As someone currently pursuing a master’s in film producing, I’m immensely impressed by film school students who go on to make their first features a reality, and so is the case with Andy Viner and his movie, “Dick Night.”
The film focuses on Rachel (Jennifer June Ross), an ex-bride-to-be who can’t recover from being left at the altar. However, today’s the today she’s going to ditch her pajamas and pizza and try to get her life back on track. The only problem? Those darn vicious vampires living next door!
In honor of “Dick Night’s” October 30th debut, Viner took the time to chat about his journey from film school at USC to becoming an accomplished director with a film available on Amazon Instant Video, YouTube, iTunes and more. Check out what Viner had to say about acting as writer, director and producer, filming in a working hospital, stitching together elements of comedy and horror, and much more in the interview below.
Let’s start with the obvious question. Can you tell me about the title “Dick Night?” How’d that come to be?
Andy Viner: The movie was untitled when I wrote it and even when we started shooting it. It just had a placeholder title, which was “Tucson Comedy Horror,” and that’s what we called the movie for most of production. And then, of course, because we knew it was a placeholder, during production, a lot of titles were being thrown out and they were put on a list and, yeah, “Dick Night” was one that got thrown out. Everyone kind of treated it like a joke. It became a little bit of a joke during the movie and I don’t think I ever came on as like, yeah, I think that’s actually what we should call the movie. Basically, it just stuck. It’s a tough thing calling your movie “Dick Night.”
And now how about the story? What sparked the idea?
The location had a lot to do with it. I was just coming off a job working as an assistant to a writer-director for a while and that job came to production and was gonna move on. I was looking at this window of a few months before having to go find some more work and was having that post film school anxiety of not having made something for my thesis film. And so I had this location I knew I could use in Arizona and I’d been playing around with little ideas and then went after it the fall of the year before I made the movie, we shot it in April. This house out in the middle of the desert, a horror idea was the obvious thing that first comes to mind with this remote location, but I’d never really had any horror ideas so to speak. I’d never considered myself a horror writer. I like horror movies a lot, but never had even played around with making horror. And so, yeah, I kind of couch it in a more comedic setting and that’s where the base of the movie came.
Breaking up with someone and not being able to move on is very relatable, but where the story goes is a bit surreal. How’d you get from one to the other when writing the script?
In my head it was really just, halfway through the movie, it just shifts and you just go with it. It was probably a little naïve going into it, but that was sort of the basis of the idea. There have been movies that I really like that had done it. It’s always tough because it is a little bit of no matter what, if it works or not, it’s always gonna have a little bit of a feel of an experiment. The big ones that I was thinking about were “From Dusk Till Dawn” that goes from this crime movie to vampires out of nowhere. And then there’s a movie from the 70s called “Macon County Line” that has this big shift in tone and then “Something Wild.” I was basing it off my experience of those movies and hoping it would play. The idea was that it would be a little bit more relatable relationship comedy, even indie-ish comedy, that takes a hard turn. It was both from a practicality standpoint of the actual shooting and from the performers and everything that happens when a movie that’s a little bit more run and gun like this one is, it ends up getting shaken during the production and the post ended up skewing more towards the comedy than even the original intent.
Writing, directing and producing is quite the challenge, so how’d you manage all that? Do producing challenges ever infringe on what you want to create as a writer and director?
I’ve never thought of them as very separate because I’ve only made thesis film productions where, if you want the thing to get done, you’re doing all of it. When I’m writing and stuff, yeah, the whole producing aspect probably doesn’t come as much into play, but this one had a producing element from the get-go because I have this location, so let me think about writing the really inexpensive movie I can go shoot out there.
What about while you were shooting? Did you hand the producing duties over to your other producer and just focus on directing?
My producing partner is also the cinematographer of the movie so it’s sort of like we’re the filmmaking team on it and then we add people. We were able to hand [things like] figuring out what the meals for the day were, making sure the actors knew to be here, making calls for us during the day, those aspects we were able to have people on board with us and those were the big ones we really needed help with so we could focus on the filmmaking and not all of the organizational stuff of just making sure that everybody was there.
I did notice on IMDb you had a really small crew for a feature film shoot. You’ve got that one great location, but there are company moves, you’ve got tons of makeup and a pretty big cast. How was it managing all that with so few hands?
Yeah, of course, anything you shoot is going to be exhausting during the course of the shoot, but that wasn’t a surprise. We shot for three weeks essentially and we knew then it was gonna be nonstop having such a small crew.
Was there any one scene that was the toughest to shoot?
Yeah, but it’s not even a tough scene. We had this walk and talk in the hallway of a hospital that we were shooting in and it was one of those ones that just wasn’t feeling right. We’re shooting in the middle of the night in a working hospital where we’re not able to cordon everything off and we’re lucky enough just to be able to shoot in this hospital, people are on edge because there’s real patients going around, and you kind of feel like you’re stepping on people’s toes being there, but, yeah, you have to push through it. It’s one of those simple scenes that was more difficult than the group stuff. The stuff with the group dynamic was never that difficult. The cast was pretty on board and when you’re doing those larger things with all the vampire folk and whatnot, it’s pretty calculated what we want to get in certain shots, so it’s not pure chaos.
Oh, yeah! The biggest is probably deciding that we didn’t want to shoot the ending I had written during the middle of the shoot. We just decided over the course of the movie that with what we were getting, the ending just wasn’t gonna work and wasn’t what the movie was. We had shot it. It was a scene that took place at sunrise and even while shooting it, it was like, oh, this isn’t right. This doesn’t feel like it belongs in the movie. We shot nights pretty much the whole movie, so then it was spending the whole day trying to figure out, can we get to a better ending of the movie and essentially cut a lot of stuff and re-write? And then knowing that we were gonna have to come back to LA after production knowing we weren’t going to be able to shoot the actual ending in Tucson. That was a little nerve-wracking, letting all the actors off, leaving Tucson and starting to end it knowing you don’t have the exact ending you wanted shot for your movie yet.
Now that it’s all over and done with, how does it feel that your first feature is getting a VOD and iTunes release?
It’s pretty much the ideal of what we wanted to have happen with the movie. Outside of it getting into a couple of the big festivals in the US, this was what we talked about from the get-go, just to get it out there where people can see it. It never even quite felt real just because the movie’s so small. It didn’t really hit until these past couple of weeks when we started seeing it in the coming soon sections of certain rental services. People are actually gonna be able to watch it. It’s pretty wild!