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Billy Was a Deaf Kid
Rhett Lewis, Burke Lewis
2009, 92m, comedy, drama, family
Billy is Archie’s brother. Archie loves Billy. Billy is deaf. Archie finds a toy radio to cure Billy’s deafness. Sophie thinks it’s stupid. Sophie is Archie’s girlfriend. Archie loves Sophie. Sophie isn’t quite sure about Archie. The adventure that follows will force them to seriously consider: Can relationships solely rely on riding couches through carwashes? Is a toy radio the cure to deafness? These turn out to be very important questions in the lives of Archie, Sophie and Billy. And finding the answers come at a high price.
Produced by: Brent Burnett, Ben Spackman
Cast: Candyce Foster, Rhett Lewis, Zachary Christian
10 questions with Billy Was a Deaf Kid director, Rhett Lewis, Burke Lewis at the half-way mark.
Monday, February 15th, 2016
1This is such a great film. What was the initial seed that made you want to make Billy Was a Deaf Kid? Well, the "seed" was a combination of a few things. First of all, when we were kids Rhett had this sweet toy radio. Its buttons and FM slider gave the front of this thing a friendly face. Rhett used to pretend that the radio would talk to him. It was a match made in heaven. The other side of the story is our dad wrote poetry all while we were growing up. A couple of his poems were named "Donny was a deaf kid" and "Billy was a bully." So 20 years later, Rhett was doodling and came up with a sketch of this dude named Billy with that same toy radio duct taped to his head. It was such a funny image that we turned it into a movie.
2You two are co-directors, how does that work? How do you divvy up the responsibilities? We don’t really have defined responsibilities. Burke always tries to act smarter than Rhett so people will take him more seriously, but rarely does that work. Burke never was any good at acting. Seriously though, we both do a bit of everything. Making this film together was especially great, because Burke would direct from behind the camera, and Rhett would direct in front of the camera. It was interesting how that all worked out.
3Do you think being brothers makes it easier or harder to work together? The answer to that is that is easier and it’s also harder. Being brothers we definitely know how each other works and how to deal with each other’s weirdness. Sure there’s the occasional disagreement and we have to settle it like real men…over a game of Mario Kart. But overall it’s great because there is that honesty where if we don’t like each other’s ideas then we can be blunt versus having to beat around the bush. We even used our younger brother Taylor to run second camera and sound on Billy. He was only 16 at the time! He works with us full time now, and has been a great addition to our team.
4I loved the opening shot to this film so much. Were all these goofy things scripted or did they just happen while on set? There were certain things that we planned from the beginning, and other times someone would have a new idea like, “Let’s try this. Or what if I said this instead of that?” We love being spontaneous, and letting things inspire us. Nothing ever goes as planned, ever. So part of what helps us is learning to go with the flow, and embrace things we weren’t expecting. The entire movie was shot in sequence We wanted the tone to build and progress through out the film. That being said, the opening is the only scene we went back and shot after the movie was wrapped. We wanted a scene that would throw people into Archie and Sophie’s lives. So that’s where we came up with the spitting and slapping idea. It was actually very scripted, but of course Rhett and Candyce were free to improvise if they wanted. They had actually done all those weird things in their dating life. So when shooting the scene it was very natural for them to step back and relive (with quite a bit of exaggeration) those moments. Maybe your question was only referring to the opening shot, and not the opening scene. Well, in that case it’s simple, we always wanted to open our first movie just like Lion King did. Booya!
5What scene in this film turned out better than you ever imagined it would? There’s this little sequence where Sophie is trying to communicate with Billy, out in the street, in the middle of the night. We weren’t sure how it would play out, but there’s something simple and beautiful about it. It makes Burke cry every time.
6Who would win in a fight, Rhett or Burke? Since growing up only a year and half apart in age, we have many documented fights. Rhett is a slippery SOB. Just when Burke thinks the fight is over and he’s won, is when Rhett’s true weapon is comes out. For example, one time in our youth Burke had Rhett’s head locked in-between his shins. Rhett appeared to go limp and admit defeat. Then after a few seconds, Burke started to notice a warm, wet feeling running down his leg. Sure enough, Rhett had started spitting (no surprise there) as much as he could on Burke. This caused Burke to let go and run away in disgust. So we’ll let people draw their own conclusions.
7What was the film or films that made you want to become filmmakers? Back To The Future. Duh. Next question. In making Billy though, we drew a lot of inspiration from A Woman Under The Influence. There are a couple scenes that we feel like we ripped John Cassavetes right off. It’s such a brilliant film. Oh, and we love The Last Starfighter. The “death blossom” is the single greatest weapon in cinema history. Also, remember the Doctor in Billy Was a Deaf Kid? He's a doctor in real life and his real name is Doc Brown. What are the chances!
8If you had an unlimited budget and had access to any actor or actress you wanted, what kind of film would you love to make? We actually really love genre films. We’re writing a script now that is very scifi, full of robots and techy stuff from the future. Bill Murray would be incredible in it, plus he seems like he would be a blast to hang out with. We also love the Mara sisters. It would be fun to write something just for them.
9What was the most difficult scene to shoot and how did you eventually get it? The whole car wash scene was kind of a nightmare. Believe it or not, a car wash is made for cars and not couches. We had permission from the gas station to shoot there, and they even gave us a bunch of free car wash tokens to shoot the scene with. But, during the first take, the car wash stopped working and the owner came out and started yelling at us saying that we’d have to pay for it if we broke it. Since we didn’t have a penny to our name, and the whole movie was made for less than $500, we were pretty scared. But after watching the owner flip switches and mash buttons, we got pretty good at copying him and making it work after we kept breaking it. On top of that, we were sure Rhett, Candyce and Zak were going to die. It was freezing, and they had these wet rubber tassels pummeling them. We did love that fact that Zak only had a plastic bag on to protect the radio. We thought that was a pretty fun detail.
10What's next? Immediately after finishing Billy and playing at festivals the “What’s next” was on our minds. We tried to think of the next thing we could sink our teeth into. We needed some actors we could hire for little to no money, plus they would need a lot of free time, and they needed to have an interesting history. Naturally we turned to homeless people. We’ve written a fictional story based on a lot of people we’ve come to know and love at the shelter. It’s been an interesting project. Turns out homeless people aren’t as reliable as you’d think, so it’s been a long time coming. But the script is currently being submitted to writing labs and fellowships. Fingers crossed!
About the Interviewer: Ben Hicks
Ben Hicks is a writer/director and co-founder of Fandependent Films. Ben is currently working on making Fandependent Films awesome and is finishing up his first feature film entitled Kids Go Free to Fun Fun Time which was selected for the 2017 IFP Narrative Lab.
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