Jonathan Zuck Meant to Be Broken
Co-writer-director-producer Jonathan Zuck (center) on the set of his dark comedy, ‘Meant to Be Broken.’

Evading some commonly accepted rules is an ideal that some people subscribe to as they strive to obtain their goals, especially during challenging circumstances. That gripping concept is emotionally utilized by both the filmmakers and characters in the new dark comedy, ‘Meant to Be Broken.’ The cast, crew and protagonists of the movie were all driven to take any means necessary to achieve their ambitions, even if they had to disregard universally established rules and practices.

Versatile and daring filmmaker Jonathan Zuck co-wrote, directed and produced ‘Meant to be Broken,’ which is set to have its World premieres at this year’s Dances With Film festival. The premiere is scheduled for this Wednesday, June 13 at 9:30pm PT, at the TCL Chinese Theaters in Hollywood. Tickets for the comedy, which will screen in competition in the narrative features section, can be purchased on Fandango.

‘Meant to Be Broken’ follows the overly cautious Harvey (Dave Coyne), who has always been very conscientious about his career and personal relationships, until now. Harvey’s outlook on life immediately changes when his doctor informs him that he has an inoperable brain tumor, and has a limited amount of time to live.

Throwing caution to the wind, Harvey decides to quit his job and enjoy the rest of the time he has left. He finally steps into the bar he passes every day on the way to work. There he meets Luke (Nick DePinto), to whom he confesses he’s never broken any rules. Luke convinces his new friend that they should embark on an impromptu road trip down the East Coast to Miami, where Harvey previously had some fun while he was at an amusement park. Along the way, the duo breaks every seemingly small and absurd law they know about.

During one of their law-breaking exploits, Harvey and Luke accidentally kidnap a woman, Shifty (Nadia Mohebban), from her office. But instead of wanting to return to work, the duo’s new acquaintance insists that they bring her with them on their adventure, so that she can break free from the expectations she’s facing in her life. While Shifty ultimately proves that she might be more trouble than Harvey and Luke are looking for, their crazy journey together makes them all realize that they really need to appreciate life.

Zuck generously took the time recently to talk about writing, directing and producing ‘Meant to Be Broken’ during an exclusive phone interview. Among other things, the filmmaker discussed how he’s drawn to exploring personal relationships, and defying the odds in difficult situations, in a dark comedic story. The helmer added that he appreciates the fact that the movie is premiering at Dances With Films in Hollywood, because it’s an established festival that continues to successfully connect filmmakers and distributors.

ShockYa (SY): You directed the new adventurous comedy, ‘Meant to Be Broken.’ What inspired you to helm the road trip film? What was your overall directorial approach to the gaming movie?

Jonathan Zuck (JZ): I’ve been interested in filmmaking for most of my life. I made my first “feature” when I was 14-years-old. It was a spook of the James Bond movies, which I shot on a Super 8 film camera. Then life intervened, and I went to college, grad school and work. I eventually then went to film school in 2001, and made about 20 short films, some of which had some good festival play; one even went to (the) Cannes (Film Festival). I made my first feature, ‘Within the Darkness,’ a few years back, and I then wanted to make another feature.

My favorite genre is dark comedy, which inspired us to come up with the script for this movie. In most cases with independent film, you try to eliminate all of your locations, because it’s really costly to move your cast and crew around. So you try to rewrite your script to eliminate the number of places you shoot in. But that felt wrong for a road trip movie, and it felt better to embrace more locations, and travel to different places. That’s unheard of in independent filmmakking.

What made it possible to shoot in so many different locations was that we had this huge collaboration with 12 different film teams along the East Coast that we were able to partner with in each city. So the number of people we actually traveled with was small; we had a real skeleton crew that we traveled with. We then met a bigger crew when we got to each new city.

SY: Speaking of the locations, since the story follows the new friends as they embark on the road trip, what was the process of deciding where to shoot the movie?

JZ: I think that’s one of the things that makes the film richer; we filmed in real locations, and didn’t fake the locations in any of the cities. We drove down real roads, passed recognizable places, and shot in real businesses. I think that provided a real richness to the story that you don’t normally see in an independent films.

One of the old sayings about independent films is that you never see wide shots and close-ups. You hardly ever see close-ups because you’re always running out of time, so you never have the chance to get the additional coverage. You never see wide shots because you don’t want people to see everything in the background, since you often reuse locations.

There’s a scene in this film in which the trio has breakfast at a fancy hotel, and we were actually able to secure a fancy hotel. We put a wide lens on the camera, and not only do you see them, but you also see their surrounding environment. Behind them is an open kitchen, and 20 unpaid extras who are preparing a meal, because it’s a real working kitchen. So in that case, we got a real richness and depth to the shot, because the place is real.

We secured that location because of a contact through the local production manager. If I called the corporate office of the hotel chain, I’d still be on the phone with them today, and we never would have filmed there. Part of the beauty of making this film was that we exploited the local relationships that the teams had with businesses.

SY: Like you mentioned, you used a largely new crew in each city. What was the process of deciding who to hire, and how you would approach working with a new crew in each location?

JZ: We made this film in partnership with The 48 Hour Film Project. A lot of filmmakers in this country now get their start making movies as part of a competition, in which you make a film in 48 hours. In every city that we passed through, there was one of these 48-hour competitions. So we identified teams that had won the competitions in each city. They were the best non-professional film crews in each of the cities. So finding crews that were good and available helped dictate our route.

Asheville (North Carolina) is a city that we may not have originally thought to go to, but it ended up being one of our best experiences. There was a really great team and professional DP, Kevin Good, there.

SY: In addition to helming ‘Meant to Be Broken,’ you also served as one of the producers. Why did you decide to also produce the comedy? How did you balance your directorial and producing duties on the set? What was the process of making the comedy independently?

JZ: I had a teacher in film school who said, “On independent films, you’re going to be wearing a lot of hats. But the two hats you should never try to wear at the same time are producer and director.” I definitely agree with that.

The problem with producing and directing at the same time is that the two jobs are often in conflict with each other, and the producer always wins. So I really tried not to wear both hats at the same time.

On the road trip, our primary producer, Chad Horn, was with us, so I could mainly focus on directing. So I mainly just produced during the pre- and post-production processes.

Luckily, I also had my wife, Betsy Zuck, with me on the road trip, and she was the production designer. She was also willing to jump into other roles, and helped me with the urgent, but less important, issues that came up. But I like making films independently, as I have absolute control over them. It’s also a hard process, but overall, it’s a really terrific experience.

SY: The cast of ‘Meant to Be Broken,’ features Dave Coyne as Harvey, Nick DePinto as Luke and Nadia Mohebban as Shifty. What was the process of deciding which actors to include in the film?

JZ: We held both video and in-person auditions for the role of Shifty. We pre-selected actors I had worked with before to play Harvey and Luke. Dave Coyne has been in about 10 of my short films, and both of the other features I have made. We also brought in Nick DePinto because I have worked with him on a short film. I have also directed a play-a rock opera-that he was in, as well. So that process was easy.

So the question then was how could we find the right actress to play Shifty, who’s a really critical character in the film. So we had a lot of in-person, video and Skype auditions, until we found the right person.

Ironically, Nadia’s an actress from Los Angeles who I also worked with before on another project, while she was still in Washington, D.C. (which is where the filmmaker is from). That project was ‘Out of Touch,’ and it’s a post-apocalyptic ghost story. She played one of the ghosts in that movie.

The fact that I had worked with all three of these main actors before was important, because we were going to be living a crazy life together for 40 days on the road for this movie. We would shoot for two days, and the pack and get back on the road, travel to our next location and then shoot for another two days. We had such a great cast, which was just there to work. There weren’t any attitudes, which really helped us bond.

SY: Once the actors were cast, what was the process of working with them, in order to build their characters’ backstories, motivations and relationships?

JZ: We definitely rehearsed, for sure. We would set up at whatever Airbnb or motel we were staying at, and rehearsed before we went on the locations to shoot. I think that process helped a lot. In a situation like this, we spent more time on the road, driving, than filming. We also lived together, which lent a lot of opportunity to rehearse and discuss ideas together. So the experience offered everyone the chance to contribute their ideas, which helped the evolution of the story.

SY: ‘Meant to Be Broken’ is set to have its World Premiere this Wednesday, June 13 at the TCL Chinese Theaters in Hollywood during the Dances With Films festival. What has the experience of preparing to have the film premiere at the festival been like?

JZ: It’s been an exciting process. Dances With Films is an old indie festival in L.A. that’s now in its 21st edition. So it has already done enough to establish itself as a serious festival. Being at a festival like this one in L.A. helps filmmakers connect with distributors. The distributors come to the screenings, which helps set up meetings with us filmmakers.

Leading up to the premiere, we’ve been working on the edit to make sure we have the best movie we can. The version that’s going to screen on Wednesday hasn’t been shown to anyone yet.

SY: After the premiere at Dances With Films, do you plan on bringing the movie to other festivals? Do you have ideas on how you want to officially release the comedy?

JZ: Besides Dances With Films, we’ve also submitted the movie to festivals along the route of the road trip. That way, the friends and family members of the cast and crew can have the chance to see it on the big screen.

Beyond that, I think I’ll work with a distributor to get ‘Meant to Be Broken’ released into the independent film circuit, including in a couple of theaters. But most people will get to see it on such digital platforms as Amazon and iTunes. I hope as many people as possible will experience the movie.

Photo ofJonathan Zuck
Jonathan Zuck
Job Title
Writer-director-producer of the comedy, 'Meant to be Broken'

By Karen Benardello

As a graduate of LIU Post with a B.F.A in Journalism, Print and Electronic, Karen Benardello serves as ShockYa's Senior Movies & Television Editor. Her duties include interviewing filmmakers and musicians, and scribing movie, television and music reviews and news articles. As a New York City-area based journalist, she's a member of the guilds, New York Film Critics Online and the Women Film Critics Circle.

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