Bradley Jackson says they were trying to make the "silliest movie imaginable." And while such a claim is always tough to back up, Jackson's first feature script, Intramural, certainly makes an admirable attempt to follow in the footsteps of such goofy, hyper-realistic comedy classics like Airplane! and The Naked Gun.
The film, directed by Andrew Disney, is about a ragtag group of intramural football players who, facing the realities of life after college, are given one more shot to make "one last epic run" at redemption to beat their rivals. It's a full-throttle comedy that celebrates every trope and cliche' of inspirational sports films to create "the greatest intramural sports movie of all-time."
The film features an ensemble that many would consider to be the next generation of comedy talent, including Saturday Night Live cast members Kate McKinnon (in her first feature), Jay Pharoah and Beck Bennett, and up-and-coming leads Jake Lacey (The Office) and Nikki Reed (Twilight). The film was shot in and around Austin, Texas.
Script caught up with Jackson, who wrote and co-produced the film, at the Tribeca Film Festival where Intramural made its world premiere.
The film reminded me a lot of Airplane! and The Naked Gun movies, those heightened reality, goofy comedies. You don't see comedies like Intramural a lot these days. So I guess my first question is, what inspired the script?
Bradley Jackson: Well, I love that you mentioned Airplane!, because Airplane! is probably my favorite comedy of all time. I remember when I was in middle school, every year for my birthday we had a sleepover. All my friends would come over and one of the movies we would always watch was Airplane! So I've seen Airplane! countless times. What inspired me to write it, honestly, was my love for movies like that and The Naked Gun and even other sports comedies like Necessary Roughness and Major League. I wrote this script when I was in college at the University of Texas in Austin and it was actually the first script I'd ever written. I've rewritten it a thousand times since then (laughs), so it's not like I just turned in my first draft. I wrote it simply out of a desire to do it.
This being your first produced feature screenplay (after a number of shorts), what were some of the challenges in putting this script together?
Jackson: I had started and stalled on a couple of scripts beforehand and I knew I wanted to try screenwriting. I was interested in it and I thought I have to write a script, and, of course, I'd failed a couple times. I could never figure out structure. And I started thinking, okay, what movies have built-in structures to them? And the first thing that popped into my head was sports movies. They always have something bad happening to the team or the protagonist in the beginning and then the team gets back together here, and there's a training montage here, there's a winning montage here. Something bad happens here and then the ending is the big game. So it was a little bit of a plug and play. I studied a bunch of sports movies at the time and was just off to the races. And, you know, I wrote it really quick then shelved it. I've written a bunch of scripts since then, but I would always come back every year or so and just do a rewrite, do a polish. It wasn't until a couple of years ago that I got my producing guys together and we decided to make this our indie comedy that we always wanted to make. That's how it began.
What was it about intramural sports, though? Why such a specific choice?
Jackson: I'm an athletic guy, but I didn't play intramural sports [in college], but I do love sports. In college, I had some really sporty roommates and they would play intramural football and basketball and stuff and they would come home after a game with these tales of glory. Like, "And then at the last second, man! I threw the pass and I dove and we won, man! It was dope, man!" And I was just like, "You realize you're kind of drunk as well, right? And, you know, nobody cares. Nobody was watching." But there was something so beautiful about it, because everybody wants to compete. Everybody knows what it's like to be put on the line, even if you're not that athletic. Even if you're playing a game like cornhole or washers, there are always these tiny moments of glory that we create in our own minds and just because we're not Tom Brady winning the Super Bowl doesn't mean we can't get a kick out of them. So I just thought that was a funny contrast and that's what kind of inspired the intramural aspect of it.
There's a line that stuck with me in the film, when Caleb (Jake Lacy) gets the gang back together and he says, "This is the last chance for us to do something that doesn't matter." It's not only hilarious, but it also shows how self-aware the film is to its ridiculousness.
Jackson: Yeah, that was kind of a necessity, in my opinion. If we're going to make a movie about intramural sports, then I want it to be epic. It needs to be self-aware; because there's no way that these guys are going to be doing this if there's not a wink to the camera.
You're also one of the producers of the film, so how did you get cameras to roll on such a project with such a great cast? This cast is phenomenal.
Jackson: I have a production company in Austin (Ralph Smyth Entertainment) with three other guys, Andrew Lee, Russell Groves and David Ward, and we made a bunch of short films over the years, many of which I've directed. I had this feature script (for Intramural) and we knew we didn't want to make shorts anymore. It was time to graduate to the next level. We're based out of Austin, so we have this indie maverick spirit where we don't really go about things the way that you're technically supposed to. So we got our director, Andrew Disney, attached and once we got him on board, we just set about raising the money. Once we had a little bit raised, we got casting directors Nancy Nayor and Lindsey Weissmueller. They cast bigger movies that you've heard of like Road Trip. As far as casting goes, our goal was to have a movie like Wet Hot American Summer. Where you look at that cast and you think there's no way in this day and age that cast gets together and the movie's not $50 million to make. But back then, in 2001, all of those people were comics on the cusp of greatness. And we thought, if we can do that, then that's going to be our goal. So we did something pretty unconventional. In addition to having a casting director and going through their agents and all the proper channels, the director and our team made personalized videos for all of our key cast members. Like Kate McKinnon, who's just this superstar on Saturday Night Live right now, Andrew Disney and I dressed up in goofy sportswear and went out and did seven reasons why Kate McKinnon should come to Austin to be in a movie.
That's pretty brilliant.
Jackson: Yeah! We did everything from "This is what your character is like" to "Austin has really awesome breakfast tacos." We wanted to be more than just a script on a desk or a script in an email. We're making a really fun comedy. They might think the script is funny, but it's going to really help if you see us in a three-minute video and go, "Oh, I think those guys are funny." Our lead, Jake Lacy, actually told me that he laughed out loud at our video and he showed it to his girlfriend and she said he had to do this movie. Those guys look like they're fun. (laughs)
That's great. Talk a little bit about the writing process. Comedy is hard. This film seems like there was a lot of improv off the page. You were on set every day, how much of the script was rewriting jokes, trying what works and fixing what doesn't?
Jackson: Yeah. Being on set was honestly one of the greatest experiences of my life. That's no joke. The beautiful thing about making a movie with really funny people like Kate McKinnon and Jake Lacy and Beck Bennett, those people that they are funny because they're just quick. They're not just funny when you yell action. They're funny when the cameras aren't rolling. You know, Kate would come to me and say, "Hey, this line is funny, but I think we could do something even weirder with it." Kate was all about making it weirder, which I loved. There was definitely a lot of improvisation and a lot of rewriting jokes on set. Andrew's big on giving the cast their freebie take. So we would do it as it was in the script, we'd do three or four takes like that, and then we would just literally do tons of freebie takes. It was so much fun. I would honestly say that probably 20 percent of this movie is improvised.
We're running out of time here, so what do you have coming up?
Jackson: I am actually currently writing a children's book for Harper Collins right now.
Well, that's a switch.
Jackson: Yeah, exactly. It's a middle grade adventure book about Christmas and I'm co-writing it with Mike Fry who created Over the Hedge, you know, the DreamWorks movies and a comic strip. Then Andrew Disney and I wrote a TV pilot together that we'd love to figure something out with. But yeah, you know, multiple scripts circulating. Gotta keep writing. Always keep writing. That's my thought.
Intramural made its world premiere at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival.