There are very few relationships that offer such great potential for humor and discovery like a sibling rivalry, John Bryant understands this and offers a hilarious road-trip story in The Overbrook Brothers, a film screening at SXSW.
You can check out The Overbrook Brothers Saturday, March 21st at 10:00 p.m at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas.
In The Overbrook Brothers, two siblings, Nathan (Jason Harlan) and Todd (Mark Reeb), childishly fight for higher ranking in their father’s eyes. When they realize they are both adopted, they go looking for answers, initially on their own but eventually ending up forced to pair up. Their journey reveals a deeper understanding that you don’t have to be blood related to be considered family.
John Bryant, who co-wrote and directed the film, is an Austin native and was cool enough to answer some questions for us about the film. He’s also a huge Rambo fan so we have to give him props for that.
Adam Sweeney: You made a bold move by focusing the film on the two brothers for almost the entire film. Tell us a little about that.
John Bryant: It breaks convention. I think audiences have certain expectations and they can anticipate things. When we were writing it, I had a big chunk of the middle and had given it to my co-writer, Jason [Foxworth]. I told him that something wasn’t working. Originally we had the first half, I said I want the couple to get on the road, they’re never going to take Todd with them but they get stuck in the car together. What happens then?
Jason and his brother had been through something similar in the freeze-out scene but it was actually a bunch of guys on a ski trip that went on for like eight hours. (AS and JB laugh.) It was pretty ridiculous and it was so funny. I told him it would be great if we could include that. Jason was like, “I don’t know any girl that would stick around after that.” I was like, “You’re right. Fuck it. Let’s let her go,” because that was the only way that I felt like she would stay a real character. The more I thought about it, it made more sense. All the women around them when they’re together as a unit go by the wayside. The mom was smart enough to get the hell out. Todd’s short-term girlfriend, she leaves the same night. Shelly (Laurel Whitsett) stays around because they were in a long-term relationship. She hung on for a few extra days. [laughter] Then she wizened up. Getting to the meat of the story was about these two, a common purpose.
In the freeze-out scene, maybe it’s because I am a Star Wars fanatic, I felt like there were lots of Star Wars references. I just felt like Todd was turning into Emperor Palpatine! (Laughs)
That’s exactly what it was. We did another one where I thought it would be funny, you know because Todd is trying to psychologically destroy his brother. He is messing with him. We had another one that didn’t make the cut that references to Titanic where Todd tells Shelly, “You must go on. You must carry on. Promise you’ll never let go.” But once we started stripping away the fat and getting to the essence of the scene, we cut it. When we shot that, it was nine degrees.
We were trying to start up the car and two hours into the scene that radiator on the piece of shit car blew up. Basically they were stuck for the next eight hours and forced to brave the elements.
That was in Colorado, right?
Yeah, it was in Colorado. We would head up to the mountains right before you get to Idaho Springs and there was this brand new four lane road. It was well lit and nobody drives on it. I thought that was a good one. It goes to this mining town that has been turned into a gambling center. That’s where we shot it.
You mentioned going against the grain. The film kind of flips expectations on their head by focusing on the two brothers. It’s so weird because they contrast and you have called it a sibling rivalry on steroids. They can’t get enough of antagonizing each other, but I loved how they find answers to the questions in their life through each other. What gave you the idea to make that kind of story?
I am a big believed that things should play on a surface level. The theme is these two guys who are the least favorite sons and compete in this pecking order, so a rivalry starts because of overt favoritism in their family. So they never have had common ground, they’re always vying for affection. When they find out that they really don’t have anything in common, they finally actually have something in common. On the journey, they realize they are the closest thing they will have in terms of family. The whole journey shows that they can actually be friends for the first ever, which is ironic because it is after they realize they aren’t actual brothers. I thought that was interesting.
Absolutely. If this film had been made twenty years ago, I think it would have stood out as an anomaly over the adoption subject. Now that there are so many divorces and broken homes, I know I come from a single family. It was great to talk to people that can relate to the film. It’s not a stretch. It was real.
How did you come up with the idea for Jason’s story? (Jason writes a script calls Hearts on Fire. It chronicles a gay love story in Medieval times.) One of my favorite lines is when the character yells, “What were you thinking, man?”
The what were you thinking man came from an audition. That wasn’t in there to begin with. It was just the part about non-coital intercourse of an anal nature. (AS laughs.) We encouraged improvisation when we were auditioning and some of those ideas made it into the film. Mark Pouhe plays the priest and you know something is amiss. I mean the story is about crusaders but the guy’s a black dude. You’re like, “What’s going on? What the hell is this?”
That was something Mark improvised and I thought it was great. I’ve written a lot of stories and sometimes you go on a path, invest a lot of time and you see something in it, but then you realize it wasn’t a good idea. One day I was remodeling my dad’s kitchen and we were talking. My dad’s a writer and so I asked, “What is the worst idea you could think of for a story?” He, without missing a beat, says, ” A don’t ask, don’t tell parable about Medieval crusaders.” I thought was really funny. Don’t ask, don’t tell in the fifteenth century. So it kind of evolved. You get to see how it progresses when Todd takes over.
He does his own version. It also gets back to the question of what is acceptable in today’s society with guys expressing affection without it being considered gay. The whole homophobia thing. Todd is totally homophobic. I didn’t make any apologies for it because I know plenty of guys like that. He is what he is. So he is really pent up and being able to express any type of sentiment questions his issue of masculinity.
Though their fictional stories, you see who they really are. Jason is more passive and sensitive but Todd, he shows somewhat of a sensitive side–
He holds the guy up and makes him take bullets.
(Laughs) Right! He uses the guy as a freaking shield! I liked that. Through telling a story in the story, we learn more about the characters.
Todd’s motivation is that he always wanted to be connected to Jason and his life. The way he infuses himself into Jason’s life, the underpinning is a sense of desperate need for love. He doesn’t have anybody.
But he is too macho to come out and say, “Hey, let’s be cool.” That would be gay to him.
I don’t know if you’ve had a relationship or seen two brothers or a dad and son that are real tight but never say, “I love you.” It’s a strange thing.
It definitely works. SXSW is all about building a sense of community. What films have you been wanting to check out?
I saw Moon, which I really liked. Breaking Upwards was terrific. I thought it was well acted, well written and well directed. I liked the screenplay. Daryl Wein is really talented. I look forward to seeing Bomber. I’ve heard great things about Alexander the Last, so I am definitely looking forward to seeing it. Beeswax, Andrew Bujalski gets great performances out of his cast.
What are the plans next for Overbrook Brothers?
We are doing the festival circuit. We just finished the film three weeks ago, so hopefully we can play across the country and hopefully overseas.
It’s definitely a film people need to see. Thanks for the interview.
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