Catching Up With the Writer, Director and Cast of Intramural

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One of the most pleasant surprises for me at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival was the Eighties throwback comedy, Intramural, written by Bradley Jackson and directed by Andrew Disney (Searching for Sonny). The film pays homage to mainstays like The Karate Kid, Visionquest and Teen Wolf in its plotting, form and shooting style, but updates the genre with some more contemporary character types. It’s a great, silly, fun ride. At the festival, I sat down with Jackson and Disney, and then with actors Brian McElhaney, Nick Kocher and Gabriel Luna, to discuss the film.

Paste: Tell me about how you’d describe the humor in the movie.
Bradley Jackson: I would describe it as over the top, a little slapsticky, a little self-aware, and then just go for broke. My favorite comedies have insanity going on around one sane person. Arrested Development, The Office, stuff like that.

Paste: A lot of Monty Python stuff.
Jackson: Yeah, exactly. And that’s classic sketch comedy, too. You have your one grounded character, and then everyone else being crazy. Andrew?

Andrew Disney: For me, I wanted to make a movie like the movies I grew up loving to watch. Airplane, Happy Gilmore, Naked Gun. More recently, I loved Wet Hot American Summer, and Hot Rod was also a big influence. It’s kind of more a throwback.

Jackson: A love of the genre of sports movies. And even like Summer Camp—just crazy rock-and-roll ’80s comedies.

Paste: I was definitely getting an ’80s comedy vibe. There’s a rhythm overall that feels like that. But then some of the characters feel more recent, like a Zoolander or a Dodgeball or something like that.
Jackson: I think a lot of that has to do, honestly, with Andrew, and with the DP, Jeff Waldron. They created a look for the movie.

Disney: Yeah, we shot it with these superprime lenses from the ’80s. And also, the way they filmed things in the ’80s. Now, most comedies are so bright, and everything is lit. I really wanted to make this feel like the ’80s, without knowing why—this kind of nostalgic feeling.

Paste: My favorite line is when the main character tells his friends, “This may be our last chance to do something completely meaningless.”
Jackson: And the way Jake delivers it is so straight; it’s perfect.

Disney: I was really worried about that scene because it’s kind of the theme of the whole movie. They’re doing something that doesn’t matter, but it matters to them. So when we did that scene, I was really nervous. But then Jake did like two takes, and I wasn’t nervous any more.

Paste: Was it just like a party filming this thing?
Disney: Yeah! Sundays and Mondays were our days off, and Sunday nights four of the guys would put on a comedy show. And all the cast and crew would come out for it. You just don’t have that in movies, where cast and crew hang out on their days off.

Jackson: We’d get a keg, and Beck Bennett and Nick Rutherford, and Brian McElhaney and Nick Kocher would do it.

Disney: And then Jake [Lacy] got up and did it one night too.

Jackson: Yeah, he had never done comedy before, and he was like, “I’m just going to get up and do ten minutes, is that cool?” And everybody was like, “You know you’re going to bomb, right?” But he got up and absolutely crushed it. And I was like, “Yeah, no wonder you were on The Office.” Kate McKinnon wrote a sketch and did it with Jake. It was like summer camp.

Paste: Brian, Nick and Gabriel, tell me about your first impressions when you read the script.
Brian McElhaney: When I was first reading it, it was really unclear exactly what the tone was going to be. This could be an actual sports movie, or it could be this kind of completely bonkers Zucker brothers movie. And it finds this nice kind of middle ground in between those two things. So it took me a few reads before I realized, okay, this thing is a lot sillier than I thought.

Nick Kocher: Yeah, we really didn’t completely know until we saw it Saturday night. We were nervous. I mean, there’s a lot of big, bold choices. The characters are really big, the plot points are absurd, there’s some really goofy moments, we improvised a lot. It could really go either way. Luckily, we had a great DP. Andrew is a great director. Bradley is great and made sure the script spine stayed straight. And editing was incredibly important, and not only to hit those absurd jokes. Like all good parody, we’re making fun of those sports clichés, but we also have to make it a good movie at the same time. And I think they pulled that off very well.

Gabriel Luna: We all really had the time to get it all right, too. I mean, we were there for six weeks. We got in the zone.

Paste: So I hear that during those six weeks, you all did a lot of partying together, too.
McElhaney: It was the best. It really was like summer camp.

Kocher: More drinking than I did at summer camp.

McElhaney: It was like being counselors at summer camp. With no kids to supervise. We went swimming, we bought mopeds, we played drinking games…

Luna: We played running flip cup charades.

McElhaney: Yeah, I broke my toe playing that game. I had to make my final catch a different way in the movie. Then we had this show every Sunday night where we did stand-up and improve, and the entire cast and crew came. And that’s very rare, where the cast and crew all love each other and want to be with each other off-set.

Luna: I think that the only time we weren’t all hanging out together was when we switched over to night shoots and were getting done at 6AM. And even then we wanted to go party together, but you can’t. It’s 6AM. But other than that, we were together literally the whole time.

Paste: That fits Austin so well, too.
Luna: Yeah, I was really proud of that, having been born in Austin. To be somewhat of an ambassador for the city and show the boys around. We drank together, we hung out together, we partied together, we love each other. It was a great summer.