Having clashing opinions with a sibling on important matters can often be a distressing process in life, as people strive to figure out what’s truly significant and valuable to them. But if they hold a strong enough bond, and put in the effort to understand the other person’s point-of-view, they’ll finally be able to overcome their differences and reconnect. That’s certainly the case with the two starkly contrasting brothers in the new independent comedy, ‘Awful Nice,’ which was directed, co-written, produced and stars filmmaker Todd Sklar. The film, which is currently available on VOD, and is set to open in select theaters tomorrow, is a heart-wrenching but equally comical exploration of how two brothers, who were close growing up, but have been estranged for years. While a tragic family accident harrowingly brings the two brothers together, the forced reunion is actually a blessing in disguise, as it allows the two to bond once again
‘Awful Nice’ follows Jim (James Pumphrey), a disenchanted but popular college professor and author who must leave his wife and children to track down his dead-beat brother, Dave (Alex Rennie, who also co-wrote the script with Sklar), who he hasn’t seen in years. Jim, who finds his brother drunkenly passed out and living in a tent, forces Dave to return home, as their father has unexpectedly died. After the funeral, during which the two continuously argue and revert to their youthful need to beat each in trivial competitions, the brothers are forced to travel down to Branson, Missouri together to redeem their inheritance-the family’s lake house.
Upon arrive at the house, they discover their belongings in disarray, which leads them to believe people were squatting there. After speaking with their father’s business partner, Jon Charbineau (Christopher Meloni), Jim and Dave realize they must fix the house before they can sell it and receive their money. Dave convinces his brother they should work on repairing the house themselves, in order to bond again after their long separation. What follows is a series of costly mishaps and misadventures that help the brothers repair their strained relationship, including a drunken encounter with a local waitress, Petra (Keeley Hazell), who Dave is attracted to and persistently pursues. Despite the weariness of Jim’s wife and bosses that he plans on being away for so long, the two brothers learn how to reconnect with each other during what started as a forced reunion.
Sklar generously took the time recently to talk about filming ‘Awful Nice’ over the phone. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how he and Rennie came up with the idea for the independent comedy, as they both have brothers in real life, and how those relationships, which are important to them, led them to want to offer an honest, sincere look into sibling rivalry; how he and his writing partner developed a shorthand between him, which led to the helmer not giving as much direction to Rennie as an actor on the set as the other performers, but how Sklar is humbly trying to treat all of his actors equally while filming; and how he approached Meloni with the role of Jon, and how the Emmy Award-nominated actor worked to fit the comedy into his schedule, as he loved the script.
ShockYa (SY): You co-wrote the script for the new comedy, ‘Awful Nice,’ with Alex Rennie. How did you two come together to pen the screenplay for the film? What was your overall working relationship like, and where did you come up with the idea for the story?
Todd Sklar (TS): As far as the writing relationship with Alex, we were ultimately writing for the person we ultimately wanted in the main role. We were also writing with our best friend, so we know each other better than anyone else. So there’s nothing better than having someone who knows you really well, and can help you make it better.
So it was fun to work with each other, almost in a competitive way. It was almost like the narrative of our screenplay, in that we were constantly trying to make the other person advance to a higher level, which is always fun.
As far as coming up with the idea, we both have a brother, which I would say is an important relationship in our lives. I have a younger brother, who’s kind of a f*ck up for a while, and I was the more responsible one. Alex was more the f*ck up in his brother relationship; his brother’s a lawyer, and knows what he’s doing.
We both wanted to do something about brotherhood and sibling rivalry that was sincere and honest. But we both wanted to do it in a way that we weren’t just airing out dirty laundry about our brother relationships; we wanted to do it more in a way that represents how you feel about a relationship. We wanted to show that conversation that you never got to have with your brother, because you were never mature enough to really do it.
SY: Besides co-writing the screenplay for ‘Awful Nice,’ you also directed the film, as well. How did penning the script influence the way you helmed the movie?
TS: Oh yeah, absolutely. I’ve never directed a movie that I also didn’t write. So I don’t know how that would necessarily work. But for me, I would never write something that I also didn’t intend to direct. I don’t know how to write a screenplay (that someone else would direct). I think the vision comes across in a screenplay because the thematics are there, but the way I want to execute it will always be in my head. I often think of a screenplay as a notebook or cheat-cheat of how we’re going to make the movie.
SY: Besides co-writing the script with you, Alex also starred as Dave in the film. What was your overall working relationship like, both as you were writing and on the set as you were filming?
TS: We always intended for Alex to play Dave. We wrote the character for him.
As far as writing with, and directing, him, it’s interesting because in a lot of ways, directing him is a lot of shorthand. Also with the writing, since you’re both doing it, and you both know what the intention is. In hindsight, I probably don’t give Alex as much direction on set as I would with other actors, because we have that shorthand.
That’s something I want to get better at. You want to make sure you’re treating everyone the same way. You don’t want to be rifting with one guy, and then really talking about the scenes with everyone else.
SY: James Pumphrey plays Dave’s brother, Jim, in the comedy. What was the casting process like for James?
TS: It’s funny. When we were writing the Jim role, we were writing it with no one really in mind. Pumphrey had a video. He has also done some TV, and we had seen his work a couple of times. He and his writing partner, Cale Hartmann, made a video that I think we watched about 100 times a day for a month. That was during the process of when we were casting. He was always on our computer screens.
We didn’t have him audition or read; we just offered him the role. He was psyched to do it, and we never looked back. I think we got a pretty good picture of who he would be, and how it would work from there.
We did one more revision on the script, to tailor it more to him than what was originally written. The revisions recognized that he’s able to carry a lot of emotional sympathy. So I think we made the character less likable on the page, to make him more likable in fruition.
SY: Christopher Meloni, who’s known for his dramatic roles on television and in films, including ‘Law and Order: Special Victims Unit,’ ‘True Blood’ and ‘Man of Steel,’ played Jon Charbineau in ‘Awful Nice.’ What was the process of casting him on ‘Awful Nice?’ Did you approach him with the role?
TS: We did approach him. He was actually the number one person we wanted for that role. We got lucky; it was right after he stopped doing ‘SVU,’ and he wanted to start doing more comedy again. He just did the Jackie Robinson movie (’42′), and was about to do ‘Man of Steel’ when we reached out.
We had a great casting director (Marc Hirschfeld) who got his rep the script, and his manager loved it. They had Christopher read it right away, and for whatever reason, he really loved the script, as well.
He decided he was going to make it work. It was great that he was able to make it work with a really tight schedule. I think we only had him for four days. Originally we were only supposed to have him for two days, but he flew himself down to Branson so that we could have him for two extra days, which was awesome.
SY: You also appeared in a minor role in ‘Awful Nice,’ as one of the construction workers who was going to work on Dave and Jim’s house. Is acting something you’d be interested in also pursuing in your career?
TS: (laughs) That was out of necessity. It was a constant struggle when we were looking for all the actors we needed, as we needed to get the right people to the set.
We had a really good production coordinator for the first three weeks of the shoot, but then she had to leave. That was the case with a lot of the crew, based on the last-minute schedule. We didn’t have a production coordinator for the last week-and-a-half of shooting. The actor who was supposed to be there that day for the role wasn’t there, so we improvised.
SY: Besides ‘Awful Nice,’ do you have any upcoming projects lined up, whether writing or directing, that you can discuss?
TS: Yeah, we actually just sold a TV show. I don’t know how much I can really talk about it, because we’re still doing the long-form contract. But I think we’re going to be shooting it in a month or two. It will be coming out next year.
We also have another TV project that’s in the pilot stage. We’ll be shooting the pilot I want to say in the late summer or early fall. Then we have another movie that we’re writing and setting up right now. Hopefully we’ll be shooting that one over the summer.
Written by: Karen Benardello