Filmmaker Interview: Joseph Frank & Zachary Reed (Sweaty Betty)

Interview-sweaty-betty

In a cramped row house on the border of Washington D.C., two stories of big dreams take place. Floyd and his family have raised a 1,000-pound pig in their backyard, and are determined to turn her into the team mascot for the Redskins football team.

Floyd puts his plan into motion, but the pig, named Miss Charlotte, draws unwanted attencion. A few blocks away, Rico and Scooby, two teenage single fathers and best friends, are hanging around the neighborhood. As they scheme up a plan for a better life for themselves and their children, they are presented with an unexpected opportunity.

‘Sweaty Betty’ was an official selection at the 2015 SXSW Festival, while winning the best narrative feature award at the 2015 Brooklyn Film Festival. Today, ‘Sweaty Betty’ comes to NYC’s Cinema Village, and we decided to catch up with the film’s writers/directors Joseph Frank & Zachary Reed to talk all things ‘Sweaty Betty’.

What was the very first aspect of the ‘Sweaty Betty’ script that occurred to you? Was it a particular character, theme, or something else entirely?
Zack and I were trying to come up with ideas for our movie that would take place in the neighborhood. The first idea came when I was jogging with my father past Ms. Charlotte and Floyd who were chilling under a tree next to the Checkers fast food restaurant. We wanted to make a movie about the everyday types of situations in our area. More specifically, we wanted to pick everyday events that occur in our type of neighborhood that are different and make a movie that has never been made before.

As Writer/Directors and Editors, how did you two split the responsibilities of the creative process? How was the script a collaborative effort? How did you split directorial duties?
We didn’t split any of the responsibilities intentionally. Both of us wanted to make a movie about our neighborhood and worked together from the beginning in developing the story since there was not a script. We spent a long time at Zack’s house watching curb your enthusiasm and incorporating Curb’s story structure into our stories. I don’t really see us as being that creative. All we did was take real stories and edit them so that they played out in real time to make them seem even more real. A mockumentary is taking a fake event and portraying it to the audience as real. All we did was take real events and portray them to the audience as scripted.

The film is a narrative feature but has a very documentary aesthetic, as well as (I’m sure) dealing with certain real life themes, was this a conscious decision on your part?
Yes, it was a conscious decision to make sweaty betty narrative and documentary.

You have also said that ‘Sweaty Betty’ is the first in a series of films to depict your own DC neighborhood in a different light. For those who may not know, what neighborhood are you from? How is that neighborhood “traditionally” depicted? What are some things you would like others to know about the reality of the neighborhood?
Joe is from Cheverly, Maryland. Zack grew up in Lincoln Heights, North East DC and then moved to Cheverly in middle school. We are from the neighborhood where Rico and Scooby are from in the movie. We just wanted to make a “hood” movie that wasn’t about the drug dealing, robberies, or fast life. We wanted to make a Seinfeld or Curb your enthusiasm hood movie that shows the everyday love that people have for one another. One of our aims in this movie was to show people that there might be crime in our neighborhood and similar neighborhoods across the USA, but most of the time the crime is only about 10% of what goes on, the 90% is mostly boredom with different strange opportunities that pop up in which you jump on, like selling a dog, or trying to get Ms. Charlotte to be a mascot, or even waiting around to make a movie and then finally things fall in place for you to make that movie.

When did you first realize you wanted to make a film? When did you first realize you wanted to make a film centered on your neighborhood?
We always liked movies. My ex-girlfriend from France deserves all the credit for how we got into actually seeing the opportunity to make a movie. She showed me a lot of foreign movies and her school movies which gave us the sense that we could make one too. To us it was a no-brainer that our first movie would be about our neighborhood and the people in it. There has never been a movie made depicting life in the DC/Maryland area outside of government affairs. We wanted to see people in a movie that we could relate with and talked like us, etc…

What was it like filming with Charlotte the Pig? What is Charlotte’s real-life story?
It was wonderful filming Ms. Charlotte. Yes, her story was 100% documentary. She was so sweet and a local celebrity. Floyd would walk her around the neighborhood every day and people and kids would always stop to talk or pet her. She loved the attention and snacks people would give her. It was amazing how well trained she was.

As Charlotte was attempted to be made the Washington Redskins mascot, what is the influence of the DC football team in the neighborhood and on the city? Would you say DC is a “football city”?
DC is definitely a football city. We got a lot of Redskins fans as well as Cowboys fans. It’s a huge rivalry in DC. We really think that we can convince the Washington organization to allow Ms. Charlotte to be the Redskins mascot and hopefully this movie will help get her become the mascot.

With a very verite approach to filming, what was the most difficult aspect of completing ‘Sweaty Betty’? Was there any aspect to the film’s production you felt would be difficult, but ended up not so?
The difficult part of filming this was our inexperience and the fact that I’ve never used a camera before. Like I said, we wanted the verite approach because we wanted the movie to be as real as real life gets. The most difficult obstacle during filming and in Scooby’s life was when Scooby, his baby mother, Angel, and her sister Kianna were in a car accident that put Scooby in a coma and killed Angel and Kianna. This even left Scooby a single father of Zoey his daughter. Life is short and the characters in the film live each day with so much love for the people around them. It’s very inspiring and we dedicated this movie to Angel and Kianna. Scooby fought through his coma and rehabilitated himself after 6 months to finish this movie. We take our hat off to young Scooby who has handled this tragedy with such responsibility and positive forward thinking for himself and his daughter.

The film has met success on the festival circuit, with an acceptance to SXSW and a win at Brooklyn Film Festival. How has your festival experience been? Any particular memories from the festival road?
The festival circuit was unbelievable. We started out at SXSW. This is a huge festival that none of us ever knew about. It gave our movie a lot of exposure and we met a lot of good people here. Scooby and Rico joined Zack and I and we had the time of our lives. Everything was free and we indulged. Then we went to smaller festivals which were equally as important to meet filmmakers and producers that maybe we can collaborate in the future. We went to Little Rock FF, Brooklyn FF, Indie Memphis, and Cucalorus

What is next for you guys as filmmakers?
We’re gonna make more movies. We got a lot of ideas in the pipe line, most of which take place in Maryland. We have started writing a script to our second feature and we hope to find a producer who can get us a budget so we can collaborate with film professionals. Sweaty betty didn’t have a crew. For our next project, we want a DP, two camera operators, and a sound technician. That’s all we need.

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