The director and the star of Hearts Beat Loud spoke with us about incorporating music into a story and the power of “feel-good” films.
Brett Haley and Nick Offerman returned this year to SXSW with their newest film Hearts Beat Loud. The story follows a single father and Brooklyn record store owner, Frank (Offerman), and his daughter Sam (Kiersey Clemons), as they spend her last summer before college bonding over music and songwriting. One evening, they compose a song which Frank later loads to streaming sites like Spotify, calling themselves We Are Not A Band, and soon after, it becomes an Indie hit. As Frank deals with the stresses of his daughter leaving, his record store closing, and taking care of his mother, he begins to find some joy through focusing on this newfound success in their music.
During the festival, we got the chance to sit down and talk with Offerman and Haley about their latest feature.
How does it feel to be back in Austin at SXSW with this new film?
Haley: I can speak for I think both of us. We really love SXSW, and we love Austin. I think Janet [Pierson] has incredible taste, and I know she’s very picky about, especially movies that have premiered at Sundance and other festivals, that come here. So it’s a real honor. We have a really good time here in Austin. The audiences are great. And this being sort of a music-driven movie, I was hoping Janet would like it because it seems like a natural fit.
What inspired this film? How did the idea for it come about?
Haley: Marc Basch, my co-writer and I’ve had this idea kind of inspired by movies like “That Thing You Do” and “High Fidelity” or “Once.” You know, movies about music and the power of music, and creating things. I always knew I wanted it to be a father and a daughter. When I worked with Nick on “The Hero,” I knew I had found, for lack of a better term, my father. So we wrote with him in mind, and we found Kiersey. It came from a place of truly wanting to put good into the world at the moment via song, and all the emotions and the heart of it. I knew I wanted to work with Keegan DeWitt who wrote all the songs. I knew he had the chops to kind of make this happen, and here we are.
Since this is such a moving film, about a father and a daughter and their music together, what do you hope people take away from it? The message you hope people leave the theater with?
Offerman: Well I mean, for me, it’s something that’s pervasive in my own life. I come from a really solid Midwestern family. And no matter what your family makeup is, no matter who is in your household, and no matter what gender paradigm your family falls under, all that really matters at the end of the day is that you take care of one another and love one another. And what I personally love about this story, the way that my character faces challenges that make him sometimes the child in the relationship and my daughter has to be a little more of the parent. That’s the conflict for me in the film: should selfish desires win the day or should we take care of one another?
Haley: And I just think, as I said earlier, it’s kind of just about putting positivity out there. I think there is something to be said right now for a movie, without being sugary sweet or a throwaway kind of bullshit-glossy look at family, you know “family, but actually a real grounded and honest look at family that also can…the term “feel good.” I think we miss that term “feel good.” It’s sort of got a bad rap for a while. Like why don’t we want to feel good after seeing a movie? And I think that this movie does make people feel good in the most genuine of ways. So I hope that people walk out of the movie and feel good. And feel, like Nick said, that they can..it’s about the tiny moments between your loved ones. Those tiny moments that make life worth living. So get out there and feel good.
Offerman: Let this movie serve as a candle to lead us out of the age of cynicism.
That’s great. That would be great if lots of movies could do that, but especially this one. So that being said, Nick, how did you prepare for this role? What did you enjoy most about it? Maybe drawing from your own life experience, other roles you’ve had, how did you bring those experiences together?
Offerman: I generally am inspired by the writing. If I’m going to get excited about a project, it’s because the writing is good. And so much like good pieces of theater, if everything is there in the script, then it’s just up to you to make that your own. I didn’t need to go spend a week shadowing the owner of a vinyl shop to see how that feels. But instead, I just soaked into the story of the script and particularly so delicious to have this relationship with Kiersey as my daughter. So that’s what springs to mind, the work we did off camera to create a believable friendship and father-daughter relationship. Frankly, the hardest work I did was together with my coach Jeremy Bullock, who is Keegan’s music writing partner. I worked very hard at convincingly playing the electric guitar.
Haley: And learning the bass. Would that be accurate?
Offerman: I mean the bass was not that difficult.
Haley: Getting comfortable with the bass.
Offerman: Playing the riffs on the guitar that any guitar player I think would say are pretty rudimentary, took three months of Rocky-like training to teach my hands to move that way.
That’s actually what I was going to ask. Did you come into this project knowing how to play all of those instruments?
Offerman: I play acoustic guitar. So I brought a general knowledge, but I had never played electric before. So that was a brave new world for me.
How did you both enjoy incorporating music into this film?
Haley: Something that I tried to do was make the songs in this movie be…like instead of a dialogue scene or instead of a moment between whatever…I tried to make the songs, and obviously working with Keegan very closely, to make the songs move the plot along. Or have a big emotional moment between two characters be via song. And not just a scene or a moment. So through the songs, all this amazing stuff is being communicated. To me, songs are kind of the most emotional and exciting way to communicate all of those things. So much like a musical, we’ll have characters break out into song, and that will move along the plot. This is obviously like a grounded version of that. The actors, or if the characters sing, they’re obviously singing in a real-world scenario, or their performing for people or for each other or rehearsing or recording. But actually watching the movie, every time there is a song, it’s a big plot moment or a character moment. And I think that’s really cool. I’m a huge musical fan. I love musicals. So this is sort of my weird version. It’s not a musical at all but–
It has elements of it, for sure.
Haley: Yes, exactly.
Offerman: There are two things I would add personally. One is that I play music. I’ve played at the Paramount several times. I love to play for an audience. But no one ever asks me to play music, whether it’s the guitar or singing, because it sounds nice. They expect me to make them laugh with my songs. Which is a bargain that I’m totally on board for. And so, to get to play someone who creates music that has the quality of Keegan’s music, is no different than a superhero movie. That’s one of the fun things about being an actor is that you get to play this normal sort of guy who happens to create these incredibly catchy songs with his daughter. So that is just absolutely thrilling. When we’re shooting those sequences, knowing that through the magic of filmmaking, they’re going to make me look way more talented than I am. So I was learning those songs for months before the movie, while we were still trying to cast my daughter. And so then when we finally got together with Kiersey, and we were learning to play the songs together, and she started singing, the entire movie went up several notches.
Haley: It was joyful, to say the least. To hear her sing and see those sequences come together. I mean Nick and Kiersey would get annoyed with me because I would get so excited with the music sequences that I would be literally dancing in their eye-line. And I’d be mouthing along, and they’d be like “Hey Brett, we’re trying to like…can you just move over back to where the monitor is?”
Offerman: Take it over to one side.
Haley: But I sometimes can’t control myself because I guess it would be like what it’s like to direct an action sequence or something. I just felt like a little kid. I was so pumped about it.