Bradley Jackson and Andrew Disney kick off a festival run of their new comedy about the importance of intramurals
The lead actress comes from Twilight. Her male counterpart played Pete Miller on the final season of The Office. Three cast members star on Saturday Night Live. Another two got famous via YouTube. And Beck Bennett, who plays Dick, the asshole brother of that lead actress, you'll recognize as the guy in the suit from those AT&T commercials with the kids at the school's table. (He's also now featured on SNL.)
Last spring they all tripped down to Austin to shoot a movie made by two guys with a total of one feature film under their belts. The two summoned the aforementioned credentialed with the promise of breakfast tacos and a party, because they couldn't exactly give them much money, but they had a movie that they had to get made.
Seven years ago, in the summer between his sophomore and junior years at UT, a funny local guy named Bradley Jackson, now 29, etched the first draft of Intramural, a film about a ragtag college intramural team out to defy the stacked odds and find love late in the fourth quarter.
"It's always the same thing with sports movies," Jackson explains, laying out the plot points on a table. "They break up here. The montage goes here. The final game is the end. My problem was always structure. Sports movies, they have that structure built in."
Revisions took a half decade. Jackson distracted himself with short films, winning Best Narrative Short for "Playing Chicken" at the 2006 SXSW Click awards and a $100,000 grand prize for "The Man Who Never Cried" via 2010's online Doorpost Film Project. He got the itch to finish a full-length, then ran into Andrew Disney.
Disney, 28, walked into Jackson's life at the Hill Country Film Festival two years ago, when "The Man Who Never Cried" took home Best Short and Disney's feature, Searching for Sonny, a quick-witted whodunit starring Minka Kelly and Veronica Mars' Jason Dohring, won Cinema Dulce (Best of Fest) at the festival. A roommate of Jackson's worked on Disney's storyboards and script supervision. Disney and Jackson bonded over winning spoils, got a little drunk, and sang Led Zeppelin at a karaoke bar.
Post-performance, Jackson went to his colleagues at Ralph Smyth Entertainment and made clear that Disney had to be the one to direct his Intramural script. Disney joined the project in June of 2012, saying it was "just [his] type of comedy." One year later, the film was in production.
The two had their script and their vision, but they knew – due to the seen-it-before nature of Intramural's purposely played-out plot line – that they had nothing without a cast. With the money they held, they also knew that they had to get creative. So Disney recooked an idea that'd worked on Searching for Sonny: "Pitch videos. Brad and I in goofy sportswear being like 'You'll be the hero!' 'You should be in our movie because Austin's got great tacos!'"
"From our point of view, we both thought 'They don't know who we are,'" adds Jackson. "'We haven't made a huge hit movie. Let's at least get them to think we're real people.' If we could make them chuckle ...."
The sales spots worked, helping recruit young, budding talents like Jake Lacy (The Office, ABC's Better With You), Nikki Reed (Twilight), Saturday Night Live players Kate McKinnon and Jay Pharaoh, and Nick Kocher and Brian McElhaney, the duo from YouTube comedy troupe BriTANicK. "Both McKinnon and Jake Lacy said the videos were a big selling point," says Jackson. "It took a little, then one day the first five cast members said yes."
The ensemble assembled in Austin in the summer of 2013, and Jackson and Disney embarked on the enviable task of corralling 15 hilarious, thoughtful leads and a whole slew of similarly funny supportive cast members (including Austinites Sam Eidson, Kirk Johnson, Will Elliott, Tom McTigue, and John Merriman) through a simulated season of intramural football, with love, loss, inexplicable plot turns, and traditional slapstick comedy mixed in. "Everybody had so much fun on the set," remembers Disney. "It felt like being at camp, which is what you want. You want it to feel like you've got a whole bunch of camp counselors."
In addition to the summer camp vibe – the one you feel with Anchorman and Wet Hot American Summer, where you watch it and just know it had to have been a blast to make – Intramural boasts a whole truckload of themes that you'll find throughout other sports movies. It's got romance like Rocky, a fight from the underdog like Dodgeball, and a little of the fantasy you'll find in Air Bud. It's the kind of film wherein you know how it'll end by the 13th or 15th minute – unless maybe, just maybe, Jackson and Disney decided to spill some new paint on the template.
Intramural's a meta-type movie, one that unabashedly follows certain tropes and name-checks its influences casually. It's also a film about an entity – intramural sports – that's significant to everyone who played them as well as no one all at once.
"We can talk about the people who played intramurals and how it doesn't matter. But I have a friend who tore his ACL in the playoffs and still played in the championships," says Disney. "To us, that seems ridiculous. To him, it really matters. Maybe not on the grand stage, but it does sometimes feel like these little moments in our life are actually much bigger."
It's that perspective that allows viewers to screen Intramural while considering the roots of why Jackson wrote it, or the reason Disney chose to direct it. The storyline. The sense of growing older. Graduating and going off to law school. Your wife, your job. Your whole life setting up ahead of you.
There are two lines in Jackson and Disney's movie that make you stop and say "Ha!" like they were written by Jackson as a way to check your senses. "Thirty years from now, these are the moments that we'll look back on" is one. "This might be the last shot at doing something that doesn't matter" is the other. They both come during pep talks. Considering the elements, they both take double meaning.
Last Saturday, Intramural premiered in New York at the Tribeca Film Festival, no doubt a crowning achievement of both Jackson and Disney's young careers. Their cast, built almost entirely from comedians based around New York, Los Angeles, and Austin, is at once young, hungry, and talented. Actors like Pharaoh, McKinnon, and Lacy are standing in the doorway of comedy's mainstream audience, and Reed, who played Rosalie Hale in Twilight's five features, is already a largely known quantity in YA.
They say they want to make a sequel – "in Hawaii!" – but who knows if Pharaoh, who can impersonate anybody on this planet, will still be available, or if Bennett, who plays an asshole in a jockstrap as well as he plays a straight man in a business suit, can still quarterback.
The same goes for Jackson and Disney, who, in addition to Tribeca and the Hill Country Film Festival, also earned acceptance from Stephen Colbert into next weekend's Montclair Film Festival in New Jersey. Jackson says he's got a children's book about Santa Claus' naughty list coming out on HarperCollins, and Disney's got a script retouching old Eighties time-travel movies that he's raring to get working on. The two also have a TV pilot – "Workaholics meets Inception" – that they're ready to shop, and who knows what'll come of these three festivals. The next thing the two make could be big-budget, which means bigger stakes.
"There's something fun about making a movie when nobody knows about you," says Jackson. "When you're still under the radar."
It's like playing for the championship in your college intramural league.
Intramural screens Saturday, May 3, at the Hill Country Film Festival in Fredericksburg. See more about HCFF.