He sat down with The ShowBuzz at the Santa Fe Film Festival to talk about the movie a few days before it won the festival's Best Independent Spirit award.
Q: Tell me about the movie.
A: "Two Tickets to Paradise" is about three guys, who are life-long friends from a small town in Pennsylvania who, when they were 20 years old, were hot shots: a college football player, a valedictorian who was pre-law at an Ivy League school, and a rock-and-roller playing local clubs. And now, as the movie starts, they have become completely mediocre and none of their dreams have come true and they have never left their small hometown.
One of them wins two tickets to a football game in Florida, and they jump in the car and argue about who's going to go to the game and who's going to lose out, and they manage in the next three or four days over the road trip to emotionally shed their adolescence in a sense because they were very successful in that emotional phase and there was never really much motivation to grow up.
Q: What experiences in your own life did you draw on for the film?
A: A lot of the events in the story come from road trips either myself or my co-writer Brian Curry experienced.
For example, my brother and I were on a road trip through South Carolina and we saw a sign that said "Welcome To Myrtle Beach, Home Of Vanna White" and I said to my brother Tom, "You gotta be kidding me, they had the Civil War here and their favorite son is Vanna White!" And I love Vanna White, but I just thought it was kinda funny.
So from that came the germ of an idea that what if they had a museum with her birth house like Abe Lincoln's cabin? One of the characters in the movie is obsessed with Vanna White, so visiting her cabin becomes sort of a rite of maturation. He has to let go of Vanna White and that obsession. Just like the character of the football player has to let go of his car that he's had for 30 years, a classic car, and that's part of the trappings of his adolescence. The third guy, the rock and roller, has to let go of his guitar.
So it's all very intentionally layered in there without being pretentious. So these characters have these sort of talismans that they have to let go of.
Q: This is your directorial debut, isn't it?
A: It is. I directed, I co-wrote, I produced, I financed it. I did the casting, I did the costumes. It was a real labor of love, I guess you'd say, or a labor of necessity. I didn't have money for salaries for a lot of people in those jobs so there's no production designer so in a sense I'm the production designer.
I would never do that again. Next time I direct, I want to have a full support staff and complement of the usual department heads to take care of things for me.
Q: What made you decide at this point in your career that you were ready for this step?
A: I've had a great run as an actor and I just wanted to play a different kind of a part, so I play the rock and roller in this story and he's kind of a goofy guy. I had some great success earlier in my career playing very intense characters so I sort of got typed into that. So it was often difficult for me to be seen by producers or directors as someone who would play a comic role.
So I wanted to play a lighter style kind of part but within the context of this very dramatic movie. To get it made, I would have had to give it over to somebody else. I really wanted it to be authentically East Coast and the actors that the Hollywood studios were suggesting - if they were willing to make the movie - to me would have ruined the movie.
I've already seen "Sideways" about an actor and writer in Hollywood and I don't care about that. John McGinley is from New Jersey, Paul Hipp is from Philadelphia and I'm from Long Island. And then all the great character actors I put in the movie, from Ed Harris to Rex Linn to Mark Moses, most of them tend to be from the South and [the three buddies] go on a road trip to the South.
Actors can act like they're from a different place than where they're really from in a movie, but it's just nice when you have that kind of texture where they're playing from their comfort zone.
Q: So, what's the next step? Have you gotten a distribution deal yet?
We've already played about 15 festivals so we've won about 12 or 13 awards already, so it's been a great run.
I'm very surprised by the awards, not because the film doesn't deserve it, but because film festivals tend to be very much about artistic films or political films. There's a self-consciousness about film festivals that we feel we have to promote a kind of social agenda or a certain point of view. This film doesn't do any of those things. It's just a great, old-fashioned drive-in movie where you forget about your troubles for 90 minutes and enjoy the time with these characters.
We have some offers for distribution. I haven't closed one yet because I haven't found the one that's ideal, but I think I'm going to play that Anchorage Film Festival in Alaska in two weeks and that'll be it for a while with the festivals. I think it's run its course.