Filmmakers in Focus - Big in Japan, Neighbors and Obvious Child

Written by Jim Kolmar | March 3, 2014
L-R - John Jeffcoat, Nicholas Stoller, Gillian Robespierre

Three exercises in hilarity in today's Filmmakers in Focus. John Jeffcoat's Big in Japan is part of 24 Beats per Second, and a razor sharp, unusual take on the classic culture-shock scenario. Nicholas Stoller is no stranger to comedy, and his Headliner Neighbors is one of his funniest yet. Finally, Gillian Robespierre's Obvious Child, part of Festival Favorites is the painfully honest story of a Brooklyn comedian forced to grow up really quickly when life slaps her upside the head.

Read more Filmmakers in Focus interviews here

John Jeffcoat on Big in Japan

Big in Japan, courtesy Big in Japan, LLC

Tell us a little about your film.

Big in Japan is a semi-fictionalized rock and roll road movie about a long-time Seattle band determined to not fade away. The film, which is based loosely on actual events, follows real life rockers, Tennis Pro, as they travel to Japan- a last ditch attempt to prevent their day jobs from becoming their careers. The idea was to breathe new life into the oft-told story of a band struggling to make it, utilizing a fresh narrative approach, guerrilla production style mixed with an international story line. The film is loosely based upon Tennis Pro’s real lives and characters. Dead-pan drummer Sean Lowry has a Robert Redford smile that appeals to the female clientele at the salon where he cuts hair. Guitarist and lead vocalist David Drury has been kicked out of casinos across the country as he continues to make his living as the lead card counter on a professional blackjack team. Phil Peterson, bass player, singer and Julliard trained cello virtuoso has created string arrangements for Indie rock bands while struggles to support a family of 3 kids and a wife in med school. And this is the true part. Big in Japan is a dynamic and entertaining story where music and film intersect on two continents and cultures to reveal simple - and oftentimes hilarious universal truths.

Why did you start making films?

Photography and music have been two of the big loves of my life for as long as I can remember. Filmmaking was a way to bring the two together in a very satisfying way. Although I gave up my dreams of playing guitar to make movies, when it comes time to score the film it’s my chance to be in a band again, and I love it. I worked very closely with my composer BC Smith on the score for Outsourced and did the same with composer Phillip Peterson (who also plays the lead in BIJ) with Big in Japan. I have not found a more satisfying way to share my stories and express myself than making films.

Have you been to SXSW before? What are you most looking forward to?

I’ve never been to SXSW before. My wife lived in Texas for years and raves about the food, so I’ll be looking forward to that. But after I eat, I’m looking forward to discussing the future of film distribution with fellow filmmakers and industry, share war stories, watch films and catch up with trends and technology we can use to promote and release our film. Of course I’m most excited to share our film with an audience! And catch a few bands...

Tell us a random fact (or two!) that would help our attendees get a better idea of who you are.

I grew up in New York, went to school in Ohio and now live on Vashon Island (a short ferry ride from Seattle). I’ve done stints in Nepal, India, Europe and lived with the family in South Africa. I love to travel and my films tend to reflect that. Next I’m planning to re-team with my co-writer on Outsourced George Wing and BIJ producer Jannat Gargi on a comedy penned by Wing set in Central America and Vietnam. I ride a 1979 BMW airhead.

Nick Stoller on Neighbors

Zac Efron, Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne in Neighbors, courtesy Universal Picture

Tell us a little about your film.

Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne play new parents who’s lives implode when a fraternity moves in next door headed up by Zac Efron, Dave Franco and Christopher Mintz-Plasse. What at first seems like an opportunity to relive their youth rapidly devolves into full on war. I was drawn to it because the two times in my life I’ve had borderline breakdowns were when I graduated from college and when I had my first child. I thought it would be fun (and funny) to explore this sort of psychological implosion in the context of a fraternity war comedy.

Why did you start making films?

Starting in sixth grade, I wanted to write comedy. I was obsessed with SNL and Cheers and Airplane and Mel Brooks. My dream was to write for TV. My insane dream was to one day write and direct movies. I still can’t believe I get to do it.

I love movies. I love watching them, I love making them. I love watching bad movies and good movies of every genre. I just love the medium. It’s a real thrill to be able to tell stories that are seen by millions of people. In terms of a lifestyle it is just so fun to collaborate with all types of people — from the production designer and cinematographer to the comedians and actors who populate these things to the editor and even to the marketers, I just learn so much from everyone. The experience of hearing an audience connect and laugh becomes an addictive one.

But at the end of the day, the most important and fulfilling aspect for me is trying to get at truth and honesty. That’s what life is all about and when movies succeed it’s generally because they’ve achieved these things. Also I like fart jokes. A lot.

Have you been to SXSW before? Yes Any tips?

Yes, I have. For Forgetting Sarah Marshall. I would say get drunk. And be polite around Harry Knowles.

Tell us a random fact (or two!) that would help our attendees get a better idea of who you are.

I was bitten in the cheek by a dog when I was eight and while on the operating table guilt tripped my parents into buying me two Transformer toys which had literally just come out.

I went to boarding school and look like a Wasp but am full Jew.

Gillian Robespierre on Obvious Child

Jenny Slate in Obvious Child, courtesy A24

Tell us a little about your film.

Obvious Child is a comedy about what happens when Brooklyn comedian Donna Stern (Jenny Slate) gets dumped, fired and pregnant just in time for the worst/best Valentine's Day of her life. Forever nudged by her parents to make better choices, Donna's forced to do just that when a one-night stand leads to a difficult decision that does and does not define the rest of her life. Though confident in her choice, Donna must gain the confidence to believe in her talent, herself, and the best in those around her, especially one surprisingly decent guy (Jake Lacy) who just might make this the worst/best Valentine's Day ever.

Why did you start making films?

I first made the Obvious Child short film in the Winter of 2009 with my friends Anna Bean and Karen Maine. We were frustrated by the limited representations of young women's experience with pregnancy, let alone growing up. We were waiting to see a more honest film, or at least, a story that was closer to many of the stories we knew. We weren’t sure how long that wait was going to be, so we decided to tell the story ourselves.When we shared it on the Internet it was really exciting to see that people were actually watching it. But what was even cooler were the conversations the movie ignited. That truly encouraged and inspired me to expand to feature-length, to share this film and these conversations with even more people.

Have you been to SXSW before? What are you most looking forward to?

This is my first feature and my first time attending the festival. All I can hope for is that audiences respond and it stays with them. And on a personal level I hope I can chill out and enjoy the experience and the food. I think I'll be able to do it. I hear Austin is the place to CHILL.

Tell us a random fact (or two!) that would help our attendees get a better idea of who you are.

I was born and raised in New York City. When I was a baby, a squirrel jumped into my carriage and I didn't make a peep. As a result I'm an adult who is very afraid of squirrels. I also love red wine.