The Racket Boys is a buddy road-trip flick that contains all sorts of surreal twists as two guys and a girl travel from Southern California along the Big Sur coast toward San Francisco in search of themselves. Shot in black-and-white, it’s a clean, confident effort with dashes of screenwriting brilliance.
Director and screenwriter Brandon Willer recently answered some questions via email.
Did you look to any other road trip movies for inspiration?
Yes. One of the most obvious influences (especially in the score) was Terrence Malick’s Badlands. Other films I looked to, and always loved, were Monte Hellman’s Two-Lane Blacktop and Richard Sarafian’s Vanishing Point.
It must have been fun to film, driving up through Big Sur. Were there any challenges to shooting there or anywhere else?
I would say the biggest challenge was that we didn’t scout the locations. Some of the stuff had to be found like an hour before shooting. The entire seven-person crew just ran around like crazy trying to find a place to shoot the scene I saw in my head. That was definitely hard.
Big Sur was lovely, but not too difficult because there was nobody around. The Bigsby Bridge scene and the McWay Falls scene were pretty much vacant locations. We could set up shop and shoot for as long as we needed. That was great.
There are quite a few surreal scenes, where the narrative dips into the subconscious. Was that a daunting part to tackle?
Not really. I never really wanted the film to be a traditional dramatic narrative. I knew with very little money and lack of other resources we had to keep it fun and light, but at the same time, I really wanted to get in some of the crazy existential thoughts me and friends were having at that moment in life. Dipping into the subconscious seemed like the best way to get some of that across.
What’s up with the War of 1812 sequence?
That’s our big, studio set-piece, man. Joking. I think that came about after I had a few drinks and sat down to write. I knew that the Kara character needed a diversion from the true feelings she was experiencing and I wanted to have a little fun with the narrative. Shake it up a bit, I guess.
I’m from Detroit originally, so I just threw in some “nearly” accurate history that popped into my mind while writing. It’s definitely influenced by a Godard film called Pierrot Le Fou, where Jean-Paul Belmondo and Anna Karina go on this artistic retreat into the wilderness. There’s this great song and dance sequence where they stroll through the woods. I just loved it and thought something fun and surprising like that was necessary.
There is some very solid writing in here, some great one-liners about life. Do you see yourself as more of a screenwriter or more of a director?
I’ve always worshiped the ones who do both, to be honest. That’s how I see myself in the end. I think of everything I write as if I were behind the camera. It’s kind of directing on page. I really don’t know how directors can not write first, but at the same time I don’t understand how anybody could just want to write. It’s too much fun to work with other people on set and in the editing room as a director. Writing is the core of everything, but it gets pretty lonely in your room all day, talking to yourself in weird imaginary character voices.
What’s your Santa Barbara connection? You look kind of familiar.
My Santa Barbara connection is Dannikke Walkker. She starred in and produced the film, but she grew up in S.B. and has been trying to convince me to move there in the future because she tries to convince everybody that it is the greatest place on the planet. I’m excited to get to know it more though.
The Racket Boys screens on Mon., Jan. 28, 4 p.m., and Thu., Jan. 31, 10 p.m., both times at the Metro 4. See theracketboysfilm.com.