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Son of Clowns: Director Evan Kidd on how Breaking Bad influenced his film, the comedy-drama dynamic, and that great railroad shot.

This is the first feature film for the talented, young director Evan Kidd. However, he has proven with just one film to create something that is not only absorbing and ambitious but has a lot of meaning and thought put into it. Using a simple but relatable plot that focuses on a comedy-drama dynamic that not only is gripping, but doesn’t go entirely 50/50 sure helps. This film is very well written and uses spontaneity and passion to create a fascinating story.

I spoke to the talented director on what influenced him to make the film, the casting process, and much more involving his interesting, new film Son of Clowns. 

(Links to my spoiler-free review and information on how to watch the entire film will be at the bottom of the page)

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What gave you the idea to make the film in the first place?

It actually kinda just popped in my head believe it or not. Back in 2014, I was thinking of ways to fuse both comedy and drama, and I just came off of binge watching Breaking Bad. While it’s different from Breaking Bad, I still had the loose dark comedy tone in mind. Now not as action oriented, but I was thinking there are some really funny moments in that show and always a lot of dark drama as well. I was just trying to think within the context of the story what can I do with that format. So I know I wanted to tell a story about someone who is struggling in the film industry. I kinda dabbled with acting a little bit, but more or so with directing, but there’s a lot of parallels. You struggle either way. I was just trying to relay a lot of those struggles that everyone deals with in this industry. Also trying to fuse those funny moments. Hudson is depressed, he has a lot of things going on, but at the same time, life has a funny way of going on even when things are going bad for you. So it’s like how do you find the light in some of those moments? Your parents still embarrass you even when you go through a dark moment in your life. There is still funny things that occur, you just have to notice them a long the way. I was just trying to find a way to blend that together. The clowns thing just kind of popped in my head. I thought “What is more stereotypical comedy than clowns?” So I challenged myself to write that prompt, and the film was kind of born that way.

One of my favorite shots in the film is where he first gets to his parents house and he’s sitting at the table and there’s a huge giraffe head sitting right next to him. I think that just perfectly sums up the entire film in that one shot. 

(laughs) Yeah absolutely. It’s that kind of awkward, situational comedy that’s not really laugh-track comedy, but just awkward comedy. So, yeah that’s absolutely the tone of the film.

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So, how personal was this film to you? Could you compare Hudson a lot to yourself?

Yeah, I can definitely compare to Hudson. Anytime I write there are some parts that are fictitious and there are other parts that are not, so as a writer it is about how do you get inside yourself and sort of mine those experiences that have happened to you and kind of find a way to bring them on-screen. I won’t say that I dealt with everything that Hudson deals with in this movie, but I have definitely dealt with some of it. Maybe not to the degrees that he does, but there are a lot of different elements and struggles in this movie, and I think everyone at some point in their life will hit one or two of those bumps. So, I tried to write something that would be relatable, and not everyone’s an actor, but everyone deals with the negative parts of life at some point. So, I wanted to see how we could make that relatable to this guy whose not just an actor, but a human first and foremost.

What is so intriguing about his character is the stuff that he’s going through, kind of echoing what you were saying, is stuff that we have all went through, getting over that self-pity that you have about yourself. I think the most intriguing thing about his character is in the beginning of the film he is able to give advice to other people, he’s really wise and intelligent. So, he can help others, but the only person he can’t help is himself. 

Exactly, and that’s the thing, because a lot of the times, when you do deal with something personal or dark, you actually become a light for other people who may have problems, because you’ve been there. Then there’s that saying “you can’t take your own advice, but you can give it.” I think that is definitely part of what I was trying to explore with Hudson’s character.

Getting back to the comedy-drama dynamic, was your intention to always have more drama than comedy?

The way it started out, I was trying to kind of keep it 50/50. As I was writing, I definitely saw that the first third of the film is pretty balanced, and you see some seeds of that drama and heavy stuff that comes later in the film kind of being planted. Once I was about a third of the way through, I kind of rewrote what I wrote and actually took about two or three months off from writing it. I was like “I really need to decide how I want to pursue the rest of this film.” I have experiences I wanted to touch on from my personal life and other people who I am close to who I have seen go through that. So, I was trying to come at it on both sides of the coin. Because I think a lot of this is observational too. A lot of Hudson’s experiences resonate with me, but a lot of Ellie’s experiences also resonate with me. So, a lot of the people who may not have directly gone through it have seen someone they care about go through it, so what does that affect have on you? So, it’s pretty versatile in that way and I wanted to be true to that. And the only way for me to do that was to keep some of that comedy, but to push on with the drama, no matter how much it would change the tone. So, by the end of the film, I think I had an interesting final product. Because it wasn’t exactly what I planned on but it was very true, so I liked that. And I liked the fact that it spoke to me and it spoke to others. They got that part about it which was my biggest goal.

It’s funny you brought up Breaking Bad, because I alway think of that show on how it started off with some comedy, but got darker and darker as the show went a long. I think the same thing goes with your film. 

That’s what I was hoping for, and I think Breaking Bad certainly did that, but I don’t see a lot of shows exploring those waters. For me it was really interesting to set sail on that, because not as many people do it, and when you are able to be true to yourself and true to what people are like. Because yeah people are depressed in real life, but there are also funny things that happen to them. I think it’s important not to gloss over all of that, and to blend that which is very interesting and you just don’t see a lot of that.

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Ok, let’s shift gears a little toward the actors. What was the casting process like?

So, most of the roles were auditioned based. There were three roles where I already knew who I wanted. That was mom, dad, and Angus. So, I met the woman who plays mom, April Vickery, through my short film, Displacement Welcomed, which was my senior thesis film for college at the film program at East Carolina University. I met her through there, and she lives in Wilmington, so she played one of the lead roles in that movie. I met her actual husband, Eric, and I put two and two together, and Eric mentioned he liked acting, and I watched some of his stuff, and I thought “you guys would be perfect, you’re already a couple, you guys have the chemistry, let’s do it!” I met Rob Kellum who plays Angus, whose actually a former pro wrestler, and he came to one of the welcome screenings, when I was screening the film and touring on it.  And he mentioned to me he wanted to act in something, so I mentioned we have this circus film with a strong man role I think you would be perfect for. So he was pretty down for that. Other than that, everyone else was through casting. We basically had no budget, so everyone did that for free. All our budget went through paying for everyone’s food, gas, and the camera equipment rentals. We just wanted to make it while we can’t pay you, we want it to basically make it cost you nothing to be here.

It’s a good foot in the door for the actors, especially the leads. Those were two really good, juicy roles. And they both did a fantastic job!

Yeah Adam and Anne-Marie were great. Everyone was great, but they definitely had meaty roles to sink their teeth into. We did some rehearsals, but I didn’t want to over-rehearse it, because I like to have that spontaneity occur on camera, so we basically did a read-through rather than a full block out. I like to save that for the day of, because I like to be a little spontaneous with it. So, they don’t look like they have memorized the place they need to sit like 15 different times. Even those little details matter.

So, what did you see in Adam and Anne-Marie to cast them? What intrigued you about them as actors?

We did everything via video audition first. So, the first round was just a cold read. They didn’t know me from anyone. I just put the thing online and we went through that. So, they each sent me a video. I sent them about two pages from the script. They read it, and there were other people who auditioned for both roles. It was a tough call, but at the end of the day, it just made perfect sense. I just knew that when I saw each of those guys that those were the people I needed to work with. It’s like at the moment, each character just came to life in their video and it was great. So, I think for me, it just clicked like that. It’s a little cheesy, but “you know when you know.” So, they really just brought something to the table, without really having much direction. For me, to be able to sit down and have a meeting with them, which is what I ended up doing once I decided that I wanted to explore more, and talk to them, get to know them, and give them more notes was great. I saw what they were capable of doing once I gave them more prompt and direction, and it was even better. So I thought,” ok, we can put more time into this, and really make something cool.” So, they were the only people who made sense.

I thought their chemistry was really good. What you do with them as a couple in the film is very bold, you go directions that a lot of films wouldn’t go with their relationship. So how did you prepare and work with them to make sure they seemed like a realistic couple?

I wanted to show what couples go through. I feel like there are good times, bad times, hard times, boring times, exciting times, there’s all kinds of things. So, I think to be nuanced and to paint the shades of grey as supposed to just black and white is important. “People are either happy or not happy, or are together or not together,” I think it is more nuanced than that. I think everyone can relate to that at some point in their lives. For me, I just wanted to touch on that and regarding the chemistry between them, I really worked hard to build upon that. Obviously introduced them to one another, and telling them what I’m told you. What I really told them, way before the camera started rolling, is we are not gonna play this in the most traditional sense. You come in, and you’re the savior to him, or he’s the savior to you, it’s not gonna work that way. It needs to be, a mutually, symbiotic kind of relationship. And I told them we need to tip the scales, really have Hudson take more than he is giving.

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How much of the film was improvised? There were a lot of scenes that felt realistic and weren’t scripted. Am I right about that?

I would say about 95% of the script is on-screen, and about 5% of things you see, maybe a sentence here, a couple of actions there were improved across the board. Earlier in the movie when he is on the trampoline doing something random, that is just something we thought of on the spot and was not on the script. But yeah, actually a lot of the conversations were on the script. This is what I was saying earlier, I try to keep those situations feeling real, even though they may feel like they are coming from a script. I like to rehearse but not block everything before the moment, because I feel like you lose that spontaneity when you do that.

To me, this film is about what path you decide to choose in your life. There’s that great shot which I love of the two rail roads. The one in the left is perfectly symmetric and going one direction, and the one to the right is going all these different directions. Was that your intent with that shot, kind of symbolizing what path you choose in your life?

Yeah, I’m glad you picked up on that! You’re the first person, and I’ve shown this to a lot of people, and no one has mentioned that. So, I’m glad you picked up on that. I worked really hard with Ned who is my DP (director of photography) and we crafted a lot of really cool shots between the really awesome landscapes you get in North Carolina to just little decisions like that, so yeah I love it.

I’m sure when you saw that you were just like, “YES, we need to put that in the movie!”

(laughs) Yeah we knew that track was near that area, and me and my producer Bradley scouted all that before hand, and I saw that, and I was like we need to film that conversation right here.

Because really after that shot, that’s when the film starts to get really dark.

Yeah, absolutely. It kind of transitions into the final act.

So, what is next for you? Do you have another film planned?

Yeah, I’m always writing, and I need to get better at writing everyday (laughs) that’s my goal for 2016. I haven’t everyday, but I have been writing a lot. I have a new feature I am working on, so hopefully maybe in 2017 or late 2016, I can start getting the ball rolling once the script is finished. It’s actually about dreams. It’s about a girl who deals with dreams and figuring out what is reality and what is not. That movie, I don’t have a title for it quite yet, but it’s definitely a little more experimental and more art house I think than Son of Clowns. It’s a little non-traditionally narrative. It’s gonna be a little bit more playful in the experimentation. Maybe like Malicky (Terrence Malick) a little bit, but not quite everything of that magnitude. I also have a pilot I’m working on with a friend of mine in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. So, we are gonna start shooting that in the next two months, so we’re gonna pitch that to a few people. It’s about a guy who is a door to door therapist. It’s a little bit more of a comedy, but it’s something to look out for.

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It was a pleasure to talk to Evan Kidd about his film, and I implore to whomever read this interview to please check out Son of Clowns. It is a much watch!

Spoiler Free Review for Son of Clowns

SonofClowns.com/shop/

 

 

1 Comment

  1. Jay

    Great interview.

    Reply

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