Homecoming Director Sean Hackett: The Nerd Appropriate Interview

Sean Hackett is the director, writer, producer, and co-star of the independent feature Homecoming.  Last year I had the pleasure of seeing Sean “in action“, and, my time on set was incredibly positive.  Even late into the night, Sean kept morale high, got his shots done, and had time to laugh it up with the cast and crew.  It was awesome to see such a competent young young director having a blast while doing his job. We asked Sean a series of probing questions shortly after his “Best U.S./International Film” win at the Kansas City Film Festival. Check it out!

NA-Ash:  Congratulations on your  success at the Kansas City Film Festival!  Can you please describe what it was it like receiving the award for best U.S./International film?

Sean Hackett: I’m sure it’s a cliche, but it was very unexpected, and very emotional.  For starters, there were a lot of features that were from Sundance and SXSW that had been making the festival rounds that we thought were going to win. Our film was very low budget and a bit controversial, and yet, I think that this win showed us a lot about Kansas City, and a lot about ourselves.

NA-Ash: Awesome, I’m excited to eventually see it.  How do you feel the premiere went?

Sean Hackett: Winning the Best US/International Feature Award came less than 24 hours of premiering, which was already a sensory overload moment for myself/Brea/Tom/Mary/Tim. There were only a few people that had actually seen the final cut, and no one from our audience had seen the film (or even a trailer for it).  Hearing a fresh audience laugh and cry at the moments we spent a year working on.  That’s the equivalent of having a child.  You spend months in skepticism and doubt, and then it sort of goes away.  Winning in my home town was the Homecoming you dream of in your backyard with dad’s video camera.

NA-Ash:   Do awards really make a big difference when promoting an independent film?  Do you feel as though winning an award like this could perhaps help Homecoming get into other festivals in the U.S. and abroad?

Sean Hackett: Awards mean a lot to filmmakers.  It helps us with distribution, getting into other festivals (so other audiences can see it), and getting press coverage.  I’m a strong believer in film criticism/ journalism/blogging; partially because I would probably be a film critic if I wasn’t directing , but mostly because I know “buzz” is what helps people like myself and Brea fufill our dreams.   We’re not sons or daughters of anyone already in the “Studio System“, and our best hope to get a development executive to take a risk on us, is if the press thinks we’ve made a decent film.

NA-Ash: To say that you wore”many-hats” on this production is a bit of an understatement.  You wrote, produced, directed, and co-starred in Homecoming; I assume leaving little time to eat or go #2.  I even read that on one occasion you were forced to check yourself into the hospital for exhaustion.  What was that particular day like?  Are you secretly a masochist?

Sean Hackett: For the record (and you get the insider exclusive) on exhaustion.  We shot two days inside of a gymnasium for a very big scene in the film.  Unfortunately, the space of the building caused our department heads to be all over the place.  Since time was always crunching down, I was road-runner-ing around to make sure all of the departments were doing well.  Morale is huge to me, especially since most of my crew was on volunteer basis, and, doing the jobs of 2-3 people.  By the end of the day, I had probably run 20 miles while directing/acting/producing without realizing it.  I was fine until the minute we got into the parking lot, where I went into a cold fever and was very dehydrated.  The doctors ran five I.V.s into my arm and hooked me up with some steroids.

NA-Ash:  Well we’re glad you made it!  If you would have died during the filming, Homecoming would have become one of those creepy post mortem films.

Sean Hackett: In terms of Writing-Directing-Producing-Acting ;  I wouldn’t consider myself a masochist, but if that could get me 10,000 goth girls to follow me on Twitter, then yes, I am.  Acting is a ton of fun, but it appears that the next 3 projects that I’m writing won’t allow me to have as big as a role in the future.  Maybe it’s my body telling me to do that. I hope Homecoming is successful enough to allow me write and direct films again.  There’s no greater fear a writer has than watching someone take over their script and turn it into something different.

NA-Ash: And what about producing?  Most people don’t even know what a producer does.

Sean Hackett: I really love producing.  And not from the “donate to kickstarter.com” way or “creative” way, but as in the hiring and running a cast/crew/post.  I love getting my hands dirty on set.  There are so many up-and-coming directors who I admire so much that I’d do anything to see their next project get off the ground.   Some I’ve worked with before – Lucas McNelly (Up Country, Blanc De Blanc) is someone who inspires me a lot.  He has a very Richard Linklater vibe to him and has the greatest drive of any young director I’ve ever met Ben & Josh Shelton (My Name is Lisa and Josh co-produced Homecoming) are two, sort of Ron Howard/Robert Zemickes-esque directors.  Will Lamborn (This is Nowhere, ESP) and John Thompson (Songbird, Lend a Hand For Love)  are collaboraters who will give Gilliam, Lynch, and Del Torro a run for their money down the road.  Zack Weintraub (Bummer Summer) is a person who I’ve only known on-line but I am in love with his debut feature, and, would throw babies into blenders to be involved with one of his films. Also my best friend Tomas “Dutch” Deckaj is a guy who has a brilliant film that I’m involved with that will shoot in a year or so.

“The most important lesson they taught me was that being honest and thankful goes a long ways in filmmaking.   Most days I can’t believe how many people volunteered their time to be part of my little screenplay that didn’t have transforming cars or blue colored aliens in it.” -Hackett

NA-Ash:  Awesome, we’ll keep our eye out for those names! Homecoming stars one of our favorite nerds Brea Grant (said with total admiration).  When we interviewed Brea last month she said that she fell in love with the script for Homecoming as soon as her manager handed it her way. Were you aware of Brea’s work before you had her read for the role of Estelle?

Sean Hackett: Hmmm… even more exclusive to NerdAppropriate.com.   I’m not a huge fan of auditions when it comes to leading roles or even supporting ones.   For instance, I wrote the leading role of Austin for Tom Fox Davies and developed it with him over Skype months before Brea came onboard.  What I do enjoy are “generals“.  Generals basically involved coffee /dinner with an actor/actress after they have read the script.  It’s a great way to clear the air with someone and talk about the script and sort of know if they are right for the part or not.    Anyways, my co-producer Josh and I were in Los Angeles, scheduling generals and our producers’ daughter Caitlin saw that Brea’s manager had listed her as a possible candidate. Caitlin was a huge fan of Heroes and told me to audition her.  I had never seen Brea on an episode of Heroes (gasp! I’m banned from NA) but had seen her on Friday Night Lights and decided to set up a “general” with her.  Within a minute or two, I really knew that she was Estelle.  She’s a writer, librarian, and history major who came from a small town; and in general is a great person.

"She's a writer, librarian, and history major who came from a small town; and in general is a great person"

NA-Ash:  Did you always have aspirations to be a film-maker?  Or, like the rest of us, did you want to be a Ghostbuster or Thundercat?

Sean Hackett: My first DREAM JOB was to be an F-14 co-pilot, like Goose in Top Gun (more masochism?). Then, I got glasses in 3rd grade and that ended.  The next year I wanted to become an NFL Fullback, but, that was shortly overturned when I took a tour of Disney Animation studios and saw what a Storyboard Artist did. Since then I’ve always written/created stories.  I used to lay on my stomach in my living room when I was a kid and watch every 20/20 special on Film-making or The Academy Awards and it’d inspire me to work twice as hard to get there. I was a creative writing major in college, but was given 1,000 speeches about how everyone goes to Hollywood and fails.  I was lucky enough to intern on David Fincher’s Zodiac and haven’t fallen out of love with Film-making yet.   To anyone reading, I think that if you have a love for telling stories don’t keep them to yourself.  A good story is always enjoyable – don’t lose faith and always carry gum around.

NA-Ash: Maybe one day I’ll let you read my WWII survival-horror-epic.  The vibe on the set of Homecoming was incredibly positive.  As a director, what exactly did you do to keep the energy and morale so high?

Sean Hackett: I had handled most of the hirings on set, and post production.  We hired a lot of brother-brother, brother-sister, sister-sister, boyfriend-girlfriend, husband-wife combinations to work on this project  Our key-grip Joe Matarrese calls it “family style filmmaking”.  Joe’s identical twin brother Phil was also the gaffer on set. (I thought it was the same guy -Ash)   Tim & Mary Larson are family members of mine who lived in Celebration, Florida (a suburb of Orlando).  With most of our crew from LA and NYC, they always made sure that the crew felt like they were on vacation more than “working another job”.   Prior to preparing for this film I worked for Jay & Mark Duplass (Cyrus, Jeff Who Lives at Home, Puffy Chair).  The most important lesson they taught me was that being honest and thankful goes a long ways in filmmaking.   Most days I can’t believe how many people volunteered their time to be part of my little screenplay that didn’t have transforming cars or blue colored aliens in it.

NA-Ash: Can you explain to our readers a bit about the post production process on Homecoming?  Roughly how long did it take you to edit and score the film once it was “in the can?”

Sean Hackett: It’s awesome that you guys asked about that.  My editor is a wunderkid named Kate Hackett (no relation). She basically lived in my house in Pasadena, and made magic happen every day.  The whole film was shot in improv with two handheld cameras, so the whole film is a bit of a jigsaw puzzle, most days, only the script supervisor and I knew that we were getting the scenes we needed.   On one hand it’s very risky shooting improv because you could have a scene that feels artificial, on the other hand you get a natural feel of dialogue from your actors, and, at times there are scenes where we can shift the entire tone within the cuts. The film is 90% dialogue and hiring a great sound crew is more important than what lens you have on a camera. One of the reasons why it worked so well was due to the sound during production (Brothers Dan & Thomas Williams) and, at the end they (David Kitchens / Ben Zarai) were able to give Kate and I crisp sounding feeds of both. Great independent films are made in the editing room with great editors, and Kate Hackett is masterful. She was the top editor coming our of UCLA last year (which is the top editing school in the country) – so we had a lot of luck on our side. Although we had never worked together before, Kate really understood the films that I love, as well as the humor, and used her brilliance to make something fantastic. The other thing that helped us out was music.  The film has a very unique pace to it.  There are a lot of twists and turns where (the viewer will be) comfortable one minute, and uncomfortable the next. We were recommended to contact Gingger Shankar, who had composed music for Circumstance – which won the 2011 Sundance Film Festival for best Feature.  Gingger really understood the movie as well as the characters and was open to trying out something new with her music that she had not normally done.  She really created the voice of the films narrator, which flourished when we saw it for the first time on the big screen. Finally, we were lucky enough to have Bruce Goodman/Art Freed come onboard for color.  Art and Bruce have worked for every studio known to man (Art still works for Disney, Bruce was the colorist for No Country For Old Men). The set up a company called HotPixel Inc which finds young filmmakers and helps them get cinema quality color.  A film can look great on an iPhone or laptop, but horrible in a cinema or big screen.  The reason why everything looks like a real film is 100% Art & Bruce.

NA-Ash:  That’s awesome, nice of you to give some “love”  the people that did your post.  Another question. This year, there has been a 20% decrease in U.S. box-office totals.  Do you think audiences are changing?  Or, are movies just 20% shittier this year?

Sean Hackett: I think you called it.   Audiences want to be challenged.  In 2009 – had I thought that screen-writing or filmmaking was better-than-ever, I would be too terrified to make a film.  Especially today’s generation.  Movies aren’t just competing with TV on friday/saturday night.  It’s now The Lincoln Lawyer or …Black Ops (video games),Rebecca Black (Youtube videos), or Glee (TiVo).  Consumers have the right to be skeptical and frugal when it comes to going to the theaters.  I just really hope we get out of this Sequel/Comic-Revamp/80s-TV-Show phase quickly.   People want something Thought Provoking.  Not something that they’re going to see on TBS in 2 years.

NA-Ash: Time for a soul probing question.  Would you rather be incredibly rich after directing ten years of a “The Dog Bachelor” (a reality series about an incredibly virile toy poodle) or, direct a no-budget independent film that everyone loves?

Sean Hackett: Trick Question : Could I use that Dog Bachelor money to fund all of my / my friends films? The obvious answer is indie films.   If time allows me, I’d love to make 1 character driven film per year.  I’ve had a lot of interest in creating a TV Series, which is something that I would love to do as well.  I love characters and expanding them out.  People (with straight faces) have asked about a Homecoming Sequel or TV Series.  I’m not sure if that’s in the cards.  But I’d love to be part of a LOST or BREAKING BAD type of show.

NA-Ash:  Growing up, what movies inspired you to want to make films yourself?

Sean Hackett:

  • All Time Favorite : Back to the Future (Agreed -Ash)
  • Gradeschool:   Jurassic Park (saw it 15 times in theaters),  Dumbo , Ferris Bueler’s Day Off , Quiz Show , Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
  • High School :   The Graduate, Good Will Hunting, The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, Say Anything, North By Northwest, M*A*S*H.
  • College:  Y Tu Mama Tambien,  Before Sunrise/Sunset, Big Lebowski, The Last Detail, Finding Nemo, Almost Famous
  • Post : Puffy Chair, All The Presidents Men, Children of Men, Brick, Little Miss Sunshine, Half Nelson, Nashville

NA-Ash: You’re on a flight from Hawaii to Los Angeles when disaster strikes.  While miles above the Earth your place splits in half sending you and the other passengers plummeting toward the unforgiving ocean below.  While falling through the air you reach into your pocket and discover that your cell phone has a signal… Who do you call on your way down?

Sean Hackett: My cat.  I’d want her to apologize for throwing up on my coat before I die.

NA-Ash: So now that Homecoming is complete and showing at festivals, where can people see it next?

Sean Hackett: We’re really close to announcing a distribution deal.  If it falls through, we have a self-distribution idea that involves young adults selling it at their lemonade stands over the summer.

NA-Ash:  And what’s next for you?

Sean Hackett: I am working with Michael Altman (son of legendary director Robert Altman) on a new, exciting project that will be set in Nashville.  He saw Homecoming and loved it, so I’m honored to be working with him. My next writer-director project will take place in Kansas City and is in the vein of Say Anything/Before Sunrise.   I’m also writing a project called Party At Portman’s, which is a comedy about 3 college girls on St. Patrick’s Day. Aside from that I am having a BBQ on the 4th of July where I make my own BBQ sauce and burgers.

NA-Ash: Sean, thanks for your time!  Any parting thoughts?

Sean Hackett: I can’t believe you didn’t mention that you were in the film during this interview.  And you were EXCELLENT.

NA-Ash: Why thank you!  I didn’t want to steal your spotlight.. I’m really hoping you guys make it to Orlando so we can talk Back to the Future and other shenanigans!



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