Hands down one of the most eye-catching movie titles of the year, "Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best" is also a unique mix of eclectic music and likable lead characters, giving it a touching story that’s part "Once" part "I Love You, Man."
In the film (currently in theaters in New York and opening in select theaters on the west coast this Friday) writer-director Ryan O’Nan plays Alex, a struggling singer-songwriter who has recently been dumped by his girlfriend and at a crossroads in his life. But when he meets Jim (Michael Weston), an eccentric musician who plays children’s instruments, the two embark on a bizarre road trip filled with shows and self-discovery.
O’Nan and Weston sat with Film.com for an off-the-cuff chat about the making of the movie, Weston’s anxieties about playing live music and how Michael Jackson’s white glove changed O’Nan’s life.
Ryan, is it true the title was created long before you wrote the script?
O'Nan: It is. That's true. I was living in London at the time and I was on a backpacking trip with my little sister and all of a sudden we were walking in the middle of nowhere and it just popped in my head.
Weston: And what happened, did you just sit there?
O'Nan: I just sat there. And my little sister was like, "C'mon, it's raining we have to get to the hostel," and I sat there repeating, "Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best… Brooklyn Brothers Beat The Best..."
Any personal reflections behind the film’s plot?
O'Nan: I was a musician for a long time and toured around with a band, but [the movie] isn't autobiographical in the sense of this being my story, if anything it's emotionally biographical and dealing with the struggle that I felt I was going through and my friends were going through at the time. Part of me was so insecure and wanted to give up and the other side of me was like screw it I'm doing it anyway, I'm going forward. That was perhaps a little braver than I should have been. But I thought I would split that into two characters and have them battle it out. With the music, I wrote some of the songs beforehand and some of the songs I wrote while I was writing the script and some were written literally right before we would shoot a scene.
Did you know Michael?
Weston: Not at all. We met at an audition. Ryan was coming out looking just really shaky, really nervous, unstable.
O'Nan: I get that way when I just dominate an audition.
Weston: No, be flopped. [Laughs] He actually invited me to a movie he had done called The Dry Land and it's a really great movie that he's the lead in. Ryan was awesome in it and afterwards I was like, "We have to do something together," and he said, "I'll send you my script." I read it and laughed out loud. Doesn't happen often when you read a script that actually gets you, but more than anything by the end it had so much heart to it. That's what I left with it. It's funny and has great banter and the music element was intriguing but more than anything it leaves you with a little kernel of hope.
Were you intimidated that the character is a musician?
Weston: S**t ya! I had no idea I would have to play music for this.
O'Nan: Obviously you didn't read the script.
He just was in awe of the title.
Weston: That's as far as I got. Wow, look at all the Bs!
Did the Jim character change at all from the script to shooting?
O'Nan: He doesn't want to talk about himself, so I'll tell it. I thought that I would have to resign myself to picking the best actor for the role and then somebody would be off-screen playing all of this music. So when we met after he read the script I asked him... well, and I had already given him the role.
Weston: I had taken the role by force.
O'Nan: I allowed you to have the role.
Weston: I had made that role mine.
O'Nan: I pretty much hired you on as my employee.
Weston: This is true.
O'Nan: So I said, "Can you play anything, like a little bit of guitar?" I just wanted to see if he had a little rhythm, because looking at this dude he looked like he had no rhythm. [laughs] But he was like, "No, I've played piano my whole life." And I got up and in front of a lot of people I held him for a long time.
Weston: Yeah, awkwardly long time. Way too long. But I had no clue we were going to play this stuff live. What happened was we recorded all the music as we were doing the movie. So the actual shooting was relentless. We would have these fourteen-hour shooting days and then we'd go back and have to learn the song that we were going to play live the next day. It was really fun but I was terrified to play live music in front of people.
O'Nan: We're on tour right now.
Weston: Yeah, premiering at the Toronto International Film Festival [in 2011] we got a record deal so suddenly I have a hard case of baby toy instruments. I mean, I look like a musician, but at the airport they're like, "What the heck are you doing?"
Did you guys do multiple takes of playing the songs?
That would have blown my mind if you didn't.
Weston: That would have blown my mind! Let's say that we didn't.
O'Nan: No, we definitely did multiple takes, but it was an 18-day shoot for well under a million dollars so we didn't do that many takes. The sound actually didn't work on one of the days but what we didn't know was that our sound mixer Carrie Sheldon had been placing mics all over the place, so if we didn't have that we would have been screwed.
Weston: That was the best thing about this movie, it was such a collaboration and because you don't have any money everyone is wearing 32 hats, you just have to rely on them to do their job and more, and we had a really great group of people. And I was the captain of the ship. In my crow's nest. Isn't that where the captain sits?
O'Nan: That is where the captain sits.
Weston: With my binoculars.
The music is great, but there is an actual story in your film with characters you care about. Was that a challenge to flesh them out?
O'Nan: Don't look at Michael when you ask these kinds of questions.
Weston: Always look at me.
O'Nan: Honestly, Michael is such a great actor that it looks like he's making it up as he goes along. And that's what you dream for. He was constantly taking it to the next level.
Weston: Oh, stop it... go on, go on.
Let's talk about the cameos. Did you know Jason Ritter, Wilmer Valderrama and Melissa Leo?
O'Nan: Again, stop looking at Michael. Don't look at him.
Weston: These are my friends. Ryan owes a good portion of his social life to me.
O'Nan: One thing that's really great is starting off as an actor you get to work with these incredible people and me and Wilmer and Jason and Melissa had all done "The Dry Land" together so when I had the chance to direct something they were so lovely and generous. Jason was on that show The Event at the time and they wouldn't release him so he, as a favor to me, flew out early in the morning on a Saturday and as soon as he got there we shot two of his scenes and the next morning the rest of his stuff and then he got back on a plane back to L.A.
Weston: And everyone just checked their ego at the door and just did it.
Are you guys surprised by the reaction the film has gotten?
O'Nan: It's dream stuff.
Weston: So thankful for it. These independent films are so hard to get through the system and see the light of day.
Can this have an extended life, like on Broadway?
O'Nan: I would love something like that.
Weston: I totally think it lends itself to that.
Is the plan with this tour that the film screens and then you guys play the songs afterwards?
O'Nan: It's a mix actually. The film opens next week on the 28th in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles, so we're going from here to Portland and we're playing a concert, same at Seattle and in L.A. the film opens and we play a concert after the screening, so it has an interesting duality. The music is already available on iTunes so you hope each compromises the other.
Last question, guys. If you could do a duet with any artist alive or dead who would it be?
Weston: Frank Sinatra.
O'Nan: Michael Jackson. That was my first love of music. I had the glove, the whole deal.
Weston: You had the glove?
Like, you made a glove?
Weston: Did people sell the glove?
O'Nan: I don't know. It had sequence on it. I think my parents got me a glitter-looking glove that looked like it.
Weston: Did you breakdance? I did?
O'Nan: I may have back in the day.
Weston: You must have, you had the glove. That's like the black belt of dance. If you master these moves you get the glove.