Jon Heder will be in Sarasota on Monday for the world premiere of a new independent film titled "When Jeff Tried to Save the World." The movie is co-written and directed by Kendall Goldberg.
Heder talked about film festivals, the film and some other fun things with the Bradenton Herald.
So you've been to quite a few film festivals right?
I've been to a number of film festivals. It really is the spirit of independent filmmaking. That's where you find golden gems. I enjoy finding new talents. I guess when I say finding it sounds like I'm the talent scout or something. But it's discovering. Everyone likes the feeling of seeing something for the first time. Like feeling they're the first ones to really say "wow!" You want to tell other people about it. And film festivals are the best way to find that stuff.
It's a gamble, because I've been to film festivals where I've seen terrible stuff. And I was like, "Wow, well good for them, they got out there." And you get all kinds of filmmakers. People who have no talent but who have the means or people who have little means but have incredible talent. And it's really cool.
It's really fun when you've got a shorts program and you can watch a whole bunch of little things at once and just find little nuggets of awesomeness. Yeah. I really enjoy film festivals.
Let's talk a little about this movie that you're in.
I'm really excited. I've been doing independent films pretty much since day one. I love doing independent films. And this was certainly within the realm of that very small budget, not a lot of big names project. The writer/director was first-time, this was (Kendall's) first feature. I was really excited. I actually went in to audition and she went through all the correct channels.
There are so many ways to approach a first film for someone. So much is about who you know, what connections you have, what kind of resources, where are you shooting. And I think, luckily, she was going to school in California and she had connections to some of the agencies and was able to put out casting calls. And I want to say (she) had legitimate people auditioning. I mean, I auditioned. But I liked the script, I auditioned and I was very happy to have her call and say "Hey, I think you’re great for this." And we sat and we met.
This was a number of years ago when we started this process. And I thought from the beginning, "All right, what are the chances of this film getting made?" I've gotten so used to independent film being like that. Do they have the financing in order, do they truly have everything ready to go? You just never know. I don't want to say it's a bummer, but it makes things interesting.
But with Kendall there was an earnestness there. And I was like "I believe you," and she made it happen.
We did a short first. A lot of times independent films will do that. The director will condense the script into a seven to 10 page story, pick a few scenes and turn it into a short where they can show it around at film festivals. And then hopefully you get people on board to help out with the film.
(The short) premiered at Sarasota Film Festival last year.
So what's it about?
It's called "When Jeff Tried to Save the World." It's about the manager of this bowling alley, arcade center, kind of a family fun center. And he's trying to save that from going out of business. I always thought it was a fun idea, he's trying to save the world because this is his world. But it wasn't until we were shooting the feature that I realized the name of the bowling alley is Winky's World. I said, "Oh, you're referring to the world! Winky's World!" He's literally trying to save the "World."
It's about this guy who's stuck in a little bit of a rut. He had all this promise to be a computer engineer. But he dropped out of college and got this job as a manager of what would seem to be this down-and-out kind of place. But it becomes his world. He loves it and he finds a passion there. It threatens to be taken away. He has to search himself. He kind of goes into automatic gear when he realizes "I want to save this." He really loves this place and he's found a family there.
It's a nice little soul-searching comedy/drama.
I haven't seen it yet, so I'm excited to see how it came out.
(Director Kendall Goldberg joins the call here)
Kendall: Jon, you beat me.
Jon: I've covered all the important stuff now so Kendall can just pick up the slack.
K: Oh thanks Jon.
So, you've dipped into some different things, like acting and voice acting. Do you have a preference?
J: No, I love it all. They are both very different beasts. You can approach those somewhat differently, but at the same time, it's still acting, it's still bringing a character to life. It's nice having a balance. When you go do voice, (I just did some yesterday) you don't have to get into makeup and wardrobe and you just show up and you have a lot of fun and it's loosey-goosey.
But on the flip side it's really fun to get into the wardrobe and get in the moment and play against real people and work in a real environment. It's fun to mix it up.
When you're doing animation your guess is as good as mine until months or years later when you see the final outcome.
K: He's also really good at sound effects.
J: She wanted me to do Foley but my schedule didn't permit. Next time.
What are you thinking about working on next? Is there anything on the table?
J: On the table right now, not really. Besides just trying to write and do some stuff on my own. There's a couple animated projects that I've worked on that are hopefully going to get picked up. We'll see what the future has.
K: Maybe you'll direct something.
Another factoid floating around online is that you're an Eagle Scout. Is that true?
J: That's correct. They got that one right.
What did you take away from that experience?
I live and die by the scout code. (Laughs) I grew up very heavy into scouts. My dad was a big scouter. It's always continued. I was a scout master for many years. Right now I'm working with the Cub Scouts with my own son. I'm very much outdoorsy. I love camping. I swear my kids are sick of me saying "be prepared, be prepared." That's the scout motto. You never know if anything bad is going to happen. I need to have my little survival kit wherever I go.
Literally I think Kendall can remember that. I have a fanny pack I carry around with me. If I don't have that I've got my backpack that has like, everything in it.
K: It looked like he was like he was coming to set ready to go camping. It was like a massive backpack and the water bottle and everything.
J: I don't know about lives, but I've at least saved some people from close encounters with certain bandages and lip balms and all kinds of elixirs that I keep with me. (Both laugh)
What will you be both be doing at the film festival?
K: We'll do a Q&A after the screening. We're talking about a possible panel too. But nothing confirmed yet.
J: Panels are always fun, we should do a panel Kendall.
Jon, is there a question that you get asked the most in the interviews?
J: Are you asking so you don't ask it?
K: "When's Napoleon 2 coming out?"
J: Almost inevitably it comes back to Napoleon. "Take a retrospective look back, how has it impacted your life all these years and looking back at it now how does it affect you? How do you see this cult phenomenon that it's become? (Laughs) Yeah.
So Kendall, this film has been years in the making. What is like to finally be finished with it?
It's a very surreal experience. I think it will sink in once I get there and actually screen it to an audience and see some reactions. We just finished the film a couple days ago and shipped it out to the festival yesterday. It was a very weird weight lifted off of my shoulders. It feels like I'm done with a chapter of the film. But also I know there's a lot more work to come with the project and I'll keep working on it for many years.
It's really exciting. I don't often say to myself that I'm proud of something that I've accomplished, but I'm very very proud of this project and super happy with the outcome. It's pretty much my original intended vision that I started with five years ago.
That's really hard to do creatively.
Yes. I've changed a lot as a person since the time when I wrote the first draft with my writing partner Rachel Borgo. She's changed a lot as well, but somehow we were able to maintain the general overall vision, the look and feel and sound of the film that we intended in the first draft. It looks and feels exactly the same as when I used to close my eyes and picture what it would be like.
Catch the world premiere of "When Jeff Tried to Save the World" at 9 p.m. April 16 at the Regal Hollywood 11 Cinemas, Auditorium 4 in Sarasota. Q&A to follow. Tickets available at sarasotafilmfestival.com.
Catch director Kendall Goldberg's short thesis film, "Gloria Talks Funny," at 5 p.m. April 16 at the Regal Hollywood 11 Cinemas, Auditorium 3 or at 3:45 p.m. April 18 in Auditorium 7.