When coming up with initial concept for Don McKay, I specifically wanted to write a movie that was a little bit odd. Something that was unlike the same old generic movies I was so used seeing all the time and something that I myself would find to be an interesting change of pace. I really wanted the script to shift gears in unusual and unique ways. (Although now that I have been through the seven year process of trying to get it off the ground, I can confidently say the easiest way NOT to get a movie made is to strive to make it unusual and unique.)
Here was the goal -- to write a film noir of sorts, but instead of playing it straight, to somehow approach it as a partial humorous send up. I wanted it to stray from the narrative tracks before it really had a chance to fully develop, sending it in an even more bizarre direction than it would have ended up in to begin with. The audience (or at that point, the reader) wouldn't get a truly clear picture of the story until the very end, when everything was revealed and all the characters' cards were finally out on the table. In a perfect world, the movie would play equally well, although completely differently, upon a second viewing because of the information about the main character that the audience/reader would now already know. It was a real challenge, but at least upon finishing the screenplay, I felt I had accomplished what I had set out to do.
I knew finding a way to get them (whoever "them" is) to allow a first-timer to direct the movie (which is specifically what I wrote Don McKay to be able to do) would be an insane uphill battle in itself, especially when in this particular case I had no agent, manager, financing, legit connections, or momentum of any kind. All I had was my naïve fantasy about how I was going to pull this off; I would find an actor with considerable clout who would support me every step of the way based solely on the fact that he liked me and liked the script I had written. He would (naturally) overlook the fact that I had literally no directing experience whatsoever just because he really connected with the material. Easy enough, right? Looking back on it now, I can see how insane a dream that was, and how unbelievably lucky I got when I sent Don McKay (via a casting director I had hired) to an actor I had just seen (and loved) in Sideways, Thomas Haden Church. I knew we were pretty much shooting for the stars on this one and there was no real chance he would ever read it, but I thought he was so perfect for the lead role that at least it was worth that shot in the dark.
They say that once you make an offer to an actor, the absolute best answer you can get is a "yes" but a very close second is a "no," because the answer you're most likely going to get is none at all... This game can go on for weeks, months, even years, because the material (especially if not financed,) is just going to get pushed further and further to the bottom of the pile every time a "real" or better offer comes to the table (and in this case Thomas had many real- in other words, better- offers coming to his table, including a lead in a small movie called Spiderman 3.)
So imagine my surprise when a week after I sent his agent the script, Thomas Church called me personally. I heard his deep, booming voice on the other end of the line tell me that he read Don McKay on the plane he was just on, and was completely blown away by it. He understood every bizarre comedic nuance I was aiming for and had his own great ideas about the character (that were completely organic to the story) as well... I literally could not believe this was happening... We talked for two hours about our love for various obscure movies and then for another two hours about Don. We agreed not only about how we would want to approach the character, but also how we would want to approach the character within the framework of the actual movie. We wanted to allow the audience to be able to somehow identify with him without us revealing every relative detail about his past, at least until the climactic and chaotic ending. It's a tough dynamic to juggle, but we saw eye to eye on this right from the beginning. As the conversation came to a close, Thomas took a deep breath and told me that not only did he want to star in the movie, he was going to take a chance and support me directing it--a chance I'm not sure I myself ever would have taken on a young inexperienced film maker if I were in his position. (In fact quite honestly, I most likely would not have.)
As I hung up the phone, it suddenly became apparent to me that my insane fantasy had become a reality. I actually DID find an amazing actor who was not just simply was OK with the fact that I had never made a movie before (except for a bad short in college, where oddly enough the main character was named Hayden,) but he actually respected it! When he agreed on that phone call to make Don McKay with me, he never, through all the ups and downs and many years it took me to raise the money, ever waned.
We talked on and off for those years -- sometimes every few months, sometimes every few days, as I threw everything I had into getting this movie made. He let me use his name to attract the other amazing cast members (who all believed in me and my abilities because they saw him doing so,) and every time a potential financier said no to a first-time director making the movie, he told them he would pull out of the project immediately if I wasn't the one behind the camera. I give him all the credit in the world for having the guts to stick to his word, and I am still to this day honored that he believed so thoroughly in me.
There is a serious learning curve as a first-time director, especially when working with very experienced actors, as I was lucky enough to do on this movie. As is part of the process, many things change before, during and after the actual shoot, but I can proudly say that the "unusual and unique" approach that I initially set out to take is still in tact. In essence at least, I made the same strange, quirky movie I set out to make when I wrote that very first draft all those years ago.
I hope people get a kick out of it, and are even willing to take the ride that second time.