Whether it’s a pregnant Christian schoolgirl or a pot-selling suburban mother, director Brian Dannelly has never been one to shy away from unlikable characters. Having worked on projects such as “Saved!”, “Weeds” and “The United States of Tara”, Dannelly has always had a knack for dark comedies, which is why “Struck By Lightning” fits right in with his eccentric canon of work.
Directed by Dannelly and penned by Chris Colfer (Kurt Hummel on “Glee”), “Struck By Lightning” follows a young man who blackmails his classmates into writing for his literary magazine…that is, until he’s struck and killed by lightning. With a dynamite cast including Christina Hendricks, Rebel Wilson and Allison Janney, “Lightning” is all but guaranteed to set the Scottsdale Film Festival ablaze this weekend.
In a recent chat with The East Valley Tribune, Dannelly discusses his experiences working on the film and why he tends to favor oddball projects.
How did you first hear about “Struck By Lightning” and what compelled you to direct the project?
Well, my agents called and were like, “You know, one of the kids from ‘Glee’ wrote a script and do you want to read it?” I thought, “Ugh, no,” and then I met with a producer, and he said it looked really good so I read it and I thought it was really interesting. The fact that there’s a protagonist who’s an outsider, that, you know, the film is kind of filled with a lot of unlikable characters but they all seem to work.
Carson Phillips (played by Chris Colfer) is far from your typical protagonist. How did you and Chris go about trying to make him a more sympathetic or relatable character to audiences?
Well, I think we wanted to go with the idea that, here’s the kid that’s sort of focused all of his attention on getting out of school and then, in the film, he realizes that he spent all of his time trying to get out of school when he really wished for the time he had when he was there. I thought that was really interesting for a high school movie – it’s not about the journey, it’s about the destination. He’s really tough, he’s a really strong character, and when he finds out he doesn’t get through the college choices he wants to, it’s the first time we show him breaking down, and then, you know, he had some resolution with his life before he gets struck by lightning.
What was your experience like working on set, and were you and Chris inspired by any other coming-of-age stories or movies?
It was great – (Chris is) really an amazing kid. We shot the film in 15 days for $1 million so it was a fascinating set but it was drama-free. We had fun making the movie; we cast a lot of actors who did improv. You know, Rebel Wilson was amazing and everyone was really on their game so it was a great experience.
We didn’t actually really think about other coming-of-age movies, I mean I had done “Saved!”, and they were similar in the fact that it wasn’t a conventional high school movie. I think there’s more of a focus on the adults in this high school movie than there maybe are in some others. You know, like the general John Hughes movies, I think there’s a general tone that’s similar, but yeah, we didn’t actually talk about other movies, we just talked about “Saved!”. We just tried to sort of keep it true to the script and true to what it was instead of trying to make it into something else.
Looking at your impressive list of past filmography, it’s pretty evident you tend to favor darker films and television series. Why would you say that is?
I actually like projects that don’t look like they’re going to get made. You know, there’s that little formula that studios are looking for but I think there’s a real gap in accessible teen comedies that don’t follow the formula. There’s voices that, Chris’ character is an outsider and he’s not incredibly likable but he’s a strong character and those are usually the sideline characters. The next film project I have, its about this kid and people think he’s a vampire from “Twilight”, but it’s sort of a satire about what we’re willing to believe, who you are and finding an identity in high school, which we all struggle with at that age.
What sorts of reactions have you gotten from audiences that have seen “Struck By Lightning” in recent months?
It’s been great, you know, we got a standing ovation at Tribeca (Film Festival). It’s something I don’t really notice, but every time I’ve seen the film’s screenings from the test screenings to the film festivals, is that everyone sort of claps and applauds at the same point. I got this video from a festival in Italy, you know, the whole audience is crying and holding each other up, it was just bizarre.
DETAILS >> “Struck By Lightning” is playing at the Scottsdale Film Festival on Saturday at 6:35 p.m. at Harkins Shea 14 in Scottsdale. For more information, visit scottsdalefilmfestival.com or call (866) 811-4111.