Craigslist, the go-to website for finding jobs, housing and deals, offered an unexpected opportunity for LA director Ryan Sage and Chicago writer Dale Zawada to realize their dream of making a movie. Worth the Weight, the story of one man’s quest to find love while on the challenging journey of major weight loss, had its World Premiere at San Jose’s Cinequest film festival Friday, March 2nd, capping off a year long production that began with a short post on Craigslist and culminating with the writer and director meeting in person for the first time at the festival.Sage, a promo writer/producer for ABC’s hit show “Modern Family,” has directed many award-winning shorts, commercials and TV pilots.
AMFM’s Christine Thompson skyped with Ryan Sage, Producer Kristina Denton and leads Robbie Kaller and Jillian Leigh. The cameraderie in Worth The Weight is real, as this tight acting group became fast friends in the process of making the movie. It serves the story well, and the result is a light-hearted, humorous romp through the modern relationship process. The interview was a delight to conduct.
The film will be showing at the BEVERLY HILLS FILM FESTIVAL Saturday, April 28th – 3:45pm | Clarity Theatre, Beverly Hills, CA and the NEWPORT BEACH FILM FESTIVAL Sunday, April 29th – 8:45pm | Islands Cinema 3, Newport Beach, CA and Thursday, May 3rd – 5:30pm | Island Cinema 5, Newport Beach, CA.
HOW LONG DID IT TAKE TO MAKE THE MOVIE?
Kristina: Eighteen months. July of 2010 we started the process.
WHEN THE SCRIPT WAS BOUGHT ON CRAIGSLIST?
Kristina: Yes, then we started casting right after that in August.
I PUBLISHED YOUR RELEASE BEFORE I SAW THE MOVIE BECAUSE OF THE TRAILER AND THE FACT THAT THE SCRIPT WAS BOUGHT ON CRAIGSLIST – INTRIGUING. AFTER I WATCHED THE SCREENER I HAVE TO SAY I WAS NOT DISAPPOINTED AT ALL. FOR AN INDEPENDENT FILM, THE PACING WAS GREAT, AND I LOVED THE CARTOON. WHO’S IDEA WAS THAT?
Ryan: One of my first jobs in the industry was as a promo writer producer for various kid’s shows on the WB. From that I think I really gained an affinity for animation, and I’ve always loved alternative ways of telling story. Sometimes backstory stuff can be kind of boring, so I thought a fun way of setting up this bit where Robbie gets some bad advice from his friend would be to do an animated sequence. I found this guy, Mark Farinas, again on craigslist, and he just knocked it out of the park.
THE ACTING WAS GREAT, I TRULY LAUGHED.
Robbie: Really? Thanks Christine!
HOW DID YOU MANAGE TO DEVELOP THAT KIND OF A RAPPORT? is it in the SCRIPT? or ARE YOU ALL ACTUALLY LONGTIME FRIENDS?
Robbie: What’s so funny is when I was first cast, I had no idea who was going to play Cassie. I was just stoked. When I found out the other lead was Jillian I was super excited. We had done a scene together in the call backs.
Ryan: We did chemistry readings, which are really important. We had about 3 or 4 finalists for each part, with the exception of Tommy who played Miles, he was so good we cast him before the callbacks, but he came to read with everyone. We did one of the big poker scenes that had almost all the cast in it and just started trading out people to see who worked well together as a group. That was a really good experience, I will definitely be doing that again.
DO YOU FILM IT SO YOU CAN GO OVER IT LATER?
Absolutely, yes, because my opinions of people changed after we filmed them.
Kristina: yes, because sometimes what comes off in the room doesn’t necessarily come off on the camera, and unfortunately in this industry that’s all that matters. We had a talented pool of several people for each character of the main group of friends in the movie, and it was just deciding who worked best together and we just got really lucky.
Jillian: I don’t know about you guys but the moment I looked into Robbie’s eyes I knew.
Robbie: (Laughs) Thank you Jillian.
Kristina: He’s got those lovely eyes that sparkle and he’s just so charming you can’t help it.
Ryan: and in the reading it’s really funny, and we never captured this as well as I wanted to in the film, but she’s like a foot and half shorter than him. He’s a monster, like a mountain, and she’s like a dandelion.
Jillian: I think that when we’re in the park it really does look like beauty and the beast. It’s this massive man and this little woman. And Robbie, I have to thank you for making me look oh so tiny on camera.
Robbie: I make you look so tiny with my manly ways. No, it’s true, Jillian’s small and I’m big, kind of like Andre the Giant and this little thing.
WHERE DID THE WRITER GET THIS STORY?
Ryan: Dale Zawada was the writer, a really funny guy, he’s a stand up comedian so that kinda makes sense. Anyway, he read an article about some friends who had a weight loss contest, and that kinda sparked it. It was originally more about this weight loss contest among all of Sam’s friends, we decided to pare it down and simplify it to be more about Sam and his journey. The first version was a little more slapstick-y and I think in the end I wanted to make it more real. We had a table read that didn’t go well at all, and the script changed radically after that. Dale did an amazing job working with me on the rewrites. It was actually a pretty fun process.
SO YOU TOOK INTO ACCOUNT THE PERSONALITIES OF THE ACTORS. DID YOU LET THEM IMPROVISE OR WAS IT ALL SCRIPTED?
Robbie: No, it was pretty much scripted, but Ryan let us play around and do whatever we wanted, but it ended pretty close to the script. Kristina also would coach us and let us play around with it. We definitely tried to make it our own.
AND YOU DID MAKE IT YOUR OWN, PROBABLY WHY I THOUGHT IT WAS SO AUTHENTIC AND WHY I LIKED IT SO MUCH. I REALLY LOVE THE CHARACTER “LASHAWNA.” SHE’S HILARIOUS.
Kristina: That’s Constance. She’s the best.
Jillian: I was rolling on the floor during her audition.
Kristina: All of us were.
Jillian: I could not keep it together. I never heard someone speak those words so authentically, and they’re not even her own. She brought so much life to that character.
Ryan: She’s not like that either, she’s like, very mild-mannered.
Kristina: She’s Miss California!
Jillian: Miss Black California, yeah. She’s a beauty queen. Very proper and refined.
Robbie: Super sweet and super nice.
Kristina: Yeah, she’s very proper and reserved in person, and when she gets on screen she just lets out this wild child, it’s so funny. We LOVE her.
Robbie: She only got to work with us for 10 days but when she left we missed her.
SO WAS THAT ALL IN THE SCRIPT OR DID SHE BRING IT?
Ryan: Her character was one of the main ones that stayed exactly the same from the first draft through.
INCLUDING THE FACT THAT SHE’S NOT REALLY (
SPOILER ALERT – NOT TELLING YOU!)
Ryan: Yes, that’s in the script. But backing up a little, what you were saying about how the characters feel real, we changed the script to match Robbie. We brought the back story that Robbie really was a UNLV college football player and high school football star.
SO THAT’S FOR REAL?
Kristina: Yes, that was added after the fact, after he was cast.
Ryan: So we definitely tweaked it. We added Bryan, who plays Jillian’s boyfriend at the beginning of the movie, to be Robbie’s arch-nemesis. Originally it was Tyson, the big body-builder who always takes off his shirt. But I thought brains would be the better antithesis of a the football player, because changing him to a football player made him a little too close to a guy who’s always in the gym and all buffed out.
Robbie: Plus we like Bryan. Not that we don’t like Jess, we like Jess too. Yeah, and this way I got to play around with Jess a little instead of butting heads with him.
Ryan: Yeah, because in real life, he’s probably more like a football guy than a books guy.
Robbie: Yeah, I don’t do books anyway in the real world.
Ryan: You’ve only read one book right? James and the Giant Peach?
Robbie: Yes, but I read it twice though.
A HAH! THAT’S WHY THAT WAS IN THE MOVIE. THAT JUST FELT AUTHENTIC TOO.
DO YOU GUYS ALL HANG OUT TOGETHER IN REAL LIFE?
Robbie: It’s tough when you jump from project to project, but these guys are my friends for life. I’m very very thankful for that. I’m very flattered that they cast me to be the lead and I hope I did them justice as Sam, I’ll never forget it.
Kristina: The thing about this project is it was shot on weekends. People were booking other projects, people were changing their hair for other roles. We literally spread the shooting out for about 9 months. Because of that, by choice or by force, you have to be connected, you have to get to know each other on a more intimate level because it’s a long period of time. Everyone’s pitching in more than what they’re getting out of it, or getting paid
Robbie: Or not getting paid.
Kristina: Or not getting paid (Laughs). You’re doing this because you love making movies and you really want to see this project go. It’s not for a paycheck, and because of that, it’s like being on a team and you can’t help but connect and just really adore each other. And we were so lucky that we had such good chemistry. The only people that knew each other before this movie was Ryan and I.
Robbie: Yeah, I knew nobody.
Ryan: Well, Stephen the DP, I work with him a lot at ABC shooting promos. He volunteered his camera and time for the whole shoot, so that was pretty amazing. He really stepped up the production, I originally envisioned this being a shaky-cam style indie shot by me on a camcorder. In the end Stephen gave the film a polished, yet somehow still very raw look, that I just love.
VERY COOL, SO THIS IS STRAIGHT UP INDIE?
Kristina: We had so many people donating their time, all of our extras were off of craigslist for free. Everybody was just so awesome. Because our leader, Ryan, is just such a great guy and a great person at heart, besides being a great director, we kept attracting good people. Throughout the whole process we were lucky.
Jillian: And we’re all such good friends now, it’s like a time to celebrate finally.
SO I’M GUESSING YOU ALL ARE GOING TO WANT TO WORK TOGETHER AGAIN. IS THERE GOING TO BE SOME SORT OF SEQUEL OR FOLLOW UP?
(laughter, squeals, clapping)
Jillian: What a good idea!
Ryan: That could be the real weight loss movie! We have the emotional barrier breakage movie, now we could make the physical barrier breakage.
Robbie: Which in all honesty Christine, I wanted to lose weight for the film but I had booked another role while we were filming and they told me I couldn’t lose any weight. That’s about 25% of the reason I’m not down, the other 75% is ‘cause I’m lazy.
INSTEAD YOU GUYS WERE ALL YOURSELVES FOR THIS MOVIE. THAT’S WHAT MAKES IS SO COOL, YOU GUYS BROUGHT A LOT OF YOURSELVES INTO THE MOVIE, THE CHARACTERS ARE REALLY YOU.
Robbie: We wanted that, it’s not just about a big guy getting a girl, but being who you are. 85 percent of my life I come off as a completely competent guy, but I have a little bit of insecurity and stuff, but half of the movie I feel like I’m superman.
Jillian: You’re a superstar!
Robbie: No, it was really therapeutic for me.
IT SEEMS LIKE A LOT OF PEOPLE IN THE AUDIENCE WOULD BE ROOTING FOR YOU TOO. IT’S RELATABLE, A LOT OF PEOPLE HAVE THE SAME THING GOING ON. I THINK IT WILL ATTRACT A LOT OF ATTENTION ACROSS A WIDE SPECTRUM. THAT’S WHY I WAS ASKING WHAT’S NEXT, HAVE YOU PLANNED IT OUT YET.
Ryan: I have another movie that I’m writing, but it’s not a sequel to this one. Not that these people won’t be in that one.
YOU DON’T HAVE TO MAKE A SEQUEL TO USE THE SAME ACTORS. LOOK AT ROBERT RODRIGUEZ, HE PREFERS CERTAIN ACTORS FOR HIS MOVIES.
Ryan: There’s a couple of people in this movie who have been in all my shorts – the bartender guy at the karaoke bar who only says two lines and the waiter. The bartender was in my very first film school project in 1997.
Kristina: Yes, Ryan’s a fan of using the same people again and again. It’s hard to find people you like, I guess in any industry, and when you do find them you just want to keep them around.
Jillian: I like everything that’s being said right now, I just want to go on record. (laughter) I really like it, I’m taking notes.
WELL I’M RECORDING IT SO I’LL SEND IT YOU IF YOU WANT. IT’S PROOF.
For more information got to: IMDB – Worth The Weight