Teenagers often struggle with numerous obstacles throughout high school, from not fitting in with their peers to struggling with their body images and how they perceive themselves. That’s certainly the case with the main character, Troy Billings, in the new comedy ‘Fat Kid Rules the World,’ which is now playing in select theaters in New York and Los Angeles, and is available nationwide on VOD. But when Troy finally finds a friend who wants to help him, he faces even more conflict when his father disapproves of his new relationship, starting the cycle all over again.
‘Fat Kid Rules the World,’ which is based on the 2003 novel of the same name by KL Going, follows Troy (played by Jacob Wysocki), an overweight and suicidal 17-year-old. Just as he’s ready to end his life by jumping in front of a bus, Marcus (portrayed by Matt O’Leary), a high school dropout and street musician, saves Troy. The two begin an uneasy friendship when Marcus enlists the musically challenged Troy to become the drummer in a new punk rock band. As their friendship begins to grow, Troy’s father (played by Billy Campbell) becomes increasingly concerned about his son’s new relationship.
Actor Matthew Lillard, who made his feature film directorial debut with the comedy, generously took the time to speak with us over the phone recently to discuss the shooting of the movie. Among other things, the filmmaker, who also produced ‘Fat Kid Rules the World,’ spoke about why he wanted to helm the movie, why he financed the project through Kickstarter and what the casting process was like for Wysocki.
ShockYa (SY): You made your feature film directorial debut with the new comedy ‘Fat Kid Rules the World.’ What was it about the script that led you to become interested in helming the film?
Matthew Lillard (ML): Troy’s an underdog, and I love underdog stories. I saw myself reflected in him. He represents every kid in high school that doesn’t feel like they fit in. I think everyone feels that in some point in their life. I loved that he started in a really dark place.
SY: Michael M.B. Galvin and Peter Speakman co-wrote the script for ‘Fat Kid Rules the World.’ Did Michael and Peter approach you with the script, and ask you to direct the film? How did you become involved in the project?
ML: I recorded the book on tape. I found it, and saw in it a great story, and an unbelievable opportunity to tell a great story. So I went searching for someone to write the script on spec. Michael and Peter had a great spec script, and I read it, and I loved it.
I brought them in, and Michael plays punk rock music in a little punk rock band. I completely fell in love with the story, and we all hit it off. They wrote the script on spec 10 years ago. It took 10 years to find somebody to believe in me and the story enough to write a check to make the movie.
SY: K.L. Going wrote the novel that ‘Fat Kid Rules the World’ is based on. How familiar were you with the book before you recorded it, and did you reference it while you were filming?
ML: Well, we referenced it all the way through, because obviously the story is the exact same story. In terms of the book, I wasn’t familiar with it at all. In fact, it was a little bit of an act of God.
I had passed on it, and my manager was like, I think you should do it. She read the back jacket cover of the book, and it appealed to me. So I said fine, I’ll do it. It wasn’t until 10, 15 pages into the book that I had realized how amazing the story was.
I walked out in the middle of the recording of the book, and called my manager. I said, we should set up a call with this writer, because I think this is an amazing book. Shortly after that, I optioned it, and started the struggle of every independent producer, trying to find the money to make the movie.
SY: Speaking of finding money for the film, you financed ‘Fat Kid Rules the World’ in part through Kickstarter. Why did you decide to finance the movie independently, and why do you think so many people decided to donate money the film?
ML: We had actually completed principal photography on the movie, and we already had a finished film. We had taken it to South By Southwest, and won the audience award there. We also received great reviews there, and an unbelievable crowd response.
In light of that, we got a lot of offers to release the film. But all of the offers were substandard, and they didn’t believe in the potential of the movie at all. So instead of taking those terrible offers, we decided to do it ourselves. That’s why we went out and raised $158,000 on Kickstarter.
So we had a finished film, and we just wanted the opportunity to get it out into the world. I think we had a lot of reach into the Internet world. Mike McCready, the lead guitar player of Pearl Jam, did our music. The group has a database, the book has fans, I have fans. We screened the movie all over the place, so people had become fans of the film.
Quite frankly, halfway through the Kickstarter process, I did a Reddit. On reddit.com, I did an AMA, and that changed the trajectory of the film, to be honest. We sparked a whole new community of followers that really rallied behind the film.
SY: Like you mentioned, ‘Fat Kid Rules the World’ premiered on March 9th, 2012 at the South By Southwest festival in Austin to generally positive reviews. What is the feeling like, knowing that critics are embracing the film?
ML: It’s really powerful. I think it’s different than being an actor. The failure and success of a movie, we wear that to a certain extent as actors. But the reality is that it’s always on the director. I find that a project that has taken me so long to get made, and it’s been such an arduous journey, to finally at the end of the day to complete the mission and find success, is hugely rewarding.
I also find it very rewarding because it’s a movie with a message. It’s a positive message, and I think we need more of that in the world. I’m proud that we have something to say, and the fact that it’s landing on people. We’re not beating people over the head-it’s more of a feel-good movie. It’s the single greatest achievement of my professional life, that’s for sure.
SY: Have you been receiving positive feedback from students who relate to Troy’s struggles?
ML: Yeah, I think so. One of the greatest things about Twitter and the New World Order is that you have a direct reach to people. They can find you and tell you what they think, for better or for worse. So I think the reaction we have gotten has been through the roof.
We’re still a tiny movie, trying to get out into the world, though. But the reactions have been great and positive. If I sit there and listen to what happens in the audience, people are having an experience. That’s what makes it really fun.
SY: Jacob Wysocki played the role of Troy in ‘Fat Kid Rules the World.’ What was the casting process like for the character, and why did you decide to hire Jacob?
ML: We had done a short version of the script, called ‘Fat Punk.’ There were a couple reasons why we did the short; the producers wanted to find out if I could direct, and to know if we could work together well, and to see if it was a story worth telling.
So we brought Jacob in and had a casting session between Christmas and New Year’s, two years ago. We had three people walk into audition, and Jacob was one of them. In the audition process, he was fantastic, and we shot the short with him. He was so instrumental in the success of that short, that he became a lynchpin for the financing.
Quite frankly, he is the anchor of that movie, and he’s an unbelievably talented actor. I think we’re blessed to have him in the film.
SY: Besides directing ‘Fat Kid Rules the World,’ you also served as a producer on the film. Did you feel that your duties as a producer, as well as your acting experience, helped you in your directorial duties?
ML: Well, certainly the acting. The director you are is an off-shot of the director you are. Through my career, I’ve been acting since I was 13, and now I’m 42, so I’ve had plenty of directors and opportunities to act. I am the school of thought that you’re the director you’re going to be. That’s by the osmosis of the people you work with.
It’s like being a parent. You are the parent you are because of the kid you were. It’s a little like directing. So I certainly learned a lot from being an actor.
SY: Did making the film independently pose any challenges while you were filming? If you had a larger budget from a major studio, is there anything you would have added to ‘Fat Kid Rules the World?’
ML: I think the great thing about being a micro-budget movie is that you rely on your creativity and work ethic to solve the problems as they’re coming at you. There’s something about limited means that allows you to make creative choices.
We have a sequence at the bottom of a pool, and we had to figure out how to make that sequence. So you creatively start to figure out how to solve that problem. Whereas in a big movie, they just throw money at it.
So I liked the creativity that comes from an independent film. As a filmmaker, it inspires you to do something different. If we had more money, I certainly would have paid people more money. Unfortunately, in today’s world, when money’s thrown at films, it’s not necessarily given to the people that I think should be getting it. The number one thing we would have done is paid people more, the actors, certainly deserved it.
Written by: Karen Benardello