May 27, 2018

Film Review: Angry White Man Has Plenty of Brotherly Love


Filmmaking through the lens of Brian James O’Connell.


Film Review: <i>Angry White Man</i> Has Plenty of Brotherly Love

On set during production of the film, Angry White Man, with director Brian James O'Connell (center), actors Steve Agee (left) and Scoot McNairy (right).

Brian James O’Connell has an easy, intrinsic knowledge that’s derived from a lifelong affair with cinema and an intense DIY work ethic.

“Sometimes the story of how you make the film is as important as the story in the film itself,” notes the director. That understated foresight has served O’Connell well in his most personal film to date, Angry White Man.

“Whenever I’d see movies about the South it’d always be these ‘Der, Der…we’re from The South’ movies like Joe Dirt, or it’d have to be about slavery or about the civil rights movement like Mississippi Burning,” says O’Connell. “They’re great stories, but not about people just being people.” Regarding his entry into the southern tradition, “This is a southern comedy; these people are like this, this is what this area is like. It’s a love letter to where we grew up.”

A North Carolina native, O’Connell, along with writer and lead actor Bob Hardison and cinematographer Brian Mandle, all have a brotherly rapport. The trio came from different small, rural towns but met at the North Carolina School of the Arts. After deciding that Die Hard was the best Christmas film of all time, friendships were forged that have now spanned almost two decades.

Angry White Man easily fits into the phylum of southern comedy and, moreover, an indie comedy. Distinctions may be great for critics and viewers on Netflix, but the work is what’s most defining for O’Connell. “The luxury of doing an indie comedy is that you don’t get any notes from execs that we make a character different,” he cheerfully points out. “We trust the audience is smart and that you can make a southern comedy that isn’t so ‘Der, Der.’ We definitely wanted to stay away from those tropes and we don’t have a manic pixie dream girl that comes in and saves the lead character guy from himself.”

Angry White Man tells the story of Skeeter Freeman (Hardison), a struggling musician who can’t see beyond the debt and boiled peanuts that his one-street town provides. After his impending nuptials don’t go as planned, Skeet goes on a journey to meet his idol, Bulldog Hays (Matt Berry). When Bulldog turns out to be nothing like he imagined, Skeeter must rely on himself and his two red neck friends (Steve Agee, Scoot McNairy) to fulfill his dream of performing in Nashville.

Written and starring Hardison, conflicts in vision could’ve been problematic for a writer and director who both clearly view this as a passion project. “Bob and I have similar senses of humor,” mentions O’Connell. “Very dark, very dry so when we got together and did a polish on the script in pre-production we just sat together with our laptops and just tried to make each other laugh. There was no ego there, it was just making the best possible movie that we can.” The director adds, “We’re all going to share the credit so let’s all just try to make the best jokes.”

When talking about production, O’Connell describes his love of 35mm film and the idea of a “quality triangle” when it comes to filmmaking. On each side you can have “fast,” “cheap” or “good.” However, you can only choose two sides because that is usually the reality of the situation. Angry White Man went with “cheap” and “good” as the final product. It didn’t come fast. Oddly enough, the film’s financial efficiency is what almost delayed the film completely.

The North Carolina Congress recently eliminated crucial tax incentives for filmmaking in the state, which, according to the director, “is probably one of the dumbest things that has ever happened.” Angry White Man didn’t receive funding partly because the film’s budget wasn’t high enough to receive proper funding. By the time all the paperwork went through, films like Iron Man 3 had eaten up most of the state’s film budget.

Relying on local contacts, the crew was able to shoot in 35mm (which was preferred) due to industry preference for digital and the promise to return the camera in even better condition. Sound production came as a labor of love as that crew worked on the film simply because they loved the script. In the end, O’Connell shot 70,000 feet of film with an additional 40 minutes of material left on the cutting room floor. While that may seem like a nightmare scenario, that was avoided based on a wing and a prayer. The director wouldn’t want it any other way.

“We looked at our situation and have been lucky to cut it as we like; there was no timeline. It wasn’t a situation where there were people giving us a deadline because they wanted their money back and we got to make the movie we wanted to make.” Now released on multiple formats, Angry White Man is an example of art meeting commerce going back to the director’s preference of being made “good” and “cheap.”

“Just like anything else, the more reps you get, the better you get at it,” says O’Connell who is already onto his next project, Bloodsucking Bastards.

If the director’s first film was horror and his second was comedy, it only makes sense that his third is a horror-comedy. In a superb mash-up of “The Office” meets Shaun of the Dead. Bastards was written primarily by O’Connell’s improv group, “Dr. God,” opting again to work in brotherly confines. While the turnaround was quick 18 days, the director always emphasizes the quality of the product with all his work.

“It’s a long process and I feel for me that you only get one crack at it and once people see it, then it’s out there forever. You can’t just take it back and tweak it.”

Angry White Man is now available on Amazon and various On-Demand outlets.