Spotlight by Dean Treadway: "Good Grief Suicide Hotline"

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Atlanta director Sam Carter and his co-screenwriter Evan Fowler ring up some pretty dark laughs, as one might expect, in their new comedy Good Grief Suicide Hotline. This raucous farce has Dane Davenport starring as innocent soul Mark Reynolds who guiltily offers his services to the titular hotline after a personal tragedy leaves him searching for answers. Immediately, though, he starts to regret this outreach, especially after meeting the very near suicidal nuts working at this drab, dreary outpost of humanity. Carter's film is consistently funny in its near offensiveness, and this is particularly due to its superb ensemble cast, including the hilarious George Faughnan as the hotline's feckless leader, Hannah Fierman (from former ATLFF fest entries V/H/S and The Unwanted) as a drug-addled pixie nightmare girl, Evan Fowler as the hotline's resident slimeball, Ben Owen as its stress-ball squeezing closer, and Theodore Abner as a high-strung co-conspirator named Clairmont.  Good Grief Suicide Hotline has its premiere screening as part of the 2015 Atlanta Film Festival at the Plaza Theater on March 23rd at 9:30 pm.

We talked to director/co-writer Sam Carter about the process of making Good Grief Suicide Hotline in Atlanta:

I feel like the ensemble really performs well together in your film, so I'm curious about the casting process. Were the parts written with these actors in mind, or were there open auditions? 

A bit of both, actually. Cooper was written for Evan and Adam was written for George. We knew we wanted Matt Pharr (Gary Spidoni) involved, but originally considered him for a different role. Other characters, like Doug (Ron Ogden), were written with a short list in mind. Spencer and Shirley were our biggest question marks, because though they are supporting characters, their roles play such a vital part to the comedy of the film. But, Ben Owen and Casey Holloway both just destroyed their auditions and made the selection process much easier. 

Their rapport was so sharp, I'm also led to ask if there was a rehearsal period?

A little, but not as much as I would have liked. We did a couple of table reads with the cast, and Dane Davenport (Mark) and Hannah Fierman (Lizzy) and I set aside some time to work on their scenes, but really a lot of that was just naturally occurring or was manufactured in the editing room. I try to cultivate a very relaxed set to keep my actors comfortable. Comedy's tough enough without adding any additional stress on top of it. 

The script you and Evan Fowler wrote, it's got a lot of risky laughs in it. Obviously, you're not worried about offending people, poking fun at such delicate subjects. We're all too offended these days anyway, wouldn't you agree?

Well, here's the funny thing about that. Believe it or not, we set out to make a dark, but not necessarily a controversial film. We wrote the script in 2011 and shot it in early 2012. You know what happened AFTER we shot it? The Aurora movie theater, Sandy Hook, Isla Villa, and a bunch of other mass shootings. The rate of mass shootings in the US has literally tripled since we shot the film. Beyond that, before such a beloved iconic figure as Robin Williams killed himself, suicide wasn't nearly as risqué a topic as it has since become. There was a suicidal character played for laughs on Scrubs--SCRUBS for god sakes! So, while I'm a firm believer that we should be able to make fun of anything because otherwise we give it far too much power, I've had to stand back during post and watch as my film has become increasingly offensive. At the end of the day, my movie isn't about making fun of depressed people or about the selfishness of suicide. Good Grief is about making fun of narcissistic people and the selfishness of doing good in the world for the sole purpose of being praised by others. 

I think that definitely comes through in the film. You landed a lot of great locations for the shoot, including Atlanta institutions Star Bar and Java Monkey. How did the shooting go in these locations and what strings did you have to pull to land them? Any guerilla filmmaking on the streets here? 

Good Grief has deep roots in the world of Atlanta stand up comedy. We got the Star Bar because we cast half of their Monday Night Comedy line up and because Rotknee Leete was able to pull some strings. The Java Monkey was a similar situation in that a couple of our crew members knew the owners. But yes, there's a ton of permitless guerrilla filmmaking throughout the movie.

You used narration in an unusual and creative fashion, too. Was it difficult striking a balance regarding this element of the movie?

I'm a huge fan of Arrested Development and always loved the function that Ron Howard's narration served on that show. There are so many moments throughout that series that would fall flat without the narration. There probably are moments in Good Grief in which we overuse the narration. But, by and large, I feel that its effectiveness benefits the film.

What do you find is the #1 benefit of filming features in Atlanta? 

Atlanta has a wonderfully close knit indie film scene. There are a lot of very supportive and very talented people here. It's my hope that with all of the studio productions here in town, the opportunities afforded to the actors and crew will continue to grow. It's great when our people get camera assistant gigs, but it will be better when we start getting cinematographer gigs.

Finally, my standard closing question: Name five movies you love, or that you feel influence your own filmic style. 

1) The Big Lebowski

2) Groundhog Day

3) A Face in the Crowd

4) The Adventures of Baron Munchausen

5) Shaun of the Dead

Author Dean Treadway is the Co-Host of Movie Geeks United, the internet's #1 weekly podcast devoted entirely to movies, with over 700 industry guests and four million listeners worldwide. His blog, filmicability, has over 500 articles obsessing over films present and past and is approaching 1 million hits.