This love triangle winks at The Apartment
"I wanted to go further," Charles Hood says of the glossy shots of his second feature, Night Owls. "We definitely sacrificed the number of takes we could get in a lot of cases, because I really was determined to make the movie look interesting and have that different feeling than I feel like a lot of low-budget indies have, which is that handheld look. I wanted to have it really move, kind of that McTiernan feel of moving the camera."
The writer/director unexpectedly references action authority John McTiernan (Die Hard, Predator) alongside character connoisseurs Richard Linklater and Billy Wilder. "[McTiernan] is one of my heroes, and his philosophy on how to shoot action applies to any kind of scene," Hood presses. "He's very clear about the way to shoot movies to get the geography to be very clear for the audience."
Night Owls began as an homage by Hood and co-writer Seth Goldsmith to Wilder's exposition on love and career, The Apartment, and evolved into a contemporary joust between idolizing yes man Kevin (Adam Pally) and his attention-seeking, handle-flying pickup, Madeline (Rosa Salazar). While the story of irresponsibility and lust might be familiar, the left turns into controversy, reaction, and expectation are far from the world of Shirley MacLaine and Jack Lemmon. Pally and Salazar's electric quips form the backbone of a dark romantic comedy that examines the price of loyalty and the repercussions of excuses.
Shot entirely in a couple of rooms in one luxurious home in the hills, Night Owls balances on the abilities of its actors. Pally (The Mindy Project) utilizes comedic strengths to elevate his Kevin beyond straight-laced white guy, and Salazar (Parenthood), in turn, takes the broken-down and pissed-off Madeline through stereotypical jilted lover and anti-feminist to teacher, satirist, and near-role model.
"They really made it their own," espouses Hood. "I think that Seth and I wrote the Madeline character better than Kevin, but I think casting Adam really brought more to that character than casting anybody else in that role would have done. It's kind of a thankless role to be the straight man that's a little bit boring."
The casting of Pally set off a kismet snowball: Pally suggested Salazar, who clicked immediately as Madeline. Her recurring role on Parenthood allowed for one dynamic film-ending cameo (hint: not Fred MacMurray). And a poster in the production offices (né Hood's management company, Haven) led to one of Night Owls' most enjoyable turns a mere three days before shooting began. "We were leaving at midnight – it was a long day," Hood begins. "As we were walking down the hallway, we saw Tony Hale on a poster of one of their older movies. We were like, 'Someone in this office knows Tony Hale! He would be so perfect!' Arrested Development is my favorite television show of all time, and Buster is my favorite character on that show. To have Tony Hale in this movie was just unreal." Hale is onscreen for a matter of minutes, but his podiatrist Dr. Newman nearly steals the movie.
Night Owls is nothing without its chemistry, whether it's Kevin and Madeline trading jabs, Dr. Newman taking control of the situation through song, or a cool dip in a colder pool – hardly McTiernan territory. Hood has a third feature lined up, hopefully including Pally and Salazar if schedules allow, but is there more action in his future?
"I don't know," he laughs. "I'd love to do every genre there is, really, but I think mainly Seth and I are very much in the Alexander Payne realm. We like human stories and comedy-drama types, just like the way life really is."
Narrative Spotlight, World Premiere
Night Owls Friday, March 13, 9:30pm, Topfer Sunday, March 15, 5:30pm, Alamo South Lamar Saturday, March 21, 1:30pm, Alamo South Lamar