Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Coming of Age with Kids' Instruments: Talking to the Stars of Brooklyn Brothers Beat the Best

Posted By on Wed, Sep 12, 2012 at 9:35 AM

Ryan O’Nan’s Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best (Sep 21) is a coming-of-age film about two solo musicians’ last attempt to make their childhood dreams come true. It begins with Alex (O’Nan) leaving his nine-to-five for a gig serenading, in a moose costume, a group of handicapped teenagers—one of whom attacks Alex with a fake knife. He retaliates by punching the teen in the face. When he meets Jim (Michael Weston), they put together a DIY set list described as "the Shins meets Sesame Street" (they are fans of toy instruments), rejecting the security of office jobs for a makeshift tour that brings them in front of a slew of small crowds at unpredictable venues (and one large venue, when they tell the booking agent that Scott Weiland from Stone Temple Pilots is in the band). We spoke to writer-director-star O’Nan as well as co-star Weston about their contagious bromance.

How has it felt to see this project through from initial idea to completion—all of the festival screenings and the reception. How has the response been?
RYAN: You know, it’s been wonderful. It’s a scary thing to put something together and you hope that people will like it—and you put someone like Michael Weston in it, who is hard to like in the first place. But the reception has been wonderful—it was actually more than I ever hoped it could have been. And the response from the different demographics and generations has been really neat. I was actually really surprised by the baby boomers' reaction—because that is the generation that actually got into a VW and drove across the country.

The first description of this film that I read was “a bromantic Once if it had been directed by Cameron Crowe in his prime.” How do you feel about this description?
RYAN: I can’t even imagine a better compliment.
MICHAEL: He uses the word bromantic a lot in his daily life.

RYAN: A comparison to Once I think is the highest compliment I can think of—that’s one of my favorite music movies of all time. And Cameron Crowe is one of my favorite filmmakers of all time. I grew up on Say Anything; I absolutely adore that movie. And Almost Famous is also one of my favorite music movies of all time, so I feel like, fuck, that’s a very sweet thing for them to say.

This is a coming of age film. Do you see coming of age as a sad thing, or at least a sad reality?
RYAN: Mike hasn’t quite hit that yet.
MICHAEL: Yeah, I’ve got a Peter Pan complex. But yeah, it’s a great coming-of-age story in terms of people realizing their dreams and going for them. It’s a very useful perspective on stuff—and as you get older, it’s hard to balance out the passion of those dreams and the practicality of life. And you know, in this movie both characters are—actually right now we’re standing on a street corner and I can see Ryan, and it’s really distracting because he keeps touching his balls.

RYAN: I’m distracting him... You know, the thing about the film that I was attempting to do—you know I played music for years and years, and lived in these borderline-windowless vans. And you know, somewhere along the line you come to realize that it’s not about some end result—it can’t be, because the end result is such a small portion of the arts or the dream you have. It’s the process and the journey that you fall in love with, and all the little failures along the way. I love the little failures. They are dearest to my heart.

I know you were a musician when you were younger, and this film has a very raw and believable feel to it. How much of this is based on your experience? Was it pretty easy for you to get into character?
RYAN: You know there’s heightened elements for sure. Some of it is definitely based on my emotional experience and a lot of people that I grew up with in the music scene. And my brother is also a fantastic musician; I kind of used him as a muse a little bit. Parts of it are real: I was on tour one year and we actually played a place called the Theta Beta Potato House.

For real?
RYAN: For real, man. I woke up... I don’t remember... no, we were in Iowa City. We had been driving forever, and we were on some residential street, and I was like, what the hell? Are we playing someone’s house? And they were like, I don’t know man, the address is weird. And we pulled up to this dilapidated mansion and it had that big Theta, Beta, and a potato symbol, a mock frat house that these punk kids had co-opted. And they just threw shows there and nobody got paid, and it was just such a fucking blast. And my drummer at the time did wake up naked next to some random person the next morning.

Michael, what pulled you to this project? Had you known each other previously?
MICHAEL: No. I mean, I actually met Ryan outside an audition. I was going in and he had just flopped; he had flop sweat all over him. He saw me going in and he basically pronounced his love for me. He got down on his knee and begged me to be in this movie. Embarrassingly enough there was a pile of drool on the floor.
RYAN: Dude, stop already.

MICHAEL: Actually we met and then Ryan invited me to another film he had done called The Dry Land, and I went to see it that night and the next night, and he was so wonderful in it and the DP Gavin Kelly who did Brooklyn Brothers also worked on that—and our producer Jason Berman also produced that—so you know, unwittingly I sort of met the family at that premiere, and that’s sort of how this film went: it was a family vibe, and everyone brought their warmest and most compassionate game to the table. And when I met Ryan he was so full of love for this project. When he sent me the script I was laughing out loud. It’s just such an original voice. We sat, we had a burger. What else happened Ry?
RYAN: I think something that we’re really fortunate to have is that we sort of made this collective group—and Mike is definitely a part of that family now without a doubt—but it’s a group of people that I’ve met from different films I’ve done. We actually just did a new one—same sound mixer, same producers, and you know, everyone gets a chance to do new things. Gavin our DP just directed this new project.

MICHAEL: It’s a really rare thing. You don’t get to work in that capacity very much. Ryan and I hit it off immediately and we had to, because we had 18 days to shoot. We had to learn all of this music; I had to learn all these baby instruments.
RYAN: He’s still learning them by the way.

MICHAEL: You have such little time, so when you can have a cohesive bunch of people who are all on the same page, going the same direction, and genuinely like working together and are bringing their A game even if they’re not making a lot of dough on stuff—the dough is not what defines the project, it’s the people involved and the passion involved and the sense of humor that I think took it from start to finish. That experience is really special and completely insane and chaotic. It’s like a crazy ride.

A large portion of the film is devoted to the choices we're forced to make as we get older and take on more responsibility. As artists who have made it in the industry, how was it to delve back into these characters who are pretty lost? Was it nostalgic at all?
MICHAEL: I don’t know. From my perspective, I look at Ryan and he just always looks lost to me. I’m looking at him right now and he looks like a homeless lost person that I need to help right now. And I am going to help him, because I have to drive him around because he recently arrived in LA without a car. Who does that?
RYAN: Are you kidding me? We just did a photo shoot... first of all, Mike is savagely color-blind. So he only wears three colors: blue, grey, and white. So he picked his white shirt today, and there’s a white backdrop.

MICHAEL: I had to use Ryan as my backdrop. That’s just called strategic man, that’s a veteran move. I feel like in this industry, which is so up and down, you’re constantly reassessing your life. As one project ends, you sort of by definition are looking for work again. There’s an instability to that, but there’s also a beauty to that in terms of the way it forces your perspective.
RYAN: Yeah, you’re constantly forced to redefine yourself, to a certain extent.

MICHAEL: Yeah, redefine yourself, but also appreciate exactly where you are now, and I think that there’s something about this movie that speaks to that. No matter what you have accomplished or haven’t accomplished—if you can pause for a second and take a look around, re-assess your life not from what you want to be or how you want to be but actually what you’re doing in the moment, who you’re surrounded with, the music you’re making, whatever. That’s where this movie really speaks to me in terms of the parallel life I lead as a writer, actor.
RYAN: I totally agree. Well said, bro. I’m really impressed because usually you’re horribly inarticulate.

MICHAEL: I have another person here feeding me lines.
RYAN: Also, the kind of DIY aspect of the music itself—you can kind of do anything, especially in this time period, with digital film and how the price point for making a film has dropped so significantly. If you have something to say, and you really wanna say it, there’s this opportunity to go make shit. And that’s what I love about Alex and Jim: they take these collective things they have and they make something, and they just hope for the best.

MICHAEL: I was just giving Ryan a compliment about that, which I don’t like to do. But he has that energy. He just says, fuck it, we’re going to go make this thing. And I think that’s contagious, and I really feel like this film embodies that spirit and at the same time it has spread into my life. I actually felt that this film empowers you to go out and do things. It gave me courage to go out and raise money for my film.
RYAN: Yeah, Mike just got funded for his film. It has Jason Ritter and Bryan Cranston; it’s a beautiful script.

That sounds incredible.
MICHAEL: For a couple of years getting in the way of it, I was trying to rely on so many other people and it sort of clipped my wings a little bit. When I finally did this and with Ryan’s energy, it made me say, screw it. I’m gonna go do this.

In the film, Alex says that New York was the first place where he felt “the energy on the outside matched the energy on the inside.” But in the film, the characters basically flee New York, and the city is viewed as difficult and isolating. As New Yorkers, is that how you have come to view the city?
MICHAEL: I mean, Ryan is really an immigrant New Yorker; I was born and raised there. I taught Ryan a lot about New York. To me, the city has always been a testing ground. It has an energy of its own that sweeps you up, but it also can knock you on your ass. It doesn’t allow you to rest on your world.
RYAN: Yeah, if you want to do something, you’ve really got to want it and you really got to go after it because nothing is handed to you there. It’s a place where Alex kind of... he had to leave in a sense, but for me in particular, New York is where I’ve found who I was and what I wanted for the first time in my whole life—the energy of the city and the pulse of it.

MICHAEL: The people of that city are so eclectic, everyone else sort of arrives there with the same dreams and the same energy. If you do put yourself out there and you go for it, you find like-minded people. Alex and Jim find their crazy chemistry; my character sort of completes Alex. All of the shortcomings that I have, he helps me assimilate to real life, and I sort of drive his character forward. That energy—that lives in New York. Even as eccentric as Jim is, you can find that other energy in your life there, and it’s an amazing place to have that abundance of personality.
RYAN: I mean I wrote pretty much the entire script sitting at a little coffee shop at the corner of Houston and Allen called Sugar CafĂ©. I had this idea when I was making Alex and Jim that they were this yin and yang, the two pieces inside of myself and my friends who were artists. I went to acting school and I knew a lot of musicians there as well that were trying to do something. And you have these two sides of you: one that thinks you may have a certain amount of talent but also has open ears for the fucking naysayers whether it’s your family, or your friends who have normal jobs, they’re working their way up the ladder and making a lot of money and have nice places and you feel like a manchild trying to live in your childish dreams. And the other side of that is this kind of fierce side of you that runs blindly into the dark: "I’m going to do it, I don’t care." But the two sides need each other. You have to have a certain amount of courage.

One of my favorite parts in the film is the Jimmy Johnson story; I really loved the line “even the craziest bastards need looking after.” Was that taken from a real life experience?
RYAN: I actually am a eunuch now because of a dog I had as a child named Jimmy Johnson. No, I don’t know where that came from. It’s just one of those things you come up with.
MICHAEL: You were sitting around with no penis just thinking, hmm...?

RYAN: But yeah, I love the idea of having something like beyond yourself, bigger than yourself. There’s a certain amount of selflessness that grounds you in a way. I guess I’ve always had people in my life where you don’t agree with everything they say or do, but you need each other in some way.

You’re releasing the music through Rhino Records, and the band is going to be a real life thing. What’s next for the Brooklyn Brothers in that respect?
MICHAEL: We go on tour, man.
RYAN: We start on Monday [the 10th]; it’s crazy.

MICHAEL: We’ve been roaming around Los Angeles right now looking for a melodica. All these electric guitar guys are like, what, dude? Nah man, we don’t have that shit here.
RYAN: Mike calls it a flugle horn, which is not actually what it’s called. So I have to be like, nah, it’s not actually a flugle horn.

MICHAEL: This padded-up dude... I was like, yeah, can I get a kazoo? And he just goes, yeah, they’re in that kids bucket. And I’m like, so, is there any way to amplify this? You know, strap a microphone on this thing for an audience?
RYAN: That guy was not having it.

MICHAEL: He’s like, nah, man, it’s $1.59 for the kazoo—just sign here and get the fuck out.
RYAN: What do you want to do with that kazoo?

MICHAEL: You don’t worry about that buddy.

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