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‘Douchebag’s’ Director: When a Movie’s Premise Is Your Own Strange Friend

The director of “Douchebag” on the quirky movie’s origins

Did you ever hang out with anyone that was so fascinating and compelling that you thought, “Wow, they should make a movie about you.” Normally, sanity would take over quickly, but when I spent a few months with Andrew Dickler, I knew what I had to do.

I had to create a movie about a fictionalized Dickler, and call it "Douchebag."

It started when my producer Jonathan Schwartz called me shortly after we wrapped production of my first feature, “Spooner,” and said there was this amazing editor who wanted to meet me to discuss coming aboard.

douchebag movieAndrew had started his career as an apprentice editor on Tarantino movies and had gone on to work for Chris Guest (several movies), Miranda July ("Me and You and Everyone We Know") and Sacha Gervase ("Anvil"). We became fast friends, and I was really working well with him editing the film (shameless plug alert: “Like Crazy” comes out in early 2011) but I always found myself in intense conversations about things that I hadn’t discussed so in depth with anyone else.  

Andrew is intensely bright and knows a lot about so many topics, so when you don’t know too much about something (i.e. composting), get ready for a lecture. For example, I would spend hours listening to his theories about why people shouldn’t eat meat. (“When you see a carcass, do you wanna run over and eat it?” Or even better, “Look at our hands, do these hands look like they were designed to tear flesh?”) 

When he learned that I did not have a credit card, I got skewered about how I could possibly participate in modern commerce without one. It was amazing. I was sitting in the edit room one day when it hit me. I had to make a movie about Andrew. It was a lightning in a bottle type moment that everyone knows about who has ever had a crazy idea that you know you have to execute.  You have no choice.  

I decided that the character Andrew would play (if I could convince him) would be a very exaggerated version of himself.  I had a strong feeling that this had to be a brother story, and I knew in my soul that my uniquely talented old friend Ben York Jones would be the perfectly subtle foil to Andrew’s more aggressive older brother. I had known Ben since we were 16 doing plays in the basement of my mom's theater and I had this idea that the two would have a perfect anti-chemistry to create both conflict and humor.

I was and am lucky enough to have someone who I trust with my life producing all three of the films I’ve directed so far, and I went to him with my crazy idea.  After an initial shaking of the head and a few “are you serious’??”, Jonathan agreed we had to do it.  

He and his Super Crispy Entertainment took the gamble and ended up financing the film along with our friend Marius Markevicius, a pillar of the Southern California Lithuanian community (now you know why there will be so many Eastern European accents in the theater if you come to the movie this weekend).

We decided on a story where the estranged brothers are reluctantly brought together by the older brother’s fiancée in the week before the wedding.  The brothers clash, but ultimately learn to respect each other during a road trip to search for the younger brother’s fifth grade girlfriend (whom, he points out, he never officially broke up with before she moved.)  Before you ask, yes, I never broke up with my fifth grade girlfriend, and the first time I saw her in 15 years was at Sundance at the premiere.

We outlined the film and started shooting, keeping in mind that we would shoot for 2 weeks, edit, and then write additional scenes from there in order to make the film all it can be.  I would never recommend the idea of shooting until you’re absolutely sure of the script, but this movie was going to be different.  

We needed to improvise to get the real feeling I wanted to achieve, and anyone who has ever done an improv movie knows its crazy not to schedule additional photography as part of the pre-ordained master plan. We also had a lead that hadn’t acted at all so I thought forcing him to hit exact lines might be daunting. I will say that the very talented writer Lindsay Stidham was instrumental in bringing what dialog was written to life.

We actually shot in two separate sessions over the course of a year plus. It wasn’t until editing the first session’s material that I knew the exact pieces we needed to finish the story. The filmmaking process was exciting and challenging, but also very creatively freeing because our core group could keep writing and coming up with ideas to make the film better.

One of the biggest things I figured out when making this movie is that I love working with improv.  I love asking actors to help shape their characters, to know them as well or better than I do, and to even write journals in character and spend time together offset if they are meant to have chemistry.  

While I don’t underestimate the value of a great script, without freedom to improvise, it is very difficult to achieve the feeling that something is real and unrehearsed. There’s nothing more exciting than when actor and character become one. Given that Andrew hadn’t acted before, I am blown away at the work he put in and their ability to commit to the moment. It certainly didn’t hurt that he was surrounded by terrific actors such as Ben, Marguerite Moreau, Nicole Vicuis and Amy Ferguson.

Drake Doremus, 27, a graduate of the American Film Institute, is the youngest fellow to be accepted into the program at the highly lauded institution. Doremus’ first feature film, "Spooner," premiered at Slamdance in 2009 and Won Best Feature at the Louisville International Film Festival, Mt. Rainier FF, Sonoma International FF, Newport Beach International FF, and Lone Star International FF in Dallas. The movie was acquired by Moving Pictures and will be released at the end of 2010.

Doremus' second feature film will be released first, in October 2010. Called "Douchebag," it tells the story of two estranged brothers reunited before the older brother's wedding.
 
Doremus, an Orange County native, began directing and performing improv when he was 12. In high school he wrote, produced and directed five plays. He studied with respected improvisational teachers Michael Gellman from Second City, and Gary Austin and Cherie Kerr, founding members of The Groundlings. He’s received praise for his films in the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, The Hollywood Reporter, and Variety.