DGG: I thought Chance [Gus Halper] and Dixon [Jake Picking] were amazing. You know, obviously the leads are the leads, and they’re great. But you sell the authenticity with those guys. That guy Gus Halper, I’ve auditioned before. I think he went to the college I went to.
AN: Oh really? Where’d he go?
DGG: North Carolina I think. I remember shooting the shit with him one time in an audition. He’s amazing to me.
AN: Gus was really incredible. Susan Shopmaker brought him in. And he was cast against the grain, because actually Dixon was this real big guy, and Chance was also supposed to be a big dude. And then Gus came in, and we were like, “Oh, good. This might offer a counterpart.” He was just a monster when he read. He was just really good. Working with him, he really added a new dimension, so we kind of chubbed up the relationship between him and Brad. And then we added that scene where he talks about his dad and shit. He gets hammered, and he’s in the room, he’s like, “My fucking dad. He fucking hates me.” Jake Picking played semi-pro hockey, so he knew the lingo. I had played hockey too, and I had played lacrosse and shit, so I could go up to him—I knew meat-head lingo. I was like, “That fucking guy just said that shit to you? Are you kidding me? That little fucking pussy said that shit to you? What the fuck, man? Are you going to take that shit?” And he’d be like, “Fucking no.” And I’d be like, “All right, go do it.” It was there. It was great. It was in the DNA.
DGG: I’m really bummed I didn’t make it to set. I really wanted to come and witness all the action. But I think I was shooting Vice Principals at the time down in Charleston.
AN: I just watched that the other day, by the way, and being a huge Eastbound & Down fan, of course, I was equally into it.
DGG: Well, if it hadn’t been that much fun down there, I would have definitely come over and harassed you guys. I really wanted to see it all come to life like that. Was the vibe on set fun at all? Or was it tense because of the subject matter, so everybody was very serious?
AN: I’m a pretty jovial guy. I was always try to keep things as fun as they can be. I don’t like to run a set that feels too grim. When we were doing the hazing scenes, sometimes in between takes, I’d actually try to add a little comic relief to keep everyone feeling loose about the situation. But there’s no doubt that that kind of subject matter can be really grueling to act in and to direct too, because it’s fucking dark! The actors have to go to a place, especially Ben—you gotta get into a pretty dark space to do that. So that can be intense. I hope the set was as good as it could’ve been, giving what we were trying to do.
DGG: Eighteen days, man. I think that’s pretty badass.
AN: We were pushing so hard. I think one day I did 12 pages.
DGG: Did you have your doc editor [Brad Turner] cut this?
AN: Yeah, he had done King Kelly, and he had done almost all of my docs. So he and I have a real shorthand.
DGG: So you get into Sundance… and is that the first time you’ve been to Sundance, or did any of your docs play?
AN: No, that was the first film I’ve ever had at Sundance. Basically every film I’d ever made premiered at South by Southwest.
DGG: Going into that festival were you pretty confident? Or were you scared shitless? Or both?
AN: It’s always fucking terrifying to sit there the first run-through at a festival. I have a rule: I sit down and watch it with the first audience at the first festival, and then I don’t watch it again for a number of years. It’s that one watch that’s just… Of course, there was a lot on the line for me. I was definitely, definitely feeling the pressure a bit. But, I also have to say, I’d been through enough festival premieres, and I thought the movie was pretty good. So I was like, “Look, fuck it. Some people are going to like it. Some people aren’t. And that’s the way it’s going to go.” I think I did go into it pretty confidently. I was like, “Alright. Let’s do it.” It should be here [at Sundance], and I’m glad people are going to see it.
DGG: Where did it play? In the Library [Center Theatre] first?
AN: It played at Library first.
DGG: I think that’s a great place to start. If you walk into the Eccles right out of the gate, your brain will melt.
AN: Yeah, it’s contained enough. You know, it’s funny—there’s so much industry [in Park City], it was actually cool to show it down in Salt Lake because it was more of a normal audience. It wasn’t just packed with people who, you can tell, [are] like reporting on the movie as it’s playing.
DGG: That’s the scary thing about Sundance and a lot of the festivals. The industry presence. For somebody who is really making a movie for an audience, you want that experience. It’s hard to keep that romantic red carpet type of event in your mind when there’s also people dealing with the business side left and right.
AN: Yeah, it’s really hard. Basically, the first [screening] is like an industry showcase. Not entirely, but I don’t know what percentage of the audience there is buyers, industry and press. You’re like a debutante, where you’re introduced to society.
DGG: Yeah, you have your debutante ball. I read an interview with, I think it was Cameron Bailey from the Toronto Film Festival, where he was talking about how the energy of an independent film can pack a house at a festival. Two weeks later, you’re playing for a ticket-buying audience [to whom the film] has been either mis-marketed or under-marketed or whatever and it fizzles.
AN: Right. Sundance is what makes it possible to even get that thing out in the world. So it’s like, the fact that everyone is there and it is a big deal is good, because otherwise I think a lot of these things wouldn’t be seen at all. You need that hype, and you need the industry there. There’s gotta be people there that have the money to buy it and show it. The indie market is so glutted with content, and there’s so many people trying to do this. There’s great films from filmmakers I know that get lost in the mix. It’s become part of the battle that we fight now as filmmakers, as we’re getting up there. Very rarely can you make just one, you gotta make three. And then, things start to move and shift around for you. It’s competitive, man.
DGG: My first film was in 2000, and if you think about how many fewer films were made, submitted to festivals, distributed, talked about [back then]… You could process the entire industry. Now there are 4,000 movies submitted to any major festival. Say there are a couple hundred that play, 20 that make some noise, and five that are meaningful in a commercial and theatrical marketplace. The juggle for me, and the people I produce with and for, is how to not just have career longevity but find a way where your expectation isn’t totally frustrated every time a movie finds its life in a different direction that you would have anticipated.
AN: I completely agree. Actually, the producing that I’ve done, I guess they’re all directors who are younger than me. I said, “Look, you’re probably not going to get into Cannes. I don’t want to say ‘never.’ You can’t expect to just blow up on the first one.” Even on the distribution end, I think it’s healthy for filmmakers mentally to recognize that it’s not realistic for certain kinds of movies to get a bunch of money spent on them. And if you’re making that kind of movie, I mean, you always shoot for the stars. But just also be realistic about what might happen, because otherwise, like you said, you’re just going to be bitter and just kinda pissed off all the time. And really, it’s also an exercise in ego control. You gotta believe in your thing, you gotta think it’s good. But not everyone is Leonardo da Vinci. Or maybe [you] are Leonardo da Vinci and that’s cool if you are, but maybe no one’s going to notice right away. I think it’s really important to just be realistic about what you’re making and be humble and hope for the best and manage expectations.
DGG: That’s cool, man. I agree 100 percent.
AN: You’d do well on a documentary. You got a good interview style.
DGG: We’ll flip the roles when Stronger is done.
AN: Definitely. I’d love to interview you about it. I’m stoked. I was always aware of your work. You’re only three years older than me, but I remember when George Washington came out. I was just finishing college and I was thinking about making my first short film for my thesis project. It was cool to be able stand on top of your Goat script, on your shoulders, and make something, so in a global sense, thanks. And thanks for supporting it so much with everything you did for us to help our budget.
DGG: Absolutely. I’m proud to have my name on it. MM
Goat opens in theaters September 23, 2016, courtesy of Paramount Pictures and The Film Arcade.