EASY DOES IT: A Wacky, Unpredictable Cross-Country Chase For The Elusive “American Dream”
America has been traditionally revered as a land of opportunity; a country where dreams come true through hard work and unending focus on achieving those dreams. Unfortunately, the idealistic perception of America that’s frequently been sold to millions through pop culture and political rhetoric isn’t always the reality for those who’ve struggled to succeed in a place where income inequality and social injustice runs rampant.
While most fight bravely to make a living through legitimate means, there are a few who turn to desperate — and just plain criminal — methods of achieving “the American Dream” for themselves. So it is for a pair of hopeless buddies — and one otherwise innocent bystander — who crisscross the vast highways and byways of America on a wacky multi-state crime spree in the new comedy feature Easy Does It, now streaming on Amazon Prime, YouTube, Apple TV, and iTunes and available on DVD and Blu-ray on amazon.com.
Directed by Will Addison (who co-wrote the film’s screenplay with co-star and longtime friend/collaborator Ben Matheny), the 1970s-set Easy Does It follows two debt-ridden diner dishwashers — Jack (played by Matheny) and Scottie (Matthew Paul Martinez) — who see the opportunity of their lives appear when a postcard from Jack’s recently deceased mother teases a clue to what may or may not be buried treasure under the sands of a pier in San Clemente, California; a haunt Jack frequented alongside his mom during his childhood.
With no cash in their pockets, and with targets on their backs courtesy of the vicious crime boss “King George” Montgomery (played by the legendary Linda Hamilton of the Terminator franchise) and her intimidating daughter/henchwoman “Blue Eyes” (Susan Gordon), the sneakily scheming Jack convinces the easily gullible Scottie to participate in what later becomes a three-way partnership in crime when they kidnap a nosy gas station customer (Collin, played by Cory Dumesnil) who witnesses their attempts to scam an attendant out of free juice for their stalled car.
As Jack, Scottie and Collin hit the road on their journey to the West Coast, their haphazard string of hold-ups gets the attention of talkative Texas cop Owens (played by Bryan Batt, Mad Men) and his superior, Chief Parker (Beasts of The Southern Wild’s Dwight Henry).
With the police and dastardly debt collector “Blue Eyes” tracking the bumbling trio’s every move, the comedic highs and lows of their crime wave are given hilarious baseball-style radio “play by play” from sportscaster ‘Catfish’ Crawford (John Goodman) and uber-urgent “reporting” from the voice of newsman ‘Breezy’ Bob Mckee (The Simpsons’ stalwart Harry Shearer). As Jack, Scottie, and Collin get closer to the alleged treasure, they race against time and fate to win a prize greater than cash or precious metals: the chance at a better life.
Unlike the two inept crooks portrayed by Matheny and Martinez in Easy Does It, Addison and Matheny have rightly chosen filmmaking as their way of overcoming the humbling aspects of life they faced while growing up in small-town America.
While their creativity has helped Addison and Matheny to succeed in Louisiana’s thriving film and TV production industry, they both believe that the similarity between the film’s goofy yet passionate con men and themselves is evident: their determination to overcome personal, professional, and geographic limitations in the hunt for the seemingly impossible “American Dream”. That pursuit is a theme that Addison and Matheny hope those who see Easy Does It will instantly identify with.
Chris Hadley: What inspired you to make Easy Does It, and were there any specific films/directors that inspired the overall style of the film?
Will Addison (director/co-writer/co-producer, Easy Does It): Easy Does It was originally conceived as a short film experiment in 2013. I wanted to create a world that would give me the opportunity to bend the conventional rules of filmmaking and try out a more visually unique approach to directing.
The short film, a wacky crime caper about a couple of misfit criminals trying to get to California, became my sandbox for testing techniques inspired by the artistic wave of filmmakers of the 1960s and 1970s, particularly Jean-Luc Goddard, Terrence Malick, and Robert Altman. I was striving to create flawed, realistic characters that inhabited a highly stylized space — a dusty, 1970s inspired, Southwest Americana world.
However, in the end, it wasn’t the interesting visuals or the raw performances that resonated the most with me. As we looked back on the finished short film, the most compelling facet of the completed project was a thematic element that seemed very familiar.
The characters in the film were a lot like us, rowdily ambitious with big dreams and an uncertain path to reach them. As we began adapting the short film into a feature script we delved into what we liked about the story and one theme, in particular, came into focus: pursuing the elusive ‘American Dream.’
Ben Matheny (co-star, “Jack Buckner”/ co-writer/co-producer, Easy Does It): Will really brought everything to the table in terms of the style of the film. In terms of writing, there were about a thousand films that we would talk about on a daily basis (the Coen Brothers’ dark comedies came up a bunch) but I know just for me personally that The Blues Brothers (one of my all-time favorites) and Pineapple Express probably influenced my input a lot.
CH: How has your own creative partnership (which started during your time attending film school at the University of New Orleans) influenced and enhanced the making of Easy Does It?
WA: We originally met through UNO’s film program and in the following years founded the local filmmaking collective, EFI Productions. Writing together was a no-brainer because we both spoke the same writing language. We read the same books and even had the same writing teachers during our time at UNO. We had written several features before, but adapting a short film into a feature was a new process for both of us.
It was important that we retained the essence of what made the short film engaging while expanding on the themes and character arcs. It’s hard to pin down how long it took to write because we were simultaneously developing the business side of the project, but it probably took us about two to three years to flesh out the full story.
BM: You know, it’s interesting, Will is very creative and he knows exactly what he wants. He would have been able to write a movie just as good (if not better!) without me as a creative partner, but there’s something about having someone to bounce off (especially with comedy) that really makes the whole process a lot more fun. It’s very lonely creating alone, you know? Plus, it was a friendship movie and there’s something really special about writing one of those with a friend. Will is a very dear friend to me. We put a lot of our friendship into the movie, whether we meant to or not.
In terms of creative balance, I personally think it’s crucial that one person has more (at least 51%) creative authority than the other, or else you’re going to reach stalemates. Will and I agreed on just about everything, and when we didn’t he’d hear me out with an open ear and zero egos, but at the end of the day, it needs to be somebody’s call when there’s no consensus. That was Will for this one.
I like to think of Will as the mom; the story and world and everything gestated inside of him. He was kind enough to allow me to play father and deposit a bit of my genetic material into the project, but Will birthed it, nursed it, (and) raised it when I was out fooling around with other women — I mean projects.
Also, and this is tangential but good advice for anybody trying to do their first indie film, the sooner you can bring on and more involved you can make your team, usually the better. Partnerships and collaborations are crucial. There were so many of our friends — (producer/production coordinator) Lizzie Guitreau and (cinematographer/co-executive producer) Bruno Doria, just to name a couple — that gave their lives to this movie. To make an indie movie happen when you don’t have enough money, you’ll need the hard work of a lot of committed people.
CH: Describe how you both identified with the film’s two main characters, especially considering that you came from small towns and grew up yearning for greater opportunities that eventually took you beyond the limits of where you came from.
WA: Growing up in small, conservative, rural towns Ben and I knew we never really fit in and longed for a life that presented greater freedoms and possibilities. As we explored this theme we realized it spoke loudly to many people who were facing challenges in their own lives. We found that things were not as straightforward as we expected and the road to following a dream is twisted, uncertain, and filled with sacrifice.
As our characters travel across America they encounter people from all walks of life, each with hopes and dreams of their own. Everyone’s striving for something different, but it’s the journey that connects us all. We explore the American Dream from the perspective of our idealistic protagonist, Jack (Matheny). However unrealistic his end goal may be, we have learned, just as Jack does, that the road to get there is the struggle needed to better understand the world.
BM: The movie is a (tragically apt, largely accidental) allegory for ourselves — desperately yearning to make movies (our San Clemente) and doing whatever it takes/getting by with a little help from our friends to make it happen.
CH: The project originally began as a short film before you expanded it into a feature-length movie. In what ways did you expand upon the story, characters and world you created for the short into the full-length version of Easy Does It?
BM: The thing that the original film had was the three central characters — two country-fried, overly ambitious, criminally-inclined best friends, and their nerdy but lovable accidental hostage. In the short, they already had aspirations of reaching this nebulous golden promised land (San Clemente, California) and were sort of taking Collin on-board to help them with that. So there are a couple of scenes that are actually almost word for word from the short from the part where they’re sort of “indoctrinating” Collin.
So definitely the core characters and the quest aspect (with crime undertones) were already there but we, of course, had to add a lot when beginning to think of this as a feature-length story. It had to be wired differently to be a feature film. It wasn’t simply “well, let’s add more stuff.” So we kind of had to dig in thematically — “what did we like about the original, what was behind that?” and extrapolate it into a larger story.
CH: How did you find your cast, and how did Linda Hamilton (best known for her roles in the Terminator movies) end up being part of Easy Does Its ensemble?
WA: The three main characters reprised their roles from the short film. We were already friends from our UNO days and worked on a lot of different projects together. By the time we were in full casting mode, we had built up a small amount of legitimacy in the New Orleans filmmaking community by running a successful Kickstarter campaign and making a concept trailer to show people what the movie would be like.
All of our hard work started to pay off as bigger, local actors began to take us more seriously and our casting director, Matthew Morgan, helped fill out our supporting cast. Things continued snowballing from there as the shoot dates grew closer.
Normally you want to cast every role before filming begins, but we took a big risk by starting the shoot without filling the pivotal role of “King George”, the criminal matriarch of the movie. At the time we were considering both male and female versions of the character and (we) were holding out hope for someone really special.
Not long after that, we learned that Linda Hamilton was in town, and being massive fans of her Terminator movies we immediately sent the project over. She loved the script and our concept trailer and immediately signed on. We were incredibly lucky. Not only is she a world-class actress, but she also fit in great with our DIY (do-it-yourself) filmmaking collective. It felt like working with any other passionate New Orleans artist in the best way possible. She was ready to get down and dirty and make something cool.
BM: We got Dwight Henry on first, (and) that legitimized us a bit. We used that small bit of legitimacy to reach out to Bryan Batt. Once they were both on I think it was easier for Linda Hamilton’s agent to take us seriously enough to pass the script on to her. So for any aspiring producers: try starting with a smaller star, and packaging your way up (as opposed to the standard industry approach of finding the biggest star first).
Linda was incredible. She’s the sweetest, coolest person on Earth. She ultimately sent her check back to us. She was like, “put that money back into the movie.” Who does that? Crazy cool lady. She could have totally phoned it in and instead, she gave the most batsh*t insane performance of her career.
CH: Other notables in Easy Does It’s cast include famed actors like New Orleanians Bryan Batt (Mad Men) and Dwight Henry (Beasts Of The Southern Wild), plus John Goodman and Harry Shearer in voiceover roles. Discuss how they became part of this project, and what it was like working not just with them but also with Linda.
WA: We worked with our executive producer, Alexa Georges, to help cast Mad Men actor Bryan Batt and voice roles from Harry Shearer and John Goodman. When we were first constructing the retro Americana world of Easy Does It, we found that America’s pastime (a.k.a. baseball) fit perfectly with the themes we were focusing on and we created a world series that plays on the radio in the background of scenes.
We use the radio commentary in the same way a music score pushes and pulls against the emotion of a scene. So when our heroes rob their first gas station, the baseball home team is hitting home runs and the crowd is cheering. And when the game is tied in the last inning things are equally tense for our characters.
We take some inspiration from the Coen Brothers’ dark comedies like The Big Lebowski and Raising Arizona; so adding John Goodman to our cast as the voice of the commentator was beyond exciting. John’s a huge baseball fan, so the recording was a ton of fun and he really got into it.
CH: What was the production process like, given that Easy Does It is both a cross-country chase comedy (filmed in New Orleans and in West Texas) and an homage to the classic action comedies/road movies of the 60s and 70s?
WA: We were working on a low budget, which meant we had to find locations locally with specific looks. Luckily, Louisiana is surprisingly versatile — there are so many different types of architecture in New Orleans that we were able to hone in on those that fit our world and avoided places that could be easily recognizable as “Cajun country”. We used a sprawling sandpit outside of Baton Rouge to double as a Southwest desert and the Norco spillway gave us some great open fields.
We also used visual effects to add mountains into the backgrounds of various shots and filmed a lot of our exteriors at night, knowing that with the backgrounds obscured by the dark we could get away with more. When we filmed during the day we used color grading to make the lush, green Louisiana grass and foliage feel closer to the warmer, brown tones of the Southwest. Of course, a portion of the movie takes place in Louisiana, so that part was easy!
The bulk of the shooting was done over those summer months, which as any Louisianan knows is a brutal time to be working outside. As uncomfortable as we were though, the heat actually worked great for the movie which takes place in a sweltering and oppressive Southern Americana world. The sweat and humidity on screen are a hundred percent real and gave the whole movie an extra layer of gritty truth.
BM: We had a total blast. It was/is one of the most fun experiences of my life but it was also hellishly difficult at times. We just didn’t have enough money and we were naive so we bit off way more than we had any business chewing. Lesson learned! Or rather, so many lessons learned.
CH: In addition to acting in the movie, Ben, you also performed your own stunts while in character. How did you prepare for those, and what did the experience of being an actor/stunt performer ultimately teach you about the obvious physical challenges and risks of playing both roles?
BM: I learned that a) stunts are super fun and b) they’re super scary and the people who do them for a living are basically superheroes. Thankfully there was nothing too dangerous, but even a minor thing like taking a hit with a padded bat or a car stunt can really get you anxious when you’re an amateur like me!
CH: You’re both part of a New Orleans-based indie film production collective EFI (Elysian Fields Independent) Productions. How have its past projects, including the short film version of Easy Does It, prepared you and your collaborators not just for the challenges of making a low-budget feature film but also for making EFI’s future projects?
WA: The creative collaboration between New Orleans artists is phenomenal and being involved in that world prior to shooting was instrumental in bringing Easy Does It to life. Even if funds are slim (which is almost always the case) everyone helps each other out. Our core filmmaking team was made up of two local filmmaking collectives — EFI Productions and Worklight Pictures, both of which were founded by University of New Orleans film alums.
People with all kinds of different artistic backgrounds came together to help realize this project. We had people who work on massive studio movies and people who had never set foot on a film set before. We had a prominent local drag queen helping with wigs, theater lighting designers helping us fake night driving shots, painters designing our title sequence.
BM: Without the incredible indie film artists in New Orleans, this film would have been impossible. For both companies behind the movie, EFI and Worklight (made up of the aforementioned Lizzie, our other lead producer, and Bruno, our director of photography) it was a total labor of love. We’re lucky to have such cool and talented friends.
CH: What are your overall hopes for Easy Does It’s success — both in terms of what you want audiences to get out of watching the film, as well as in how this project will ultimately make more people aware of your talents and those of the Louisiana indie film community?
WA: While it’s a goofy and wild ride on the surface, at its heart Easy Does It is about self-discovery on the road to your aspirations. I hope it encourages conversations on the American Dream — what it is and what it means to individuals. Does the dream outweigh the sacrifices and will achieving that dream bring you happiness? Or is it more about the journey, where you find out who you really are and what you really want? I hope Easy Does It can spark meaningful reflection for the audience with the questions it poses.
BM: I hope people watch it and have a good time! For me, the philosophical imperative was to give people a fun and unique viewing experience, and if in hearing about or seeing the film people can get excited about bringing more production to Louisiana — or even better, about investing in our incredibly talented community of local artists to make more projects — well, that’s the best of all worlds!
Links to watch Easy Does It are located here:
For more information on Easy Does It, including special bonus content/features from the film, visit its official web site:
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