- ABOUT US
When William H. Macy was looking to film his directorial debut, Oklahoma provided a story and a setting.
By Ryan LaCroix
Published September/October 2014
Wouldn’t it be funny for someone to live aboard a boat on Lake Hefner?
That thought crossed Casey Twenter’s mind years ago while brainstorming screenplay ideas. He sent the notion to his writing partner, Jeff Robison.
The idea took a turn when both men became fathers. Twenter, an Oklahoma City graphic designer, and Edmond resident Robison, then a high school English teacher and football coach, began writing about the bond between parents and children.
What emerged was a screenplay the pair titled Rudderless. Its main character is Sam, a successful executive whose life is turned upside down by the sudden death of his college-aged son. Sam withdraws from life, goes to live on a boat, and paints houses to make money. After discovering his late son’s demo CDs, Sam listens to—and eventually learns to play—the songs the boy had written. Through music, he forms a friendship with an awkward youth, and the pair start a band.
After they finished the screenplay, Twenter and Robison were set on seeing their story on the big screen. Twenter began cold-calling Hollywood, where he had no contacts. In early 2009, a switchboard error led to a conversation with William H. Macy’s agent, who asked to see the script. A week later, on April Fool’s Day, Twenter got an email from someone purporting to be Macy, the Oscar-nominated star of Fargo, who wanted Rudderless to be his directorial feature debut.
“It’s a profound story that I feel has not been told before,” says Macy. “It was funny. It had a loving touch. All the characters were really well drawn.”
Macy enlisted Billy Crudup of Watchmen and Almost Famous to play Sam, and the film features Hollywood heavyweights like Laurence Fishburne, Macy’s wife Felicity Huffman, and Selena Gomez. But there was another character the filmmaker took special care to cast. In Rudderless, music becomes the engine of Sam’s redemption, so it was important to make the film’s songs work.
“The movie has all this music in it, and it is near and dear to my heart,” says Macy. “It was vitally important as a character.”
While a handful of songs were written for the movie, several local musicians performed their original music on screen. Oklahoma City-based singer-songwriter Chelsey Cope plays her song “Gotta Lot of Nerve” in the movie. She says the role has given her confidence as a musician.
“It helps to know people like what I’m doing,” says Cope, “especially someone as influential as William H. Macy.”
Oklahoma’s Film Enhancement Rebate Program provides incentives to filmmakers who use songs by local musicians in their movies. Rudderless, which had an estimated $3.5 million impact on the state’s economy, spent 73 percent of its budget in the state while shooting in central Oklahoma in spring 2013. The film also employed Oklahomans as 70 percent of its cast and crew. Though the production received funds from the rebate program, for Macy, the decision to film in Oklahoma was influenced most by what he found when he visited. Oklahomans were eager to help accommodate the process.
“It’s the Oklahoma way,” says Macy. “It was just so friendly. We would have been hard-pressed to go to someplace like New Orleans or Los Angeles—people are not nearly so generous.”
Get There: Rudderless opens nationwide October 17. rudderlessthemovie.com.