Despite Tugs From Tinseltown, Director Brian Hecker Still Calls Hollywood, Florida Home
Hollywood, Florida born director Brian Hecker, who won Best New Director at the Ft. Lauderdale Film Festival, is ready to release his first feature film Bart Got a Room (www.bartgotaroom-movie.com) in April here in Florida, in Los Angeles and in New York to start. Based on his own life, this comical tale follows a young high schooler, Danny, and his quest to find a date for the prom. While dealing with his divorced parents dating, he tried to find his own way to face rejection and ultimately find happiness in an unlikely realm.
The film debuted at Tribeca. He has already won awards at Asheville Film Festival and Chicago Gen Art Film Festival for Best Feature Film.
Hecker began working on Bart Got a Room ten years ago. It started with a short eight-minute version of a similar topic called Prom Pudendom, which he showed at AFI in Los Angeles. His professor urged him to make it into a feature.
In the meantime, he created his AFI Thesis called Family Attraction, in 1998, starring the late Chris Penn and Martin Sheen. The key to getting these big stars came down to his winning Director of the Year at AFI in 1997. This accolade also made agents in Los Angeles stand up and take notice.
The young filmmaker knew he wanted Chris Penn and was hoping to also get Christopher Walken. He approached Chris Penn to ask Walken, a friend of his. Although Penn decided he didn’t want to ask him, he offered up Sheen as a replacement, much to the surprise of Hecker.
The same stroke of luck worked in his favor with Bart Got a Room. After getting many companies saying they liked the film and then declining, he offered it to Plum Pictures, who grabbed the chance to produce it. They were a crucial step. He put William H. Macy on his wish list and Macy liked the script. After that, it was simple to get the other actors, including Cheryl Hines and Jennifer Tilly.
“I met William H. Macy at the Roosevelt Hotel here in L.A. and because he cares about the integrity of the projects he chooses, he read it and he loved it,” says Hecker. “It was important to me to capture the idiosyncrasies of my father.” Hecker utilized the skill of the same wig maker that worked on the movie Adaptation to create the red curly wig that makes Macy look so distinctive in the film.
“Cheryl Hines captured the essence of my mother, her sense of humor and sharp wit,” he adds.
He also had to find the character of Danny, which basically emulated Hecker as a teen. He chose Stephen Kaplan, a fairly new face on the scene.
Making a film about his own life, according to Hecker, was a “therapeutic exercise to expose the misery and agony of being a teen in South Florida.” “Although this is about prom,” he says, “it really is a love letter to my family. They are so supportive.” His parents spent a lot of time helping him with everything from location scouting to casting.
Instead of filming in Los Angeles, Hecker insisted on doing most of the shots right here in his hometown of Hollywood, Florida. “I was obsessive about it,” he says, “I wanted to show the senior citizens walking in the background, something you normally don’t see in teen movies, also the condos, canals, puffy white clouds, lizards and egrets. We used a classic soundtrack and even the bandshell, where I often played as a student at Hollywood Hills High.”
It was in high school that he first got bit by the writing bug. “We were given this assignment to write an essay. I wrote about asking out a hot cheerleader and being rejected. It was self-deprecating, gut wrenching and honest and the class loved it. It really gave me a sense of confidence. I thought, ‘This is something I can do.’ My teacher was also very supportive. Many of her students were extras in the film.”
Now that Bart Got a Room is done, Hecker has moved on to a new project, currently called Atari. Working with writing partner, Craig Sherman, who has been his friend since he was 12, he created a script idea about the inventor of Atari, Nolan Bushnell. “We grew up playing Atari games so we thought it would be great to write about the man who at age 32 started a revolution. He invented Pong and started Atari. He was anti-establishment, a hippy who started with $500 working with drug addicts and bikers at $1.75 per hour in a rented-out roller rink and ended up being the fastest growing company in history,” he explains.
He adds, “It took us seven to eight months to get the family to trust us enough to give us the lifetime rights. They liked the fact that we were not so Hollywood. We pitched it to Leonardo DiCaprio’s producing partner. He liked it and pitched it to DiCaprio, who decided to produce it and star in it. Once he was involved, doors opened.”
Hecker pitched the idea to every president of every major studio all within one day: Warner Brothers, MGM, Paramount… Eventually, he decided on Paramount, which DiCaprio had enjoyed working with in the past.
As of press time, Hecker was working on a script for DiCaprio’s approval. He is contracted to do two other drafts if needed. Making a film of this level is a lengthy process, but Hecker is prepared.
Despite making inroads into Hollywood, CA circles, Hecker is still a Hollywood, FL boy at heart. “I plan on making more films in South Florida. Hollywood still gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling. I plan to come back.”-DUO