Interview with Writer & Director Michael Schwartz and Tyler Nilson, chatting about their new film THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON

 

 

Writer & Director Michael Schwartz and Tyler Nilson sit down to chat about their new film:  THE PEANUT BUTTER FALCON

One of the most incredible 15 minutes of my life in the past few weeks, was having the  opportunity to sit down atop the Moonrise Hotel in University City to chat about the making of the film – The Peanut Butter Falcon – with the Writers and Directors of the film, Michael Schwartz and Tyler Nilson. 

Having just viewed the film before the interview, I couldn’t wait to hear Michael and Tyler’s thoughts on why they felt compelled to bring this totally authentic and genuine film to the big screen, and of course, how it all came to fruition…  

Kathy:   How long had you known Zack before you came to work with him on this film?

Michael:  We had known Zack for a couple years before we started down the path of making this film… 

Tyler:  We actually met Zack when Mike and I were volunteering at a camp for people with disabilities, and we were making short films with the campers there, and we saw him giving a performance that was really fantastic in the short film.  He was really making clever acting decisions and being very present.  He would do things like take his sunglasses off, and put them down on the table, and say “I’m going to do it like that, because that’s how this character would do it…”  He just had an innate sense of what to do when it came to acting, and we couldn’t believe how good he was.  I guess we’ve known him for 8 years now, about three working on the film and starting this process.  He always likes to point out that I’ve known him a little while longer than Mike J And he’s really quick to point this out too, that it’s been about a whole six months longer.  While we were making this film, he also loved teasing back and forth with Mike and I, “Tyler you are the real Director.”  And then the next hour he would say, “Mike you are the real Director”.  He likes choosing favorites, I think because he is so full of love, and he wants you to know that. But then if I would you call him out on it and tell him “I’m a real Director too Zack”, he would then just laugh and say, “your right, your right, your right…you are the real Director too!”

 

Kathy:  Had you done any work in film before you started working on The Peanut Butter Falcon? 

Tyler:  Mike and I had worked on a few short films, and a few commercials along the way too…but we really weren’t “Hollywood per se”, we were kind of lying on the outskirts of the film industry, working on these projects…

Michael:  In other words, we didn’t have any agents, managers, or famous friends…

Tyler:  We still are like nobody, really… we just felt that he had something that the world needed to see with Zack.  There was a story in him, that we needed to get out there for all the world to see.  I mean, most actors I’d seen before would just say their lines, and then wait for their fellow actor to say their line, and then just say their next line, not really creating a living breathing organism with their performances.   But when Zack would create scenes for us, they were fantastic, they truly became living, breathing organisms, which is a really unique thing for an actor to be able to do.  And then, on top of that, realizing that Zack, who has Down’s Syndrome, which we is considered a disability…which it really isn’t I must say…as he has a “different ability” especially when it comes to performing.  And when he would  show up stronger in his abilities than somebody that was coming to the table without any of that, we just felt compelled to share his story.

We talked about it with Zack, and he shared with us too, that he really wanted to be in movies and films.  And then once he shared these sentiments with us, and Mike and I realized what he truly wanted to do, we decided we had to make this movie with him, and for him.  I mean, there really aren’t a lot of opportunities, or material written for people in feature films with disabilities, like Downs Syndrome, so we decided to create a film where Zack could show his talents, the whole way through…

Michael:  But we also tried to be realistic with him from the start too.  Like, we didn’t try to build him up by saying “oh you can go be an astronaut Zack, because, as we all know, not everyone can be an astronaut; so we tried to take the same path with the making of this film.  We explained  there are things that you can do, and things that you can’t do for anybody in this world, including becoming an actor, as not everyone can be an actor in Hollywood.  And through this process, I made a point too to explain to him that the chance of me personally becoming a movie star was really slim as well…

Tyler:  Me too. I told him like my chances of becoming a movie star probably aren’t going to happen either.  But Zack was so sweet, and loving through the whole process, and then he just came out with “Well why don’t we just do this together. I mean, you make short films, and I AM an Actor, so let’s just do it together, and Mike and I thought about it for about 3 seconds…

Michael:  And decided GAME ON, let’s do it…

Tyler:  So, we went to the library, and checked out a bunch of books on writing screen plays.  I mean, we were story tellers, and we had done short films, and commercials, but we weren’t really versed on how to create, or write for that matter, a feature film.  Mike and I by this point have both lived a couple chapters of our lives, and we had lived our own wild stories too that we could draw from, but telling a story that is 30 seconds long, as opposed to telling a story that’s 2 hours long, is like going from running a sprint, to running a marathon, and you have to go into that process with a totally different mindset.

So, we sat for a year and worked on the writing of this film.  We went on road trips with Zack, and listened to him…

 

Kathy:  So how did you guys decide in what direction the storyline for your film was going to evolve?

Michael:  A lot of the dialogue in the film is actually things that Zack had shared with us over the years…I mean the storyline was truly written for him.  He loves wrestling, and that’s how that premise makes it into the storyline.  And Tyler grew up in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and so he knew about crab fishing, and that world, and we were both affected by books and literature, and Mark Twain stories throughout our lives, so it was taking all of these ingredients that we love, and what Zack had shared with us that he loves too, and combining it all and building it into this film.

Tyler:  And of course, getting what we could get for Free to start out with making the movie was important too through this process.   Our original premise to start the film, was to start a Kickstarter Campaign and raise $30,000, and then we’ll go make an Indie feature, and try to get it into a few film festivals. But, thank God we couldn’t raise that much money. I mean, we couldn’t even raise $30.  So, we had to switch gears and go out and shoot a proof of concept trailer that was about 5 or 5 and 1/2 minutes long, and we sent that out in a mass email.  And low and behold, through a friend, of a friend, or a friend, you know, like “a guy that I know had dinner once with a dude” kind of thing…

Kathy:  So, you mean Destiny intervened??? 

Tyler:  Okay, I’ll say it, “Destiny intervened, and Albert and Ron got ahold of our proof of concept trailer…

Michael:  Our Producers, Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa, is who Tyler’s talking about.  These guys have made incredible films like Nebraska, and Little Miss Sunshine, so they were really able to bring in the star-power we needed from the start.  Like Bruce Dern, who they had made Nebraska with, and he signed on, and John Hawkes, who they made a film called Lowdown with, and he wanted to be a part of it.  And Shia LaBeouf, they had made Charlie Countryman with, so they were able to send our proof of concept to people that they knew, and that they had done incredible work with, and the actors kept saying, “Yes, I want to do this film…”

Tyler:  So then, as the yesses started coming in rather quickly, from that blessing of not getting the $30,000, both Mike and I were like…is this really happening?.  And as it all continued to blow up, we found ourselves on the phone with Dakota Johnson, who is someone we really admired from her work in Black Mass, and then she tells us she really wants to do the film too.  And then, we found ourselves on the phone with Thomas Haden Church, and he says “Okay boys, I’ll see you in a week” …it all just became too surreal!

Michael:  If you would have told me before we started that we would have any one of these Actors cast in our film, I would have told you “NO WAY”!

 

Kathy:  Well, you guys have totally managed to blow my theory out of the water, after seeing the film, as I thought for sure you had these Actors in mind while you were writing the film, as they are so perfectly cast in their respective roles…

Tyler:  No, Not really. I mean Shia was a first choice for sure for his part, by far, as I think he is one of the finest Actors of my generation – and we both truly love his work as an Actor – and of course, they would all have been our first choices for sure.  And Dakota brought something that was so special too to the film too, but we never thought to dream that BIG! We never thought to dream that all these incredible Actors would want to sign on to do our film…

Michael:  I mean, when the whole process started, we thought we would get Bill from the dock to play Duncan, as we never dreamed that John Hawkes would want to come on and make this movie with us…

Tyler:  It was actually written as Duncan, because my buddies name is Duncan. Like there is a character named Winky in the film, who is Duncan’s Dad, and he owns a fish dock, and we just assumed we would get Winky to play that role.  The Character of Tyler is named Tyler, because we never thought we would get someone to come out to the bayous of North Carolina for a month, much less three to film this movie with us, so we assumed I would have to step into the role.  And in some ways, I attribute Zack dreaming bigger than people say he should dream, to allowing us to dream bigger too through this process too; realizing a bigger vision for ourselves that we even thought possible.  I mean, I never imagined being a Writer and a Director, and I don’t think you did either, did you Mike?

Michael:   No, it wasn’t a big goal of mine, I think as you focus on telling the story, you just step into the space that needs to be filled.  I mean, if Ron Howard would have said he was wanting to Direct our film, we would have said “Cool, he’s a great choice for that”, but that didn’t happen, so we just did it.

 

Kathy:  Now that you’ve created your first feature film, do you feel like you want to take on the roles again of Writing and Directing?

Michael:  I think we can, but I think it all worked because Tyler and I are first, good storytellers.  Like, I know how its suppose to go, you know…leading the story to where it needs to go.  So sometimes that means you lead, and sometimes you just need to get out of the way…and innately, I think we know that…

Tyler:  We aren’t fancying ourselves as professional Writers or Directors, but damn if I don’t fancy myself a good storyteller, like Mike said.  The people in my life that I always gravitated towards when I was younger, were people who told great stories.   You know, I loved the old guy sitting around the campfire who would say “Sit down son, I got a good yarn for ya…”.  I think loving those kinds of people in my life, and gravitating to those types of people, is a lot of the reason why we could sit down and write this film.  I mean, Mike and I knew what a good story was, and how to start and end it.  It wasn’t like we were doing brain surgery, wondering where to begin…once we sat down to write it, it felt natural for us to just sit down, and put it all together…

 

Kathy:  Well having just seen this film, I have to share with both of you that I was blown away by how authentic and real this film feels, and how the story just continues to unfold in a unbridled way… 

Michael: I have to say about the “realness” of this film, now that you brought it up, that when Shia showed up on set, we talked at length about going for the realness in every inch of this film.  I think that movie magic happens along the way in every film, but we really wanted this storyline to feel as real as we could get it, every step of the way.  And I think the entire cast bought into what we were shooting for, which is truly how this film ended up being so special when it was all said and done…

The Peanut Butter Falcon is A MUST SEE ON THE BIG SCREEN FOR ME, Hitting theaters this Thursday August 22, 2019,  @ Landmark’s Tivoli and Plaza Frontenac Theatres