Sometimes the best way for people of any age to truly discover and understand who they are is to pursue any interests they’re drawn to, no matter how impossible they may initially seem. That’s certainly the case for the endearing new music-driven drama, ‘Hearts Beat Loud.’ The film serves as a sort of coming-of-age tale for its protagonist, who’s played by producer Nick Offerman, and is a father who’s struggling to find his new purpose in life as his teenage daughter prepares to start college. The identity-driven movie was directed by Brett Haley, who also co-wrote the script with Marc Basch.
‘Hearts Beat Loud’ follows the middle-aged Frank (Offerman), who’s struggling to accept where his life has led him. He owns a vinyl-filled record store in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood. But the shop is barely surviving, and its future is unclear, as his landlord, Leslie (Toni Collette), is about to raise the rent. The situation is complicated by the fact that he wishes he could muster the courage to ask her out on a date.
While Frank realistically ponders whether he should close the store, he’s still in denial over the fact that his daughter, Sam (Kiersey Clemons), plans to study medicine at UCLA. Frank’s not ready to lose his daughter, especially since her mother died over a decade ago. So Sam decides to help cheer her father up by occasionally playing with him in a band, and they even record the movie’s title song.
After the recording, Frank decides to upload the song to Spotify. During his next visit to his local bakery, he’s surprised to hear the song is streaming on a playlist, which leads him to try to book gigs for what he believes is his new full-fledged band. While he envisions the possibility of finally making a name for himself as a musician, Frank debates what he should be doing with his life with his best friend, Dave (Ted Danson), who’s the fictional owner of the real Red Hook bar, Sunny’s. While his daughter seems to have her life mapped out, Frank is struggling to finally find his true identity, both professionally and personally.
Offerman and Haley generously took the time the day before ‘Hearts Beat Loud’ screened at SXSW during the festival’s 24 Beats Per Second section earlier this month to talk about writing, directing, producing and starring in the music-driven drama during an exclusive interview at the InterContinental Stephen F Austin hotel. Among other things, the scribe-helmer and actor-producer discussed how the cast naturally connected with each other, as well as with the material, while they were preparing, and shooting, their scenes. The duo also expressed their gratitude that the drama played at SXSW, as the festival truly supports independent films getting the recognition they deserve.
Several days after ‘Hearts Beat Loud’ screened at SXSW, Gunpowder & Sky, who picked up the distribution rights for the drama after it had its World Premiere at this past January’s Sundance Film Festival, announced that the movie will open in select theaters on June 8. After its initial limited release, the movie will expand to more theaters in additional cities.
The conversation began with the actor and writer-director explaining why they were interested in making the music-drive family movie. “There were two things that brought this movie into existence-this cheekbone right here, and this cheekbone right there,” Offerman said in a deadpan tone as he pointed to both sides of his face, which elicited a laugh from Haley. “This guy (motioning to the filmmaker) laid eyes on this…”
“…and the whole thing came to me like a rush of cold water on a hot summer day, and I just couldn’t say no,” the scribe enthusiastically added. “But seriously, I had this idea for a long time. I wish I could pinpoint what the exact inspiration was, but it’s not quite clear. People always ask me questions about the inspirations for my movies, and I never have an answer for them, because I don’t quite know. The ideas come to me subconsciously, and I realize that they’re what I want to work on.
“So the idea for this movie came to me, and I knew that I wanted to work in this sub-genre,” Haley added. “So we went from there, and there were a blender of different influences, like ‘That Thing You Do!’ and ‘High Fidelity’…”
“And my cheekbones,” Offerman nonchalantly chimed in.
“Of course, Nick’s cheekbones,” Haley amusingly concured. “Also, our movie is like a less depressing ‘Inside Llewyn Davis,’ which also inspired me. There are themes in ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ that resonate with me.”
“Just swap a talented daughter for the cat,” Offerman casually added, which also drew a laugh from his director.
While Haley was working on penning the script for ‘Hearts Beat Loud,’ he had several performers in mind who he felt could bring each character to life. “I had Blythe (Danner, who plays Frank’s mother, Marianne) and Nick in mind. Nick was the first entry point” into the casting process for the drama. “I had worked with both Nick ad Blythe before, so I knew that I wanted to bring them both back” for this film, which was specifically written for the actor, the director explained. He added that he wanted Offerman to have the opportunity to play this type of character.
Haley also shared that he “found everyone else through the typical casting process. Casting is a weird process; you not only have to figure out if a person is the right fit, creatively, but also if they’re available during the shooting schedule, if they’re willing to take the role for the amount of money that’s being offered and a million other things.
Once the actors signed on to play their respective roles in the drama, “we all arrived in town a little early. We did a read-through and some rehearsals. So we did get to professionally collaborate, and talk through the scenes,” Offerman divulged. “We also bugged Brett with questions. But when things are well-written, they require a lot less question-asking. All of the relationships were very well fleshed out.
“So I didn’t enter the filming process with a lot of grey areas; I knew what was up with my (character’s) mom, as well as with Toni and Kiersey’s characters. Ted also brought in some ideas and creative colors to his bartender character, which Brett and Marc wrote into the script,” the movie’s lead actor also shared.
The co-writer then chimed in that Clemons and Sasha Lane, who plays Sam’s love interest, Rose, also contributed ideas for their respective roles. “So we were really open in the process of listening to the actors and adjusting their scenes, and really collaborating as a team. Nick was really involved from the early stages; he’s also an executive producer on the film, for good reason. That’s the dream-everyone was working toward a common goal of making the best movie possible,” Haley noted.
“We were trying to lift each other up while we working together, and make the best film possible, without stepping on each other’s toes. We had that mutual respect for each other. We were lucky that everyone on the film was so smart, talented and incredibly giving,” the director further shared.
In addition to the writing process, Haley also cherished the helming experience on the set. “This is my fourth feature film, and I made ‘The Hero’ and ‘I’ll See You in My Dreams’ pretty recently. I feel like I’m getting better and more confident in my job, which is hard. But it’s also so much fun and really collaborative. I think it’s all about respecting your collaborators, and having a really good environment on set,” the filmmaker revealed. “My goal, above everything else, is that everyone’s treated with respect, and there’s a really relaxed vibe on the set. That’s how you’re going to get the best work out of everyone.”
Haley added that the production on ‘Hearts Beat Loud’ ended up “being a family affair. Even though we had a short shoot, there was a real camaraderie among everyone, and we all want the film to succeed…My job as a director is let everyone else know that I can’t do my job without them. The best part of this job is that you get to work with so may great people.”
Offerman then delved into the reason why he also decided to serve as an executive producer on the music-drive movie, like the helmer previously mentioned. “Every project is different, in regards to what you bring to it as a producer. I would say that my contributions as a producer were most prevalent during pre-production; I helped bring some of the cast to the table. I also helped in the influence of the shaping of the script,” the producer explained.
The director then chimed in that Offerman also helped in selecting the music for the film, and also reaffirmed that the actor helped in casting some of his co-stars. “He was generous in saying, ‘Let me call Ted up, and see if he’ll come play with us for a few days,” Haley noted.
Offerman then stated that once principal photography on the drama began, “I wasn’t available to fill out paper work everyday…”
“..But we made him do it anyway!” the helmer jumped in with a laugh.
The actor-producer added that he does “go out of my way to pay attention to the morale on the set.”
“Nick would surprise us an ice cream or coffee truck, if we were having a late night,” Haley also revealed. “He was on the set almost everyday, so he would surprise the cast ad crew with really nice gestures. He also surprised everyone with a Sunny’s Bar and Red Hook Records T-shirt, and Nick did that on his own, with his own money. That was so generous of him, as an executive producer and the lead actor.”
On the set, “Everyone was looking at me and Nick to set the tone. If the tone is like that, everyone is happy to go to work everyday. That’s why I work with this guy. He is so talented as an actor, but he’s also so genuine. That helps make the set a wonderful place to be,” the filmmaker added.
Also further speaking of including the music in ‘Hearts Beat Loud,’ Offerman contributed the creation of the sound of the score to Haley. “He has a really passionate, eclectic taste in music. I had to ask who every single one of the new musicians were, and that was an education to me. So that’s very much Brett’s voice.”
“You also did the Behind the Lyrics on Spotify for ‘I Want It That Way,'” the director playfully reminded the actor. “That was some deep research he did to understand that that song has no meaning! But it’s still pretty great!”
“There’s actually another version to it, because they switched the lyrics,” Offerman noted. “But they ended up switching it back. But it doesn’t matter how we say them, the lyrics have no meaning.” The actor added that “This is also a complete tanget, but last night in the car, the Coldplay song, ‘I Will Fix You,’ came on…”
“It’s actually called ‘Fix You.’ Get it straight!” Haley corrected the actor with a laugh.
“I’m susceptible to Coldplay’s formula-it’s great,” Offerman divulged. “That song has the lyric, ‘Lights will guide you home,’ and I’m moved and on board. I think, you’ve got me. Then (singer Chris Martin) says, ‘and ignite your bones.’ I say, ‘What the f*ck is that supposed to mean, Chris Martin?!?,” which garnered another laugh from the movie’s co-writer. “You had me in the palm of your hand, and then you hand me ‘ignite your bones, and I will try to fix you?'”
Haley the pondered that maybe the lyric means “I’m going to guide you somewhere, or trick you into going somewhere. Then I’m going to explode you, and put you back together? I don’t get it!”
“I’m not buying it,” Offerman also humorously stated. “Maybe we can clear this up. I’m going to get to the bottom of it!”
The conversation the turned to the crew finding the locations where they would shoot ‘Hearts Beat Loud’ in Red Hook, Brooklyn. “New York is a great city to shoot in, and I’m a New Yorker. I love Brooklyn, and the whole movie takes place there. We knew that we were going to shoot in Red Hook from the beginning, so Sunny’s and all the other locations were written into the script,” Haley revealed.
While the filmmaker enjoys shooting his movies in New York, he also admitted that “it’s a tough city to film in. It’s visually beautiful and great, but it’s also loud, and there are a lot of people. You’re also fighting the elements…We didn’t have the equipment that big movies do, so such things as the weather, cars driving by and planes” could cause challenges. “But I still prefer shooting in practical locations, even in spite of that.”
“I’ve heard that New York is one of the top eight cities on the Eastern Seaboard, and I would get on board with that,” Offerman chimed in, with a deadpan tone, which garnered a laugh from Haley. “It’s pretty good, and there’s a lot to do. There’s cool bridges.”
Turning to a serious tone, the actor-producer added that “All of the work was done before I got there, so hats off to the location crew. Once we started shooting, we had all of these really cool Brooklyn locations. One day we were in the cheese shop, and then the next day we were in the record shop.”
“Yes, shout-out to my location team. They really killed it! Shout-out to people like Amy Jarvela, who was my co-producer, line producer and unit production manager,” Haley enthusiastically shared. “They’re the unsung heroes of the production, and really make things happen.”
“It’s no Savannah, but we had a good time,” Offerman amusingly chimed in again, with another deadpan tone, which drew another laugh from his director.
Haley then shared his enthusiasm for screening ‘Hearts Beat Loud’ at SXSW. “We don’t show it until tomorrow, but we’re hoping that (audiences) love it. We’re definitely pumped about screening at the Paramount (Theater). It’s a exciting festival, and we love being here. We’re super excited to be showing (‘Hearts Beat Loud’) here.”
Offerman agreed with the director’s sentiment. “When you make a film of this small size, and it gets into a festival like this, it feels pretty fantastic. It’s a big deal.”