SXSW Interview: ‘A Bag of Hammers’ actor and co-writer, Jake Sandvig

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Jake-SandvigI love an actor like Jake Sandvig. He’s a working actor (Easy A, series regular in Twenty Good Years and Cracking Up) but instead of sitting around and waiting for an audition, he chose to do something about it.

He and his friend, Brian Crano, made a film.

Directed by Crano and co-written by both he and Sandvig, the film is a comedy about two immature friends whose lives are completely changed when an abandoned child enters their lives. Starring Sandvig, Jason Ritter, Rebecca Hall and Carrie Preston, it’s a great indie comedy that you should definitely check out when you get a chance.

I talked to Jake at SXSW about writing his first script, casting the movie and nightmare audition stories.

You’re wrote this movie?

Jake Sandvig: Yeah, I co-wrote with the director Brian Crano, good buddy of mine.

How did that happen?  Have you ever written a script before?

Jake Sandvig: I’ve never written a script before.  I’ve not written one since.  I have lot of ideas and things written down but nothing. He was playwright and that’s how we met.  We did a play together in 2005 called 12th Premise, that he wrote and also starred in and we were played opposite of each other.  And we just became best friends doing that. And in early 2006, he had mentioned wanting to write a script play and I asked him if I could help (chuckles) and he said sure.

And, it’s sort of inspired by my living situation at the time and our fascination with con artist and scams and frauds.  There was a lot of documentaries on the subject, on A&E at the time. And so, we just sat down on my couch with his laptop and just sort of talk of each other.  I was Allan and then he was Ben, the 2 main characters in ‘Bag of Hammers’ as we just talked back and forth and then put it down.

How long did it take to start to finish?

Jake Sandvig: We have our first drafts in 22 days and I thought having never read anything before.  I thought, “Oh wow!  This is easiest thing ever,” and Brian talked, “Hmm, no that’s not usually this easy.”  But we finished it on Thursday and then that next day, Friday, we had our first table read.  We got our first producer attached that weekend, Peter Friedlander, God bless him.

We met him through Rebecca Hall who plays my characters sister Melanie. He was at the table read and afterwards just said to us, “Hey, do you wanna make this movie?” And we’re like, “Is that a trick question?  Of course, we wanna make this movie.”  And he said, “No, do you wanna make this movie together?”  And so, he was onboard very early and gave us our first notes and he read it everyday for 3 months, and would report back to us and change this or move that, you can put this later and it’s such a huge help.  Without him, we definitely wouldn’t be here.

How did you get the cast?  You have Carrie Preston, who I love. Did you guys know lot of the actors?

Jake Sandvig: We knew Rebecca and we knew Amanda. We wanted them to be involved.

With everybody, we knew right away with everybody because casting… I’ve never been on that side of the table, so it seems long and drawn out but once we saw – we knew right away with everybody.  We never have to sort of sit around think.

With casting, do you immediately know when the person comes in?

Jake Sandvig: I did.  Like I said, I’ve never been on that side before but for me, I knew. I knew right away.  I knew half way through ‘cause I was reading with all the ‘Bens’ and I knew half way through the first page of the first scene with Jason [Ritter] I knew and everybody else was on the same page.

Is there anything that you could tell actors how they sabotage themselves just from watching what was going on when you were casting?

Jake Sandvig: I wouldn’t have to – I mean I can just – I can say that just from being an actor and auditioning and dealing with rejection which is such a big part of the industry as any actor will tell you.  It’s tough, especially if it’s a project that you really love and are really interested and really want so bad and feel that you are so right for, self-sabotage is so easy because you can want it so bad that you’ll take yourself out of it before you can even go in the room.

Everybody is different. To overcome that, everybody has got their own thing. You see people with their iPod’s in the waiting room or just people meditation with their eyes shut.  You just gotta get your head about it and you gotta go in and do what you wanna do ‘cause the rest is totally out of your control.  So, you should be going and be honest and do what you wanna do with it and get the hell out of there.

Do you have any like nightmare audition stories?

Jake Sandvig: I think everybody has those where you sort of – you’ve either taken yourself out of it before you even started or you get lost in the moment or skip a moment and then you get in your head about in the middle of the scene.  So, it takes out of it for the rest of it and it’s just sort of this horrible spiral.

I think if you could hear yourself, I would love to hear my inner monologue during one of those auditions because it’s absolute terrifying yet it’s all inside your head. You’re sort of doing everything in your power to not just grab your stuff and bolt out of there.  That’s terrifying and because it’s inside your own head and you can’t – there’s nothing you can do about it and you can’t share it with anybody else.  It’s just between you and you.  Those are never fun.

How did you get your start?

Jake Sandvig: Well, from Portland, Oregon originally and I had a lot of energy as a child and actually, one of my teachers, I think my first or second grade teacher told my mom, can you get him in to a sports or some sort of outlet so that he can sort or harness his energy and use it somewhere else and then come to school and actually learn s**t?

So, she got me hooked up with this agent and she started sending me out on auditions and I did a few commercials up there in the local market up in Portland. And then when I was about 11, still having the same agent, she got a group of us kids together and took us down to LA for the summer and did a few commercials and I got a pilot and then we came back when school started. And then that December of 1997, my mom came to me and asked if I was interested in going back down and doing pilot season like January to March and I said yes.

So, we went and with only the intention of staying for pilot season and I booked the pilot and then also booked the film called ‘The Story of Us’ which is my first sort of big thing. After that was done, mom had sort of fell into a job that she loved, doing costumes for film and television and she asked me if wanted to stay and just want to go back home to Portland and I said, “Let’s stay. If you’re cool to stay, let’s stay.”

We kind of talked about this a little bit but what is your advice to actors?

Jake Sandvig: If you really truly love it, you just to have to stay in it and you have to – rejection is such a big part of this business in this industry and it’s gonna happen a lot.  And just to not get discouraged, just always remember that you love it.  Just always remember that you love it and whenever you get discouraged and say, “F*** it, I’m out.  I’m not gonna do this anymore.”  Just remember how it makes you feel when you’re doing it. And if it’s when you’re the happiest then you just always have to remember that because rejection is gonna happen so much and you just have to do it because you love it.  Stay in it and remember that.

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