SxSW 2020 Interview – TEENAGE BADASS director Grant McCord

“TEENAGE BADASS is movie about a fictional band named Stylo and the Murder Dogs. The story takes place in 2006 in Phoenix, Arizona. We follow a 19 year old drummer named Brad. He’s working as a house cleaner when he strikes gold and gets audition with the hottest singer/songwriter in town Kirk Stylo. Brad  jumps through hoops to join his band. He and the rest of his bandmates learn that Kirk holds all the control as the songwriter. And just as everything clicks into place Kirk goes off the deep end and threatens to lose it all. Teenage Badass is a film about power, ego, abuse, and the impatience of youth.” Director Grant McCord on TEENAGE BADASS which screens at the 2020 edition of SxSW Film. 

Editor’s Note: While SxSW was officially cancelled on March 6th, 2020, the below interview was one of many that already took place prior to the festival. To respect the creators, all already performed interviews are presented in their unedited entirety below. All of the below works WILL make their way out into the world in one way or another, and we will update this article with updated information when we have it. — JW

Welcome to SxSW! Is your first time here and are you planning to attend your screenings?

First timer here. Yes, I will most definitely be attending our screenings. Can’t wait. 

So let’s hear more about you and how you got started in the business and what you have worked on in the past?

I started making short films while writing features ten years ago. In 2013 I got a job working as a costume PA on Tim Burton’s movie BIG EYES. I worked in costumes for the next four years while continuing to make short films and writing. Those four years were my film school. In 2017 I moved back to Phoenix and completed a short called DEEP CUTS with my writing partner, Matt Dho, playing the lead character. Deep Cuts played at a few festivals and Matt won best actor at SISFA. The composer for TEENAGE BADASS, Bob Hoag, also won best score for Deep Cuts at Phoenix’s The Indie Film Fest. This is my first feature. I tried to get this idea of a fictional band off the ground three different times. Each time the context felt like a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

How did this feature come together?

Our executive producer, Chuckie Duff, and I had been talking about finding the right person to collaborate with for this movie. We needed a really good songwriter who could also act. I met Evan Ultra shortly after moving back to Phoenix. We met jamming around town. Both of us play music as a part time job. I’ll never forget when Evan started showing me his insane songs. I was blasting it everywhere I went. Chuckie and I knew that this was our guy. On our previous attempt to make this movie I had talked to Mcabe Gregg, Dillon Lane, and Tucker Audie about filling out the band. Matt and I wrote the script in the 6 months before principle photography. Matt’s based in Seattle and I’m in Phoenix. We both worked full time up until the week before shooting which is not advisable. We were so fortunate to assemble an amazing team of filmmakers. We shot for 25 days all over Phoenix. Most of our locations were donated by amazing local businesses. It was definitely a community effort. Our editor, Eric Wysocki, was LA based so we made trips out there. Evan ended up writing 9 additional songs to fill out the score. Bob Hoag wrote an amazing score. He even let me play drums on a few of the tracks. The trickiest part of post was the foley for the jam scenes. The songs that the band plays were pre-recorded so we filmed those like a music video with playback. But there are 3 scenes where there isn’t a full song played. We would blast a click track for the actor/drummer as a reference. Then the rest of the band would play along to the drums with their instruments muted. Bob and Evan added the rest of the instrumentation in post. 

What keeps you going while making a movie? What drives you?

So many different things. There is this innate obsession I have with filmmaking. Each phase of the process evokes this new energy. It helps to work on a project that is personal. 

What was your biggest challenge with this project, and the moment that was the most rewarding to you?

The biggest challenge was being treated as a “first time director”.  People’s doubt can be crippling. The most rewarding aspect was seeing it all come together in post. Each new cut would inject a new energy into myself as well as the cast and crew. 

I am about to get technical, but I would love to know about the the visual design of the movie and how it was brought to the screen.

Our director of photography was Andric Booker. Andric, Matt, and myself have been working together for 10 years. He DP’d my last 3 short films. In Andric’s words: Teenage Badass offered the opportunity to visually present a comedy unlike the norm. We embraced the naturalistic elements of Phoenix while paying homage to the vibes of the early 2000s. There’s some texture to the image; it’s not as “clean” and crisp as your typical comedy. With our naturalistic approach, we planned to keep most light sources out of the shot. When indoors for example, most light sources played outdoors bouncing through windows or shooting through diffusion/window sheers to achieve a softer, often underexposed look. With intentions to light space first, this gave the actors the opportunity to play within a bigger field as well- reiterating that sense of realism. This sometimes called for natural (or seemingly-natural lighting) via single source lighting. We embraced the shadows and negative fill but used sheers and other diffusion to neutralize the contrast to better sell the softness and feel of this era.  

We shot on the Alexa Mini + Alexa Classic. Lenses were Angenieux Optimo DP Zooms 16-42mm + 30-80mm 2.8. Aspect ratio was 1.85:1. We were more interested in the entire frame rather than just width. We wanted to be able to see the lights hanging from stage, the ceiling of the green room for example and all the background and inner-makings of the band life. We shot in 2k resolution to give it a “throwback” vibe. Day int/ext: 1280 iso. Night int/ext: 1600 iso. We underexposed the image and lifted it back up in post for more texture.

What are you looking forward to the most about showing your movie here in Austin?

Man, I’ve heard the energy at SXSW is like none other. I’m hoping they crank our movie and people leave shook. 

After the film screens at SxSW, where is the film going to show next? Theatrical, online, more festivals?

As of now we’re playing at Phoenix Film Festival, RiverRun Film Fest in North Carolina, and  Buenos Aires International Film Fest in Argentina. 

If you could show your movie in any theatre outside of Austin, where would you screen it and why?

Phoenix Film Festival for sure. TEENAGE BADASS will play at the Harkins theater in my hometown. Nothing is more surreal than seeing my first feature in the theater I grew up standing in line for midnight showings. 

What would you say to someone who was being disruptive, like talking and texting, through a movie?

I would say “sorry this movie isn’t so loud that you can’t think about anything else”. 

We have a lot of readers on our site looking to make movies or get into the industry somehow. What is the ONE THING you would say to someone who is wanting to get into the filmmaking business?

Never stop making films with your friends. With whatever you have available. And listen to the Mark Duplass keynote from 2015 over and over and over and over and over. 

And final question: what is the greatest movie you have ever seen at a film festival? 

Confession! I have never been to a film festival before. The movie that most affected me was MAGNOLIA.

For more information on this film and to follow its progress into the festival world, point your browser to www.sxsw.com/film!

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