It’s been almost a decade since filmmaker Jody Hill released a new film, but the guy has certainly been busy. After the success of 2009’s Observe & Report, Hill teamed up with Danny McBride to create the delightfully profane HBO comedy Eastbound & Down, and when that show ended in 2013, Hill and McBride teamed up to craft yet another HBO series in Vice Principals. But after shooting two seasons of Vice Principals back-to-back, Hill finally got behind the camera on a new feature film called The Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter, which is available exclusively on Netflix starting today, July 6th.
The new film stars Josh Brolin as a celebrity hunter who brings his estranged son (Montana Jordan) and trusted cameraman (McBride) on a hunting and bonding weekend that will form the bones of a new special he’s producing. But as mishaps and hard truths ensue, the film morphs into a heartfelt father-son story while maintaining the particular sense of humor that’s made Hill’s previous work so successful. It’s a far more emotional effort than Hill’s last two films, but it’s no less funny and features a terrific lead performance from Brolin.
With Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter premiering on Netflix next week, I recently got the chance to speak with Hill about the film. We discussed the process of moving straight from Vice Principals into the challenging shoot of Legacy of a Whitetail Deer Hunter, casting Josh Brolin, consciously deciding to make something a bit more emotional than his previous films, and making the hunting world feel authentic. Hill also talked about why he sees Netflix as the perfect distributor for this kind of film, why he loved the unique way that Vice Principals was made, and more.
Check out the full interview below.
I liked this movie a lot, and as a fan of yours I’ve been waiting for your next film for a long time.
JODY HILL: Oh cool, yeah you know it’d been a while since I’d made one since I was focused on TV so much. This was sort of an old script that I had written a long time ago, and I just thought this would be a small movie that I could make and sorta not have too much pressure on it at the same time, something a little different.
Was it kind of refreshing then to dive into a small-scale film it after having done so much TV work?
HILL: Yeah it was kinda supposed to be smaller and more of a traditional father-son story, and it ended up being kind of a crazy shoot because it was winter time in the mountains of North Carolina, so it was super cold. And we had our kid, Montana Jordan who plays Jaden, the days were like the shortest days of the year, so the shoot was really kinda hard and crazy. But it was nice to do something where it’s just one story you’re focusing on and it’s a longer format thing.
So where did the idea to tell a story of a celebrity hunter come from, and how did you decide to mesh that with a pretty intense father-son story as well?
HILL: My buddy John Carcieri, who’s one of the writers on it, we were just trying to kick around story ideas one day and he found a hunting video that he showed to me, and it was like this whole world that I had never seen before. I’d never been hunting or anything, but, at least in the video, these hunters have this reverence for the animals and nature and all this really traditional stuff, but then there were also highlights of deer getting killed left and right—I guess that’s what it is (laughs). But I never knew anything about hunting or anything like that, so I thought that juxtaposition was kinda cool initially, and just the idea of family and tradition being so important in the videos that we saw. I guess it sort of sprang forth from there.
I grew up in Oklahoma and I’ve never been hunting before, but it’s this world that feels so close yet so foreign to me.
HILL: That’s kinda my story, man. I’ve never been hunting before in my life.
So then was it daunting to make a film about hunting? How do you go about making that authentic but still stay true to the Jody Hill brand of dark comedy?
HILL: (Laughs) I don’t know. I tried to make the world authentic and I did my research and talked to a bunch of people, all the stuff that goes into any movie. But then once you do all that kind of stuff, at least for me it helps that I have some rules for my characters. One of the scenes that was in there—and it ended up getting trimmed down to a montage—but they find these deer droppings and we do some jokes about Buck is serious and he’s tracking it but Jaden’s grossed out. It’s those kinds of rules of like this guy would take this very seriously, and then you find comedy inside of that versus going for a more traditional “shit gag” (laughs).
It is really funny but it’s not near as dark as some of your other stuff. Was there a concerted effort on your part to make something that’s a little less twisted than usual?
HILL: Yes but not necessarily in a reactionary way. That was kinda just the story we came up with. But maybe a little bit where I just wanted to try something a little different. I don’t know, maybe it was something I was going through or whatever, but I wanted a heart-on-sleeve kind of film. I just decided to give it a try.
That’s one of the aspects I like about it is it is very emotional and heartfelt, and a lot of that is due to Josh Brolin who’s terrific in the lead role. How did that casting go about, and what were those initial conversations like?
HILL: Josh to me seemed like a great casting choice just because he’s got that reputation or persona in movies of being a man’s man. So just with the tradition of hunting and stuff, I thought he would be almost like the stereotypical kind of guy you would cast in this to some degree. I was also a huge fan, so whenever I showed him the screenplay he really seemed to get the character right away, and I just went down and talked to him, spent a day with him hanging out. We got along well, and he seemed to always just respond to the character. We did a month of rehearsals before we shot and he really took this seriously. And I think he’s really funny in the movie too.
There’s been a lot of discussion about Netflix and their distribution and stuff. Did you know going in that you were making the movie for Netflix, and what are your thoughts on theatrical distribution versus Netflix?
HILL: We were actually an independently financed movie. Scott Rudin is the producer and when we were finished, Netflix wanted to see it and they got the movie before anybody had seen it or anything like that. I think it’s great, honestly, especially for a movie like this. I have a production company Rough House with Danny McBride and David Gordon Green, and we make movies all the time and not just our movies but I see a lot of movies come out and they play big cities, and then they’re sort of gone and on your iTunes right away. You’re not really even aware of those movies these days and there’s not many that are making money and that people are going to see, so this seems like right now one of the best choices to just make something that maybe doesn’t fit into the superhero mold or some of these big franchise movies that are popping right now, and you can still do something that’s character-y or different and have a lot of people see it.
This movie doesn’t feel like one of those that, if it did have a platform release, most people would see it on Netflix anyway. So this way you’re getting the benefit of the Netflix marketing department.