By: Daniel Hoyos | PHOTOS COURTESY Suzanne Houchin
- Los Angeles, California
Director Brian Dannelly talks exclusively with We Blab Entertainment Magazine about, making the cult comedy Struck by Lightning. Also casting Glee's Chris Colfer, Modern Family's Sarah Hyland, working with Macaulay Culkin, and transgender issues in Hollywood.
Struck by Lightning is a brilliant teen comedy about, an unpopular boy who, recounts the way he blackmailed classmates into help with his literary magazine. Can you please tell us, how you came to direct this film?
My friend and producer, David Permut (Hacksaw Ridge), had the script and he was a big fan of Saved. He thought Chris and I would be a good match and he set up a meeting. I already loved the material and related it to my own time spent in high school. Chris turned out to be an amazing guy. He was thoughtful, kind and smart and I connected with him right away. I LOVED the idea of a teen script that was written by an actual teen- the voice was authentic in a way it may not have been had it been filtered through the passing of time.
The casting for Struck By Lightning was genius because; we got to see some familiar faces playing roles outside their normal TV personas. What was the casting process like for Chris Colfer, Sarah Hyland, and Allie Grant?
Casting was a good deal of fun and we took great care in bringing this cast together. We were in love with Sarah from Modern Family and I have worked with Allie Grant since she started in Weeds. Carter Jenkins and I became friends on a series I did and he joined us and we were thrilled to discover Graham Rogers. Everyone was a fan of Chris’ and it was a rather easy process getting people to join us. I mean the whole cast is kind of amazing- Christina Hendricks, Dermot Mulroney, Alison Janney, Angela Kinsey, Matt Prokop, Robbie Amell, Polly Bergen and Rebel Wilson.
One of the more notable themes is the sexual preference of Carson Phillips and, the scene where he stumbles upon two closeted gay students. What has been the reaction from the LGBT community?
We were lucky enough to be the closing night film at Outfest which I think speaks volumes. In addition, we screened at festivals all over the world and I think people of all orientations could identify with the film and being an outsider. I love how Chris wrote a character that wasn’t struggling with his sexuality - it was part of who “Carson” was but it wasn’t the driving force. I thought it was a very sophisticated choice. I mean, while it’s important to tell our stories it’s also important to see that our stories have changed.
What dose the industry have to do in order for us to see more gay roles in the mainstream?
I don’t know if it’s as taboo of a subject anymore. I mean MOONLIGHT just won the Academy Award. In general, I think television and movies need to reflect more of the world as it actually is—all the colors and complexities that make us human—the experiences that connect us and the experiences that are unique to our being.
You also wrote and, directed your first feature film Saved! Starring Mandy Moore, Jena Malone, and Macaulay Culkin. Can you give some insight into how you got started in the film business?
I wrote the script with Michael Urban while we were at AFI. During that time, we were approached by an agent who got the script to Sandy Stern at Single Cell Pictures. After that, every studio turned us down. Finally, a small Florida producer came onboard and we started the process of making the film. However, they turned out to not have the money so we closed up production. A short time later, MGM/UA agreed to finance the film and we were saved and premiered at Sundance.
We often speak to students who want to enter the film industry. What advice would you give someone if they wanted to move to Hollywood and, start a career in the film business?
As a guy who grew up in a small town, I’m a huge fan of film school. I went to the American Film Institute (AFI) and that changed everything for me. I had the right instincts as a director but AFI taught me the craft and the importance of collaborating with cast and crew. I was immersed in a community of like-minded artists and we learned from each other. It was the most amazing two years of my life and I use the tools I learned there in every single thing I do in the business.
Saved! was the second theatrical film Macaulay Mculkin starred in since 1994’s Richie Rich. Our readers would be very interested to know what it was like working with child-star Macaulay?
Macaulay was a dream. He was kind, funny and humble. He went out of his way to make everyone feel comfortable and he was very helpful to me as a first time director. I will always be grateful he agreed to be in the film.
Can you tell us about any future projects you’re working on currently?
Well, I have another project with David Permut (Hacksaw Ridge) written by Craig Houchin. It was the First Place winner of the Final Draft Screenwriting Contest. It’s about an alcoholic dad who gets out of jail and kidnaps his three young daughters and takes them on a road trip in the 70s. It’s beautiful and moving and funny and everything I love about storytelling. We are out to cast now.
I have also been very lucky in that I got the opportunity to direct the season two premiere of MTV’s SCREAM. Directing horror and working for the Weinstein Company was a dream come true. In addition, my writing partner, Michael Urban, and I sold two TV shows in the past year. One went to pilot and one we are waiting to hear if we will be going to pilot. I’m not sure if I can talk about it but it’s EXTREMELY close to my heart and very timely.
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Struck by Lightning is available on Blu-Ray at Amazon and digitally on itunes.