This is going to be a a big few days for Patrick Brice. Any time a filmmaker’s first movie gets released, it’s a noteworthy occasion. But this week is special: It’s the week his first two movies reach audiences. The theatrical release of his Sundance/SXSW hit The Overnight is the biggest item on his agenda on Friday, whileCreep, his found-footage Craigslist horror film with Mark Duplass, drops on VOD and iTunes the following Tuesday. For the vast majority of filmmakers, the idea that their early, independent work would be seen by anybody who paid for the privilege is unlikely. The fact that both of the movies Brice has made can find an audience in the same week is downright weird.
He recognizes that, too. “It’s completely overwhelming,” he says on the phone, four days prior to the release of The Overnight. “This wasn’t the plan, but I’m very excited by it. I’m excited and heartened that iTunes and Netflix were excited enough about Creep to take us on, and at the same time, being able to have a film open in theaters, let alone an independent film, is beyond my wildest expectations. So overwhelmed is the best word to use–and joyful.”
There’s a lot to celebrate for Brice, who found himself being mentored by Duplass as he was coming out of film school at the California Institute of the Arts. Brice’s thesis film, an 18-minute documentary called Maurice, about the “owner-projectionist of what may be the last porno movie house in Europe still playing 35mm films,” caught Duplass’ eye, and the two struck up a friendship. They decided to make Creep as an improvised, no-crew project that featured only the two of them and was intended–before Jason Blum of Blumhouse picked it up–as “a formalist experiment of a film,” as Brice describes it.
After finishing Creep, Brice and Duplass talked ideas, and Duplass made him a deal: Write something in the same low-budget model that Duplass used on Your Sister’s Sister and The One I Love, with one primary location, a small handful of actors, and as big a story as possible within those constraints, and Duplass would produce it for him. And Brice returned with the script for The Overnight.
The Overnight stars Adam Scott and Taylor Schilling as a married couple with a young son who move to a new city and are concerned about making friends. When they meet another married pair, played by Jason Schwartzman and Judith Godreche, and their kids hit it off, they agree to a date at the other couple’s house for dinner, which turns into a sleepover for the boys. While Brice doesn’t have kids, the story came to him as he watched friends of his who were young parents try balance a social life and parenthood.
“Those were the themes, the initial sparks for writing this,” Brice says. “I don’t have kids yet myself, but perhaps some of that is projected fear for the future.” And while parenthood is the initial thrust for the story, it’s not what the film is ultimately about. In fact, part of what appealed to Brice about the relatively mundane trappings of young parents in a new city looking for friends is that it establishes the reality of the characters–who get progressively weirder as the film goes on.
“It’s a nice sort of anchor and entryway for people to really get behind these characters as we push the envelope, and push the realm of believability as the film continues on,” Brice says. “Things go from this real place to kind of a surreal place, and I wanted that real place to ground the characters enough that you’re actually excited to go with them on this journey. There was a balance in terms of how crazy things could get as the film went on.”
Brice lucked out in getting a cast of relative all-stars–Scott and Schilling both came off of lead roles on beloved TV shows Parks & Recreation and Orange Is The New Black, while Schwartzman’s A-list indie cred has made him a go-to for directors like Wes Anderson, Tim Burton, Edgar Wright, and David O. Russell. And that opened up some creative opportunities for him as a filmmaker, too.
“When you’re making a movie at this level there’s a lot of daydreaming involved where you’re thinking of potential cast members, for sure, but you’re usually not going to get any of the people that you were initially thinking of,” Brice says. “I was lucky with this because once we got to the point where we were sending out the script to potential actors, basically every single person that’s in the movie is the first person we sent the script to. We got really lucky that these people that I know have better things to do than making a teeny tiny movie in the middle of the night with me, they said yes.”
For The Overnight, that gave Brice the chance to draw on some preconceptions that the audience had about the sort of people that actors like Scott–who usually plays good-hearted, relatable, neurotic, nice guys–and Schwartzman–who specializes in very hip weirdos–are going to be on screen.
“That was something,” Brice says. “Jason came in quite late to the project, and when we cast him, I was really excited, because I knew that he would be able to do a couple of things. He’s able to make these more broad, crazy characters seem real and like they have a life of their own. And I wanted you to really feel a genuine sense of love and care from this guy, and that’s Jason as a human being, and that’s what he was able to inject into the role. Jason is so specific as an actor that you can’t help but think of kind of the other stuff he’s done.”
The sort of metadata that comes with casting an actor like Jason Schwartzman isn’t the only unlikely resource that Brice drew from, either. The Overnight, as the title implies, all takes place in one evening, on a night that gets weirder and weirder as it goes on. And the film, because of its budget, was a very tight production–they had twelve days to shoot, averaging 7-10 pages of script a day, and most of those days, in order to authentically capture the night scenes, were all-night shoots. That’s a grueling thing to ask of your cast and crew–but there are benefits, too.
“People were all staying up late, so there’s this general feeling of loopiness that kind of exists as a quality in the film that I really like,” Brice says. “It’s an authentic delirium that’s happening, because everyone is really exhausted because we’re having to go so quickly and we’re really staying up all night. We could have shot the film day for night. We could have blacked out the windows, but I wanted to be able to see off into the distance through the window and see the lights of the city. I really just think it adds to the authenticity of the film.”
From Creep to The Overnight, Brice’s career thus far–early as it is in developing–has been about making as much as he can out of limited resources, and seeing what you can accomplish when you embrace the limited toolkit that you do have.
One of the ways that played out in The Overnight is that, coming off of a no-budget horror film that turned out well, Brice had the opportunity to play off of things that he’d already learned how to do well–which is why the more surreal and creepy moments of The Overnight have a tension to them that most comedies would try to dispel quickly, instead of lovingly linger over the way his film does.
“I was excited to take a lot of those elements that I learned in Creep in a kind of off-the-cuff, unexpected way and then apply them in a much more deliberate way in The Overnight. I had just made a horror movie and had kind of a crash course in how to play with narrative tension in telling a story,” Brice says. “I think fear and laughter, there’s not a huge separation between those two things. I think a lot of good comedies, at least the ones where you’re actually invested in the plot, do this thing where they’re tightening and releasing tension throughout the film, and knowing when to throw a laugh in to let people know that everything’s going to be okay.”