Two Fort Worth Filmmakers Tell Us How They Convinced SNL Players To Star In Their Football Comedy.
For their latest project, Fort Worth filmmakers Red Sanders and Andrew Disney tapped a cast of SNL cast members and The Office alums for a little indie sports-comedy about — wait for it — intramural football.
A cocktail of Hot Rod-style cinematography and Wet Hot American Summer-style ensemble casting, Balls Out tells the tale of an old, out-of-practice intramural football team being brought back together by fifth-year senior Caleb Fuller, who is dealing with an overly attached fiancee and graduation looming just around the corner. It's a film about revisiting your glory days one last time before venturing into the humdrum world of responsibility and desk jobs — and it's pretty damn funny, to boot.
So, ahead, of its premiere in theaters and in Video On Demand channels this Friday, we sat down with producer Sanders and director Disney to learn about their North Texas roots, what they love about sports movies and how important it is to remain original in the industry.
So Balls Out is your first film, yeah?
Andrew Disney: “It's actually my second. [My first one was called] Searching For Sonny. It's like a fun, slacker-noir. It's about friends that go to a high school reunion and get sucked into a small town murder mystery. It had Brian McElhaney and Nick Kocher; they played the coach and the magician wide receiver [in Balls Out ]. Searching For Sonny was their first feature, as well. It was all shot in Fort Worth.”
This new film was originally called Intramural. What changed that?
Red Sanders: “When you release the film to the distributor, they specialize in marketing, right? Well, we specialize in making the film and we partner with the distributor to get it out there, and ultimately that's what they're in charge of. The movie didn't change at all, but the shell did.”
Andrew: “I totally trust them to make those decisions if they think that the name will stand out and be higher in the alphabet [when scrolling through On Demand]. I think they thought, 'Hey, y'know, a butt and a football are going to get the clicks.'”
Red: “It used to be that movie posters were a big thing, and now it's all about the tiny little icon on your screen. Our Intramural poster had a lot of people on it. If you looked at that on a [Video On Demand] screen, it would have just been a bunch of tiny dots.”
How will Balls Out be distributed?
Red: “It's a limited nation-wide release. So that means that it'll technically be everywhere on everyone's V.O.D. 'in theater's now' category.”
Andrew: “It's in like 10 theatres and everywhere on V.O.D., all on Friday, June 19.”
Are any of those 10 theaters around Dallas?
Andrew: “Yeah, it'll be at Look Cinema, which is a really cool theatre. You can get a drink there.”
Red: “A lot of Andrew's movies are best watched with a beer.”
So do you guys work pretty much exclusively with each other?
Red: “So far! We're two-for-two. We just like working with each other. Making a film is kind of like going to battle. It's great to know from a producer's side that, when I work with Andrew, I have no worries.”
How did you guys meet?
Andrew: “If you're in Fort Worth doing film stuff, it's kind of a small but cool scene. The Lone Star Film Festival is where we met, back in '07.”
What advice do you have for other local filmmakers trying to get to where you guys are?
Andrew: “Man. How the hell do you do it? I mean, I remember coming out of film school and being like, 'What the hell do you do with a film degree?' I think you've got to just keep on making stuff. There's no excuse with the equipment out there. If you don't have a camera or you don't have the money, just keep writing. With us, we were able to raise money for both these films. The big thing was getting a cool cast. One thing we did to get a cool cast was we made short videos for them. Like, 'Seven Reasons You Should Be In Our Movie! 1. You're going to be this crazy fiancee. 2. Tacos!' Yeah, we just made fun weird videos, because if you're trying to get people into a movie who are totally indie, you've got to appeal to them with your sense of humor and who you are and that you're making a cool thing.”
How did you guys decide on the cast?
Andrew: “A lot of it is, you just pick the people that you're a really big fan of. So, like, Jake Lacy was awesome in the last season of The Office. He was awesome in Obvious Child. Kate McKinnon is doing Ghostbusters this summer, which is going to be huge. We got Brian and Nick, I'm a big fan of their comedy. Beck Bennett and Nick Rutherford have a comedy group. The day that we wrapped is the day Beck got the call [to be a new cast member of SNL].”
Red: “A lot of the casting, too, is just cutting through the noise. You have to understand that they have agents giving them a lot of offers from a lot of other low budget films. So, like Andrew said, with the video saying why you should be in this movie, it's like short little things you can put out there that they can consume first, and get a taste of you before they sit down and read the script.”
Andrew: “It's like inviting people to a party: Who's going to be there? Once Kate McKinnon said, 'Yeah, I'll do it,' it was like, 'Oh, Kate's doing it? I'm doing it.' Like, 'Oh, Kate's going to the party? We're all going! Call your friends.'”
Did any parts of your upbringing in North Texas inspire the football theme of the film?
Andrew: “Yeah, I think so. Bradley Jackson wrote the script and I know he went to UT and he would have friends come back from playing an intramural football game like, 'Oh my god! You wouldn't believe it. It was like the last seconds and I caught the ball and scored!' Like, they had these glory days of this thing that does not matter — y'know, at all. I feel like we all live that. Getting so involved in sports, like in a game of intramural, it's not going to matter, but there's some internal psyche that makes you feel like it does. Everybody has a moment where they're playing anything competitive, whether it's intramural or beer pong or an intense game of Monopoly. You feel like you're LeBron James. It's something so weird and human. We have this engine inside of us that's makes us feel like we have to win.”
Red: “Especially team sports, you get that effort going on. Even filmmaking is like that, too. I didn't play team sports growing up but, with filmmaking, you've got to get your whole team together to get the movie across the finish line.”
One of my favorite parts of the film was when Nick Kocher's character, Grant, was explaining to the other characters their roles in a typical sports montage. The film followed a traditional story line but in a non-traditional way. Is that your typical style?
Andrew: “Yeah, I mean, I love putting people in genres where they might not quite belong. And then you're able to fuck around with the tropes. Like, Searching For Sonny is this mystery movie where the characters are totally inept to figure out a mystery. We always said the mantra [for Balls Out] was to make a movie with guys who don't deserve to have an epic sports movie.”
Did any of the actors find it difficult to play a football player?
Red: “[Laughs.] A lot of them couldn't play football.”
Andrew: “Yeah, you can't put them in pads when you're playing intramural [football]. Most movies, they'll put them in pads, then have a stunt guy [do the play], and then they'll go in like, 'I made the touchdown!' with a close up. [In our film] they actually had to play football in 105-degree weather. So I think they found that difficult.”
Red: “It was shot in Austin during July and August.”
Were there any injuries during production?
Red: “There was a pretty serious pinky toe injury.”
Andrew: “Yeah, that wasn't even football-related. That was with drinking. It was Brian running Flip Cup Charades. It's a game he invented. We don't condone it. It involves Flip Cup and running and a game of Charades, so that was an injury. And he definitely couldn't run as well. Beck strained his hamstring.”
Red: “And it was worrisome as a producer, because it was like, 'Oh my god, it's the first day and we already have an injury.'”
It was refreshing to see a dude's sports movie without a bunch of overly sexualized women.
Andrew: “[Laughs.] Yeah, every decision we made was, like, the opposite [of what you see in other sports films.]”
How did you go about picking songs for the soundtrack?
Andrew: “I wanted to make it like a throwback '80s movie. There was a lot with the costuming and the lens choices to make it look vaguely like an '80s movie. One thing about '80s movies is they'd put fog in an interior room. Like, was it just real foggy in the '80s? And, so, with the soundtrack we got this song by Toto. And we got this song, “Release the Beast,” it's like a '70s or '80s song that Daft Punk later used. There is also a lot of songs by Robert Schwartzman and he became a good friend of ours.”
Red: “Advice for first time filmmakers: Don't put fog in every scene.”
Andrew: “[Laughs.] Yeah, it kind of slows down the filming process.”
What are some of your favorite sports movies?
Andrew: “I think Rocky IV because he takes down communism. And it has the greatest montage. Like, one guy's getting all these machines and getting all these injections, then it's Rocky just, like, chopping wood in the cold mountains, and yeah, he ends communism.”
Red: “I think The Sandlot. It's so quotable.”
Andrew: “Little Giants. Did you know Janusz Kaminski shot that? The same guy who shot Saving Private Ryan and, like, all the Spielberg movies? One of his first movies was Little Giants. He came from Europe and they were like, 'OK, we're gonna get you on Little Giants!'”
Red: “I love Mighty Ducks, probably because I was playing roller hockey then.”
Andrew: “Oh, I gotta say Teen Wolf. I love how, in that movie, he becomes a werewolf and everyone just accepts it. Like, 'OK, he's really good at basketball, so I guess, alright, let's go with this.'”
What's next for you guys?
Andrew: “Bradley and I wrote a script called Zombie Wedding. It's about a destination wedding that goes terribly wrong. It's about a bride who gets cold feet. The wedding party has to team up to kill zombies while also getting the bride and groom back together. So, I like the idea of hopping from genre to genre. I feel like we're constantly writing, just not knowing which thing is going to hit next.”
Red: “You've got to cast a lot of lines and see what sticks. That's the hard thing with film development. You've got to get the script, the director, which sometimes is naturally attached. You've got to get a cast and financing, so it's just bringing everyone together for that. So we'll have a few items in the fire to see what can work.”
Balls Outhits Look Cinemas and On Demand this Friday, June 19.