SXSW 2018: Brett Haley & Nick Offerman Talk Hearts Beat Loud

Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons appear in Hearts Beat Loud by Brett Haley, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival.
Nick Offerman and Kiersey Clemons appear in Hearts Beat Loud by Brett Haley, an official selection of the Premieres program at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute. Photo by Jon Pack.
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Hearts Beat Loud director/co-writer Brett Haley and actor Nick Offerman sat down with Cultured Vultures during the 2018 SXSW Film Festival.

Thanks for joining us today.  How is SXSW treating you?
Brett Haley: Very well.

Nick Offerman: It’s walking a tall continent if you have a film at this festival.

Congrats on Hearts Beat Loud. The film was one of my favorites to play at Sundance.
Nick Offerman: Thank you.

I also have to say that seeing Ted Danson behind a bar brought back a wave of nostalgia with him being on Cheers.
Brett Haley: Absolutely. It wasn’t on accident. I knew, for me, as a massive fan of Cheers as well, what a big honor that was. The great thing about Ted, he is like, “It’s another role for me that I like and I’m going to do it.” He doesn’t think about it that way. He’s not that type of guy. Of course, fans of the show are going to go nuts for it. It’s been long enough and his character is not Sam Malone. It’s a very different guy. It’s quite fun to see him do it.

What thoughts do you have about the reception during Sundance?
Brett Haley: I couldn’t have been happier with it. We got a couple of standing ovations which is about as good as you can ask for. The reviews have been very kind. I think people are understanding what the movie is and what it isn’t and are reviewing accordingly. I think people of all ages can enjoy this movie. I don’t know that I’ve never made a movie like that before. That’s something I’ve discovered—teenagers all the way up through older people can enjoy this movie.

Nick Offerman: Crusty old prospectors will eat it up.

Brett Haley: That’s right.

This isn’t a full-fledged musical but a very music-driven film with a powerful voice from Kiersey Clemons in star-making performance. As a member of the LGBTQ community, I love that she also has a girlfriend in the film. Was it always a girlfriend in the script?
Brett Haley: It was. I will tell you as a white straight male, we obviously wrote the movie with that in mind. Whether or not it started this way but it ended in a way in that we aren’t going to call attention to the sexuality or the race. That’s where we ended up and we thought that was the best way to play this. Once Kiersey and Sasha were brought on — rather than try to tell them, hey, this is how you’re going to be in my movie, I asked them what is it like to be in a same-sex relationship and Marc Basch, my co-writer, and I just listened and then let Sasha and Kiersey inform the script. We actually changed and evolved the script. What happened was the script was originally written with let’s talk about our situation in the world in dialogue scenes. Kiersey and Sasha said if we’re just two kids in love, we’re not going to be talking about that — we’re just going to be two kids in love. That really helped open us up and treat it like you would treat a relationship in any movie. It was really a lot of listening and I give Kiersey and Sasha a ton of credit for being our collaborators and allowing it to be hopefully very authentic. That was definitely our goal, to just make an authentic sweet summer romance.

Nick, when I spoke with producer Sam Bisbee during Sundance, he said you were among the nicest people in the industry. How do you respond to such high praise?
Nick Offerman: That son of a bitch! He would say something like that. I don’t have to sit here and take his bullshit. I never liked him and I’ll tell him that to his face.

That’s very nice to hear. I was brought up by two very loving parents –very decent people– and so despite my animal proclivities, I do my best to mind my manners around the film set and I’m glad it pays off.

Nick, what drew you to the script?
Nick Offerman: It was born of our previous collaboration on The Hero. Brett told me that it was coming. I had such a good time working on that film and I was also impressed with the treatment that Sam Elliott received in Brett’s capable hands that I would have happily signed on without reading the script. When I did get the script, I was thrilled with the particularly human character, Frank Fisher. I didn’t have to chop any firewood. I didn’t have to wrestle any bears. Just a guy with a record store with a daughter and a mother. A guy trying to figure out how to get kissed. I was over the moon from the first time I saw it to the end of this sentence.

Having been involved with two Brett Haley films, how has he grown as a director?
Nick Offerman: That’s a very good question or not, you might add.

Brett Haley: It could go the other way.

Nick Offerman: To be fair before I answer, I should say that on The Hero, I was only there for the first three days. The experience that I had—it’s interesting. I very specifically remember my first costume fitting with Brett. My dad happened to be in town and he was there with me. We both drove away from the fitting saying, G-d, that guy is enthusiastic. He sure knows what he wants. That’s a great comfort. If Brett is loud and enthusiastic—if you are those things, then you don’t have taste or talent to back it up then you are known as a bore and people avoid you and they don’t want to be involved. If you know what you’re doing, as Brett does, they become great assets and so what we achieved on The Hero — I was very tickled by.

I think on Hearts Beat Loud, I saw that Brett had taken the experience of The Hero, just like the film before it, and had grown and matured. If anything, I feel like I saw you less stressed out on Hearts Beat Loud and a little more confident in his abilities to make decisions. When faced with adversity or when things were not exactly the way we thought they’d be on a given day, Brett would say, Okay, let’s turn it around and shoot it from inside instead of outside. I think unless he becomes addicted to some sort of intoxicant, Brett should continue to mature through his next several films, which will hopefully employ a similar repertory company of his last three.

How did Keegan Dewitt get involved in the film and what were you looking for as far as the music is concerned? I love all those songs and wish I had the soundtrack to listen to!
Brett Haley: You will soon, I promise. We are doing a soundtrack. It will be streaming, vinyl, and the whole nine. Keegan did all the scores for my films and he’s also in a band called Wild Cub. I know of his songwriting ability. It’s through the roof. He had written some songs that we repurposed for this movie, Hearts Beat Loud being the main one. We just started collaborating and part of my goal was this was what I wanted the style to be and I had to make sure it spoke to Frank and Sam; Nick and Kiersey’s characters. Nick’s character is coming from a place of rock and guitar-driven and bass-driven and drums, an organic place, while Kiersey is younger and coming from synth and electronic and samples and all that. Bands like The xx are examples of the tone and sound I was kind of after — mixing those things. Keegan obviously put his own thing onto that and we worked together to make sure the narrative was being told through the song so that each song serves a narrative purpose. I don’t want to give it away but hopefully, you’ll say that was emotionally satisfying seeing the character either open up in this way or communicate in that way or whatever. That was also a challenge. They’re not just songs that are cool songs. They are cool songs but they also help narratively move the plot along or move the characters’ journey along.

Nick, what do you look for in a screenplay when you’re deciding in projects?
Nick Offerman: It’s sort of intangible. Sometimes it’s comedy. Sometimes it’s drama. Sometimes, it’s in between. Sometimes it’s a 10-page web series. Sometimes, it’s a 150 page epic film. It really just comes down to good writing: does it feel true?  Does it feel like it’s getting it somewhere? I read a lot of writing that’s competent and perfectly good but I’m unmoved. If I’m looking for a police procedural, this would be a perfectly good one to go do but I’m unmoved. I don’t feel like just doing another cop show so I pass. A script has to have something that catches me that I say, Oh, I feel like I can offer something to the audience by providing these words to them. My wife is the same way. We come from the theater so it would do it disservice to my answer to make it any more detailed than to simply say good.

Thank you again for your time and congrats on the film.
Nick Offerman: Thank you.

Brett Haley: Thank you! I appreciate it.

I look forward to the rest of the world seeing it when it gets released.
Brett Haley: Very soon. This summer!

Nick Offerman: Amen to that. Thank you for being gentle with us.

Gunpowder & Sky will release Hearts Beat Loud later this summer.