Remember Matthew Lillard, the wacky guy from Scream, Hackers and SLC Punk? Turns out he's a pretty great director. His first film is called Fat Kid Rules the World and its funny, charming, expectation-defying story about a loner who starts a punk rock band was a surprise hit at SXSW earlier this year, taking home the Audience Award in the Narrative Spotlight category.
We recently sat down to chat with the refreshingly honest Lillard about how his early career is now affecting his later career, as well as the challenges of not only making an independent film, but getting it into theaters. You can currently request a screening of Fat Kid Rules the World on Tugg, while the filmmakers will also be releasing it themselves in New York on October 5, L.A. on October 12, and then VOD on October 25.
And, of course, we couldn't help but talk about Hackers and the PG-13 Scooby Doo no one will ever see. We're only human.
Movies.com: I would be remiss if I didn't mention that I legitimately and un-ironically love Hackers. It may not have seemed it at the time, but it actually did really interesting things with Internet culture and personalities that were very forward thinking.
Matthew Lillard: That's funny. That movie has come screaming back! [Iain Softley] is super talented and I think he caught on to something earlier. The movie is... if I walk into a Mac store I'm like an actual celebrity, instead of a half-celebrity.
Movies.com: How is it for you as an actor to be involved with such a strong group of films that really resonate and played endlessly to an entire generation of movie fans?
Lillard: I've been acting since I was 22. I'm 42 now, so that's 20 years in movies. For me, as to how I handle it, it's such a non-factor in my life. I do not buy into hype very often. I think if you buy into hype you quickly die. Don't believe the hype, just be. I'm flattered, and I like what's happening, and I like my job, and I like that I've done enough parts in my life that I can get a perfectly decent table at a restaurant and yet I don't have to walk around like Justin Timberlake with two bodyguards at all time. It's a perfect amount of celebrity.
Movies.com: At this stage in your career do you think the types of roles that defined your career early on have helped or hurt the kind of projects you want to get off the ground now?
Lillard: It's definitely led to my longevity. I feel like Hollywood cycles through leading men really quickly and guys who are outside the box are easier to fit in other places, and that really helps with finding things to do. And look, I've got Trouble with the Curve opening up with Clint Eastwood, and I just did Descendants, so it's giving me the chance to kind of comeback. You also get to do more fun stuff. Number one on the call sheet is usually straight down the middle, but if you're third or fourth on the call sheet, you're probably doing some fun stuff. That part I like.
Movies.com: I was bummed I missed the premiere at South By Southwest, but am so glad I was finally able to catch Fat Kid Rules the World. I can see why it got such an emotional reaction at its premiere.
Lillard: For me, for us, the whole South By experience couldn't have been better. Well, I mean, it could have been better if we'd been bought for a billion dollars and were off and running, but that didn't happen. But the experience of being there, that culture, the people, the festival, the town of Austin. That couldn't have been any better.
Movies.com: Well, not getting an overnight pickup by someone like Sony Pictures Classic is surely a bummer, but the way you guys are handling your own theatrical release through Tugg is an interesting, innovative way. It's not ideal from a production standpoint, but it is ahead of the curve from a distribution standpoint.
Lillard: I have to say that we are pretty much the true definition of an independent film. We believe in our film, that's the good news. And the good thing about having our film on Tugg is that when people find it, they feel like they're finding something no one else has. I totally believe in the model of Tugg, I just kind of wish we weren't one of, if not the, first ones doing it this way. I kind of wish we weren't jumping into the fray and were like the 10th film to do it. It feels like we're storming Omaha Beach and we don't have a chance.
With that said, it is nice to be the first ones. Obviously people have used Tugg before, but not exactly like this. I think the number of requests they'd had for the nearest movie was like 300, but now we're at around 1,000 requests. It's pretty awesome. But between that and Reddit, because we did a big Reddit AMA that helped us with our Kickstarter, we raised $150,000 on Kickstarter! We have used social media, we have used the new dynamics of independent film in an exciting way and I'm proud of that. But it is turning out to be challenging.
Movies.com: For a new platform like this, do you find you have to spend more time just pimping the release and that's holding you back from moving on to whatever the next project might be?
Lillard: No, no. For me, pimping this release is awesome. Having been an actor, it's a great job, but you're always pimping something, and it may not be something you're exactly the most proud of in the world. I mean, I've been out in front of stuff like Dungeon Siege, Uwe Boll's movie. It doesn't really get your rocks up, but you'll do it because it's your job. So having to come out and pimp this is awesome because I really believe in it. I love it. It's a work of passion, and it was something I governed top to bottom.
Movies.com: It was a nearly decade-long process to get the movie made, but had you always wanted to direct it from the beginning?
Lillard: Oh yeah. On page 20 I was reading it going I want to make this movie. And that was 10 years ago! I've directed theater, I've been in theater and theater companies my whole life, so that's already in my DNA, so it wasn't like, "I want to be a director!" It was always something I was going to do, it just so happened this was the first movie that made me say, "Oh, I want to do that!"
Movies.com: What were the main obstacles along the way that caused it to take so many years?
Lillard: I think technology came around first. When I optioned the book, people were still only making movies on film. The fact that you can now digitally make a movie, you could film it on your iPhone, changed everything. The cost of making a movie fell so much, but making a movie about a fat kid who likes punk rock music... guys who have money to make movies don't think that's a viable option. There's not a vampire in our movie, nobody is having sex. There's nothing in the movie that somebody who wants to make money says, "Yeah! I want to do that!"
If you know me, then you get me. If I get in a room, I can convince you I can direct. But if you don't have a chance to meet me, it's just "first-time director Matthew Lillard..." Actors who become directors often have a lot of ego and their motives are odd and sometimes they're not very good. So, there's a lot of reasons it took so long.
Movies.com: What makes it stand out today is indeed the absence of all those elements you were talking about. It has a more '80s and '90s independent film feel because it's not shoehorning in a bunch of elements to be commercial.
Lillard: Right. Somebody said it was like a punk rock John Hughes film, and I love that! When it comes to making a movie you have these choices for tone and what you're going to do, and every time we could have gone dark and dangerous and more Sundance-y, we didn't. And that was a choice. If we had, we could have snuck a lot of drugs in there. We could have had a sex scene. We could have thrown stuff in, but it just didn't really fit the story, it didn't really fit the book, and it didn't really feel right. I'm proud of that.
Movies.com: You guys do have a home video distributor, though, right? Or is it completely without a distributor?
Lillard: It doesn't have a theatrical distributor, but we are starting to book independent theaters by ourselves. Our goal is to have 60-80 independent theaters do runs of it across the U.S. A big part of our pitch going in was that we were one of the cosponsors of the Vans Warped Tour this summer, and the Vans Warped Tour hits a million kids in 42 days, and so part of our whole thing was to promote it all summer long, and the theaters we're setting up are in conjunction with the cities where the Vans Warped Tour played..
Movies.com: Have you looked into any alternative home video releases as well?
Lillard: The distribution we do have is Arc Entertainment, and they specialize in DVD releases. So Arc is kind of against that, in terms of something like a $5 direct download. We talked about it, but I don't think we're going to end up doing that. It'll be more traditional, on iTunes and VOD, all that stuff.
Movies.com: Well, considering you've already kicked off the Tugg thing, you've already done more with new distribution models than most have.
Lillard: Yeah, we've done our share of trailblazing. The great thing is our Tugg screenings are going to continue. There's no end to those screenings. They'll go on until, well, they just stop. People see it and then they love it and then a lot of times they'll set it up themselves. That's happening. It's a little bit of a wave of people finding the movie, and that's fun.
Movies.com: What are you working on now?
Lillard: I've done what I hate to see happen to first time directors, which is I've sat back and gone, "Okay, I made my movie. What's next?" And I've been waiting for Hollywood to throw stuff at me and that just hasn't happened. I just got back from doing a movie, I'm doing a TV show this week, so I'm kind of just getting back into the groove of trying to find material for myself.
Movies.com: Before we go, we speak for parents that would like to thank you for making kids movies that aren't a chore to sit through. We are wondering, though, about the rumored PG-13 version of Scooby Doo...
Lillard: It was shot, and then tested, and then buried to never see the light of day. It's like a Reddit version of Scooby Doo. Everything devious and f**ked up about Scooby Doo that you could hope was in it, was in it.
Movies.com: Was that James Gunn's original script?
Lillard: It was his original script that we ended up shooting. I think there were all kinds of scripts and I think James was brought in to do a page one rewrite. It's everything you love about James Gunn and Scooby Doo. It was awesome. We did $300 million worldwide, so the first one worked really well. The second one is good, too, but it became very uncool in the world. But such is life.
Follow along on Twitter: @PeterSHall and @Moviesdotcom.