An Interview with Jason Schaver & Ken Gayton – By Duane L. Martin

Jason Schaver and Ken Gayton made (and starred in) a film that I reviewed back in February of 2009 I believe it was, called The Truth about Average Guys.  It’s one of those films that’s so non-politically correct and has such a phenomenal chemistry between the cast members, that you can’t help but love it.  Now, with the DVD release imminent, it seemed like a great time to get the word out all over again about this seriously awesome film.

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DLM – Let’s start off, as I usually do, by having you guys introduce yourselves and telling us a little bit about your backgrounds.

Jason – My name is Jason Schaver.  I played "Troy" in the film, as well as co-writer/co-director/co-producer of the film.   I’ve had no training what so ever in the film industry.  I read like 10 pages of a book on story structure and a book on formatting and that’s it.    I didn’t even get interested in writing/acting until I was in my mid to late 20’s.    Ken is the brains of this outfit.

Ken – If that’s true then we are screwed.  I didn’t go to film school either. I took some improv classes around Chicago at Second City, IO, and Comedy Sportz.  Started writing my own sketches/scripts and shot them  under my production companies banner, Adjusted Gratuity. They were received well and several of them were on the front page of myspace. Before everyone jumped on Facebook.

DLM – Tell us how The Truth About Average Guys came about.  Where did the idea come from and how did it develop into a full fledged project.

Jason – I came up with the original idea for "TTAAG" back in 2001.  A co-worker of mine (named Troy) could do a spot on mentally challenged character and I thought of the idea of having a guy have his best friend play a mentally challenged character to win over a girl with mentally challenged sister.   Originally I was to play "Jason" and my friend was to play "Troy", but he ended up not wanting to do it.     From 2001-2005 I tried to get a few local indie filmmakers to make this film.   Several of them were interested but they didn’t want me to be part of it.   Some of them even suggest I audition for my own movie.   They just wanted me to hand over the script and disappear.  Some of them wanted me to change it so the leads were in their 40’s.   Some of them wanted me to change it so the leads were in their teens.    Honestly, this film just does not work if they are in their 40’s or their teens.   Twentysomethings work perfectly because at that age they are smart enough to pull it off, but still dumb enough to try it.     In April of 2006 I decided to put together my own team together and film this myself.     At the last second I decided I didn’t have the acting chops to play "Jason" so I opted for the role of "Troy".  The first attempt got about halfway through when I decided that I could no longer work with the lead actor.   It just wasn’t fun anymore.   So in August of 2006 we held auditions for the 2nd attempt which is where I met Ken Gayton.   I immediately cast him in the role of "Jason" and we shot the 2nd attempt in the fall of 2006.  I was better than the first attempt, but still not very good.   So Ken and I rewrote the script in 2007 and decided to make it ourselves in 2008.

Ken – What he said.  Actually when I first read the logline for this script I thought it was going to be the biggest pile of crap.  After reading it, and laughing my ass off, I never wanted a role so badly.  After shooting the whole film with Jason we became good friends and I thought the script had too much potential to waste on that version. So we rewrote it adding some male friends, developing the romantic aspect of the film, and also putting Troy in more fish out of water type of situations like the Poker Scene.

DLM – When it came down to actually making the film, how did you finance it, and what kind of a budget did you have to work with?  Also, what kinds of things were you able to pull off and what did you have to scale back on because of your budget?

Jason – we financed it ourselves.   Ken put in $2500 and I put in $2500.     In terms of what we could pull off and what we couldn’t, we pretty much could do what we wanted (for the most part).     The script didn’t have a lot of locations or a lot of characters, no big explosions, no special affects, just a good character driven comedy.     We did have a problem with extras though.   A lot of people would say they were going to show up, but maybe 10% of them actually did.   So that really put a damper on the softball scene.

Ken -Luckily our crew had their own equipment so all we had to pay for was a small base pay for the three crew members. Food. Some locations like the bowling alley, Molly’s Cupcakes, and a deli for an ending we never used.  Also paid for the lead actress to come in from Canada. Though she did pay for a lot of the expenses out of her own pocket as she had to stay here for two months.

DLM – What were some of the more memorable moments for you guys from during the production phase of the film.  Any funny stories or rememberances you’d like to share with us?

Jason – Honestly, the days I enjoyed most were the ones with "the friends".   We had each other in stitches.   There was so much improv with those guys.   It was a lot of fun.  It didn’t even feel like we were acting.   We were just guys having fun being stupid.      I also remember how long it took to clean up the champagne from the scene where we poured it all over Ken.   Took one minute to film that scene, and an hour to clean it up.

Ken – haha, yeah and the floor was still sticky after that. My friends weren’t very happy with me.  Unfortunately the memorable moments were the hardest, not the most fun.  On our second day our gaffer didn’t show up. No call. Nothing. We thought he bailed. but he actually had food poisoning.  However that day was very tough to get through and we got about half the shots we needed to get.  This was not an easy location either as it was about 2 hours away.  I love being on set, but when you are the lead actor/co-directing/producing/script supervising, etc.  It’s kind of tough to just enjoy the moment. The most fun I had was probably driving to and from set. Or during the meals.  Because I didn’t have as much to worry about.

DLM – What about nightmare days.  Ever have any of those days during filming where aboslutely nothing went right?  If so, how’d you deal with it…

Jason – the only nightmare day I remember is filming until 3am one night and having to drive back to Rockford while the sun was coming up.   I have no idea how I made it home.

Ken- I kind of already answered this, but I got more. The main thing when shooting a film with no budget is that nobody can be above anything.  Nobody has one set job.  Actors are holding bounce boards. Sound Guys are being extras.  Extras are behind the camera, well maybe not that far.  But you have to expect that things will go wrong and just go with the flow.  Like the day I actually forgot to bring the concert tickets as props. We just improvised that scene and it turned out really well.  I never really had any extreme days on set where everything went wrong or everything went right.

DLM – Hindsight is often one of the most annoying things in life, because invariably we find ourselves wishing we had know then what we know now.  If you could go back and change anything about the way the film was produced or anything in the content of it, what would it be?

Jason – the only thing I would change is we kind of rushed things towards the end.   Between having day jobs and filming EVERY weekend it was really tough towards the end to remained focused and not just phone it in.    We were were exhausted physically and mentally.   Since this was our first feature I think we may have underestimated just how grueling of a process it can be.

Ken – I think even if we had every possible resource at our fingertip I would still cringe at certain points in the film.  I’m never truly satisfied, but you can’t constantly second guess either. It will get you nowhere. This film would still be in production if we could change anything.  But to actually answer your question I’d say that the intro to the film is the thing I would most like to change. We hadn’t decided on a title yet and shot a neutral opening that really has nothing to do with the movie. It’s nice to showcase Chicago and beautiful Lake Shore Drive, but I would’ve like to have shot a montage of average guys doing ridiculous things to hide their insecurities in order to impress women.  Like driving expensive cars they can’t afford. Sucking in their gut. Wearing Toupees.

DLM – The film had a really great cast.  How difficult was it find just the right people, how long was the process, and how did you go about it?

Jason – Ken had a lot of talented actor pals from his Adjusted Gratuity sketch group.   We also had auditions in Chicago.   We had about 100 people audition, would have had more if the weather would have been a bit better (this was December 2007).    We flew in the lead actress from Canada because she was head and shoulders above the rest of the auditioners.

Ken – We put audition notices on Actors Access and Craigs List. Though you get more professional people from actors access.  We had two days of callbacks.  For me getting good actors was extremely important. I knew we didn’t have the equipment to make this movie look or sound as good as hollywood movies or even bigger independent movies. But the average fan doesn’t pay attention to well lit scenes or cool shot compositions. They pay attention to the story and the people in charge of telling it.  Not to say that the technical aspect isn’t important, I just knew that we weren’t going to be able to wow people with it.  So I’m always happy when the acting gets complimented in the film, and not just mine.

DLM – The film itself is very politically incorrect in many ways, which is why it’s so funny, especially to those of us who hate political correctness, and yet you managed to be politically incorrect in a really funny way without going overboard to the point where it becomes mean spirited.  What sort of comments have you received about the way you dealt with the mentally handicapped in this film.  Has it been well received?  Have you had any negative reactions to  it?  What are your attitudes toward political correctness in general?

Jason – typically people will hear the logline and cringe a bit, but after seeing the film they realize it’s not about making fun of the mentally challenged, it’s about an insecure guy doing what ever it takes to get his dream girl to notice him.    One thing I like about our film is we don’t do "politically incorrect" just for the sake of being "edgy".   A lot of polically incorrect films do that.    Our film needs these moments because they are very much a part of the story.   In fact, without the, the story would be worse.  My attitude towards political correctness is it’s a huge waste of time.   We spend far too much time trying not to step on people’s toes and it doesn’t really accomplish anything, except make us a bunch of whiners.   Instead of complaining b/c someone used the R word, go out and donate blood or adopt a child or do something productive.    Getting rid of a word you don’t like might make you feel better, but in the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t do sh*t.  🙂

Ken – Surprisingly not one person has said they were offended by it after watching the movie.  Even people with mentally challenged siblings or relatives. People that work with the Special Olympics.  And this has played in rooms filled with strangers, not just friends and family.  I think the mentally challenged aspect puts us at a disadvantage because people might skip it because of that or go in with such low expectations ready to rip the movie to shreds. A lot of discussion has gone on about the word retarded and how it shouldn’t be used ever.  This is ridiculous. We use the word retarded as slang in reference towards someone that has mental retardation which, like it or not, is the Clinical definition according to the psychological bible the DSM IV. People need to stop focusing on the word and think about how it is being used. Because you can change it to Intellectual Disability, but people will just latch on to that new definition.  Before mental retardation it was categorized into three levels called idiot, imbecile, and moron. Any of those sound familiar as common insults?  We don’t use the word maliciously. We don’t make fun of people with mental retardation, we make fun of the guy pretending to be retarded.  People campaigning for those with special needs should take back the word retarded like Gays took back queer.  Or how about the controversy over how gay was being used and how it shouldn’t be used in a negative manner.  "That’s so Gay."  Instead of banning the word they educated people on not using it in a pejorative way.  Trying to rid the world of the word retarded is saying that there is something wrong with mentally retarded people or "intellectually disabled" people.   Instead of trying to hide our differences and force everyone to be viewed the same way, we should celebrate our individuality. That’s my biggest problem with being PC. People do it because it makes them feel like a  better person, like recycling.   Hope I didn’t get too preachy or boring.  Fart stick on a broom pole. That should get this interview back on track.

DLM – Tell us about your experiences with submitting your film to the 2009 Trail Dance Film Festival.  You had a pretty nice surprise from there didn’t you?  What other festivals have you submitted the film to and what has the general response been?

Jason – Trail Dance really spoiled us.   It was the first festival we submitted to.   The first one we got into.  We were just happy to get into a festival and we end up winning "Best Comedy", "Best Actress", and "Best of Festival".    It could not have gone any better.   The people were great.   The town of Duncan, OK really comes out and supports this festival.    After our screening we were treated like rockstars.   Everyone wanted autographs and pictures taken with us.   It was just incredible.     We hope to be back in 2011 if all goes well.

Ken – Trail Dance had this cool countdown on their website to the acceptance day. I remember getting the call from Jason that we had got in and I was completely overwhelmed. You never know if anybody is going to like your film, and the fact that it got into a festival helped validate all the time spent on getting to that point. Counting from the first time I read the original script all the way through post production.   It also helped lessen the blow of getting rejected from Sundance and Slamdance right after that.  Then once  we got back from Trail Dance I got a call from East Lansing film festival that they had accepted us. I was on such a high.  Then we got rejected by about 10 festivals in a row. But that blow was lessened by winning Best Feature at East Lansing. Basically what I am saying is that it is a series of highs and lows. But I’m also going to add that we won an award at our first festival and our last festival, Best Feature Comedy at Illinois International Film Festival. Nice little way to bookend the experience.

DLM – The DVD release has been a long time in coming, and it has some nice special features.  Tell us about the DVD itself, and also when people can go out to buy themselves a copy, which I highly recommend to everyone because it’s an awesome film!

Jason – The film is available on Walmart, Best Buy, Blockbuster.com, and Netflix.   It will also be carried in these stores as well, but since all of these stores are run locally/regionally they won’t be in every Walmart, Best Buy, or Blockbuster,  but they will be in some of them.   Once the demand for the film increases the amount of stores carrying the DVD will also increase.   

Ken – You can preorder it now or put it in your queue.  The film hits stores March 9th, but like Jason said, not all stores. If there is more of a demand then more stores will carry it.  Some nice features on the DVD are commentary track by Jason and myself. A detailed history of the making of the movie, as well as outtakes.  Which are always my favorite part of a DVD.

DLM – What can we expect to see from you guys in the future?  Do you have anything new in the works for us, or at least in the planning stages?

Jason – Ken and I co-wrote another script called "S.O.L." which is about a down on his luck comedian who inadverantly becomes part of a robbery in which a high profile television actress is taken hostage.   We’re meeting with investors right now and hope to start filming in June in the Chicago area.

Ken – I actually have a lot of completed scripts I hope to shop. Some written with Jason. Some by myself. Getting an agent would be awesome.  But I just hope to continue making movies and working with Jason. We work really well together.  But I’d also like to branch out into other genres. Comedy is great and both our forte. But I kind of want to do every kind of genre movie there is.  Technology has made it easier for independent filmmakers to succeed. If we are able to produce good scripts I don’t see why we can’t be in the business for a long time. Even if Hollywood never gives us a chance.

DLM – Is there anything else you’d like to mention before we wrap this up?

Jason – buy our film.  It’s funny.  And go to imdb and look us up, rate the film if you’ve seen it. 

Ken – If you’re reading this film then you are a fan of independent cinema. We have no "Name Actors". No money. A truly independent film, but made for the purpose of entertaining the masses.  Word of mouth is the best marketing tool we have.

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Web Links:
http://www.adjustedgratuity.com