The Big Script is comprised of five digital short films – Ape (from writer Jon Johnstone and director Josh Hutcherson), Boy in a Backpack (from writer/director Brad Martocello), Crowbar Smile (from writer/director Jamie Mayer), Lyra (from writer/director Djochoua Belovarski) and Honor Council (from writer/director Scott Simonsen) — developed, produced, and distributed by Indigenous Media, Condé Nast Entertainment and actor/producer Josh Hutcherson’s Turkeyfoot Productions. The goal of the project is to discover emerging filmmakers and help them develop their content with the potential eye of turning their material into full-funded feature-length films, while showcasing their work at www.TheScene.com.
Collider was recently invited to sit down with Josh Hutcherson and chat about this new project, which marks his directorial debut, where each script revolves around core characters in their late teens to late 20s and are of a variety of genres, chosen from over 2,000 scripts on The Black List. During the interview, he talked about his long-time desire to direct, his goals for his production company, why he wanted to tackle a short film first, how he came to direct this particular script, deciding on the camera to shoot with, and the experience of directing while acting. He also talked about his upcoming sci-fi comedy series for Hulu, called Future Man, and just how wild it is, as well as his work in The Disaster Artist, directed by James Franco and about the making of The Room.
Collider: You’ve been dabbling as a producer for a bit, but this is your first try at directing. Was directing something that you’ve always wanted to pursue?
JOSH HUTCHERSON: Yeah, it was something that I always wanted. Before I even started acting, when I was a little kid, I would try to make movies with my friends, who had no desire to be a part of it, whatsoever, and they would quit after 10 minutes of attempting to make a film. So, I’ve always had that itch to tell stories and create movies. It’s something that I’ve always wanted to do, and I’ve been wanting to do it for a really long time. This combination of having mentorship and having support from people seemed like a really good first little baby step into it.
Had you shadowed any directors or paid extra attention when you were on set?
HUTCHERSON: Yeah. Since I was a little kid, I was always just fascinated with every element of filmmaking, from cameras and lenses and film to the lighting and grips and everything. I was the little 10-year-old on set who they couldn’t find because I was in the camera trailer, learning about lenses. I just love learning everything you can about something. So, I’ve gotten to work with some incredible directors, and being on set with them and seeing how they address issues, how they work with narrative, and how they communicate with the crew and collaborate, I’ve always been watching it from afar, so in a way, I’ve been shadowing, over my career. I did this movie, Zathura, when I was 12, and that Jon Favreau directed. I told him then that I wanted to be a director and I had just bought a video camera. He gave me a bunch of tapes and said, “Go shoot a bunch of stuff, and bring it back and we’ll use it for the B-roll.” He always took me under his wing, which was really cool.
When you decided to start Turkeyfoot Productions, was directing always the goal you had in mind, or did you have multiple goals for it?
HUTCHERSON: There were multiple goals. When I first started the production company, I knew that I wanted to direct, down the road, so that was a long-term goal. But for the time being, it was really about trying to produce things that you’re really passionate about. There are so many scripts that get put out there and that they come to you with, and to find ones that are really right for you, in a business where you’re just acting, everyone else gets to control your fate. You can put yourself out there and try to get a part, but then you don’t get it, so they tell you when and how you can be creative. So, when you take it into your own hands and you find stories that you like, whether it’s books, articles or original ideas, you can start to develop your own thing and create your own fate, so to speak.
Had you ever considered just jumping right in and directing a full-length feature, on your first try, or did you just want to dip your toe in first?
HUTCHERSON: I definitely wanted to dip my toe in. I think directing is a huge responsibility and it’s not something where you can just be like, “Yeah, sure, I’ll give it a go!” I think it’s something you really need to focus on, and put a lot of effort and attention into. So, doing a short, for me, was always a target first. I wrote a couple of short films – scripts and stuff – but I was always too nervous to really go for it. And so, that’s why this one was cool. For the last five years, I’ve written a few shorts and my friends were like, “Dude, you have to go make this! Just pick up a camera and go shoot it!” I’m not a perfectionist, but if I’m going to make something, I want to have the best set-up I possibly can. I think I was holding out for that opportunity, and with Indigenous and Condé Nast, it came together in a really perfect way for me to feel comfortable and have a lot of support.
Directing definitely seems like one of those things where, no matter how much you prepare, you have to just do it, in order to fully grasp it.
HUTCHERSON: I think so, yeah. You can read all the books you want, watch all the movies and get all of the advice, but until you’re actually there, in the hot seat, that’s when you find out what you’re made of. Also, you just learn so much from doing. Making this short, I learned so much form the crew, the producers and the experience of doing it, that I’m really excited to do the next thing.
Since this is a series of shorts, where everyone else wrote and directed their own, and you’re the one who directed something you didn’t write, how did Ape come to you?
HUTCHERSON: It’s actually a weird story. We partnered with The Black List, which is the organization that has all the scripts, and we read through 2,000 scripts in all. I didn’t read 2,000, but I probably read 40 scripts, after they got filtered through. I landed on one that I loved, that was kind of this horror film, but was really a physical manifestation of purgatory, and Heaven and Hell, and then the reversal of the polarity of good and evil. So, it was a cerebral horror-ish type of thing. I loved it. The other four had been selected and they were going through their deal processes, and right at the last moment, when we were about to start pre-production on this, to make the short out of the feature, the filmmaker decided to go make it on his own. I was just like, “Shit!” I was so in it and inspired, and everything. And so, at that point, it was so last-minute that we didn’t know what to do. So, I had this script, Ape, that I had read six years ago, and I was attached to act in it, with another director and producer, but it didn’t really come together. I was just thinking about which projects, in my past, I had really connected with, so we called up the agent for the script and the writes were available. So, I had a meeting with the writer (Jon Johnstone), and we were really jiving and had ideas about how to make it into a short. We really collaborated great together, and really dove in to nail down with the story was going to be, shaved down to 13 minutes.
How did you decide on the length of time for the short?
HUTCHERSON: Taking a hundred page script and trying to capture the essence of the story, or trying to find a little snippet of the script that you want to tell, is really hard. If you only had six or eight minutes, it seemed damn near impossible. When we first starting getting the scripts back from the filmmakers of the other shorts, they were coming in at 23 or 25 pages, and it was like, “We can’t do that. We have to get it down to 13 pages.” They were going crazy, trying to figure out what to cut. It was actually a really good exercise, as a filmmaker, to widdle it down to the essence and the essential pieces that you really wanted to communicate. Now, having made this short, it’s definitely informed decisions I’m going to be making, down the road, with the future.