Foxworth) and I had while driving across the Nevada desert to attend the Palm Springs Film Festival. We started trading stories about our brothers. About how they tortured us and embarrassed us while growing up. But, also, about how they defended us and looked out for us when it really mattered. And, after about three hours of talking about all the ridiculous fights and/or competitions we had with them growing up, it just seemed apparent that we should write a something about a relationship between two brothers, something we both knew very well.
Another key idea, and what really what makes up the spine of the story, was inspired by my girlfriend’s search for her biological parents. She’s adopted, her records are sealed, and one day she decided she was going to “track them down.” She ran into a lot of roadblocks and obstacles. It was a frustrating and disappointing journey and, oddly enough, it was kind of inspiring to me from a writer’s perspective. And it just seemed like these two disparate ideas had some sort of thematic common ground. I just felt like they could be successfully married together. And that’s how the story came together.
Once the script was written, things took off pretty quick. I had already cultivated a relationship with Sixth Street Films, and when we brought the script to them, things moved fast and we were shooting the script 4 months later.
What was the biggest challenge in the production of the movie, be it the script, principal photography or post-production stage?
Shooting inside moving cars is a huge challenge – technically, things become three or four times more difficult.
Also, making a road trip movie and having one of your picture cars CONTINUOUSLY break down while you’re shooting is frustrating. But, that’s what happens when you want your main characters to drive a unique, crappy car built in the early 80s. In fact, in several scenes we had members our crew pushing cars into frame and out-of-frame to give them the appearance of “locomotion.” Throughout the shoot we were towing this damn car to all these locations, because it kept on breaking down. It seemed like every day something new would break or fall off that piece of shit car: the alternator, the radiator, the starter, the voltage regulator. The list went on and on. We began to schedule our shoot days around the car’s availability – as if it were the star of the movie, and it was throwing a temper tantrum. Looking back at it now, it kind of makes me laugh . . . barely. At the time I wanted to pull out my hair; I’m trying to make a movie about some guys traveling across the country in a car, and the car won’t move forward under it’s own power. But, in the final film, you’d never guess it – I guess that’s why they call it “movie magic,” right?
Talk a bit about the experiences (festival or non-festival) that you have had with this particular film. Have you had any interesting audience stories or questions that have arisen at screenings? If this is your first screening premiere, what do you hope to expect at the screenings of the film?
We’re having our world premiere at SXSW, so I haven’t had any audience questions yet. But, I’ll bet you a million dollars that one of the first questions I get will be “What was your budget?”
It’s kind of become an inside joke amongst filmmakers I know.
Who would you say is “the audience” for this film? Do you want to reach everyone possible or any particular type of filmgoer?
You know, I’m never quite sure about stuff like this. I have my suspicions. But, honestly, I try not to think too much about it. I kind of believe that if you start thinking, “Oh . . . will females like this part?” Or, “what about males 18-35 enjoying this part?” . . . “Or, am I alienating this certain group of people because of this scene?” . . . I don’t know. I just feel like there are plenty of movies made where this is the prime directive. And generally, these movies don’t interest me. All I can say is that I think The Overbrook Brothers has a lot of things about it that have broad appeal and are very funny, and I think it’s an entertaining movie. But, you never know how an audience will react until it gets out there in the world. I’m sure there will be people out there who hate it, and I hope there are people out there who love it. We’ll see.
Who would you say your biggest inspirations are in the film world (directors, actors, cinematographers, etc)? Did you have any direct inspirations from filmmakers for this project in particular?
There are a lot of filmmakers, actors, and writers that I admire, and they span the gamut. Hal Hartley’s Henry Fool is incredibly hilarious and touching – the story has something like nine acts. It’s incredibly epic and still small, contained, and character driven. Thomas Vinterberg’s The Celebration has such an inspired first act; it’s painful and uncomfortable to watch and, yet, at the same time, laugh-out-loud funny. The Farrelly Brothers, Cameron Crowe, Peter Jackson, William Goldman. Pretty much anything Larry David, Judd Apatow, or Sacha Baron Cohen do is comedy gold. But, honestly, the filmmakers that are the most inspirational to me are my friends that I’ve actually worked with over the last several years; they’ve kind of been my sounding board and my mentors, namely the Duplass Brothers and the Zellner Brothers.
How far do you think you would want to go in this industry? Do you see yourself working on larger stories for a larger budget under the studio system, or do you feel that you would like to continue down the independent film path?
Both. I’d love to direct a studio project one day. For me, it’s all about having the right project and finding the right home for it – and if that’s at a studio, that would be awesome. I’m fully aware that the independent world and the studio world are different beasts all together. And the challenges you face in each can be of a different nature. But, I do feel that the ultimate goal in both systems is still the same; that is, to make the best movie you can with the resources that you have. That’s what’s really important. There are a lot of great movies that come out of the studio system and the independent world too. And I would love to work in both.
If you weren’t in this profession, what other line of work do think you would be involved with?
If I were going to be in another line of work, I’d want to do something that’s project oriented – that has a clear beginning, middle, and end. So, I think I could definitely do construction work. I like it, and I’ve done plenty of it in the past. You go out and start with nothing. You work your butt off for a period of time and when you’re finished you’ve created something , and you move on to something new. It’s a completely different project that still requires the same basic skill sets, but presents a whole new set of challenges. In that respect, I think construction work and filmmaking are similar, and I really enjoy that part of it; the answering of the question, “How the hell are we going to pull this off?” I had an office job once for a fortune 500 company for about a year; essentially, glorified shuffling of papers and numbers and emails, and by the end of it, I wanted to stick a gun in my mouth. I never seemed to FINISH anything. It was a never-ending cycle. So I don’t think I could, or would want to, do something like that again.
Please tell me some filmmakers, actors or other talent that you would love to work with, even if money was no object.
Sacha Baron Cohen, Ben Stiller, Judd Apatow, Hal Hartley…man, there’s just so many talented filmmakers and actors and writers out there. It’s hard to say. For whatever reason, I think doing a balls-out comedy with Sean Penn playing the lead would be incredible. I’d love to just sit in the corner and watch the Coen Brothers work. I’m in awe of those guys; I really feel like those two have gotten as close to ‘mastering’ the craft as you can hope to get.
How important do you think the critical/media response is to film these days, be it a large production, independent film or festival title?
I think having a good critical response is imperative if you want to have a successful run with an independent film. But, not as much so for studio films which have huge marketing budgets at their disposal. Critics are the lifeblood for independent films, and in many cases will serve as the only sort of “marketing” that a tiny film may have. From local critics, to huge national names like Roger Ebert who have quietly championed independent films they’ve believed in for years -- if the critics didn’t stand up and write or say anything about small movies, who the hell would ever hear about them other than a small handful of people? How would people know to go see them? The answer is simple; they wouldn’t. No one would know about them. So, I feel like critics play a hugely important role for independent films and filmmakers.
If your film could play in any movie theatre in the world, which one would you choose?
If the queen of England has a private theatre, I think it would be cool to have my film play there. There’s lots of curse words and full frontal nudity. Plus, there are plenty of potty jokes. I’m sure she would be terribly offended by my film, and just knowing that would make me smile.
What would you say to someone on the street to see your film instead of the latest blockbuster playing at the local megaplex?
I would lie and tell them that Jessica Biel and Scarlett Johansson are both in the movie and they both get naked. Together.
What would you say or do to someone who is talking during or conversing/texting on their cell phone while you’re watching a movie (if at your own screening or another movie you attend)?
It depends on how old or big they look. If they’re under 12 years old, or if they look like a complete wimp and I think I can whip them in a fist fight, I’ll just get up, walk straight over to them, and tell them, “Shut up. Right now. Or I’ll make you shut up.” Then I pop my all my fingers at once, look them straight in the eye for 5 seconds, and then turn and walk away. However, if they’re pretty big, or I think they can hurt me if an altercation ensues, I’ll get my girlfriend to go over and ask them to “please be quiet.”
What do you love the most about this business of making movies?
Working and collaborating with a lot of really talented folks…and then getting to screw them over and take all the credit for all their brilliant and hard work.
No doubt there are a lot of aspiring filmmakers at film festivals who are out there curious about making a film of their own. Do you have any advice that you could provide for those looking to get a start?
Don’t wait for someone out there to give you permission to make your film. Don’t worry about the resources you don’t have -- just use the resources you DO have – that’s the simplest, best advice I can give. Practice your craft. You’ll probably make some bad films before you make some good ones, and you ultimately learn by doing. And until you have some sort of track record nobody is going to give you permission (read: money) to make your film. It’s a catch-22. Read these two books: Robert Rodriguez’s Rebel Without a Crew and Steven Soderbergh’s production diary of Sex, Lies, and Videotape.
And finally…what is your all time favourite motion picture, and why?
I don’t think there really is just one. There are just so many fantastic movies. I love everything from the Godfather I & II to Dumb and Dumber. Seriously. That said, I don’t want to “wimp out” on this question, and I’ll try to give you some sort of answer. If it came down to my top 5 films (at this moment), I’d say, Being There, Dr. Strangelove, Henry Fool, City of God and Rocky. Oh yeah, the TV series Band of Brothers and Freaks and Geeks are also pretty awesome/incredible.
This is one of the many films that is screening at this year’s South by Southwest Film Festival. For more information on this film, screening times and for other information on SxSW, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film.
Jason Whyte, efilmcritic.com