The Bedford Playhouse, in Bedford, NY, is getting the only local release of the upcoming film Honey Boy, the Shia LaBeouf coming-of-age story, which features LaBeouf playing his own abusive father. The film was snapped up at Sundance by Amazon Films—and the producer is none other than Westport, CT’s own Daniela Taplin Lundberg, Producer/Founder of Stay Gold Features. We talked to Lundberg about the film, which is set to debut on October 29, and why they chose the Bedford Playhouse.
What was it like producing this film?
I would call this film a true leap of faith. The script came to us in early 2018 and was written by Shia LaBeouf. My development exec, Becca, and I could see right away that it was some of the best and most honest writing that we had seen in a very long time; there were large swaths of the script that felt like conversations that Shia must have had with his father when he was 12 years old and the star of Even Stevens. That being said, I was nervous to get into business with someone with such a complicated history. I sat down with Shia in February of 2018, he looked me in the eye and said, “this story is too important for me to screw up, I promise I won’t let you down.” I wept in that meeting, shook his hand and four months later we were shooting.
What was shooting like?
As for shooting itself, I knew this was going to be an unconventional enterprise. Alma Har’el, our director, is one of the most single-minded and inventive people I have ever worked with. She had visions that seemed impossible to achieve on our small budget, but ultimately were achievable because of her creativity and ability to think outside the box. She would go to one rundown location and discover six different scenes to shoot there. Every day was a bit of an adventure to say the least. I also had producing partners that were like family. We were all in it because we felt passionate about our director, Shia and the potential that the film had to move people.
What makes this film stand apart from others in its genre?
The film by definition is a drama with some biographical elements for sure, but the genre-defining qualities end there. In the film, Shia plays a version of his own father and that in and of itself is kind of mind blowing. The film tackles issues of abuse, alcoholism, complex family dynamics, dashed dreams and the hope and resilience of one young boy. Alma approached the film with so much care, nostalgia and humor that it elevates it beyond what anyone would expect. That paired with Shia’s extremely sharp and often self-deprecating dialogue made the film such a wonderful experience to make and ultimately to watch.
What was it like working with Shia LaBeouf?
I don’t presume to know Shia very deeply or what it takes emotionally to have put this story forward, but I can tell you that he is one of the most hardworking and genuine people I’ve ever had the pleasure to work with. My observation of him is that he is the most prepared person on set and is more critical of his own performance than anyone else would ever be. And he has a heart of gold. Seeing the care and attention he gave to Noah Jupe [who plays the young son, Otis] was just a wonderful thing to watch. If they had a particularly hard scene to film, Shia would be checking on Noah emotionally the second after Alma yelled cut.
What might surprise people about this movie?
How open and honest Shia is about things that were inspired by his past. Also, Lucas Hedges plays the character of Otis in his 20s and gives an incredible performance as the young guy who is famous and rich and the star of a major film franchise all while self-destructing.
What might people be surprised to learn about LaBeouf?
I think probably that he is one of the strongest screenwriters that I have ever read. The scenes between Noah and Shia are ones that I can watch over and over again because they are so layered with humor and emotion and subtext! You see how this poor kid was just trying to navigate the highs and lows of his father’s moods, all while trying to maintain a job and trying to figure out how to grow up with sporadic guidance from his charismatic but unpredictable dad. The brilliance of it all is that despite how his dad behaves you understand how Otis still respects and loves James [LaBeouf]. It’s a real testament to the script and the performances.
You are from Westport—how does it feel having this film at the Bedford Playhouse?
I jumped at the opportunity to screen it at the Bedford Playhouse. Being able to share my work with my community is going to be so special. I can’t wait to see how everyone reacts to the film.
Why is the Bedford Playhouse getting the only local release?
My best friends, Payson and Grant Murray, are huge supporters of the Playhouse and since they told me about its recent resurgence I’ve been so impressed with the events and films that they present. I love that there is such a curated quality to everything they do and I’m so excited to contribute with this film in some small way.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I grew up in this world—my dad’s a producer, my mom’s an actress. And I’ve always been drawn to great stories, and how culturally relevant a film can be. Straight out of college, I started producing small independent features, but it is recently that I really feel like I’ve hit my stride with producing films that are really going to make people think and maybe even change a few hearts and minds. I love the idea that a great film can make you look at an issue or event in a whole new way, or maybe even inform you of something you had not been aware of. With Honey Boy and my other film, Harriet which comes out in November also, I hope to inspire people this year!
What first attracted you to this film?
I love collaborating with bold, visionary filmmakers who take risks. And I’ve always loved Alma’s work, so the moment I found out she was attached, there was a huge draw for me. Once I read the script, I realized how important it was to share Shia’s story, and Alma had a such a strong and clear vision. That and the fact that I was teaming up with a producing team I truly admire and respect made the whole experience feel like I was working with family.
Why do you think it’s important for people to see this film?
There’s a lot about this story that’s striking, but ultimately, it’s a coming-of-age story that captures childhood in a way I’ve never seen before in a movie. Someone said to me, not everyone is an alcoholic, but everyone who sees the movie is related to an alcoholic or knows one. This is a universal story told through an unflinching lens. At times, it’s such a gut wrenching movie to watch, but never, ever judgmental. This story is an honest portrait of a father and son trying to come to grips with the hand they’ve been dealt. I think that’s a really relatable theme for everyone.
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