How Dan Brown Created Neo-Noir Your Lucky Day

Director and his star and composer on the twisty thriller

Jessica Garza, star of new thriller Your Lucky Day (Photo courtesy of WellGo)

It’s often said that making films is a lot of hurry up and wait. For Dan Brown, writer and director of twisted crime thriller Your Lucky Day, it was the other way around: over a decade of waiting, and then a sudden burst of action.

The Christmas neo-noir (which debuted at this year's Fantastic Fest and is on VOD now) is the story of a heist, a winning lottery ticket, and some not-so-innocent bystanders. Brown first played with the concept over a decade ago, with a 2010 short of the same name. However, it wasn’t a proof of concept for the bigger story. “I wrote a short just to write a short,” he said. It also didn’t parlay into feature work, but into a successful career as a commercial director, “which is perfectly fine, and I made a living, but it wasn’t really what I wanted to do.’”

However, he wasn’t in a rush to revisit the short, which he worried he would cheapen by expanding. He referenced the slew of Dr. Seuss adaptations: “‘Oh, here’s a 20-page book, let’s make a really boring movie out of it.’” Plus, he added, “I had this weird thing where I thought some of the things in it would be less relevant over time. I don’t know why I was so optimistic about the future.” Yet as the years passed, he explained, “I had an idea that made sense to turn the short into a movie.”

The late Angus Cloud, who made one of his last onscreen appearances in Your Lucky Day (Photo courtesy of WellGo)
However, the intervening time meant that he had to think about a new cast. The short version starred Rider Strong (Boy Meets World, Cabin Fever) as the unnamed young man who triggers the chaos: However, Brown realized the fortysomething Strong was now too old for the part. “For this character to work, he has to be a younger man, and I can’t have someone my age walking in there. That’s just too reckless.” Fortunately, Strong agreed, and so Brown cast Euphoria's Angus Cloud as the film version of the stick-up artist. (The film marks one of the final performances from Cloud, who died in July from an accidental overdose.) “Ryder was really great about [the recasting] and said it was a great script, so that was a really great feeling.”

“I had this weird thing where I thought some of the things in it would be less relevant over time.” – Your Lucky Day writer/director Dan Brown
The pieces started to line up. Another feature project, intended to be filmed in Austin, fell through, and the script for Your Lucky Day was getting positive notes. The final part was the inspiration of his old editing teacher, friend, and mentor, the late filmmaker Lynn Shelton (Laggies, Sword of Trust). “She would make a movie every year. Whether it was the bigger budget A24 one, or she’d make one with her friends, she would do it at any budget level, and that was incredibly inspiring.” After that Austin project fell through, “I went, I can go do this movie right now.”

Still he was wavering a little, so he asked casting director Jessica Sherman to read the script and give her opinion on whether he should start filming now or wait a while. “She was like, ‘If you want to make this you need to make it right now, because pilot season’s coming up and there’s no way you’re going to get a cast that’s really worthwhile, because they’re going to wait for a real money job.’”

That cast also included Jessica Garza, who plays victim turned conspirator Ana Marlene. What attracted her to the script, she said, was how all the characters struggle “with their morality and what they thought they believed in when they walked into that store, and how that changes very quickly when you’re faced with an unbelievable opportunity.”

There’s a certain symmetry to the making of Your Lucky Day and its story. Just as the characters have to make their move quickly once a fateful decision is made, Brown didn’t have much time to get the film made: 30 days of prep, and a 15-day shoot. Ironically, the schedule ended up giving composer Matt Hutchinson the biggest window he’s ever enjoyed.

He’d known Brown for almost 20 years, the pair having met in Seattle when the composer was working in an audio post house and the filmmaker was doing visual effects, and they ended up working on the trailer for a video game. Hutchinson recalled being impressed by Brown’s work, “and I remember telling him, ‘Hey, I’d love to work with you on any future projects you’ve got going on, because I really think what you’re doing is very compelling.’”

Their first work together was actually a fake trailer for Grindhouse, the retro-exploitation double bill by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. The duo asked filmmakers to contribute trailers for movies that never existed (although, since then, three of them have become real films: Rodriguez’s own Machete, Jason Eisner's vengeance-fueled Hobo With a Shotgun, and now Eli Roth’s Thanksgiving). Together, Brown and Hutchinson crafted Maiden of Death. “It had a heavy metal score,” Hutchinson said, “so I got to bust out the guitar and really shred.” Their Eighties-inspired rockin’ vengeance tale caught the eye of the judges, who put it in the top three, “so we got to fly down to South by Southwest and we got a tour of Troublemaker Studios.”

“Does this work for the scene, or not? Is this the vibe we want, or is it not?” – Your Lucky Day composer Matt Hutchinson
That was the first of many fruitful collaborations, including the original short of “Your Lucky Day.” So when Hutchinson heard that Brown was doing a feature length version, he quickly came onboard. Unlike most projects, where the filmmaker is already editing around a temp score, “I was brought in very early on,” Hutchinson said. “Dan had just shot the film, we met up, and I had the rough cut a few weeks later.” Not having a temp score actually made life easier for him, “because it becomes very simple: Does this work for the scene, or not? Is this the vibe we want, or is it not?”

However, Hutchinson didn’t start composing at the first frame. Instead, he picked the point where the winning ticket number is announced, and everything goes sideways, “because I knew that would be a really good starting point to try to capture the overall sound of the score.” What he didn’t want was “a tense, scary piece of music, but we wanted to push it around a little bit.” What he constructed is a playlist of gas station Muzak, a mixtape of holiday tunes of the kind that drives you crazy at the end of a long shift. “It’s Christmas Eve,” he said, “and we wanted to have that be commented on and to have a weird bit of fun to the music. … Weird holidays vocals that get a little tweaked out, and sleigh bells that are a little strange, in the midst of all this dark textural tapestry with strings and distorted guitar.” Against the increasing darkness, he said, “the holiday music allowed us to have a little levity, have a little fun.”

Your Lucky Day is available on VOD now. Read our review here.

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Your Lucky Day, Daniel Brown, Jessica Garza, Angus Cloud, Matt Hutchinson, WellGo, Fantastic Fest 2023

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