Jeff Robison and Casey Twenter
Credit: Simon Hurst
Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison have none of those things. The former serves as creative director at Third Degree Advertising; the latter, a teacher with Piedmont Public Schools.
No matter. Against all odds, a screenplay they’ve co-written, Rudderless, is well on its way to starting production next spring.
This weekend, the guy who not only has agreed to fill the lead role, but direct the picture, will fly into town. He’ll be glad-handing potential investors at a cocktail party, as well as making a last pass at the script and cutting some demo tracks for songs his character will sing.
His name is William H. Macy.
Perhaps you’ve heard of him.
An Academy Award nominee for Fargo, Macy has worked for everyone from David Lynch to David Mamet. The current star of the Showtime series Shameless, you may know him as Little Bill from Boogie Nights, The Shoveler in Mystery Men, “Quiz Kid” Donnie Smith of Magnolia, the rich man fronting the trip to Jurassic Park III, or even real-life husband to fellow Emmy winner and Oscar nominee Felicity Huffman of TV’s just-ended Desperate Housewives.
Twenter and Robison don’t believe their good luck — and they’ve even dined at the Macy-Huffman household.
“He’s a cool son of a bitch. Felicity Huffman made us tuna salad,” Robison said. “And it was excellent.”
William H. Macy in "Shameless"
To think, all this happened because of the nationwide scourge of American spouses: fantasy football.
That’s where Twenter and Robison met — virtually, at least, about 10 years ago — and when they discovered a mutual hobby in writing scripts, collaboration followed. This was odd, given that Twenter is interested in grounded subjects like folk hero John Henry and the all-women’s air derby of 1929, while Robison’s tastes skew more ... well, polar-opposite.
“Casey wrote about what he was passionate about,” said Robison, “where I want to write Star Wars.”
Write they did — somewhere between 15 and 20 completed screenplays, Robison estimated — but gained little traction beyond typing “THE END.” All they lacked was that one killer idea.
Then Twenter mowed the lawn. “I was a new father with little sleep,” Twenter said, noting that fateful day’s exhaustive train of thought, when music was on his mind. “I thought, ‘What if an amazing music talent was cut down before he had the chance to make it big? And what if I were that person’s dad?’ That springboarded into an idea.”
Ceasing yard work long
enough to pitch the idea to his writing partner, Twenter paced the porch
as he spoke: “Let me get through this thought before you tell me it
sucks or some Korean movie has done it before,” he spat into the phone.
Eventually, that thought sprouted into Rudderless, a musical drama they describe being in the vein of Once, Crazy Heart and 8 Mile — Oscar winners all. As with their other works, they sent it out on spec. As with their other works, not much happened.
Luckily, Macy had been “chomping at the bit” to direct a feature, despite a busy acting schedule.
been doing this for a long, long time,” Macy said. “It’s not an actor’s
job to tell the story. The burden on telling the story correctly and
clearly falls to the writer and then the director. The actor’s purview
is really small — it’s a nanosecond. I’ve told a lot of stories [as a
screenwriter], and I’ve had some success with it, but the one thing I’ve
never gotten to do is take full responsibility for telling the story.”
had set up several independent projects to helm, only to watch
financing fall out at the 11th hour. Not wishing to nurse another broken
heart, he all but gave up on calling “Action!” until Rudderless passed into his hands in 2010.
script in particular itches a bunch of my tickles,” Macy said. “I love
rock ’n’ roll. I love music. I think it’s a profound story. At its
heart, it’s a father/son story, and I think it’s new. It’s really
well-written. We can make it on indie money. It just fits all the
Macy emailed the Oklahoma duo to express his interest; Twenter checked his inbox first.
never forget this,” said Robison, who was at work, between
parent-teacher conferences. “I looked at my phone and I had 18 missed
calls from Casey.”
Robison finally read his email, he ran outside and called Twenter,
saying, “Casey, if this is an April Fools’ joke, I will kill you.”
It took them a week to determine it was no prank, when Macy responded and invited them to Los Angeles.
Several creative sessions later, Rudderless steers ever closer toward cinematic immortality. Huffman even mentioned the project on last Friday’s Good Morning America.
“There’s only one way to do this: Damn the torpedoes,” Macy said. “Yeah, this is gonna happen.”
the long, arduous process of the last two years, Robison and Twenter —
whom Macy called “stand-up young fellows” — find their partnership
stronger. Already, they’re writing other scripts, including a werewolf
thriller called Cornered and a ghost story about a cursed headdress.
wife used to say Jeff and I fought like brothers,” said Twenter, “but
now she says we fight like sisters. No one pisses me off faster.”
Added Robison, “Casey is a bulldog. The way we collaborate is so cool. It’s a natural give-and-take. But he is a dickhead.”