Below writer-director Andrew Disney shares one of his favorite scenes from his high-school reunion comedy “Searching for Sonny,” starring Jason Dohring (CW’s “Ringer) and Minka Kelly (“The Roommate”). A winner at the Phoenix Film Festival where it picked up two awards for Best Screenwriting and Best Ensemble, “Searching for Sonny” follows four united friends who find themselves chief suspects in a murder mystery. The film will be available on DVD/Blu-ray, VOD and in theaters via TUFF on August 28.
Everyone remembers high school differently. The other day, my cinematographer, Jeffrey Waldron, and I were recording the commentary for “Searching for Sonny,” and I made some comment about how much I loved my high school. Without hesitation, Jeff let out a groan and snapped back, “God, I hated high school.” For some, high school is a fleeting memory of a magical time that can never be fully re-lived. For others, high school is the definition of hell on earth.
We all remember high school differently, sometimes radically so, and when writing the film, that dissonance is what I used to drive the plot of “Searching for Sonny.” Old high school buddies meet at a 10-year reunion and realize their friend, Sonny (Masi Oka), is missing. The events surrounding the disappearance is reminiscent of a high school play they once performed (coincidentally written by Sonny himself). And the kicker: none of them can quite remember the plot of the play. Elliot (Jason Dohring) was too busy trying to get back with his ex-girlfriend, Eden (Minka Kelly). Gary (Brian McElhaney) was operating lights and staring at boobs. And although Calvin, had nothing to do with the play, he’s convinced it had a sci-fi angle while everyone knows it was definitely noir. They all remember Sonny’s play differently, and consequently everyone’s flashbacks have a slightly, sometimes incredibly, different flavor to its perspective.
This clip is one of my favorite scenes from “Searching for Sonny.” Throughout the movie, we keep learning that Calvin has a colorful history with his former principal, Faden (Michael Hogan), and here we finally get to see what happened ten years ago. I always thought for Calvin, high school, was an epic battle of good vs. evil. Or at least that’s how he’d like to remember it. When he looks back, he sees a standoff between him and the malicious Principal Faden. He hears a Morricone-esque score play in his head. He sees every little thing in beautiful slo-mo. He feels Faden’s nefarious henchmen closing in on the roof. And then he makes the decision only a hero in a movie would make. He takes the plunge, and jumps off. The score, the slo-mo, everything suddenly stops when we see what is probably the truest moment from ten years ago. He broke his legs for pulling a stupid prank. And all the embellishing and mis-remembering in the world can’t change the cruel, painful end to Calvin’s flashback.
The funny thing is this flashback feels like something I witnessed my sophomore year in high school. A similar prank (though not the same) happened in my formative years, and to my memory, it played out in the same epic fashion with which we shot it. And even though I don’t think I embellished the magnitude, I’m not even sure if I actually saw the prank unfold. I vividly remember talking about the prank the day it happened. And I remember the story being retold throughout the years. In my head, I hear the score, I see it in slo-mo, and everything plays out just like a movie.
So for me, this scene was kinda about recapturing high school. In fact we shot this scene (and many other scenes) at my actual high school. I remember it feeling really weird at the time, bringing my favorite actors from my favorite TV shows to act out scenes at my former high school. But it really was the only way we could do it. No other school would have let us take over their campus for free. And no other school would have been as forgiving when we caused thousands of dollars of roof damage after running over those tiles again and again (thank God for insurance).
I began writing this film because I was living in New York and missed all my friends from Texas. So I dealt with it by imagining all my buddies in a Fort Worth murder mystery. In the end, this movie feels nothing like my actual high school experiences. Maybe there are little bits, elements, inside jokes from my teenage years, but that’s about it when it comes to similarities. I think the aspect I find most true is the way the characters never cease to imagine and frame their lives as something grander and greater than it actually is. For me that was always the comedy and sheer joy of making this film. I wanted to give this suburban, deadbeat characters a movie with a score, aesthetic, and narrator they didn’t quite deserve.
“Searching for Sonny” is about the way we completely mis-remember and mis-interpret the past, for better or worse.