SXSW Audience Award Winner, “Brotherhood”: Interview With the Star And Director

Jon Foster & Will Canon talk about their film, SXSW Audience Award winner, Brotherhood!

The audience award at this years SXSW was the film, Brotherhood. It’s about a college student on his last night as a pledge for a fraternity. He finds himself blindfolded in the back of a van and made to rob a convenience store for his final initiation. Then, things go horribly wrong. (Of course, right?)

It’s a really good film and I was happy to interview the star, Jon Foster, and co-writer/director, Will Canon.

Jon plays Frank, the senior frat brother. He’s currently starring opposite Jenna Elfman in the CBS show Accidentally On Purpose but this role is 1,000 miles away from that character.

And for Will Canon, this is his first feature film. He’s had several award-winning short films that have been seen on Showtime and shown at Sundance.

You cast the film, did you have people in mind already?

Will: When we first started, I didn’t know a lot of the age group.  And so, once we started to see the work that these guys had done, it was pretty much like these are the guys we have to have.

Did you see it in person or see it on tape?

Will: We kind of did a little bit of everything.  I tried to meet with the guys whenever I could.  Then like Jon, for instance, we were in different states.  When we were going through the process of to lock everything in, so we just did a lot over the phone.  The first time I met him was when he flew in to do the movie.

As soon as you saw the actor, were you like, ‘this is the guy I want?’

Will: For the most part, yes.  For me, for a lot of these guys, it was very instinctual.  It wasn’t something I could necessarily articulate, but I saw him and I was like he’s got the thing that is Frank and he’s got the thing that is Adam, you know?  And I couldn’t tell you what it was necessarily.

Jon: Also what helped was, too, was the three of us have been friends for a really long time.  But he wasn’t quite aware of that until, I guess Trevor [Morgan] was the first one cast, and then he was like what about Lou Pucci for this part because they’re best friends.  And that’s how that started.  And then Pucci and I are roommates.  It’s all very incestuous.

Will: And it helps.

John: Yeah it helps being able to do the film with friends.

Jon, tell me about your character.

Jon: My character, I play Frank.  Frank is the – what would you call him in the fraternity?

Will: He’s definitely the fraternity president.

Jon: And he’s just this guy dug himself into this hole and all he’s trying to do is dig himself out.  But with every move he makes, it just gets deeper and deeper and deeper.  He’s really just trying to save his own ass but because of it he’s just this really manipulative person.  And you just hate this guy. By the end of the film you really, really want to see him go down.  And for me that was the most fun I’ve ever had playing a character because I’m normally playing these kind of wide-eyed narrative or witnessing kind of parts, and that’s really… It’s tough because you stay inside the lines and you’re not allowed to do much but then this was just go all over the place.  It was a lot of freedom.  He gave me a lot of freedom, which was awesome.

Was there a lot of improv?

Jon: No, we stuck to the script, but it was a great script.  We didn’t need to stray from it.  It was really, really great.

Will: These guys, I mean Jon especially, all the guys, they had such great ideas. This is the script, this is the structure of it, but hey I want to try this, I want to do this, what if we did it this way?  They all brought such good ideas to it, that it was sort of like, we had the framework, and they just kind of started coloring it in with all these details.

Jon: It was really collaborative.

You’ve been in a lot of cool stuff.  Give me your background, how you got started.

Jon: I was eight years old and my brother was going to try out for this play called “Charlie Brown” in Iowa where we were living.  And he was like, why don’t you come along and try out for the part of the Linus and I did, and I got the part.  And we did the play together.  And then he kept leaving every summer to go to these film, theater academies like Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan and Stage Door Manor in New York and I would just go with him because he was my dude.  I didn’t want to be apart from him.  And when I was 13, we moved out to LA, and he was acting.  And I didn’t really think I wanted to, and he threatened me a number of times saying that I had to.  And I’ve grown a great, great passion for it.  I love it, it’s all I know how to do now, but I wouldn’t be doing it without him, if it wasn’t for my brother.

And what about you?  How’d you get your start?

Will: Well, I did the whole film school thing.  I went to NYU.  And actually a lot of the guys who worked on the film behind the camera were all who I met at NYU.  And then we just started making short films together and then just got a little group together and tried to do bigger and bigger things from there.

What was the hardest scene for you on the film?

Jon: Honestly every scene was really, really, really hard.  It was 105 degrees in Texas, and at night it wasn’t much better.  It was still in the 100s sometimes, and we were trapped in a house that had no air circulation whatsoever.  And there was rotting animals in the walls to the point where we were almost throwing up in the scenes, and it only helped the movie. But to be specific, I’d probably say that really, really, really heavy duty scene in the beginning when we first bring in Pucci’s character bleeding on the kitchen table and we’re all screaming at each other.  Because it was 8 actors stuffed in a kitchen with a handheld over the shoulder, and it was every single person’s coverage, so you’re having to keep that energy… sweating your, you know, off.  And it was really tough, cause I completely blacked out in a moment, hit the ground, popped back up not knowing what we’re doing, dehydrated.  And it was all night shoots, too.

Will: And in that scene, too, the script, it was an 8-page scene and it was the only thing we did that day.  It was like 8 or 10, or how many ever of us in a room shooting this crazy thing.  And the intensity level, it’s one of the most intense scenes in the movie and John he’s sort of running that scene, and he had to have the intensity level when we started at 7pm or 8pm, he had to have the same intensity level when we’re doing it at 3am or 4am.

Jon: You’re doing a 12 hour day, an 8 page scene screaming at the top of your lungs and sweating in 100 degree heat.

Will: It’s fun (laughter).

Jon: It’s tough.

Did you guys rehearse that prior to filming?

Will: We did.  We didn’t really rehearse.  We blocked stuff.  That scene’s got a lot of moving parts to it.  It’s got a lot of people coming in, coming out.  We wanted to make sure we had kind of the beats of where, we had the geography of it.  And then once we had, we didn’t do a ton of rehearsal on this one.

Jon: That was also the 3rd day of shooting or something like that, too, which is just hard to do when you’re coming onto it, and you’re not quite in the rhythm of the character with everybody yet.  Which made it better again because it was just so chaotic.

Will: But I think one of the things just overall for the movie that I was very mindful of was the keeping the intensity up because it all takes place over one night.  And so the thing that we shoot on day one has to match the thing that we shoot on day 10, and those things may be, it doesn’t happen in real time, but it’s all one night, so he’s gotta walk out of one room with one level and walk into the other one.

Jon: And that’s the thing that I realized, too, in doing these types of movies, when you go and watch them, especially this movie that’s so intense from beginning to end, you’re going, that’s an hour and 15 minutes of wow that was so intense.  But we’re there for a month, and like you said, you’re going okay, roll camera, and you’re in the kitchen waiting to walk in the hallway, and you’re going (he breathes) like trying to get yourself back up to match when you walk out, but it’s like 6 days later to match the scene that you just did.

How do you remember in this scene I was doing this?  My energy was up to here?

Jon: Luckily we were on full blast at the time, so it was just get yourself as high as you can possibly can get and go into the scene like that.

Will: It was like go full throttle and we’ll just sort it out later (laughter).

We’ll fix it in the editing room.  So give me your advice for actors.

Jon: You know, this is one of the best things because a lot of people don’t talk about auditions, and I think that’s one of the key things to talk about for people who are acting.  Because that’s the first step is you gotta go and audition and get a job.  But a lot of the times when you go in and you’re doing a scene or you’re doing an audition or whatever it is, you get nervous.  Your nerves are up and you’re about to go into the room and start the scene, and I think the most important thing is recognizing that the second you start lying to yourself, you’re going to be reading that on your face, so if you’re going, ‘I’m not nervous, I’m not nervous, I’m not nervous,’ it’s going to show that you’re fighting the fact that you’re nervous.  So, working from a place of where you actually are.  Where your emotions and your nerves actually are.  If you’re going, you know what, I’m hungry and I’m tired, work from a place of hunger and tired.  You know, being exhausted.  And through that immediately, your body knows that you’re allowing yourself to feel how you’re actually feeling, which allows you to be open more and it just always, always helps.  Rather than just working against the grain, go with it.

And you from a directing standpoint?

Will: The thing I would say, I think, a lot of it is very intimidating for actors to walk into a room and you’ve got 3 or 4 or 5 people staring at you and looking sort of –

The people who give you the jobs.

Will: Yeah.  But I think the thing that I would just say is that every person that walks into that room they secretly want that person to be the one.  You know what I mean?  They want that person to be the one that they cast. So it doesn’t have to be like… I’m scared to walk in here.  Because they actually want you to succeed.

That’s good advice, but getting that in the actor’s head is like, you know –

Jon: Sure.  The biggest awakening I had was when I was on the opposite side of the casting process, and I had gotten cast in a part, and I was helping cast my counter-part in the film.  And watching these people come in, it’s like so many people did amazing, amazing jobs, but you have to be so perfect on so many different levels to be that person.  It’s like that person was incredible, but it’s just, you’re not quite that part. But a lot of the times as an actor you go, ‘oh I’m quitting, I’m done I’m done.  I’m over it.  I’m never going to act again’, when you actually killed it in the room but you just didn’t look quite right.

Will: In actuality you were probably so great, but there’s you know a million different other considerations beyond just how you performed.  It could be who’s the other person they’re casting.

Jon: There’s so much.  It’s not personalizing anything.  Being honest with yourself and not personalizing the fact that you don’t get a part or do get a part.  A lot of actors out there.  A lot of us out there.

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