Below, Matthew Lillard shares one of his favorite scenes from his directorial feature debut “Fat Kid Rules The World,” currently playing in select theaters and slated to hit VOD October 25th (more details here). The coming-of-age tale stars “Terri” breakout Jacob Wysocki as the titular ‘fat kid’ Troy, who at the outset of Lillard’s comedy attempts suicide by stepping in front of a moving bus. Enter Marcus (Matt O’Leary of “Natural Selection”), a charismatic young high school dropout, who saves Troy’s life by pushing him out of the way. Before long, Marcus has enlisted Troy as drummer in his punk band, and though Troy’s new identity gives him much-needed confidence and purpose, his father is less than thrilled by his choice of friends.
I have to pick a scene. One scene? Not easy. There are all kinds of pressure when you’re picking just one scene. It’s like “Sophie’s Choice.” They are all my babies. Each piece of the movie has a story behind it. A memory attached.
I’ve chosen the “puke scene” and the aftermath montage to write about. This scene takes place about two thirds of the way through the film in a storage unit where a bunch of kids are throwing a punk rock concert. In this scene, Marcus, the guitar player, has convinced Troy, the drummer, that they are in fact a legitimate band and that Troy is ready to play in front of people… even though they’ve never practiced their two songs together!
There are a couple of things that stand out to me about this run of scenes. I knew the “puke scene” would be the closest thing we had to a Hollywood “set piece” moment. Something we could use in a trailer and anchor the second act around. It’s also an integral part of our hero’s journey. As the scene starts, we’re coming into our lead character’s lowest point in the film. We needed his emotional reality to resonate with the audience. I also knew this beat had to be funny! Low point and funny? No easy task! I think through humor we’re able to deliver the theme of the movie in a way that the audience can accept more readily.
In this edit, Marcus bounds up on stage after snorting something. As he starts to play the song, the pressure starts to build for Troy. We used our sound mix to help dip Troy into his own world of terror.
The puke gag itself is actually sort of historical, in the fact that a puke scene has never been shot this way before. Bill Boggs, our special effects supervisor, took this movie, way below his normal fee, with the hopes of attempting this gag. (Pun intended) Our key make-up artist, Shawn Shelton, took a mold of Jacob’s face. We then created a prosthetic piece to fit his jowls and ran two micro tubes between the prosthetic’s pieces and his face. We started the shot with the traditional mouthful of puke and pulled back to capture the full explosion! I think in the end we pumped 20 gallons through the tubes!
In the first cut of the film, we had a “real” version of the puke scene and my producer, Rick Rosenthal (genius, mentor, friend), told us we were missing a great opportunity to “go for it!” Throughout the film we did a series of fantasy sequences, and the third beat in the puke sequence is one of these beats, leaving us with the question, “Was this moment really that traumatic?” When you’re watching with an audience, they go crazy. It gets a HUGE laugh every screening. The film immediately comes back and finds our hero in the depths of his pain. I love the transition and how fast it is. The audience thinks they’re in a moment of levity and the film flips that expectation on them, bringing it right back to our hero’s pain.
The montage that follows was something that we created out of what we had available at the school. It wasn’t until we chose that school did we start to shape what the sequence would actually be comprised of. For instance, when we found the showers I thought it would be poignant to have Troy walk past “perfection.” When we found the pool, we loved the idea of putting him alone on the bottom of it. It’s such a powerful image. It’s one of best pieces of music from Mike McCreedy (lead guitar player of Pearl Jam). He did our entire score and was epic. The pictures and the images really tell such a clear story. Again and again, Noah, my DP, and I came coming back to the idea of “dirty, pretty, pictures” when framing and shooting the film.
Our movie would forever be one of those “indie” pictures floating in oblivion if we didn’t capture great performances. I knew our material wasn’t going to be “dark” enough or “cutting edge” enough to find an audience on it’s own. We have a film based on performance and solid storytelling.
The smashing of the doughnuts scene is probably my favorite piece of acting in the film. Jacob isn’t what you see when you watch “Fat Kid.” He’s full of life and joy, and he lights up any room that he walks into. If you knew him, you’d agree with me that his work in this film is damn near sublime. The morning of the doughnut smashing scene, he came to me and said, “I don’t get angry or sad. I’m a happy person. I don’t cry.” I told him I wasn’t looking for the result of “crying” and asked him to do a simple exercise with me. He said, “Yes,” of course. As we were setting up the shot, I started to walk Jacob through a basic exploration exercise that I used when I taught acting.
As Jacob started to move through the work, we started to get closer to the energy that was needed for the scene. We rolled the camera surreptitiously. I walked out of the room and screamed “Action!” Jacob was so powerful in the moment. I think you can feel his energy jump off the screen. When I watch that scene I can feel it affecting my body. It’s visceral. He was so engaged that he smashed a hole in the wall and started to cry for a good long while.
I love that part of the film because he was able to rise above what he thought was not possible in himself and be brilliant.