Your new movie Normal
- in a few words, what is it about?
is about a guy dealing with the worst day of his life. Through
those events he is forced to deal with his feelings about his deceased
The first question
that will probably pop into everybody's mind: Why a gorilla costume?
gorilla costume was inspired by a family story. My father got a gorilla
suit for Halloween one year. Being the prankster he is, he decided to go
over to his cousin's house, burst through the door, pick her up, and run
around the house with her. She had no idea who it was at first and was
freaking out. That story gets told at every family get-together. We had
that gorilla costume in our basement for years. I actually won my 8th
grade costume contest with that fur suit.
admit this question will sound either silly or pretentious - or both,
actually -, but here goes: Since it's in the title, what does the word
"normal" mean to you personally, and what does it mean in
relation to the movie?
For the film, normal has a double
meaning. The destination of Phin's road trip is Normal, IL, an actual
town (where my sister went to college). But it also becomes a reminder of
how abnormal Phin's circumstances are and how abnormal the people he
encounters along the way are.
On a personal level, normal is what I never
was - until I found a group of people just as abnormal as I am. Once I
found my abnormal wife, my abnormal friends, and recognized how abnormal
my family was, I found myself feeling quite normal. It illustrates how
normal is simply a matter of perspective. I think the same is true in
film. It takes strangeness to shake up the formula.
Your sources of inspiration when
was inspired completely by the people I met after moving to the South-side
of Chicago and their stories. Cal City and Northwest Indiana have the
weirdest collection of characters I have ever found in my travels. Their
stories would be completely unbelievable if not for the conviction with
which they told them. I wanted to channel that same vibe into Normal. I
hope that the audience gets the same feeling that I got listening to the
folks I met in the guitar shops, diners, and factories in that little
pocket of the Midwest.
is a wild genre mix if there ever was one. When conceiving the film, did
you ever think within genre boundaries or just let your imagination run
I set out to write a dark, sarcastic comedy. And
while there are smatterings of other genres in there, I think at its core,
it is still a comedy. I think when a film fits too well into its own genre
it is often times formulaic and predictable. Many of my favorite films are
ones that I would describe as "sci-fi, but also a great drama"
or "a comedy, but it also has this angry, dark streak" or
"a horror film, but it's not really a horror film". I just
wanted to write something fresh.
is not your most ordinary film by any stretch of the word - so how
easy/hard was it to get the project off the ground?
finished the script right when the housing bubble burst and the recession
hit. No one was interested in funding a micro-budget indie film from
someone without a well-established track record. That's hard enough when
the economy is soaring. So I was faced with the decision to shelf it or
find a group of people to do it for free with an extremely limited budget.
My first two calls were star and producer Geno Rathbone and director of
photography Chuck Przybyl. I sent them the script and explained our
decision - and they both said let's do it. So we did. All of our cast and
crew worked for free based solely on the merits of the script. We raised
our modest budget through a successful Kickstarter-campaign, supplemented
by one additional investor. And while we ran into our expected share of
problems and setbacks, the team that rallied around the film made it
relatively easy to get made considering the limited resources that we had.
would you describe Normal's
brand of humour, and any conscious influences?
you laugh for the same reasons that you say "No f-ing way" when
a friend tells you about the unbelievably terrible day he just had. When
Geno first called me after reading the script he couldn't stop laughing
about the idea of him wearing a gorilla suit, in handcuffs, running
through a cornfield, then needing to summersault out of a stranger's condo
after he interrupts the stranger's attempt to wrangle his first three-way.
It's that kind of funny. And while after the script and film finished I
found and was shown several similar storylines, there weren't any specific
influences when I was writing, except for the fantastic weirdos of
Illinois and Indiana.
you tell us about your directorial approach to your subject at hand?
of my work as the director went into casting the right people and making
sure that they understood what I needed out of the roles. That being said,
I wanted to craft the characters together with the actors. A lot of the
quality of the film comes from the work that the actors did in developing
their particular kook. On set, I just tried to keep them on course as they
might drift slightly from the characters that we created together.
few words about your lead Geno Rathbone, and what made him perfect for the
I met Geno back in high school. We played tenor sax
together in the band and we had small roles together in Our
Town. After drifting apart for a few years, we reconnected as I was
writing the film. I actually wrote the role of Phin for another actor
friend of mine, but he moved to LA to pursue his career. Knowing that I
wouldn't be able to fly him out for the role on our limited budget, I
started talking to Geno about the role. Geno has never done any serious
acting, he's actually an incredible guitar player (currently playing for
the metal band Product of Hate), but I knew he'd be comfortable on camera,
and Geno and Phin had very similar personalities and comedic styles. And
he did a fantastic job. I think Geno was a bit worried, needing to lead
this group of experienced Chicago actors, but he did. He's a natural
leader and helped rally the troops whenever things got rough.
What can you tell us about the rest of your cast?
of the actors had such a diverse background, and that is reflected in the
final film. Really talented, really creative, and they nurtured and
supported this project from the beginning. I am so grateful to everyone;
Geno, Erin, Mike, Rocky, Neil, Emmi and everyone else. Even the actors in
the smaller roles treated their characters seriously, which made them
stand out instead of blending in like a prop. I was so fortunate for
having the opportunity to work with such an inspiring group of artists.
few words about the actual shoot and the on-set atmosphere?
am a pretty laid back guy. You'll never see me "Kubrick" out on
someone. I'll certainly get things on track if it starts to get too loose,
which it always will at some point, but I make films because I love making
films. If I had to yell and scream to get what I wanted, it wouldn't be
fun anymore. If anything, the on-set atmosphere was a little more serious
than I am used to. We had our fun, but the cast and crew were equally as
dedicated as I was, and they all knew we were up against a lot of
challenges. We kept it light, but every single person on the set was there
to do the best job they could.
$64-question of course: When and where will your movie be released onto
the general public?
We are currently submitting to film
festivals. So hopefully we'll start announcing screenings in the next
month or two. Beyond that, it's all up to whether or not it speaks to a
distributor or not. In either case, we'll have DVDs available to buy, and
we're in talks with Tugg.com
about possible theater showings. Information
on DVDs, festivals, and theater showings will be kept up to date on our
official website and our Facebook page.
You have recently also made the
drama Transcendence. What can you tell us about that one? And how
does it compare to Normal?
was my first feature film. I shot Transcendence in 2005 and 2006 on DV
cameras. With the usual laundry list of challenges, it took a little while
to get Transcendence wrapped up. By the time it came to distribute, HD had
fully taken hold, and festivals and distributors were not interested in
narratives shot on DV. It was very disappointing given the work and
dedication everyone put into the film, especially since we got good
feedback on the story and acting. But technically, it just didn't stand
up. I learned a lot on Transcendence about writing, directing, and
producing. Everything that I learned I was able to put into Normal.
Nicholas P. Richards
got you into filmmaking to begin with, and did you receive any formal
training on the subject?
My good friend and cousin-in-law
Michael R. Steinbeck introduced me to filmmaking. When we were in high school, he included me in some of his early short films. I started college
with the intentions of becoming a music teacher. That didn't work out, so
I needed to find a new path. Given my experiences with Mike I attended
Madison Media Institute in Madison, WI. I got a great education there that
has served me well, but it was not a film school. I learned how to run a
camera and Final Cut Pro, along with a myriad of other media skills.
Everything else film related I learned from doing it (or screwing up while
trying to do it). Mike and I continue to work together on all of our
What can you tell us about your
filmwork prior to Normal
My last semester at MMI, I
convinced all of my teachers to let me make a short film in lieu of taking
a final exam, as long as I incorporated what I learned into the project.
That was my first experience with writing and directing. After school I
worked with Mike on two of his projects. The first was Green Eyes for
Anastice. This was our first attempt at a serious narrative feature film.
In addition to my behind-the-camera work, I also starred in the film.
After that I shot Transcendence. Then I worked with Mike on Tree, a
mini-feature that did very well at festivals. I helped with the script and
I was the Director of Photography on that film. After that I shot a series
of music videos and then shot Normal.
Any future projects you'd like
to talk about?
Nothing specific. I recently moved to
Maryland. Having lost my network of filmmakers and actors, I have been
focusing on writing. I have four scripts that I want to finish by the end
of the year. At that point I will need to decide whether to get an agent
and pursue writing, or if I will try to rebuild a team out here and shoot
another one myself. I did write a script for Mike that is currently
looking for investors called Alia. You can check out a teaser scene and
get info on it at http://www.aliamovie.com.
Directors who inspire you?
Nolan - I have been a huge fan of his since Momento. Sam Raimi - aside from
him just making great films, his success story of becoming huge because of
the Evil Dead-films is inspiring and gives indie filmmakers hope that we
too can make it. And while not a director, writer/producer Rod Serling is
a huge source of inspiration for me.
This is a very serious question. In an
ode to High Fidelity (not on my list but still a great movie), I will give
you my top 5.
1. It's A Wonderful Life - I cry every single time. When he comes home and
hugs his kids, then the whole town rallies behind him... and then the
inscription in the book, "Remember, no man is a failure that has
friends. Thanks for the wings." - Waterworks.
2. Fight Club - If scrawny Edward Norton can become a badass, maybe I can
too. It's smart and funny (another genre bender). It is thick with ideas
about social constructs and the definition of being a man. A great film
and a great adaptation that speaks to me as a writer. And yes, the twist
is cool too, but that's not what makes it brilliant.
3. The Prestige - Here's my Christopher Nolan flick. Another adaptation. I
saw this in the theater four times. It's such a driving examination of
obsession and competition. Really well-acted. This is the story that I
hold my scripts up to and say, "Why can't you be more like
4. SLC Punk - This was probably my first "favorite movie". A
film that got me interested in good film, and indie film. Matthew Lillard
at his finest. And while I was never a true punk, I did dye my hair in high
school the same bluish-purple that Stevo has. PS, if you like SLC Punk, check out
Fat Kid Rules the World, directed by Matthew Lillard.
5. Saw - I went through a serious horror phase before the new school of
Japanese influenced horror films started cropping up. So I own all of the Nightmares,
13ths, etc. And while Saw
is a cool,
gritty, visual horror flick, it is also a really smart low-budget film. A
horror film that makes you think instead of just squirm. The sequels were
just a down-hill plummet, but the original is a great example of what
excites me as both a filmmaker and as an audience member.
... and of course, films you really
I have given this topic significantly less
thought, so these are a little more off the cuff.
1. House of the Dead - In addition to it being just an uninspiring zombie
flick, the cutaways to the video game were weird, and the Matrix-camera moves they put in were obnoxiously out of place.
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2. Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen - I was pulled into the theater
kicking and screaming. My only hope was that Lindsay had carried over some
of the Mean Girls-vibe (which I LOVED! Thank you Tina Fey). But I was
expectedly disappointed. Awful.
3. The modern spoof movies (Epic Movie, Date Movie, etc.) -
The Scary Movie-franchise wasn't terrible, but after that producers started churning them
out for $$$, they really ruined the concept of spoof for me - which is a
Your website, Facebook, whatever else?
official website - http://normalfilm.com/
Facebook-page (make sure you like us to find out when the film is
available) - https://www.facebook.com/pages/Normal/156053387743577
Rule 42 Productions website (you can check out my other films and music
videos) - http://rule-42.com/
else you are dying to mention and I have merely forgotten to ask?
not really. Thanks for the interview. It was a lot of fun and I hope your
audience enjoys reading it.
for the interview!