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Exploring Character Development with 'Big Gold Brick' Writer-Director Brian Petsos

'Big Gold Brick' filmmaker Brian Petsos speaks with Script about his personal connection to the piece, using music as inspiration and creating and developing characters.

Big Gold Brick recounts the story of fledgling writer Samuel Liston and his experiences with Floyd Deveraux, the enigmatic middle-aged father of two who enlists Samuel to write his biography. But the circumstances that lead up to this arrangement in the first place are quite astonishing—and efforts to write the biography are quickly stymied by ensuing chaos in this darkly comedic, genre-bending film.

Written and directed by Brian Petsos (Ticky Tacky), BIG GOLD BRICK stars Emory Cohen (Blue Bayou), Andy Garcia (Ocean’s Eleven), Megan Fox (Transformers Franchise), Lucy Hale (“Pretty Little Liars”), and Oscar Isaac (Dune).

Big Gold Brick doesn't disappoint in genre-bending. It's chaotic, it's nerve-wracking but at the central core, there's heart, humility, and growth. And I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the music scape and soundtrack - a finely crafted creative layer. I had the great pleasure of speaking with filmmaker Brian Petsos about his personal connection to the piece, using music as inspiration and creating and developing characters.

Emory Cohen as Samuel Liston in the comedy/fantasy/drama/independent film, “BIG GOLD BRICK,” a Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Emory Cohen as Samuel Liston in the comedy/fantasy/drama/independent film, “BIG GOLD BRICK,” a Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

This interview has been edited for content and clarity.

Sadie Dean: What came first for you on this project? Was it a specific character, the story or was it King Crimson?

Brian Petsos: [laughs] That's funny. The initial kernel was inspired by someone pretty close to me, kind of suffering a kind of serious head injury. And of course, being the person I am, that somehow germinated into the initial constructs of the story for me. Coincidentally, mentioning King Crimson, I do work pretty heavily with music while I'm writing. And so, I kind of play music supervisor while I'm writing. Oftentimes, I won't even be able to finish a scene until I get the music right. So yeah, throughout the whole process of putting the script together, I probably spent close to 200 hours programming music. [laughs]

Sadie: Wow, that's incredible. You can definitely tell throughout the movie that music is so important to specific emotional cues. In terms of the character Sam, I think you pretty much sum up what it’s like to be a writer. Were you pulling from your personal experiences and self for this character?

[Curating a Mood and Tone Utilizing Music and Character with 'Yellowjackets' Creators Ashley Lyle and Bart Nickerson]

Brian: Yeah, I guess fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I can't really escape myself. [laughs] We talk about authenticity, which to me is, all I can do is sort of project my own experiences onto the characters and the protagonist is who he is, but it's really all of the characters to some degree. I don't know any better than sort of having fragments of myself or experiences just kind of show up in the characters. I used to be an actor and I think a lot of that kind of comes into play as well with working out what needs to happen with each specific person over the course of the film.

Brian Petsos. Photo by Alisha Wetherill.

Brian Petsos. Photo by Alisha Wetherill.

Sadie: The relationship between Sam and Floyd is great. I feel like the heart of the story is really about the relationship and bond between father and son. Was that your North Star theme on top of the genre-blending?

Brian: Yeah, absolutely! It's funny because I wrote the film a few years ago, and I just had a conversation with my dad like two weeks ago that I wanted to have with him where I was like, 'Hey, man, when you see this movie, just know that I don't hate you.' [laughs] 'I love you. You're awesome. There's going to be a moment you're gonna think I hate you…maybe.' [laughs] But, yeah, I think there is a definite thing there. It's not like I sat there and dictated to myself that I really wanted to point towards that as the absolute of the film, but ultimately it was a place of a lot of leverage. And it was a relationship I clearly wanted to explore. And also a big component to that is kind of putting judgment to the side and sort of the shades of grey of really both of them to a degree, but specifically Floyd. Ultimately, I think it kind of comes back around to building a family, even if it isn't traditional, and of finding a family so to speak.

[L-R] Emory Cohen as Samuel Liston and Andy Garcia as Floyd Devereaux in the comedy/fantasy/drama/independent film, “BIG GOLD BRICK,” a Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

[L-R] Emory Cohen as Samuel Liston and Andy Garcia as Floyd Devereaux in the comedy/fantasy/drama/independent film, “BIG GOLD BRICK,” a Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Sadie: What was the collaboration process like with your cinematographer Daniel Katz and editor Brian Gaynor?

Brian: On the cinematography side, Dan and I have worked together a bunch going back to some of our first short films. I think I did this Funny or Die HBO thing that Dan was at the time like gaffing on. As Dan started to shoot more and more I was seeing he was just such a clear talent. And really a dynamic guy. We would talk so much about stuff that we'd like to look at. And he shot both of the short films that I did prior to this starring Oscar Isaac. But when it came to Big Gold Brick, we just had such a shorthand. Previously I would storyboard everything myself. We decided to storyboard some of the VFX sequences, and some of the kind of more intense quote-unquote action sequences and then sort of shot listed the rest, which we felt was going to be plenty fine for the both of us. My first few weeks in Toronto was almost exclusively Dan and I and an assistant literally working every single shot out in advance. I've kind of come I suppose out of the Hitchcock school where I want as much planned as possible because obviously everything always goes to shit. [laughs] I'm that sort of borderline OCD that it especially feels so much better to go in with as much preparation as possible. There were things that deviated here and there but for the most part, I mean, so much of what you're seeing was called for in advance.

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Brian Gaynor, my editor, we've been working together for so long, he started off directing me. In fact, the short film that I mentioned earlier, the Funny or Die HBO thing, Brian Gaynor actually directed that and it was with Elijah Wood and myself in that. So that's how far back we go. And again, just such a good friend and such a trusted collaborator, so much shorthand. And the way that we work together is he doesn't really assemble anything in advance for me, I prefer that we go through together and start building the film. It takes a little bit of time but the script for me is a really good blueprint, and so I've got the script out, and then it's kind of negotiating between what was in my mind, which I was instantly queued when I read my own script and the footage that we have. We work really well together like that. Certain things that didn't end up happening on the day you kind of have to labor with but it was an incredible process because he had cut the previous two shorts, Lightningface and Ticky Tacky. And I just love him to bits and he's crucial for me.

Oscar Isaac as Anselm Vogelweide in the comedy/fantasy/drama/independent film, “BIG GOLD BRICK,” a Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Oscar Isaac as Anselm Vogelweide in the comedy/fantasy/drama/independent film, “BIG GOLD BRICK,” a Samuel Goldwyn Films release. Photo courtesy of Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Sadie: There seems to be a love for character creation and every single character, even the bit players, they're characters, I feel like actors would want to embody. Does that come from your comedy background and doing these kinds of sketches and playing these very big boisterous characters yourself?

Brian: Probably so, actually. When I was in Chicago, I was acting and improvising, I think improvisation was such a huge thing for me and I don't actually improvise that much, people would think that I did a lot of improvisation while shooting, but I actually don't. My improvisation is largely in me actually writing and it's me improvising in my mind. [laughs] So, bringing that to each individual character, I mean, I consider myself someone who works within the realm of comedy, but in my mind, I sort of relish being an outsider, kind of standing just outside of it. I don't know if that is a particular dark bend or whatever it is, but the comedic stuff is really important to me; funny and fun and play are very important aspects to me. And so, as much as I can hone in on even a smaller character and just give that character a really big moment, or just have a character who may not say a lot, be something that's really important as an underpinning, I want to do that, you know?

[Making Irreverent Humor Relevant with 'Bad Luck Banging or Loony Porn' Writer-Director Radu Jude]

Sadie: Yeah, absolutely. And in terms of filmmaking influences, were there any influences for you in wanting to become a filmmaker?

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Brian: It's funny for me because I do have the folks that I love, but I'm probably generically more influenced by individual films than I am by filmmakers’ entire body of work. But I'm also not entirely influenced by cinema. Like, music is a big thing for me. I used to actually make electronic music and part of doing that for me, I always felt like I was trying to make movies, but I was just making tracks. And I used to use a lot of samples and so I would record whole records; listen to entire records like for hours and hours and hours. It was such a cinematic thing to me without having the outlet of cinema at the time. And so, the music thing is huge for me. I mean, not that I am anything close to a scholar on opera, but opera is a huge influence on me. The melodrama of it, I don't know if that's like my Mediterranean side, but you can find so many dynamic shifts in an opera. And I just love that. Obviously, the form is a bit antiquated as much as we all know it to be, but why can't you do that in two hours? I want reality to be something that's tangible, but I don't want it to be an approximation of reality. It's a movie. It's fake. [laughs] I'd rather use that manipulation and take someone somewhere over two hours.

Big Gold Brick is available this Friday, February 25, 2022, in Theaters and On Demand and Digital.


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