On Austin and Grow Up Tony Phillips

Did an email interview that ended up not being used, probably at least in part due to how I WAY overwrote. But it gave me a chance (I was mid-flight and had 3 hours to wax rhapsodic) to talk about something I’ve not been able to describe at length but have been asked about before-my connection to the Austin film community, and how I found myself making a family-friendly coming of age story. So, if you’re bored, here ya go.

From an exchange between myself and Aaron Pruner.


Hey bud-sorry I’m getting back to you on my flight back to Burbank-it’s been hectic down in Austin-I don’t recommend having 2 features at the same festival-I know, I know-champagne problems.
First one out the way-haha no I’m not a member of the Austin film society. I’ve made a couple of films down here and have had the good fortune of having had pretty much all of my films play at either SXSW or Fantastic Fest, so it’s afforded me the great privilege of getting to know on a personal level many of the wonderful creative minds down there. I am fortunate to call them my friends. They’ve always been incredibly supportive of my work and its my safe place-if you’ve been there, you know that the film community in Austin closely resembles the qualities of my youth culture that fostered a deep love of cinema-we talk endlessly about movies, and there’s a highly sincere joy and love for the medium-reminds me of hours spent in friends’ basements watching old movies on VHS. I grew up in Georgia, but to be honest, if I were to associate where my soul feels is home, other than LA, which is home base and my favorite place, I’d say Austin is a close second. It’s my other home.
So that long winded explanation of the love affair I have with that one sliver of Texas probably goes a long way in explaining my involvement with Grow Up Tony Phillips (GUTP).
I’ve known Emily for several years. The first film I really had go anywhere or get any attention was The Signal, and it played SXSW in 2007. I think it’s not uncommon with many of my fellow filmmaker friends to go there and feel similarly to what I was describing before. They were very supportive. And I immediately came into contact with a few people that felt less like someone I was meeting, but rather an old friend I was reconnecting with. My dear friend Jacob (Gentry) and I were the last members of the movie in town and after the last midnight screening, we struck up a conversation under the awning of the South Lamar Drafthouse with a couple of guys. That conversation lasted 4 hours. All night. Just shooting the shit about movies. 6 years later, those guys are family. I started visiting them in my downtime, and that sort of led to my familiarity with what I call the ‘Austin Family’. I call them that because, well, there are so many of them, and they’re all people I care greatly for and know intimately, from film makers, journalists, even just cinephiles. That common code of cinema bonds us.
So I have always been very familiar with Emily’s work. And I’ve always been a fan of Emily. Anyone that has the great privilege of getting to know her feels the same. The producers of GUTP, Peter Hall and Paul Gandersman, are friends of mine. They actually produced a short I did with 2 of those guys I chatted up under the Alamo awning, Eric Vespe and Aaron Morgan, called No Way Out. Eric and Aaron are like family to me, and by extension, Eric’s younger brother, Tony Vespe, is like my younger brother. So when Pete and Paul contacted me to see if I might consider taking a look at a script Emily was about to start writing, I went ahead and committed on the spot. It was the easiest choice in the world to make. Emily gave me a plot synopsis, and I really liked the idea. When they called me, I’d just finished You’re Next, and had frankly reached a point of creative stagnancy within the world of genre acting. You know me, so you know I don’t mean that I stopped loving horror, but after at that point which was 7 yrs of doing horror pretty much exclusively, I was looking for a break. It’ll always be my first love, but I didn’t get into storytelling to only tell one kind of story. And Emily and the guys were offering an opportunity to breathe, to do something else. It made logical sense to me. I’m not an old guy yet, but I’m getting older, and before I was an actor I was a stand up comic, and in my theater days I was pretty much exclusively doing comedies, so it was a chance to get back to my roots, which is partially why I find it funny when people see the movie and mistake me performing a comic role for having range. Anyways, like I said, I’m getting older, and at this point I’ve done a fair number of indies. So when I read the character of Pete (who I play), it was a dual extension, playing a bit of the older male figure in a coming of age story, and also hoping to be able to provide a bit of a mentoring role to my younger friends. As with the plot of the movie, I (and my fictional character) both ended up learning more from them than they from me.
It reminded me of so many movies I love, movies I grew up watching, and I knew this was a transitional film for Emily and her crew and the actors. What I mean is, this movie marks the end of Emily being a youth filmmaker, or local filmmaker, or any other qualification that people have thrown at her before or after calling her a filmmaker. She’s just Emily Hagins, filmmaker, now, and though unfairly people will pose questions likely for the duration of her career about what it was like to start out as a teen filmmaker in Austin, she’s outgrown those characteristics, and now deserves to be considered for the qualities of her sensibilities as a filmmaker. I should mention that also includes criticizing her work as a filmmaker without qualifying it, too, and I know she wants that. 
The script was coming so much from Emily’s heart, and that heart is such a kind and gentle and giving one, that it represented for me a 180 degree turn from my previous work. It was an opportunity to work with Tony, and hopefully be there to support him while he had the burden of carrying the bulk of performance for a movie, and also to get to make a movie with my Austin family, all of which were all the reason I needed, on their own. 
Finally, knowing the aesthetic of the film would fit within Halloween, my favorite holiday, and the holiday most associated with the world of indie film I live in, it felt like the right film to make at the time it came around. It’s a heartfelt, coming of age, comedy/drama, and I felt that some of our friends who had joined us on our other stories wouldn’t feel like it was a completely different universe than the scary movies that bond us, but rather an extension of the place we call home, and perhaps a chance to tell a story that those people that love horror or love the aesthetics associated with Halloween could show their kids at that time of year without fear of causing psychological damage. ;)
Sorry for the enormous email.
That’s what happens when I end up on a flight back home.
Sincerest thanks to my Austin family, to SXSW and Fantastic Fest for being so supportive over the years, and especially to everyone that came out, waited in line, said hi, liked, disliked, and watched our movies. Much appreciated.

In Response

So, as you can see in the comments of my last post, I received a request for an interview. I try not to do those as much any more, because I have come to feel that, for what I do, which is pretend to be other people, doing them can get in the way of that. The last thing I want is to be a personality. I figure, the less you know about me, or how I feel about things, the better. But then I read this, and, well, you can see. So, here goes, friend. Thanks for the incredibly thoughtful questions. ;)


theipc ⋅ 

Holy crap!!! Um – I am messing with this quickly while I have your attention! UM – I think you do WICKED work and you’re one of my favorites! So – here we go

I have never, ever in my life drank frozen margaritas all day and then went to my old place of employment and showered it with raw eggs. Have you ever defaced a public place??

I have not. I never understood the thrill behind ruining someone else’s shit.

I also have never, ever in my life spent a night in jail. Have you??

Yes. A few. I cannot in good conscience recommend it. Also, don’t punch a sheriff. Like, ever.

Speaking of things I have never done, I have never in my life spent the day drinking Long Island Ice Teas and thought it would be a good idea to go streaking through a dumpy, old bar. Or a grocery store. Or a Long John Silvers. Or a movie theater. Have you???

I have not. I am sensing a theme. You should know I used to be a degenerate drunk, but have been sober going on two years now. I HAVE taken a shower in a truck stop in Columbia, Missouri, while being filmed doing so, with my friends CNug and Adam (for A Horrible Way To Die). The truck stop now has its own reality show. I’m sure we had nothing to do with that.

I am deathly afraid of spiders. It has to do with a childhood encounter with a house full of tarantulas. Is there anything that gets you a zillion percent freaked out when you see one and why??

Yes. Christians and Republicans. I’m from Georgia. Also, Great White Sharks. That should be fairly self-explanatory.

One time a bunch of friends and I were up in the Ozark Mountains for a wedding. At this local store I bought a jar of “Hot n Spicy Pickled Quail Eggs”. They were probably the most disgusting thing I have ever tried to eat. Ever had any??

I have in fact. No one can eat 50 Hot n Spicy Quail Eggs.

You walk into someone’s office, cough and accidentally – but loudly – fart. Awkward!! What do you do??

I am a firm believer in owning up to your own farts. This is but one of many ways in which I differ from my father, who has been blaming his on my mother, for about 50 years.

I know I am a hot piece of ass and all, but I don’t get why everyone wants to stand so close to me at grocery stores and Barnes and Noble and such. Are you one of those close standers or do you respect people’s personal space and don’t invade their privacy???

I’m a privacy freak. I prefer to be left alone, at all times, by all people. I grew up having to defend myself a lot so when someone stands close to me I assume the next thing that happens is flight or fight. I mean, twitter is too close for me. It could be said I have social anxieties. One of the things that bond me to other like-minded creative people, like my friend and frequent collaborator Simon Barrett. If you see us at a festival or event we are likely together and look incredibly uncomfortable.

Have you ever crammed yourself into the bottom of a boat or in the back of a moving van and smuggled yourself across some country’s border, effectively becoming an illegal alien????

9/11 changed everything in terms of how people get their kicks. I’d never do that. This is a potentially stupid question. I have not yet decided.

Have you ever ignored a warning from a crazy old man who advised that you were going to die if you went down some road and then you ended up being butchered for dinner at the hands of some lunatic?????

Only on camera, and only when I’m getting paid to do it. If we’re talking Crazy Ralph, I’d throw him in the car, pop a u-turn, and treat him to a delicious meal at Red Lobster.

Let’s say you’re at a warehouse party and, after the band’s second set, you step out to get some fresh air. Someone else is out there and he asks you if you’ve got a light and you turn around and it’s Jesus Christ. How do you react???

This has actually happened to me. Coincidentally, I don’t do drugs anymore.

A few years ago one of the local news stations here did a piece about the Curling Club I was in. I didn’t get any screen time but my shoes did. Have you ever been on the news??

Of course I’ve been on the news. I was president of The Lassiter High School Marching Band. Also, in 1987, when I was ten years old, I made it into the Atlanta Journal Constitution for writing an article about why Garbage Pail Kids are immoral and teach children the wrong lessons. That’s a true story. I’ve since come around on my opinions on the topic.

If there was a celebrity that I had to go on record saying that I hated – it would be Dane Cook. Do you have anyone you just detest??? (I hope it’s not me)

I try very hard every day not to, but more times than not it ends up being me. I’m just kidding, I love myself to an unhealthy degree. Yes, there are people I detest. I can’t imagine them reading this but in that rare event I will say Amy Seimetz. She’s just the worst.

That you know of, have you ever been probed by aliens????

I watched a lot of Unsolved Mysteries as a kid. Does that count?

Belly buttons. In or out????

We’ve really gotta end this division, man.

Are you old enough to remember when you COULDN’T buy things online?? That’s not the question here though. Sitting in my office now, I am looking at the very first thing I ever bought online – a Green Bay Packer football helmet coffee mug – bought with my first computer in 1995. Do you remember the first thing you ever bought online???

I’m 35. I’m not sure, but I’d assume it was either something to cook with, or the soundtrack to Teen Wolf (on vinyl).

~ and then ~

The Signal is one of my favorite movies – do you have anything fun from the set(s) for the lot of us?

The pretzel scene was improvised. Also, Scott Poythress (Clark) actually drilled into my forearm when I punched through the door. Had to pick up the piece from the ground and rubber cement it back on. Which was, suffice to say, NOT how it was supposed to go. But, Scott is one of my oldest friends and my favorite actor, so we got past it. I’m still mad at Justin, though, because he broke my fingers, stabbed me in the ribs, and lacerated my lip with the pesticide tank. (He’s a ‘serious’ actor.) I kid, he’s fine too. We made that movie for 50 grand in 10 days and the only way we were able to do that was because we’d been friends making crappy little movies for about a decade at that point. We all went to college together. That’s a special one for me. Oh yeah-Anessa has a serious gag reflex, which I did not know about at the time, and at the end, when she’s tied up looking all fidgety and catatonic, I bent over in front of her, and began to gag, like I was nauseated from the signal. I’m not sure Anessa has ever forgiven me for that. I couldn’t have known. But it looked great!

I can’t even wait for The Sacrament – I’ve been following ‘thangs’ on lovely Twitter for months – what do you think about the movie?? Personally – I’m pumped!

It was the most positive experience I’ve ever had making a movie. I’ve not seen it yet, as Ti is in the edit right now, but it’s fair to say it’s the biggest movie of my career up to now and I am grateful for it, and especially grateful to have gotten to work with Ti again. He’s a good friend, and a better filmmaker. It was a lot of hard work, but satisfying work. I’m very excited to see it. I hope Ti was able to fix my shitty acting in post-production. 

I’m old and I pay attention to things – so, when I read your Twitter posts, I read that you’re heading into other genres. I’ll hang out with you in other flicks – for sure – what do you think?? Comedy?? Action?? Sci Fi??

I’ve only done one horror movie in the past couple years, but I have done one of each of those genres you listed. As a writer (I’m a writer) I tend to veer more towards comedy/action/romance. Basically, if I was given the green light to do whatever I wanted, I’d make 80′s movies. Forever.

I’ve read that you’ve been changing it up with your beard. I actually just grew one out of laziness because my family was in town a couple of months ago and they stressed me out out and I got lazy. The other day I got shorned and I feel GREAT!! What do you think about that??

I only ever have a beard for work. I don’t give a fuck what you do with your face, as long as you respect my personal space. Beyond that, I am happy if you’re happy.

Lastly – dude you FUCKING ROCK!!! THANK YOU for agreeing to listen to me for five minutes!! LOVE your work, amigo!!! I hope your flight(s) are safe and I hope everything works out for you!! Good luck and love and all of that!! Do you wish any of our readers such good fortune?

It depends-are your readers assholes? I guess it doesn’t matter. Sure, hugs and kisses, namaste.



A Monday Night In February

I’ve been keeping my head down lately, having been incredibly busy with work, which, though grateful to have, has kept me from friends I’ve not gotten to see enough (even the ones I was making movies with, they now have to spend an awful lot of time trying to pull a coherent performance out of me in the editing room-apologies Ti!). So last night, I had the good fortune of seeing a few. Here’s photographic proof:



(Ti, Tipper, Jacob)



(Zane Grant and Brian Collins)











(Me and Jacob-we’ve been making movies together for 15 years, including The Signal and Synchronicity-brothers)





(Keller and me-Keller got great news this week-he’s penning the new Nic Cage flick)






On Mars!

“Equipped with his five senses, man explores the universe around him and calls the adventure Science.” 

-Edwin Hubble

(just a brief note about this moment, and selfishly its significance for me.)

i wanted to be an astronaut before i could do much of anything. any time i could get my parents to drive to Huntsville, Alabama, i was there. Rocket Center. Space Camp. my sister apparently reads this blog, and she can attest to just how much of a nerd i was for space, and for NASA, and the concept of space exploration. 

i felt, and i still do, deep in my heart, that if you could get me up in space, and let me float up there for a few minutes, in a suit, i’d be cool with nothing else ever happening in my life. i’d gladly picture wrap right after that.

i’ve talked about this with friends, recently even, and i miss that time when we as a people were exploring out there, instead of in here (points to self). i think the internet had a bit to do with that, along with a million other factors, but that sense of wonder, i miss it as a part of popular culture.

i was at home with chicken pox at 8 when i watched the Challenger explode on my tv. even at that age, that terrible moment, that awful loss, i remember feeling like i was certain the astronauts on that shuttle would not have regretted or been sad to know that would be their fate. they died doing what they loved, what inspired them. 

when i saw the movie Space Camp later that year, my tiny brain put 2 and 2 together, and i began a life long odyssey towards being in movies. 

tonight, seeing the news, watching the videos and the photos coming in, i look at my twitter feed, and i see people i never knew had an interest in space exploration captivated and in marvel of it all. modern times would dictate i pull out my old space camp patches and paraphernalia and shout back to them ‘I WAS A FAN FIRST! BACK BEFORE EVERYONE LOVED THEM!’ like i used to about bands i’d heard of and selfishly and wrongly felt like they were mine, and that other people finding them or finding joy in them cheapened them, cheapened me, and meant they were fakers, and i was legit. (that’s such a backwards and wrong feeling to have.)

i feel the complete opposite of that. 

i want to hug everyone, i want to let us as a race of human beings experience this wild accomplishment together, in awe and in wonder of what possibilities there are for us as a species.

all of these feelings are tempered by the terribly sad news in Wisconsin today, and i am reminded of the terrible things people can do to one another. i am sad that people have been hurt, have lost their lives, by other people.

and so we are presented with so much humanity today, both incredibly good, and horribly, terribly bad.

i don’t know how to balance those two things. in my heart, and in my mind.

i choose to remain hopeful for what we can do, together, for each other and for the advancement of the life experience for our children, and their children. i choose not to be cynical, especially in an election year, but remain realistic, soberly so, about the many flaws we have inside each of us.

thoughts are with everyone hurt in recent events, their families, and also, thoughts are with this grand cosmic moment in human history.

i don’t know what else to say about it all, so namaste, well wishes for any of you reading this. a wish for peace, a wish for love, a wish for compassion, a wish for an endless curiosity and hopefulness for people. for humans. good night, friends.


more shooting the shit on Rites Of Spring

more shooting the shit on Rites Of Spring

i gave blood today. this time, for real, not for picture. you guys should do that if you can. you can’t take it with you, right? and, you can score free snacks. that’s a win-win. oh yeah-here’s some more press we did last week. i never like how i sound in interviews, or how i use ‘like’ too much. such is life. it beats working for a living. xo

Some press

Some press

the strangest thing happened while doing a press day last week for a movie we’ve got coming out thursday. randomly, a few of the guys i spoke with asked me some questions about found footage. i guess i’d made myself a vocal critic of the format, and we got to chat about what it means, how we feel about it, etc. that’s going to be the topic of an upcoming post, but here’s this, for now. thanks to Evan Dickson for shooting the shit.

long time, no? si?

oh fuck me. it’s been almost 2 years since i posted anything-frankly i’d forgotten about this, until i received an email notification (from an email address i forgot i had) saying someone had commented. imagine my confusion. anyways, in this modern era of social networking and everyone having a platform to force share their every thought, experience, opinion on YOUR thoughts and experiences, i’ve been taking steps back, trying to figure out where my line is for useful interaction and what as a person in the professional film industry i should be sharing, or especially NOT sharing. i quit facebook about 5 months ago, and keep going back and forth about whether to do the same with twitter-then BOOM, a.j., you forgot you almost started a wordpress, wrote one entry, and disappeared like jeff mangum. 

after thinking about it, i like this thing, and i think i’d like to continue it. i have a lot of interests, and most don’t exist in the world of cinema (that’s not true, most do, i think i just mean to say i am a curious soul), so i am gonna start working on refurbishing this place and working the kinks out. questions, comments, requests, i am happy to hear them. here. 

so, enough for now. gotta go do some research for the new gig, and force my body to engage in exercise. take care. we’ll chat soon.



my new ish

hey guys-while my website is being built i thought i’d drop a wordpress blog for the interim. this time of year, given the field of work i’m in, i get asked a lot of questions about how i spend my halloween, what movies i like to watch, etc., so i wanted to throw down a quick note about 5 things you would find at normaltown should you make your way there around samhain. so, to that end, cheers!

1. Murder Party

-this is one of my favorite unseen genre pictures. i did a movie a few years back that magnolia pictures was kind enough to pick up-when i visited the offices, they let me go into their vault and nab a few items from their library. this was a blind grab, and once i saw it i set about immediately stalking these guys. it’s a perfect horror/comedy mix for me with really great performances. why these guys aren’t genre household names is baffling to me. i can’t recommend it enough. i’ve watched it every halloween since i got it. and i always will.

2. Suspiria Soundtrack. Goblin.

-oh, Goblin, how i love you. you make everything appropriately spooky. Suspiria is one of my all-time favorite movies…about a coven of ballerina witches…it’s been unseasonably seasonal in LA this fall, and i was standing in my backyard last night while the wind kicked in fierce, and i knew what i had to do. listen to goblin. in the wind. in the dark.

3. autumn casserole.

-i know, this isn’t a horror movie. or a soundtrack to one. it IS, however, a fall dish that i make annually. something you should know about me (if you don’t already), is that i’m a food nerd. if i’m not making or watching a movie i am likely in the kitchen. so i thought i’d include this recipe bc it’s rad. and healthy. and completely vegan-don’t scoff! you can use butter if you want to de-veganize it, but give it a shot. there ain’t nothing wrong with occasionally letting go of the poor cow’s udders for a sec to let her have a coke and a smile. here ya go:

(serves 6)

1 small squash (any kind will do, but i always end up going with butternut cos it’s easier to work with) peeled and cut into a medium dice

1 leek (again, any onion will do), roughly chopped

2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, and diced

2 stalks celery, diced

2 cups of wild mushrooms, cleaned and chopped roughly the same size as the squash

fresh herbage (thyme, sage, rosemary, whatever you got)

1/2 cup toasted pecans, chopped

1/2 cup breadcrumbs

2 tb olive oil

3 tb earth balance spread

salt and pepper to taste

preheat the oven to 400. coat a baking dish with a thin amount of olive oil and set it aside. in a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt one tb of the earth balance with the olive oil. to the pan add your squash, leek, mushrooms and celery with a pinch of salt. saute for around 10 min, stirring often. cover the pan and reduce the heat to low, cooking for another 10 min or so, until the squash is tender. to the pan, add your apples, chopped herbs, and season to taste. saute for another 5 to 10 min, or until the apples are tender. while that’s going, melt your 2 last tbls of earth balance in a saucepan. add your breadcrumbs and toss to coat well. set aside. pour out your veg into the baking dish, sprinkle your breadcrumbs over the top, and toss in the oven for 15 min (until the top has gone brown). toss the pecans over the top of that, and dig in. cheers.

4. Halloween III: Season Of The Witch.

-there’s just not enough love for this film. it’s got the one and only ATKINS. ATKINS! and an evil toymaker. and fucking robots! if it wasn’t for the public’s disappointment at a Myers-free halloween movie, things might have been very different for this franchise. that being said, WITHOUT it’s failure we wouldn’t have gotten the awesome (and selfishly my good friend) Danielle Harris. so i guess all things happen for a reason. now that we DO have Danielle, though, go check this one out if you haven’t already. it’s my 2nd favorite Halloween film.

5. apple toddies.

-i coulda put another movie up, but if this list is really about my halloween season, i have to include one last recipe for your drunkards. whenever i’m back east in the fall,  my 2 best friends Mandy and Erik Pace set aside an evening for us to make these and get blasted (these days after their son Jack has been put to sleep). these come highly recommended from Mandy (wife #2), so if you don’t like them, yell at her. cheers!

6 cups apple cider (try to find one with less sugar)

1/2 c honey (or agave nectar if you’re rocking it vegan)

1/4 c lemon juice (fresh!)

1 cinnamon stick, 2 cloves, a bit of whole allspice, and if u got it, a small piece of candied ginger.

1/2 bunch fresh sage

2 granny smith apples, peeled, cored, thinly sliced

whiskey. in my house we drink jameson’s. you could do maker’s-you could go anywhere from a cup to half a bottle. if you want to throw the whole thing in, double the portions of everything else.

-bring the cider, apples, and sage to a boil, and add the honey and lemon juice, stirring until the honey is dissolved. add your whole dry spices. keep on a low heat, and add the whiskey. give it a good couple stirs, and once it’s all happy, put it in a crock pot (if u got it, no worries if u don’t) on the warm setting with the lid on. get a couple of slices of apple in every cup, and keep the sage and spices out, as that will make your toddy whack. get lit. repeat.

hope this was mildly interesting. it’s all boring stuff to me, as i spend an awful lot of time with myself and already knew all this. feel free to toss your ish in, and let me say before you do that 2 of my favorite indie halloween films are Trick R Treat, and Behind The Mask: The Rise Of Leslie Vernon. i just figured you guys would put something out there about those. happy holiday, gang. xo