EXCLUSIVE: Will Canon and Jon Foster Talk Brotherhood
This explosive new thriller arrives in theaters on February 25th, and will be made available on VOD February 18th
Will Canon directs the explosive, high-energy thriller Brotherhood, which hits theaters on February 25th, and will be available on VOD this weekend starting February 18th. Featuring a stellar cast of up-and-coming new stars that include Trevor Morgan, Jon Foster, Lou Taylor Pucci, and Arlen Escarpeta, this non-stop visual pummeling will have you soaked in sweat by the last breathtaking reel.
College freshman Adam Buckley (Trevor Morgan) sits blindfolded in the back of a van outside of a convenience store as the final step of his initiation into the Sigma Zeta Chi fraternity comes to a close. Minutes later he finds himself dealing with the fact that a fellow-pledge just got shot while doing it.
Frank (Jon Foster), the senior fraternity brother in charge of the night's events, is able to get the injured pledge out of the store alive, but the fraternity's troubles are just beginning. Thinking they can get out of the situation without taking the pledge to a hospital, Frank decides the group will handle things themselves. But when every move is met with disaster, Adam must find it within himself to go against Frank and his new brothers in order to save his friend's life.
Here is our conversation:
Watching Brotherhood, I am really struck by how much this reminds me of the teen classics like The Outsiders, Red Dawn, or St. Elmo's Fire, where five years down the line, we're not going to believe all of these great actors were together in this one movie. This is such a stellar ensemble cast.
Will Canon: That is awesome. I love that. That was one of the ideas. We wanted all of these up-and-coming guys. Hopefully we will look back and see that they were all in this one film. They are all such talented guys. I am so proud of the work they did.
Jon Foster: Those dudes are my dudes. They are my guys. Lou Taylor Pucci and Trevor Morgan. They have been best friends since they were sixteen. I had become really good friends with Pucci because we had done the The Informers together. Man, it was so effortless to get together. We'd all been running in this town together for so long. It's been almost a decade and a half for all of us. Discounting Pucci, as he just moved out here from the East Coast recently. It made it really effortless, to be able to jam with each other in the moment, because you feel comfortable and you have that history. It's a super small budget, tough movie to shoot. It was super hot. It was all-night shoots. We were all out of our f'ing minds, because of the conditions that we were in. It made it all that much more pleasant that we had each other there. Although, we made it as unpleasant as we could on each other, as friends. Just because actors be actors, and we were acting fools. We were hazing each other through pretty much the whole shoot. Just screwing with each other all the time. Which perpetuated that edgy feeling the whole time. It was a blast, though. I can't tell you how much fun it was being up all night with your favorite guy friends. Yelling at each other and sweating your balls off. It was really enjoyable.
Will, how did you get Jon involved in this project?
Will Canon: Jon was someone I knew from The Door in the Floor. I knew of him when he was younger. My casting director was really pushing Jon. She wanted me to look at him. She thought he'd be really good for this. My first thought was that I only knew him from his younger stuff. He wasn't someone that immediately jumped into my head. Then, I saw him in a movie called Stay Alive. He just had this presence about him. And a charisma. That's something I really wanted his character, Frank, to have. I talked to him, and I got it. I saw what he could do with this. I thought it would be interesting to have someone with the charm and charisma that he has. He's going to be playing a role where people aren't rooting for him. He is the guy you are rooting against. I thought it would be good to have a bad guy with a lot of charm and charisma.
Did Will know that you guys were friends before bringing you all onto this one movie?
Jon Foster: I don't think he did. He had met Trevor Morgan. And Trevor told him, "You have to meet Lou Taylor Pucci". And then he went onto name a couple of other people. My name came up. I got a call from Will, and he asked me, "Do you want to do this?" And I said, absolutely. He referenced it, "This is going to be a really tough shoot. It is going to be really exhausting, and there will be nothing comfy about it." I told him, "All the better. Let's do it." It happened really fast. We all wanted Pucci, but he hadn't been cast yet. We fought for him. Even though they all wanted him, there were some legal things. It was said that we might have to get a local actor for that part. But we all said, "It's got to be him. It has to be Pucci. Whoever is getting shot, it is Pucci!" And that's what happened. Will was not putting up a fight by any means. He was rooting for him, too. But there are some weird laws when you are shooting. We were in Arlington, Texas. There are certain laws when you are utilizing certain budgets that say you have to hire a certain amount of local actors. These were mostly guy parts, so it became about where you place them. Who is where? It was really fun. We tried to get a few of our other friends in certain parts. But the guys who eventually did the movie did such an awesome job. Some of those local guys moved out to Los Angeles recently. Everyone was so great. They all pulled through. It was not easy, but it was a lot of fun.
Sitting here, watching all of the really cheap-looking Indies that are coming out right now, I was struck by how gorgeous this particular film looks. Even though it's a low budget thriller, it does not look cheap...
Will Canon: Thank you very much. The guy who lit it and shot it did an amazing job. Our cinematographer, Michael Fimognari. I met him, and I loved the work that he had done. He understood the type of movie we wanted to make, and the aesthetic we were gong for. He did a great job. Setting out at the beginning, I knew that I wanted the film to have rough edges. I knew that I wanted it to be gritty. I wanted it to be shot handheld. One of the things I knew was important on a film where we didn't have fifty million dollars was to embrace the fact that this had rough edges. We moved at a really fast pace, because we had to. I really tried to infuse those things into the film. The story is fast paced, so the movie itself will be shot at a fast pace. You have to use your limitations to your advantage. That is something we hoped that we could do. I think the crew did a great job of accomplishing that.
Jon Foster: It's rare that an actor will come out of a project and say, "I loved that movie. It was so much fun." We all saw it at a screening room, and we all walked out thinking, "Wow!" I have never said I loved a movie after the first cut, but we did.
You mention Brotherhood's fast-paced storyline. Maybe this is a weird movie to compare it to, but it reminded me a lot of 1984's Return of the Living Dead. It hits the road running and never slows down. Every action gets a reaction that causes this weird snowball effect. It doesn't stop rolling into end credits. How did you go about setting up this chain of dominoes.
Will Canon: I wrote this with Douglas Simon. We started out wanting to make something that was really fun. We said, "Let's pack as many twists and turns as we can into this thing." I think your reference is appropriate in that we really wanted to make something that felt like a genre film. Or that at least had a genre component to it. We wanted to include different genres, not just one. Then we added personal elements beneath that. That was the process. For Doug and I, we always write together. He is one of my best friends. For Us writing it, we did a lot of hanging out, throwing ideas back and forth. We were having a lot of fun with this in particular.
Did you have any specific rules set up for yourself? Like, once something shocking and unexpected happens, you automatically have to have something equally as shocking, and unexpected play off of that?
Will Canon: In terms of the writing process for this movie, like you said, so many bad things happen. And continue to happen. For us, the important thing was to set each of these moments up. If we knew something bad was going to happen to these people later on down the line, we had to plan it early on. we had to set it up early on. We never wanted any particular moment to feel manipulated or false. We didn't want it to be unbelievable. Where the audience is going, "I don't believe this. This is just too much." I don't know that we set any hard rules. But we always knew that it was important to set everything up. We let the audience see certain things, knowing we were always going to go back to that. It had to have an effect later.
What was shooting the more chaotic scenes in the house like? How was that all orchestrated?
Jon Foster: We stuck really close to the script. It was such a tight script. It's one thing to have improve, and let the actors be free with something when you have fewer people. When you have two or three people improving, it's a lot easier. But when you have fifteen guys in a kitchen, you really have to stick to it. Because it is so rapidly paced. There was a looseness to it, without a doubt. But all the while, we really practiced, and we were on top of it. We knew each beat, and when it was supposed to play. The hardest thing was getting that energy level. Every time you thought you'd reached your number ten, there were another ten notches that you could go. That is ultimately where Will brought us. He kept saying, "More energy! More energy! Bring it up! Bring it up! Bring it up!" He said it all the time. Sometimes, on the fourth take, you can't keep it up. I blacked out and smacked my head on a table. I was dry heaving in the middle of a scene. He was brutal, but if you don't have that outside eye, you just don't know. He was right. To have someone push you like that is great. He got us there. There was a lot of self-abuse. We were all punching ourselves, jumping up and down, running around the house as fast as we possible could. Right before they called action. It was chaos dude, complete chaos. We were always thinking, "Where is a moment in this movie where you can breath? Shouldn't there be one? What about this scene? Can we not yell in this scene? Can we not yell in this one?" He was like, "Nope. Nope. Bring it up. Bring it up." The whole movie? That is insane! But it placed us together well, when you have that consistency throughout the whole thing.
This is one of those rare, odd thrillers where something happens at the end of the movie that isn't a twist. It isn't unexpected. But so much has happened leading up to that last kicker, the audience has simply forgotten about it entirely. It's orchestrated beautifully, not to give anything away.
Will Canon: It all goes back to setting up these tiny moments, primarily. It's not a surprise. We don't pull the curtain back and reveal a huge twist. Its not like the The Sixth Sense. But we have a clip that we like, and it was all about setting it up. The audiences mind is on the situation at hand. That was a choice we were excited about.
Jon Foster: When I saw that ending, immediately after I read the script, I said, "I have to do this!" Not only had I never played a character like this before, someone who was such a dick, I was also impressed with the writing. Because it was all there on the page. What is in the movie was on the page. We just played around and made it come to life. It was awesome. I can't quite explain what a great experience that was. We knew it was a small budget and tough conditions. It was a short shoot. There was no comfortability. It was all on edge. We all had to be on edge all the time. Looking at that ending, its obvious that these guys are magicians. Here's the top hat, look over here, and then here is the rabbit. It was just that. It's about distracting the audience. There are a lot of crazy moments. You just forget about that particular element. Then you come back to it. Even reading the script, I had forgotten about it. Sitting in my bed, reading the script, I got to the end and dropped it. I was like, "Oh, my god! That fucking kid! I totally forgot about that kid!" That was genius on their part. You don't always have to go so far and create an incredible twist that you are totally floored. This was done so well, so simply. It was simple to do a moment like that. To circle back to it at the end. But you are right. It slips your mind through all the chaos and madness. It's believable. You finally see it click at the end. These guys just forgot. I believed it. I totally believed it.
If you turn on Inside Edition, or Dateline, you see the kinds of things happening in this movie happening in real-life all the time. This is not far fetched in the least. How deeply did you emerge yourself in these particular Fraternity tales that have come out in the last few years?
Will Canon: This was something that I was extremely aware of early on. We did a lot of research at the beginning of the process. Neither one of us were in fraternities. We had a couple of friends that were. We talked to them. We read a bunch of books about hazing. The psychology of it. The way people act in groups. Then I went and spent some time with a fraternity in Texas. I shot video of them going through their hazing process. We are super aware that this stuff happens. It's interesting that the things that happen in the movie happen fairly often on college campuses. It's something that we were definitely aware of.
Jon Foster: Some of that stuff you might question. Because the dominoes keep falling. But these guys kept it real. Even after the car crash, and the hostage, you look at it and say to yourself, "This can't be happening." But I believed it. That is what makes you love a film or not. If you believe it.
Jon, you mentioned that there was hazing on the set. What exactly went on there?
Jon Foster: We went pretty hard on each other. Will called me up a week before I went down to Texas. He said, "How do you feel about hazing some of the actors?" I said, "Yeah, sure. That sounds good." I called up a few of my buddies that had been in fraternities. They gave me ideas. Some of these ideas were demented. We had Human Battleship. There was a giant Battleship game board in our backyard. The pledges would stand blindfolded in their designated square. The brothers would stand back to back and call out coordinates. If there was a hit, they would get hit with an egg. We made them turn into a dog pack to teach pack mentality. We got them on all fours, on the ground, in their boxers. Someone was wearing panties. We made them retrieve toys that were buried in the back yard with their mouths in the middle of the night, and then they had to bring them back to us. There was one few too many. We were lacking a toy. Whoever didn't get their toy had to put on a diaper. The only way to get out of the diaper was to pee in it. So, what else did we do?
This sounds crazier than what we see happening in the movie...
Jon Foster: Oh, yeah. We saran wrapped them, and covered them in condiments and birdseed. Then we threw them in the back of a pick-up truck and drove around the city. We were looking for a car wash, which we couldn't find. Then when we did find the car wash, we only had fifty cents. So we made them fight for the water. (Laughs) There was a lot of stuff. I should probably stop there.
Will mentioned that he had a video camera during the hazing rituals he experienced. Was some of this stuff captured on tape?
Jon Foster: Yeah, we did. The footage was destroyed. Which is a shame, because it would have been good to have it now, two and a half years later. It was destroyed. I saw it be destroyed, because someone really wanted it gone. And rightfully so. Some people just don't want that stuff lingering around. I have seriously thoughts about hiring someone to go dig around in the Arlington dump to find one of these lost film reels that has everyone on their fours looking for toys. But, oh my god, man, it was rough. They got me back, though. One night, after I hazed them with condiments, they did something called vengeance soup, which they had concocted. It was this spicy warm cocktail with cigarette butts and bottle caps. Pepper. It was the worst. You can't even imagine. I am sure there was pee in it. There is no doubt. They kicked my door in one night, ran in, and dumped this whole huge tub of it on my body. It totally destroyed the bed. I was so tired, I slept in it. I woke up too late for rehearsals, so I couldn't shower. I ran to rehearsals, and I am covered in this disgusting sauce. And I mean covered. Everyone is looking at me like I'd puke on myself multiple times the night before. It was all so enjoyable. Even though it got hot at some moments, we all loved each other so much before doing the movie that we couldn't really break the bond. This was only strengthening it in some weird way.
And speaking on that, the rodeo scene is something you hear about all of the time. I've never personally seen it happen. But you hear about it often enough. I want to know more about the actress you brought in for that rather embarrassing moment. What was that casting session like?
Will Canon: She was incredibly brave as an actress to do that scene. It was a really challenging role to cast, because when you are shooting a scene like that, you are out there. For her, and the guy, you are very vulnerable. As actors, I wasn't in their shoes, but I would guess that you'd want a filmmaker who is going to handle that with respect. Someone who is going to handle it well, and not exploit it. Someone who is going to film it in a way that has integrity to it. I always wanted to approach it that way. I wanted to handle approaching it that way. It was a hard thing to shoot. And a stressful thing to shoot. But those two actors did a very good job being professional about it. Everyone on set did. They handled it in as good a way as they possibly could.
Jon Foster: We walked off set, actually. I didn't want to be around that. She was such a sport. She was so cool. She was really easy about it. We just didn't want to be there. None of us are supporters of that. And we all kind of left the set. We weren't anywhere nearby. We didn't even want to talk about it later. Just because its shot...Tastefully shouldn't be the word used...But it was to some degree. She was covered. It could have been a lot more disgusting. And it's incredibly sad.
What do you say to someone who comes into audition for a role like that? I mean, you have an actress who is vulnerable, and she needs to have confidence. Yet, that must be hard when the character calls for an obese, homely woman.
Will Canon: That role was unique just because I handled that one so differently. Anytime you are doing something with an actor that is outside of the norm of what you usually do in a film, you have to handle it uniquely. When I talked to actors about that role, it would turn into a conversation. We would really talk through it. If someone else was coming in to audition for a different role in the movie, there aren't those types of commands. It's more of a normal day at work when casting a straight role. With this one, we really needed to take some time. We had to talk through it. We needed to all be on the same page with everything.
Jon Foster: In a weird way, it's empowering to go and face yourself in a scary situation. I know I have done that. The best thing to do when you are presented with something uncomfortable is run straight at it. That's what she did. It was not easy to do, and I have never quite understood how you pursue something in that way. She did, though, and she killed it. She was great. I love what she did. Hopefully that will tumble into something else, and she will get another project. She'll keep moving.
You said you actually took a video camera into some of the hazing rituals. One of the things I found refreshing about this movie at this particular time in independent cinema, is that you chose to make a "real" third-person thriller. This isn't a cinema-verite style mockumentary. But obviously that idea had to have crossed your mind when embarking on this shoot...
Will Canon: That is a great question. I am a great fan of that aesthetic. I like a lot of the films that do that. Where you feel like you are watching a documentary more than you are watching a movie. I am a big fan of that style. But for me, I always wanted this to have the feel of a movie. Like you are sitting there, watching it, jumping into the story. Talking about that verite style, it usually happens when someone is shooting on HD or video. Before that, it was Mini-DV. For me, it was important that this have the grittiness to it that film has. You mentioned the way the film looks, going back to Michael Fimognari. It was important for me that this film have a depth and a texture. A weight to the images that felt like you were watching a movie. Those things, from the very beginning, were always important to me.
Going back to the fact that this is a "genre" film, the cop character that you have created is very unique and interesting as well. That is an important character to get right in this particular type of movie. How did you go about creating the cop for Brotherhood?
Will Canon: Yes, I talked about doing the twists and turns of a genre film with personal themes underneath. A lot of the things in this story came from small experiences that I had, or had heard about. I wanted to take those small things and heighten them. The cop thing? I was with a friend of mine, and he was driving. He was pulled over for a traffic violation. The officer walks up and asks for a license and registration. My friend hands it over, and the cop recognizes him. They were friends. The cop says, "Oh, my gosh? What are you doing?" Any trouble that we were in was over. I thought it was funny. There was something about it that came back to me while we were writing the script. I said, "What if the cop that shows up is that? What if he used to be in the fraternity?" It made a more interesting dynamic. And it puts him in a situation where he now has to make a choice. The whole thing is creating conflict for these characters. They really have to choose what they are going to do. That, to me, was more interesting than if a cop showed up, and he just does his job. That isn't too interesting. But if the cop shows up, and he is conflicted about what to do. That is what I'd rather see.
When things started to wind down at the end, for a split second I thought this all might be an elaborate joke set up by the fraternity as part of the hazing. Did it ever cross your mind to end the film in that manner?
Will Canon: That is something we thought about early on. Before we even had a first draft of the script. The thought did occur to us that you could do something like that. But we felt that, if you did something like that with the story, you would take away the weight of it. You would be making light of all the things that happen. So we decided that we wanted it to be real. We wanted all of these things to be happening. If you set it up as a joke, it would be dismissive. We didn't want to go in that direction.
With the DVD coming out soon, are you going to include the short film that this is based off of?
Will Canon: We are. Absolutely. We loaded the DVD up with a lot of stuff. I am excited about that as well. We have a couple of commentaries on there, as well as the short film. At the beginning of the commentary, we go through how the short was the first eight minutes of the feature. If you watch it, the short is pretty similar to that part of the feature in a lot of ways. There weren't a lot of things that we changed about that little section. Obviously, the whole thing turned into a huge situation, where they have to deal with this whole night. None of that is in the short. On the commentary, we talk about those similarities and differences. The short was really helpful in getting the film made. Once we had that short, we could show it to people. If you like the short, you will like the feature. If you don't like it, don't bother. Because you won't like what we are doing.