2014 Tribeca Film Festival Interview: Brian McElhaney, Nick Kocher & Gabe Luna (Actors – ‘Intramural’)

With graduation, marriage, and an uncertain future on the horizon, fifth year college senior Caleb Fuller (Jake Lacy) decides to do the one thing he vowed to never do again: get the ol’ flag football team back together. Now with the help of his Panther teammates and unorthodox head coach Grant Rosenfalis (Nick Kocher) Caleb must defy all odds and logic if he ever hopes to achieve the intramural football glory he once had.

Will The Panther’s overcome their underdog status to defeat the still dominant Titans led by Dick Downs (Beck Bennett)? Will the wheelchair bound Grant put aside his bitterness towards Caleb and coach the Panthers to a championship? Will Caleb’s fiancé Vicky (Kate McKinnon) get the wedding she’s always dreamed of? Will every sports cliche be twisted around in the most entertaining fashion?

Set in the highly popular world of college intramural sports, ‘INTRAMURAL‘ is the epic sports movie for the guys who don’t deserve one.

INTRAMURAL‘ screens as part of the Midnight selections at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival on Friday, April 25 & Saturday, April 26, 2014 in New York City.  We sat down with the films Co-Stars Brian McElhaney, Nick Kocher & Gabe Luna and spoke about the film’s allure for young comics, working with a prolific cast of comedy veterans, personal favorite on-set stories and much more.

Find More Information & Tickets to ‘INTRAMURAL’ at the 2014 Tribeca Film FestivalHERE

How did you all get your start in comedy, and how did you then get into film?
Nick Kocher: Brian and I have known each other for a long time now. We were in a sketch comedy group together called BriTANicK. We both grew up in Atlanta, and we’ve been friends since high school. We didn’t really know it at the time, but we also were on the same little league team, we were at the same performing arts summer camp, and we both took a pottery class taught by this guy named Mitch Borg, and only realized later that we’d both been there.

Brian McElhaney: Which is crazy, because he’d shout out our names when he did the class.

Nick: Yeah. He was a weird guy.

Brian: We both went to NYU. I went for film, Nick went for acting. We just started working together, and we loved doing funny stuff, and by the time college was ending, we started just making our own sketches, and performing live, and doing standup, and improv, and traveling around. That got as an agent, and that got us jobs. [Director Andrew] Disney went to NYU too, and he cast us in his first movie, [“Searching for Sonny,”] and now here we are in “Intramural.”

Gabe Luna: Well I didn’t have a heavy comedy background, but I’ve been in a few comedic plays. But oddly enough, the last two pictures I’ve done are both big broad comedies. There’s “Intramural,” and another one I did call “Gravy,” which is a really weird black comedy with horror elements and gore. But with this one, I was fortunate enough to be in the center of all these wonderfully brilliant comedians and just try and be the connective tissue between all of it.

INTRAMURAL_[RYAN_GREEN]_1What drew all of you to this film?
Nick: The thing that was most exciting was, Brian and I both knew [co-stars] Beck Bennett and Nick Rutherford, and sort of tangentially knew [co-star] Kate McKinnon. We saw that they were signed up for it, and the script had such a funny backbone. I was so one hundred percent certain I was going to have fun making it. And you never know how a movie is going to turn out. But as long as you’re having fun and that comes across, you’re in a good spot.

Brian: You can have a good sense of whether something is good or not. But you never really know. It’s always a gamble. The one thing you can almost always be sure of is like, do I enjoy these people? Do I want to work on this set? Disney is such a great guy. We knew he’d hire only great crewmembers, we knew we liked the cast so far, and the script was really funny. So we were like, absolutely.

Gabe: I grew up in Austin [where the film was shot]. I was in L.A. before [production], and all I knew was it was six weeks where I got to go back home, and play football, and have a lot of fun. And then I got there and realized this was a family I already had. I didn’t realize it at the time, but the producers and writers and everyone, I had some connection to a lot of them, often because they knew someone I’d worked with previously. I was the last piece they added to the cast. It was great that I was a good fit.

Brian, I notice that you tend to call Andrew Disney by his last name.
Brian: Yeah, we call him Disney, or Diz. DizNasty sometimes.

But never Andrew.
Brian: Never Andrew. Screw that.

Nick: Not when you’ve got that type of powerhouse last name. Why would you mess around with “Andrew?”

Intramural-Tribeca-Film-Festival_2How would you describe Disney’s directing style?
Nick: He’s incredibly enthusiastic

Brian: Yes.

Nick: He’s one of the most enthusiastic people I’ve ever met. And whenever you’ve gotten the right take, you know it, ‘cause he’s screamed out from across the set, “Aaa-cuut!!” And runs up saying, “That was great! This is great!”

Brian: “We’re Making a movie! We’re making a movie!”

Gabe: At one point in the movie Jake Lacy’s character has to drop his pants. So there’s a bare-ass Jake Lacy, and just to make Jake feel good, Diz drops his pants, and he’s sitting there at the monitor with no pants on. And I was like, if I didn’t love this guy before, I do now.

Brian: Great attitude. A ton of fun. Encourages playfulness on set. A great director, especially for this type of film.

When it comes to Hoosiers-eque inspirational sports films, what do you like about them on their own merits, and what makes them so ripe for parody?
Nick: What I like about them is the stakes are always so high. What’s fun about this movie is the stakes couldn’t be lower.

Brian: I think things with a lot of emotion behind them are ripe for parody. Because there’s that fine line of cheesy and lame, versus incredibly inspirational. And there’s something about the spirit of those films–there’s just a lot of inner emotion to them. A movie like this makes fun of that, but loves it and honors it, and sticks to the structure. When you’re really making the same kind of movie you’re making fun of, then it’s almost like a perfect amalgamation of both sides of your brain. There’s something really exciting about that balance.

Gabe: And there’s always the inherent theater and spectacle of gladiators, of football–it’s all the same. The stakes are there, there’s good and evil, you’re rooting for your squad. That’s all built in. That’s exciting.

Nick: And everyone can relate to that–if not playing on a team, then rooting for one, and loving it when the underdogs win. You know going in with all these sports movies, there are like two possible endings. But you’re still so excited to watch the team take that journey.

You mention the low stakes in this film. Just how low are they?
Nick: In this movie, nothing bad’s going to happen to these players if they don’t play the game. No one’s going to shut down the rec center. It’s just that they won’t have a fun time. And it’s such a deliberate choice. It would be so easy to put in the high stakes of, say, needing money for something, and there’s a prize for winning. But the movie actively avoids that. Which is so fun, because it makes it so it’s all just for this weird thrill that these guys are gonna get out of it.

Brian: Which speaks to the movie’s credit, because it shows that you don’t need the rec center to invest an audience. These guys are just kind of bored idiots who want to do something fun.

Intramural_Tribeca_Film_Festival_3Nick, your character, Grant, is the down-and-out mentor figure, who comes back to coach the team after an injury ends his own athletic career. What did you like most about the character?
Nick: What I like about Grant is how insanely committed he is to this sort of ruse. Grant–spoiler alert–is faking a lot of things. And he’s doing that for no real reason. But he’s committing so hard to it. And he’s so big and theatrical, and is just playing a character for most of the movie. I responded very much to how overdramatic Grant is.

Brian, your character, Chance, is an emotional Goth and an aspiring magician. What did you like most about him?
Brian: I really enjoyed playing a character that I had just never heard of. When Disney told me Chance was an effeminate emo Goth magician wide receiver, I was like, I don’t even know how to put those pieces together. That doesn’t make any sense in my head. I really grappled with why I was making these choices, and how to fit together character elements that seemed so disparate. And then it all came back to Chance’s dad–that was my big character realization. I feel like in a lot of movies, you’re just sort of playing yourself. But Chance was very much not me. And I loved going to extreme places I’d never gotten to go to before.

Gabe, Vinnie is kind of the earnest sidekick to Jake Lacy’s character, Caleb. How would you describe the character?
Gabe: As Vinnie, I’m the straight guy in the thing, just there to be a level foundation, and I love my team. Vinnie’s a prankster. He’s a bit of Polyanna, he’s really positive and tries to take care of all his guys. I took great pride in kind of being a little bit of a stone in the middle of this very tempestuous comedy storm.

How much freedom did you all have to improvise?
Nick: We had a ton. Disney was very good about giving us complete free reign do it his way once or twice, and then go nuts.

Brian: Which I think is important for a movie like this. If you’re doing a David Mamet play, you don’t want the director to be, like, “Improvise!” It would be like, “No, have more faith in your script!” And it’s not like [Disney] didn’t have faith in this one–he absolutely they did. And I think most of the final product is [what’s in the script]. But he also knew that part of what was going to make this movie work was for the ensemble to be constantly having fun. There were a lot of comedians who wanted to go crazy. It was like, you know what, we’re making a goofy, big, absurd film, so go goofy, big, and absurd when you’d like.

intramural-posterWhat were some of your favorite scenes to shoot?
Nick: I give a lot of speeches in the movie. And those are always fun, just to kind of lean into how passionate Grant is. And half the time what he’s saying doesn’t even make sense.

Brian: I liked the actually football plays. Making a catch was great. It’s like, “action!”–and everyone has to do their thing, there’s a dolly, there’s a focus puller, and then you’re the last piece, you have to make that catch, and it almost feels like you’re making a play for a big game. People are depending on you, and if you mess up you hate yourself. But then when you get it right at the end it’s really exciting.

Gabe: Yeah, the football was a lot of fun. And it was really involved. We talked to Coach Mike [Sheldon] from Game Changing Films, who helped do all the sports coordination, and he was like, “Man, I worked on ‘Varsity Blues,’ ‘The Replacements,’ and there’s like twice as many plays that you guys have learned for this crazy sports comedy,” where we’re not even wearing pads or anything. It’s just flag football.

What are some projects you all have on the horizon?
Gabe: I’m starring in a show called “Matador” for Robert Rodriguez’s new El Rey network. It’s a soccer star spy show. We’re shooting in July.

Nick: Brian and I are writing a movie for Lion’s Gate, and we’re working on a pilot for Comedy Central.

Brian: Which shoots very soon.

Are you nervous about that? Or just excited?
Brian and Nick simultaneously: Excited.

Brian: We’re ready.

– Interview Conducted On-Site at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival by David Teich

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