The filmmakers of The Truth About Average Guys, Ken Gayton and Jason Schaver, were obliging enough to answer some of BtH's questions about their collaborative debut. Smoking Barrel: For most aspiring writers, the hardest part of succeeding is actually forcing yourself to write after work. Jason, where did you find the strength and the motivation to write the script for TTAAG everyday after your job?
Jason: I wrote the original draft back in 2001. Of course, it's nothing like how it is now. Ken and I rewrote it back in 2007, renamed it (twice). But back to 2001, the motivation was knowing that if I didn't do something, I'd rot away in a factory for the rest of my life. Now, I don't think there is anything wrong with working in a factory or warehouse, but it's just not what I wanted to do with my life. I have always loved movies, people have often said I was pretty funny, so I thought "It would be cool if I got paid to make people laugh." Life is so much better when you love your job.
Smoking Barrel (inwardly): Yeah, you're goddamn right it is.
Smoking Barrel: Forgive me for what might be an obvious answer, but I have no idea what cities look like outside of L.A. Was this filmed in Illinois?
Jason: Yes, it was mostly filmed in Chicago and the surrounding suburbs.
Smoking Barrel: So much of the dialogue between Jason and his friends seems authentic, almost as though the viewer is a fly on the wall in a real conversation. Was any of the dialogue ad-libbed, especially during the scene where GGILFS (Great Grandma I'd Like To Fuck) and Rue McClanahan are discussed in depth?
Ken: Most of the movie is scripted, but the scenes with the guy friends in it had the most ad lib. The GGILF was an improv line from Tony Bozzuto (who played Dave, one of Jason's friends) that we liked and decided to keep in there. The Rue McClanahan stuff was originally in the script, but we embellished even more on it with Troy on the couch. We like to play around with the script and give the actors freedom to do so. But you also have to be able to reign everybody in when things are getting out of control and we've gotten completely off the script with no coherent way of getting back.
Smoking Barrel: After hearing the opinions of producers who wanted the script changed to fit the tone of a movie like Secretary or wanted to cut out the mentally challenged aspect altogether, would you say that coming up with the money to produce your own film is the better route over waiting to find someone who is in sync with your vision?
Jason: That is the million dollar question. For me, I had always gone in with the mindset "If they are paying for the script they can do whatever they want with it, but if they want it for free they are doing it my way." Odds are if they can't pay for the screenplay then they probably aren't nearly as "important" or "successful" as they think they are. So why hand over a script to someone that hasn't earned that right?
But yeah, if they clearly aren't getting it and you have the money to make it yourself, then by all means you should make it yourself. There are so many festivals out there that it's easier than ever to get noticed (not so much by Hollywood, but by distributors). So if your film is good it will get out to the masses.
Ken: I never thought that investors should have a say in the creative aspect of the film. I know it is their money, but it's a risk they know they are going to have to take. Just because you have money doesn't mean you know anything about how to tell a story or what's funny. I think it is important to stick to your vision and hopefully you can find someone that shares it enough with you. That's what happened with Jason and me.
Smoking Barrel: Both Ken and Jason: Each of you said something at the end of the History of TTAAG (Ken said he hoped that people would see what you guys could do with five grand and then be compelled to give you a legitimate budget based on how well you allocated such a small amount of money and Jason said he hopes not to be poor soon) that made me want to ask: Do you feel like this experience has made you fundamentally more pessimistic or optimistic about the justness of the film industry?
Jason: I really don't know what to think about the film industry as a whole. We have "indie films" that have $5-$20 million budgets that are actually backed by studios. That kind of rubs me the wrong way. Some of them are really good (500 Days of Summer, for example), but overall they just don't feel very "indie" to me, especially since "indie" is supposed to mean "without backing from a studio." Then we have IFC who airs reruns of TV shows that were on major networks (Arrested Developement), what's the "I" stand for in their name again? Then we have Hollywood remaking all the old TV shows into movies with 100 million dollar budgets, and sequels out the wazoo. There is nothing wrong with having a million dollar budget and getting 10-20 mil at the box office. But with Hollywood it almost seems like they would rather swing for the fences (and strikeout a lot) than hit a bunch of singles. I really don't know what to make of it right now. I guess I'm just hoping that filmmakers like myself don't get lost in the shuffle.
Ken: Anybody in the film industry that doesn't have a steady job is going to be pessimistic about the justness of everything. Because everyone thinks that they can do better. I see movies like "Miss March" getting made and think to myself "HOW?!" 6 million dollars on that movie?! I'm doing this because I love it and I think I am good at it. So of course I think that I should have more "success" than I do now. But you can't be totally pessimistic otherwise you'd probably quit. So I have to hold out hope that I'm on the right track and that if I keep building on the small success I've been having. Eventually I'll be able to make this my career.
Smoking Barrel: Do either of you have any upcoming projects in the works?
Jason: Ken and I are in pre-production on our next film S.O.L. which is an action/comedy about a down on his luck comedian that inadvertantly gets wrapped up in a robbery/kiddnapping of a high profile television actress.
Smoking Barrel: Would you guys ever consider moving to L.A. and doing the whole Matt Damon/Ben Affleck thing and share an apartment together until someone agreed to produce your script and let you both star in it?
Jason: I don't know. Both Ken and I are single now, so there's really not anything keeping us here (other than family of course). While I can't speak for Ken, I wouldn't be against it if the right opportunities came our way.
Ken: Matt Damon and Ben Affleck were lottery winners. There are thousands of struggling writers who move out to LA and think they'll be the next Damon/Affleck. Or make the next Swingers. The thing is that Damon and Affleck already had a foot in the door. They had been in bigger budgeted movies before. Affleck was in a lot of Kevin Smith movies as well as Dazed and Confused before he did Good Will Hunting. Damon was in School Ties with Brendan Frazier. So they already had agents. Already had an "in" to get into to the studios. Jason and I are so far removed from that. If I had an agent that believed in me and worked as hard as I do then I would move out to LA. Till then, I am going to just keep making movies in Chicago and hope for the best.
Smoking Barrel: What is the truth about average guys?
Jason: To me, The Truth About Average Guys and the truth about average guys is that men are just as insecure as women, we just handle it differently. The main moral of the story is being yourself won't always get the girl, but when it finally does, you will have an amazing relationship.
Smoking Barrel (inwardly again): Word.