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IFH 570: How I Made My Filmmaking Dream Come True with Andy Erwin

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Andrew Erwin and his brother Jon are the filmmaking team known by most as the Erwin Brothers. The Birmingham, Alabama born brothers grew up around college football and entertainment. Their father, a local news anchor introduced them to the television industry at a young age. As teenagers they began their career in sports television with ESPN as camera operators.

After several years working in sports they transitioned into directing music videos and documentaries. They won music video of the year three years consecutively at the GMA Dove Awards working with some of the top artist in Christian, Country, and Rock music. They went on to produced the award winning 9/11 documentary The Cross and the Towers (2006).

In 2010 the brothers shifted their focus exclusively to developing feature films. Their first feature narrative, October Baby (2011), was a coming of age drama about a young girl named Hannah (Rachel Hendrix) trying to find her birth mother. After a strong grass roots campaign the micro budget feature debuted theatrically in the top ten eventually landing on the front page of the New York Times.

Andrew and Jon’s sophomore release Moms’ Night Out (2014), starring Sarah Drew, Sean Astin, and Patricia Heaton, was their first venture into comedy. The crowd pleaser had a successful theatrical run with Sony’s TriStar and continues to grow its audience on dvd as a cult classic.

Next Andrew and Jon tackled the epic true sports story Woodlawn (2015), starring Jon Voight, Sean Astin, Nic Bishop, and newcomer Caleb Castille. It was a deeply personal story for the Erwins. One of the characters in the Alabama story is their father, played in the movie by Astin. The duo continue to live in the Southeast as they write and develop stories of redemption and hope with a strong emphasis on their faith roots.

The inspirational true story of Kurt Warner, who overcomes years of challenges and setbacks to become a two-time NFL MVP, Super Bowl champion, and Hall of Fame quarterback. Just when his dreams seem all but out of reach, it’s only with the support of his wife, Brenda, and the encouragement of his family, coaches and teammates that Warner perseveres and finds the strength to show the world the champion that he already is.

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Alex Ferrari 0:00
I like to welcome the show. Andy Erwin, how you doing, Andy?

Andy Erwin 0:16
Great man! It's good to be with you. And good good to talk movies.

Alex Ferrari 0:19
Yeah, man. Absolutely, brother. So, man you've had, you've had a very interesting career, to say the least. But how did you get started in this insanity that we call the film industry?

Andy Erwin 0:30
I mean, I think anybody that gets involved, either they pay a lot for film school, or they run away injured during the circus, and we were kind of more of the circus kind of performer route. And so, um, you know, my brother and I, we were kind of studio rats, my dad was in news. Growing up, he was the news encouraging 11 in Dallas, and the CBS affiliate there. And so we always grew up around kind of the industry. And, you know, when we kind of became teenagers, they let us use the equipment from midnight to 4am if we worked off the books for $10 a day, and, and so it wasn't at the CBS affiliate, I won't name no one can say brookwater Child child labor laws. But we did that when I was 15, my brother's 12. And we just kind of fell in love with telling stories. And so I went off to college in New York, and and John was in high school, and I just heard what he was doing back home, I was like, that's way cooler what I'm doing. So I dropped out of school. And we started working on the weekends for sports networks, like ESPN as cameramen. And that paid the bills for us to the other five days of the week, to to be able to have this hobby grown out of control. So at that point, we live in Birmingham, Alabama, started a little production company ended up working into documentaries and music videos, with this idea of one day doing features but it took about 15 years till we got to our first one. And it was a it was a it was a crazy journey to get there.

Alex Ferrari 2:04
Very cool, man. And so you were you were you were hustling as a camera guy trying to get his trying to get their movies made. And you got your first micro budget film made, which was October Baby if I'm not mistaken, right?

Andy Erwin 2:19
Yeah, it was a small, it was a small budget film. We did it for about $750,000. 19 days shoot. There at that point, we were doing a lot of music videos. And so doing a lot of rock videos, we were kind of good at blowing things up. And so, you know, if we couldn't figure out how to interview video, we just blow something up. And in fact, the last treatment we did for a band called skillet, it's Dan comes out, things blow up, it starts to rain, more things blow up, it stops raining, everything blows up. And that was the whole treatment. And, and that video kind of blew me blew up. And so you know, and so we, we ended up directing more and more second unit kind of things. And getting on film sets, doing stunt sequences was kind of our thing. And then, you know, we just said it's now or never we need to take the opportunity to try to do you know, see what we could do on our own. And so we said, rather than lean into all of our tricks or anything flashy, listens to a small little character drama. And there was a friend of ours named Gianna Jessen that was had an incredible story about her life story that we heard and we just said, what if we fictionalized that, and kind of put it in the context of this kind of kind of romantic kind of coming of age story. And do that little $750,000 micro budget should have never worked? Did it? Like, if we had known what we know now, I mean, that like we would have told ourselves never to go for it. But we raised the money to both put it out in theaters and do it ourselves. And it made enough money to give us a chance to do more. So it was that was our that was our journey.

Alex Ferrari 4:04
Now that ignorance is bliss, isn't it? When you're young?

Andy Erwin 4:08
Yeah. Yeah, it is. It is. I mean, you because, you know, they say whatever, doesn't kill you makes you stronger. But there's certain things in this industry that actually kill you. And so, you know, I think if you knew all that going in, like we would never, I mean, I talk to my kids all the time. I'm just like, I look at like just the recklessness of a 13 year old and I'm like, Man, if I had known now when I was a dad, there was no way I would have done some stuff as a kid. Cuz he just like that could actually kill you. But you know, when you're young, when you're young and ignorant of those things, you just say hey, why not do it like this? And I think as a filmmaker, you know, it's better to try that stuff out early. And, and not to get a little bit more reckless and sometimes it works and sometimes you die.

Alex Ferrari 4:55
Exactly. Hopefully figuratively, not literally In our business now, but with October Baby, you actually took it out on your own and you actually did your own kind of the job do your own, like, for walling it off of it and getting it on the world. And how did you actually get it? Because it was a fairly big, big hit for such a small budget.

Andy Erwin 5:15
Yeah, I mean, for such a small budget, we felt like we really needed to be disciplined to do something that was just about kind of character relationships. And we've done this tiny little pilot for a small TV network that didn't make it. And we did a little, little pilot with this small cast that we that we fell in love with. And, in fact, one of the cast members that we discovered was James Austin Johnson, who is now the new Biden and Trump on Saturday live. He, he was in Nashville, and he sits broken out this year. But he was as funny little kid, there's 19 years old, you're in Nashville. And, and so we took that cost, and the pilot didn't get picked up. But we're like, we love this cast, let's insert them into this story that we're writing. And so we wrote it around that task. And when we get done with it, it wasn't meant to be a kind of a controversial film at all, it was really just based on my my friend Gianna story. But it hits some kind of, you know, raw nerves with different people and, and there's a lot of distributors that were nervous to kind of take it out. And we just had that we had that independent film spirit, they were just like, Well, why not take it out on earth again. So

Alex Ferrari 6:34
Again, the ignorance the ignorance is helpful

Andy Erwin 6:36
It's the ignorance. And then and then we went, we went and raised the money to put it in theaters and hired, you know, Samuel Goldwyn, to put it out. And it really should have been a train wreck, and it worked. And, and, you know, I think the goal with any independent filmmaker, especially early on, is for your product to do well enough to find an audience. You know, that's, that at least validates enough to allow other people to take a risk on you to let you do another one. And, you know, so we weren't aiming for a homerun, we were really aiming to, let's get on base. And let's do a story that we believe in. It's a story that we're proud of. But, you know, but it's not, it's going to shatter records. And let's get on base show that we can do this. Have one under our belt, and let's keep going forward. And that was what October Baby was for us.

Alex Ferrari 7:25
Now, with your music video background, what did you bring from your music video background into the into your narrative feature film? Because I mean, I've directed music videos a ton, and there's a lot of you get a lot of hours on set, which I think helps a lot. And you know, with, well, you deal with craziness that you would never deal with on a feature film.

Andy Erwin 7:45
Yeah, I mean, oh, my gosh. That that, I mean, I think there's a lot of things. I think, first of all, it's kind of like, you know, short films with a lot more volume to it, because you're working on somebody else's budget, you know, you're not having to go out and raise, you know, $20,000 a pop to do short films, you're, somebody's paying you to do it. And, you know, and back then there was actually budget for music videos, that's kind of, you know, going to where, you know, you can't do it unless, you know, you're a college kids, but back then they accept budgets. And I think I think several things, it allowed us to kind of get just time in the saddle, and to try different things. And I think just like any other art form, you know, for a long time, up front, you make your way imitating other people he's trying stuff on, until finally, there comes that moment where you find your voice, and you're like, Oh, this is the kind of stories I tell, this is my style. For a long time, up front, you're just trying different things on like, what it goes like this, it's like that, and doing music videos allowed us to kind of try a lot of hats on. And so we started out in more than a Christian contemporary world, and, you know, had a lot of fun there. But, um, but then, you know, moved into country song, and then we ended up doing a lot of stuff in the rock world. And that was where we just got to experiment. And the second thing was, is allowed us to learn how to deal with big personalities. And I think there's, you know, I think every actor wants to sing, and every singer wants to act. So there's, they're, you know, intrinsically kind of the same species. And, and I think he just learned to deal with, you know, fragile egos deal with people that need to feel safe. Know, artists, whether it's a music artist, or an actor wants to look stupid, and I think typically, a lot of the neurotic behavior that is exhibited is just from people being afraid of looking stupid. And so it is the loudest to learn how to navigate a lot of that stuff. So it knocks some years off of those headaches of learning how to speak that language. So that when we stepped onto a film set, it's just like, oh, okay, this personalities familiar, at least and, and then and then my brother, my brother in law Particularly the media is more visual. And he brought a lot of that visual style into how we shoot.

Alex Ferrari 10:06
Yeah, I mean, I think as directors, we, the thing I've talked to actors all the time is they just want to feel safe. And if you can make them feel safe, they'll give you the best, they'll give you the best they can. But if they don't feel safe, that's when the problems occur.

Andy Erwin 10:21
And I've worked, I've worked with a lot of actors that, you know, there's certain actors I've worked with that have a reputation for sideways sideways energy. And but, you know, I just, you know, a lot of them are like, no, they're sweethearts, as long as they feel safe, that sideways energy means he had a toxic film set, or a weak film director or somebody that didn't really know what they wanted. And they felt like they had to, it's the same thing that happens with kids, when like, you know, my kids at home, if there's not like some boundaries and stuff, and they feel like they're in charge, you know, they don't feel safe, then that's where you get all the sideways energy, but they really know where they fit in the family. And you're giving them really good boundaries, and giving them enough leash to be their own people, and not trying to control them, but you're trying to direct them. And it's imperfect science, but it's really about that safety. And that's what creates that with actors. And I think we started learning that with a lot of the crazy neurosis that happens on music videos.

Alex Ferrari 11:20
Oh, music videos. They are they are wonderful, aren't they? But if there was a podcast, we could just tell stories of what happened on set that we can legally say publicly.

Andy Erwin 11:32
Yeah! I would have to change all the names. There was one, there was one music video I did, where, where there's two artists that I won't name sure that that might have booked the men but um, but the the the label paired this, this group together, and they're a duo, they're famous duo. But they didn't get along. And so because they didn't really they weren't, like best buds, the way they appeared on the screen. They were like, two different artists that were sort of artists they paired together. And so, you know, they had their own tour bus each had their own tour bus. And it was a hot summer day, and we're doing this music video. And I would go into one's tour bus and say, so until, you know, we're ready to get on set. It's like, well, what so and so my partner, is he ready to go? Now is that why am I going out until he does, like, I'll be right back. And I go into their tour bus. And I'd be like, Hey, man, and I just went back and forth for like 30 minutes until I taught one of them into coming out first. And so it was constant.

Alex Ferrari 12:35
And I'm sure that's probably one of the most tame stories you have.

Andy Erwin 12:40
That's the one that I legally, I'm not afraid of getting sued for that one. So

Alex Ferrari 12:45
Now that you know, as directors, man, there's always that one day on set, that the whole world's coming crashing down around you. camera's not working you losing your life, the actor will come out of the trailer, all this kind of stuff. How what was that? What was that worst day for you? Which there's an argument of me that every day has one of those, but what what was the one that sticks out in your mind? And how did you get over it? How did you get through that process that day?

Andy Erwin 13:10
I think you know, I think as a director, you know, you always, I mean, the first two or three days of filming any film, the first few days of principal photography, you're questioning all your life choices, and you're like, it's all burning down. This is why I get exposed. This is where they find out that I don't know what I'm doing. You know, and it just and you develop kind of a little bit of that marathoners pace, and you get into a rhythm. And I think the biggest thing you have to learn as a film director is that you got to let certain fires burn, you know that, you know, you're not going to be able to put out every fire every day, you just got to get you got to you got to keep one from consuming the entire set. And so there's little fires, they're always burning got to get used to. There's any point in the day, there's at least five people that are going to be tested you. And I think as you have more time in the saddle, you get a little bit more calluses where you're like you're not, you don't lack empathy, you're not immune to the fact that it's hard. But you just have to be okay that people aren't okay with you sometimes. And but for me, the biggest catastrophe that ended up I think actually making a better film was on the movie Woodlawn, you know, and so Woodlawn was another independent film that we had done. So it was one that was the most personal to us. It was it was a story that my dad used to tell us as a bedtime story growing up in Birmingham, Alabama, and it was the one that we wanted to make. And it's a true story about the last part of integration in Birmingham, Alabama in the 70s. And this one little football team that was the last integrate. And the first black superstar that came out of that system is Captain Kidd, Tony Nathan. And so we raised the money to do it. It was the most money we had raised at that point was about 13 million. And we went out to start, you know, it was a week last week of pre production. And I cast the kid out of out of London to play the role of Tony. I don't know what it is about British actors, but they make a big play the best people from the South. Just look at anybody on TV right now that's got a southern accent. I guarantee you, they're from England. But but sort of, so I cast this kid, really good actor that's going on to do some good things. And the week before we started filming, for whatever reason, that would not an explanation. The Embassy in pulled his visa, they wouldn't let him they wouldn't let him travel. And we're like, you know, we didn't have the budget to push. So, you know, instantly. I was like panic, I just said, and our casting director starts, you know, just throwing out all sorts of names of people that were good actors, but I'm like, what, are they athletic? Do they play football? You know, because it was so important that this actor be able to do a lot of in camera stuff. And, and so we were panic, there was this one kid named Caleb Castiel. That was the stunt double for Tony. And Caleb had auditioned for Tony. I hadn't seen this audition was a particularly good. But he just had this charisma that wouldn't quit and said, Well, if I don't get Tony, I'm going to do the stunt double. So he shows up the stunt double. And this kid played for Nick, Nick Saban University, Alabama. And he runs like a gazelle man, he just is pretty to watch. And I was just, you know, I'm kind of a person of prayer. And I was just like, man, what do I do? And I just Caleb's name popped in my head. And I was like, surely that him he's been in one TV commercial.

Alex Ferrari 17:05
Surely not. Talking to the voice in your head, surely not him.

Andy Erwin 17:13
Just it felt right. And he just had this, this, this spirit that wouldn't quit. So I called them up. And I just said, Caleb, I need you to get over to the studio. I'm going to give you every opportunity to win this role today. And he said, I've been waiting on the call, I signed my died today auditioned with the date and said, This is the day I got the role. He said, I just knew it was mine. And I was like, holy cow. So I threw him in a room with Jon Voight, who's playing there, Brian. And Caleb just in good acting is about how you respond. It's about being in the moment being present. And it's not about acting, it's about reacting. And Taylor just reacted incredible being in the room with an Oscar winner. And he had the skill. And the whole movie, we call this the whole team together said, you know, this movie is about rallying around this kid Tony. And the team rallying around him, we're gonna rally around Caleb, He's our guy. And so he became the star, he became number one on the call sheet that day. And it made the movie. And since then Caleb's broken out, he's on one of the leads on NCIS, Los Angeles now and is doing incredible for himself. But that was the day he went from being a stunt guy to being number one on the call sheet. And I think a lot of times on a film set, the worst moment where you feel like it's all going down. It doesn't always work out. But a lot of times there's a doorway there to make something better.

Alex Ferrari 18:38
You always plan you always may have a plan, but it generally rarely ever goes according to plan. And it generally, generally, I'm gonna say nine out of 10 times it's a better than what you expected.

Andy Erwin 18:51
It usually does. I mean, and I think that's the hardest thing for young filmmakers. I think it was a big lesson for me there. But for young filmmakers, and that was my third feature at that point. But for young filmmakers, there's this fear of if I let go of control, that that people are gonna see that I really, that I'm a fraud. And I think any artist feels that. And I think as a result, we hold it tighter to the best be like I don't want you to judge me. Don't Don't judge my ugly baby. And, and I think what I've learned is, when I do that, when I have done that, the best I can hope that for that movie, good turnout is the one that I have in my head. There's no room for discovery. But when you kind of loosen your grip and you trust the close group of collaborators to speak into that process and have this policy of best idea wins. Then there's this element of discovery where it doesn't matter where that idea comes from. If it's a great idea, let's use it. And it just it when you realize that you have control because you're in the chair. You are the director there A lot of power that goes with that, that allows you to look at other people's ideas. So you discover things that you wouldn't have other other ways. So it makes a better movie.

Alex Ferrari 20:08
You know, I always find it fascinating. I've had I've had, I've been blessed by speaking to so many amazing, high high and performing people in this business, Oscar winners, Emmy winners and so on. And it'll never ceases to amaze me. The whole concept of imposter syndrome is something that is so prevalent in I mean, I'm like, I talk to somebody, I'm like, you want an Oscars like, Yeah, but I get I get sick when I go on set for the first day. I'm like, Yeah, wow. And it's so I always like, I always like to let independent filmmakers know it's okay. Even even the top of the top legends have issues with imposter syndrome. It's not something that's just you. Everyone's got it.

Andy Erwin 20:50
Well, I remember hearing Joe Wright talk about the first day Yeah, on on set with Gary Oldman on darkest hour, and he's like, I thought my job was supposed to be just making the environment around Gary, right. So that he can, you know, do its thing and it gets in the first day. And Gary leans over is like, you know, what do you think? Was it too far? He said, Joe realize that that moment, he said, really great directors want to be directed away from really great actors want to be directed. And, you know, that idea that any you know, anybody always has that feeling of I don't really know if I'm doing it right. And so after directing point in Woodlawn, I love I love the minute, but he called me he called me late one night. And John was like, Andy, it's, it's it's boy. Am I any good in this picture? I'm like, you're great. He's like, if I'm no good, just kept me out. Just cut the character completely. As a job, go ask your Oscar, bro. You know,

Alex Ferrari 21:52
You're okay!

Andy Erwin 21:54
Or, you know, or, you know, I directed Cloris Leachman and she had Oscar and and this latest one Anna Paquin. She's the youngest Oscar winner. It's just it never goes away. It just all of us feel like how do we stumble into this job? You know, and there's, there's a fraction of a percent of people that are just so qualified, they can do whatever they want. And there's an arrogance that goes with that. But I think even in that case, even in that case, there's I think it's motivated by insecurity. You know, I had a great interaction with Denzel Washington when we were I was mixing underdog and we're on the we're on the sound stages at Sony. And he was mixing letters to Jordan next door. I had underdog Michael Mann was was mixing his TV series he's doing right now across the hallway. And then Jason Reitman was test screening. Ghostbusters on the fourth stage. So we're all on stage six. And I texted somebody, and I said, Oh, my gosh, how did I get on this stage? She's the imposter here. And my filmmaker friend Rob backs and all four of you.

Alex Ferrari 23:05
I'm sure I'm sure Denzel at one point or another said that the same thing about like you because he just like everyone starts somewhere, man. No one just comes out an Oscar winner. No one just comes out knowing everything. You got to go through the process. You got to get the bumps I always call you gotta get the shrapnel. And that shrapnel is what makes you man. But yeah, you're absolutely you're absolutely right. Now, man, I got to touch on I can only imagine man, I recently after I watch American bug, which we're going to talk about in a second. I went I went back I was gonna meet let me go. Let me go watch that, because I'd seen the trailers and never seen it. Man, that movie was was impactful. Man, it was such a powerfully emotional film. And it's just, it's such an oddity, because it's like, hey, let's make a movie about how a song was written. Now, it was one of the biggest songs of all time, but it's like, you know, to hear that, like, let's go see how my heart will goes on was written. Like, it's nothing. So how do you make that though? That would be an interesting, I've seen the making of that movie. Yeah. How did you? How did you get that? How did you get involved with that? How did you want to tell that story?

Andy Erwin 24:13
Yeah, yeah, you know, it was, it was funny because, you know, we do pedal into stories, and we do very much gravitate towards stories of faith. I think that's become much more mainstream experience over the past 10 years than maybe when we first started. It was much more a tiny little niche kind of early on but now it's kind of found its footing where you know, the same way that other niche genres like you know, superhero movies or horror films have found their footing in something that's more mainstream you know, but but but when we started we were trying to find that hopefully we've been part of that solution you know, as well as others like divan Franklin, but with with I can only imagine, you know, we were not smart enough to really go out and find great stories. They just typically land in our lap. And I was screening we did a comedy, I do not recommend directing a comedy. It is very tough. We did a small comedy. Our second film was a small comedy for Sony called mom's out. And, and it was definitely, you know, took years off my life but but in the middle of that I was tasked screening a comedy up here in Nashville. And, and I just was cold calling a lot of people in in the community that might be interested in watching it. And so I reached out to Bart Miller from the band Mercy Me who wrote the song I can only imagine. I wrote, I wrote him on Facebook, and I just said, Hey, we don't know each other. But we run in the same circles. I'm test screening my film tonight. We'd love for you to see it. You want to come see it? He said, wrote back right away. So I just moved here from Texas. Yeah, I would love to see it. And at the end of the film, he really enjoyed it. And he said, Can we talk? And he said, There's a movie studio that's been developing my life story, the story myself and past five years. I would love you guys to take a look at it. And I said, Well, it's kind of serendipitous. They sent us the script this morning. Oh, and it just was kind of one of those things. And then I was like, What are you doing tonight? And he's like, Well, what are you doing? I was like, I was gonna go watch Captain America at midnight. He's like, I was gonna do the same thing. I was like, did we just become best friends. But the whole stepbrothers thing, but I I read this, we read a little bit of script, and the script just didn't jive with me, because it was just that it was about somebody's life experience. And it ended on a downer note, and they said, you know, one day, Mark wrote a great song. And it was like, we're like, we're like, this isn't a movie. It has to be something universally relatable. And it has to be something that's beyond just the song. And we sat down with Bart, one day, and my brother asked them Bart, if I were to say, Can I hold a gun to your head and say, Is there a god? What would you say? And he said, Absolutely. Because the change I saw my father, he went from being the most abusive men are know, to be my best friend. And if something can change his life, they can change anybody. Really. That's interesting. And then I was doing an interview, about a year later, when we're promoting Woodlawn. And the host asked me off the air. He's like, what story are you working at? Looking at that next? And I said, Well, off the record, we're looking at the story of I can only imagine. He said, Oh, my gosh, he said, I was at the Ryman that night when Amy Grant pulled him up on stage and gave him a song back. That's the most magic thing I've ever seen in music. I don't know about this. So I call it Martin. I'm like this happened. He's like, Oh, yeah, man. That was the big magic night in my life. I forgot to tell you guys that. I'm like, you idiot.

Alex Ferrari 27:47
Help me help you!

Andy Erwin 27:53
Like, that's a movie. And I'm like, is your triumph. And so we engineered that whole film. From the standpoint of what would it be, I think there's something universally relatable about the kind of the Father wound that a lot of guys have, in particular people in particular guys, and that desire of every man because that fraud, imposter syndrome, wanting to have their father stand and applaud them. So we're like, what if we engineered the moment at the end, that is an empty room, and he sees his father, and the whole movie builds to that moment. And you know, and then, you know, this abusive father that eventually stands in approval. And for men in particular, when they watch the film, it catches them way off guard and brings really big emotion. Because of that, and it's beyond something of faith. I mean, faith is definitely a huge part of the story, but it's really about that universal desire of redemption between a father and son. And I think Dennis Quaid killed it. I think it's one of his best performances as the Father, and I'm really, really proud. I'm really proud of how the film turned out. And that was really the launching point. We had a disagreement with the studio on how to make it. They said there was only 17000 people on the planet that would watch it. Because it was just

Alex Ferrari 29:16
To be fair, to be fair on paper not a good sign.

Andy Erwin 29:19
No, not at all. Not at all. It's a song about a Christian AI. It's a movie by Christian song like they're really, in fact, the day that we started making it there was a big deadline article that said the music biopic is dead. And that was the same year that that stars born and Bohemian Rhapsody, and a bunch of others came out. So you know, guess the article was wrong, but But you know, I think we had a big disagreement and so we went out and again raised the money to both make and release it. We did a blended find a book PNA and the production budget, which was the production budget was about 7 million on it. And, and then we bought it out from under the studio and made it independently And then right before, right when we started shopping it, roadside attractions came along and said we know how to put this out because we specialize in kind of wards films that are niche. And they had just done Manchester by sea. And that was their big, you know, hit. And we're like, Okay, we'll trust you with it. If we can do this deal with your sister company Lionsgate too. And so Lionsgate stepped aboard, we did a deal with them and rented the system and put it out. And then little $7 million film did 86 million, it was so good breakout month,

Alex Ferrari 30:32
Not a bad so that so that turned out of what started at a studio studio didn't believe in it. The way you guys believed in it, you took it back from the studio, put your own money, your own money in and release it yourself. And then of course got all the money out of it.

Andy Erwin 30:48
But our investors didn't really invest. And we didn't do too bad either. I mean, my kids are going to college, but it definitely was life changing for us as well. But yeah, we did, we did get a page one rewrite, you know, our version of the story. And that's when the studio who had worked five years on it and couldn't crack the story. Didn't like that. And we decided, hey, we're gonna stick with our vision. And we made, you know, you don't always want to go all in, in the moment. But there's certain hands where you're like, This is my island moment. And so we pushed out all the chips in the middle of the table. And it was either going to be a success or a disaster. And we just happen to land on the front side of that.

Alex Ferrari 31:32
Yeah, it landed landed on black for you. And yeah, there's no question. But look, there are those moments in life where you're given a choice you like, are you? Are you in? Or are you out. And unfortunately, so many filmmakers make that, that they do that all in at the very beginning of their career. And they like mortgaged their house, and they want to tell the story, and it doesn't work out well for them. So your story is definitely an anomaly. But then for everyone listening, well, they did it. I'm like, Yeah, they did it. But look at the story they had, they had a song that millions upon 10s of millions of people around the world knew you had, you had an audience, that's what the studio didn't understand. They didn't understand that, that there was so much love for that sort. But then again, it wasn't just about the song, it's really about a son and a father.

Andy Erwin 32:19
It's about the ingredients, like, you know, that's why you can't go all in on every hand, you know, the ego and the ego, artists in each person that says, Oh, this is going to be, you know, that's only one component that the bit the bigger things are branded IP is king, you know, having something that has a following. Then secondly, so that has the story ingredients, you know, for us, we very much look at kind of how, what, you know what Jordan Peele did with Get out. I mean, he had a great horror movie, and appeal to his core fans. But he had this rare universal overlay to it that appealed beyond just, you know, slasher movies that had a social justice appeal that had a hitch Hitchcock feel, it was something very something for everyone or, you know, or movie like quiet place that did that same thing. It was about that universal idea of father tried to make his family safe. The father mother tried to fight for their family that was beyond a horror movie. And so those ingredients are rare. But we have the ingredients, you have the branded IP. And then the third thing is tank. It's all about timing. Like, I can only imagine could have happened 10 Other ways that 10 other times and I'd say no, no, there's times it fails. Right? It just the the timing was just right. And all this stuff lined up. And and we just happen to fall into that. And so

Alex Ferrari 33:49
So now your new film, American underdog, which, by the way, I absolutely love my wife and I we got the screener sent to us man with my wife and I my wife's like my wife doesn't know but football much, but I'm like, Look, it's a good movie. Look. It's got this guy in it. It's got Anna Paquin. She's like, Oh, Sookie, I'm like, yes. Okay, from true love. So she's like, alright, I'll watch it. And we're there on like, a Saturday afternoon. Oh, we just start watching it and we're just like, son of a bitch. This thing's grabbing. Holy shit. That's like it's grabbing, pulling me in like what the hell like I knew who Kurt Warner was. I didn't know the extent of his story. I knew he was an underdog but I didn't know the details. But but it's but the key was watching my wife watch it, who knew nothing. And she was like, getting involved in the emotion and the characters in the story. But football was just an aftermath. Like, that's just that doesn't even matter to her. It was all about the characters. And again, we were saying IP, I mean, you've got Kurt Warner, who's a very famous football player, and then you throw the word underdog and then you throw the word American underdog. Might as well just put up Stallone and rocky up there at the same time. Like, you were hitting up, but you are hitting a bunch of good. So when I saw it come through my, my view, first time the trailer, I was like, Oh, this is gonna do well this will be this. This is gonna do just fine. How did you guys get involved in this story, man?

Andy Erwin 35:14
Well, it didn't hurt that the Rams won the Super Bowl and gave us the home video but um, yeah, you know, it's again one of those things that fell to us. And I'm really grateful for it. But 20 years ago when I was a sports care, man, the only Superbowl ever worked was in 2001 Super Bowl in New Orleans. And it was Kurt Warner and his second Super Bowl against Tom Brady and his first and and you know that the story we tell in a movie had happened the year prior. And I just remember watching Kurt and being like, just intrigued by the guy. There's something very rocky ask. I mean, I think the films that influenced this one the most were rocky, Cinderella, man and warrior where there was really a lot of fighter stories about kind of one man against the world and fighting for something that the stakes that drove what what happened in the, in the arena. You know, there's something very rocky asked about Kurt, and but I just remember watching him go over the stands, interact with this spiky haired, beautiful lady. And that was his wife, Brenda, and I always said, I would love to know the story behind that I never knew that I was going to be 20 years later that my brother and I would be the one to direct the film. So when it came back around, I can only imagine him we then another movie after that. And then as we were finishing, you know, the touches on the script for the story we're gonna make, somebody said you ought to talk to Warner's, again, it's a film that stuck in development. At another studio, we specialize at that. And they said, but if the option is up and in, you might want to look at it. So we went to their house in Phoenix and said, you know, we're not here to pitch you what your story is, what do you think your story is? And Kurt said, it's about the things off the field that drove what happened on it. Everybody knows to football, but I want to, I want them to know what I saw in my, my wife, Brenda, and my son, Zach, who's disabled, and blind. And we're like, well, we can do that story. We know how to do that story. So when we stepped into it, and then the pandemic kit, and through all of our plans in the air, and then we finally, as we were writing the script, zactly vies a longtime friend from Shazam. And you know, and Chuck and all that. And DAX and I were talking on FaceTime one day, and we had the same agent, and he said, What's this Kurt Warner movie, I keep hearing my name thrown around. And I said, was that the book for the next three years? I wasn't going to pitch you. And he said, No, let me read the script. And I sent him the script. And he texted back at midnight that night, so let's make a football movie. And then I called, I called up the producer team. And I said, why this land? Exactly. I didn't mean to. But he said, and they're like, great. And so then it kept pushing because COVID And finally, we just like, if we push one more time, we lose that because he's going to do Shazam, too. And so we just call them and said, Hey, guys, what you screw it number that we have to hit. And they gave us the number we had to hit to make the movie. And we said, Okay, we've got to chop this schedule from 45 days down to 30. To make it and so it was the most stressful thing I've ever done in my life. But we kind of all that turmoil we focused it on. Like, this is the story we're telling, this guy had the deck stacked against him. And we're all going to live her own story together in the middle of trying to film in a pandemic, you know, and that once he was on board, he rallied around that and then Dennis Quaid, he looks so much like Romeo quaintness equate, I'll let you play anybody you want. But I think it's special when an icon plays an icon and I had been a highlight reel addict for meal. And I said to him, he's like, I'm you for me. I want to do it. And then you know, and then all these great character actors came on board like Bruce McGill, and you know, Adam Baldwin, and chance Kelly and all these guys. And then the really what's in it over the top was, we're like, it has to be about it's a co starring thing. It's not It's Brenda is very much the equal lead of the store. She's the underdog on the other side of the coin. And when Anna Paquin read the script, she fell in love with her. And she called me and she said, You know, I've never done anything interactive with really anything inspirational. I don't know anything about sports. I don't really know anything about faith. She's like, is that a problem for me playing the wife of a prominent sports star that's a Christian? And I said, Absolutely not. And as long as you can really try to fight to understand the person you're playing, and make it make what is important to her important to you. It's like That's exactly how I work. Like, well, who wouldn't want to work with an Oscar winner? And once she signed on it for me medically took off. And she had Zach paired so well together because Zach typically does the action comedy thing. And he doesn't well better than anybody. But Anna really grounded him really well with her drama and and typically goes for the hard, gritty characters. And the Chuan glass can artists kind of things. But Zack really kind of pulled her lifted her out and showed this lovable side that people haven't seen her before. And so it made an incredible, and just we just like, this is our moment, we have to do it. Now. If we don't do it now, it's never gonna happen. We just rallied around that. And again, it could have been a failure, but it just worked. So

Alex Ferrari 40:41
And both of them played parts that they generally don't play. I mean, you don't? Exactly Yes, Zack. No, I've never seen Zach in a dramatic way he they both killed it. They both I think did. He was Kurt. I mean, there's just no no question about it. And then when you see it that obviously when you see the the images of Kurt in the in the credits and stuff like that, which is just like, fine, man. It's just, it just hit it that I wasn't I wasn't prepared for it. Let's just put it that way. I think it catches, it catches you off guard. You know, I'm a pretty look, man. I've been a filmmaker for 30 years, it's hard to catch me. It's hard to catch me. So it's when a movie does get me like, Oh, son of I didn't see that comment. Generally could see things coming. I didn't see that come. And so you have and I and it happened with me. And I can only I can only imagine because I didn't I didn't see it coming. So the way you guys are approaching stories is it has a very unique perspective. And yeah, you're coming through faith, and that angle of it. But it's hits you at an emotional level that generally you don't expect as a film as an audience member, because so much of the stuff that we consume today. So McDonald's, fast food kind of entertainment, and then when a home cooked meal shows up, you're not ready for it.

Andy Erwin 42:05
Yeah, yeah, exactly. I mean, if you're used to McDonald's, when, when there's, you know, broccoli on your plate, you kind of roll your eyes at first, even though that's really what your body needs. And so it's like, how do we dress that up in a way that makes it non threatening, but then allows still allow something of substance? And I think that, and I love hearing you say that? Because I think the audience that I value the most out of any audience. I mean, absolutely, we serve a Christian audience that loves stories of faith. And I don't, I don't, I don't, I don't apologize for that. But the audience that I valued their opinion the most, is the audience that we call the benevolent skeptic. The Benevolent skeptic doesn't have anything against faith, there's nothing that they feel negative towards it, but it's also not something they naturally consume. And when you can kind of catch them off guard, and earn the right to be heard, and leave them with something to chew on, and the things that they didn't expect. You know, it leaves them with something that maybe not a part of their natural daily diet. And I think it's really cool. When somebody from that audience, you know, we did another we did a, we did another film last year at the same time, which I don't know why we did that we're just a glutton for punishment. Well, we did a, we did a documentary called The Jesus music, which is about the history of Christian music. And it was one that was just a passion project. There's a love letter to a lot of our friends. And there was a there was a critic that I've since become really good friends with on through Instagram, but I didn't know him at this point. But he wrote he his critique of the film, and he said, he said, I'm a self professed, you know, you know, agnostic, borderline atheist. And he said, This is not my normal thing, but I expected one thing and I came in realize, you know, I feel like somehow the ER was tricked me and changed some of the neural pathways to my brain. And he said, I'm kind of pissed about it. And, and, no, it's like, it's like that dog on it. You let me in. And I think that that sacred ground because I'm not there to try to de force mean anything to anybody. I'm not there to try to create controversy. I'm just there to plant a seed of hope. I think people desperately crave right now,

Alex Ferrari 44:21
Right in America, dog American underdog is not is not preachy at all? No, it is so subtle. It is such a subtle message. But the message in there that rings the most to me is the story of the underdog, which everyone can, everyone can feel the story of hope, the story of love the story of a family. Those are the things that that ring the most out of that movie to me, and everyone can really connect with that. And then of course, you throw in American football, then you're ready to rock and roll.

Andy Erwin 44:54
Right! It was it was really cool because in that universal overlay, I think good filmmaker, influences The most in our career that we kind of aspire to is Frank Capra, Frank Capra. Frank that just that old school, you know, Sicilian optimistic immigrant kind of perspective in that world war two generation that blatantly peddled hope. And people a lot of times didn't know how to take it at first, you know, it's a wonderful I couldn't find its audience until years after the release. But he was just so good at it. And that's something I think in cinema we've lost that. For whatever reason, the backlash, backlash that we don't have the antihero, there's nothing wrong. The antihero, you know, I love the Godfather is one of my top 10 films I love. But there's become so much of that it's become so saturated in this fatalistic kind of perspective, that I think as a, as a industry, we've forgotten how to hope. Yeah. And so for us, I think the thing that we peddle without apologizing is a rush of hope. And it's a feeling that people don't know that they need, but then when they experience it, they walk away, they're like, I can't help but smile, and believe in something better. And, you know, for me, a lot of that hope comes from stories of faith, but there's something universally related to believing, you know, on top of that, that I think, is something for everyone, regardless of where they come from. That's what we want.

Alex Ferrari 46:23
Now, I'm gonna ask a couple questions asked by guests. What advice would you give a filmmaker trying to break into the business today?

Andy Erwin 46:28
You know, I think your individuality your uniqueness is your brand. You know, I think a lot of times people come in, and I want to be like, you know, one size fits all to this. And I just want to be vanilla and kind of find I'll do anything. But I think it's your uniqueness that will make you stick out, I think that uniqueness will also present the biggest obstacles up front, because people want will want to put you in a box and say, Well, you need to fit over here, you just fit over there. Like I'm neither and and continue to lean into your uniqueness and find stories that display that at full volume, that allow there to be time for other people of like minded taste, to kind of center around your brand. And that will be you know, where you find your breakout. Like for years, David Russell struggled with finding out like, what's my brand, and he would have all that frustration, until he really leaned into the idea of my brand is a dysfunctional family. That's what I know. And so then he does stories like the fighter and Silver Linings Playbook enjoy. And those are all about dysfunctional families and their dish charming sense of the word. And that's where his brand really popped out. So I just think for me, my brand was about hope and about faith. And and that's what we leaned into and didn't refuse to be categorized in one side or the other. And, and then eventually the brand comes out of that. So that's what I would say. My biggest advice is embrace your individuality.

Alex Ferrari 47:57
And last question three of your favorite films of all time.

Andy Erwin 48:00
Oh, man, that's, that's that's a tough one. I love en. Casa Blanca is probably my number one. I think particularly because they hadn't written into the movie when they started filming it. And it just discovered it along the way. It's perfect. It's so perfect. I would say that you know, it's wonderful. Life is number two. I love Frank Capra. And, and then I would say I love a movie that really caught me off guard when I watched it was Ron Howard Cinderella Man, I absolutely adored that movie. That was so good. For you, it'd be number number four and then number six through 10 would be Spielberg films.

Alex Ferrari 48:43
It just all just just let's just list them off. And where can people and where can people see American underdog?

Andy Erwin 48:51
Yeah, it's out everywhere now digitally on Blu ray everywhere, wherever things are sold. And it's it's doing really well and iTunes is number three on iTunes right now. So check it out.

Alex Ferrari 49:02
Brother Andy, I appreciate you coming on the show man. Congrats on all your success and continued success to you my friend.

Andy Erwin 49:08
Thoroughly enjoyed the interview my friend!

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