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Sundance: How the Director-Writer-Star of ‘The 4th’ Found His Comedic Voice

Sundance: How the Director-Writer-Star of 'The 4th' Found His Comedic Voice

Editor’s Note: Andre Hyland’s Sundance short “The Funnel” was a laugh out loud funny film that brought a fresh angle to the indie slacker comedy. That’s why the character’s return in “The 4th” has many very curious to see if triple hyphenate can sustain the same low-stakes, lo-fi comedy over 80 minutes. Hyland’s approach certainly hasn’t changed. “The 4th” started off as two-day short that would give him an opportunity to learn a new piece of editing software, but soon became a four-day shoot and a large chunk of the feature that will be premiering at Park City on Saturday night. As Hyland writes, “I knew once I finished the film I’d either have a low budget feature, a long short film, or a mess I could learn from.” We asked Hyland to share with us his keep-on-making-stuff approach that’s led him on a decade-long journey through a collection of comedic characters and styles, and landed him back home in Ohio to shoot a film based on a semi-autobiographical character.

READ MORE: 14 Films We Cannot Wait to See at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival

For years now, I’ve been operating more of less like a “one-man band” filmmaker by writing, directing, editing and acting in my own TV, digital and film projects, and my first feature “The 4th” is no different. Not to say I also didn’t get plenty of help from my usual collaborators, like Shane Bruce Johnston and HotHouse Productions, whom I made my last Sundance film, “Funnel.”

My “do everything” process originally grew out of necessity and eventually turned into my preferred method of creating my work. It allows for me to tell the stories the way I want with less interference, and I can move quickly on my own projects without having to rely on many others to get started. Not that I don’t work with others, it’s still a team effort many times, but with me doing so much, it allows me to keep the crew small, and less people I’ll need to communicate with at each phase.

All the different stages and roles in the process satisfy me creatively in different ways, but it really just feels like one thing to me, filmmaking. For instance, I’ll be directing a scene from something I wrote that I’m acting in and thinking about how I’m going to edit it all at the same time. So it all just feels like one thing to me with different stages rather than roles. 

Since the early 2000’s, my work has gone through a variety of focuses from really absurd abstract comedy, to more subversive hidden camera pieces, celebrity interviews and live projects to the more straightforward narrative stuff I’m doing now. Throughout all those years, I often created/played characters based on archetypes with big personalities I’d crossed paths with in my real life. Basically taking on the identity of types of people I think are ridiculous via my characters in order to showcase what I find wrong and stupid in the world. Which was great and loads of fun, and led to me segment producing/directing on a sketch comedy show on Fuel TV called StupidFace for a few seasons, and other projects to follow.

Cut to a few years later, I had just finished my second Comedy Central pilot that didn’t get picked up. I had spent the better part of the previous two years committed to a single character named Jesse Miller doing live shows and loads of videos which led to up the Jesse Miller pilot which was a crazy talk show in front of a live audience. After the pilot failed, I was super bummed, and I decided I needed to shift gears and find something new, and also get back to basics too. 

So while I was visiting home in Cincinnati, I decided to shoot a couple things where I wouldn’t play one of my typical characters. That’s when I came up with my short film “Funnel.” Until then I hadn’t really ever played characters that were similar to “myself.” I really enjoyed that experience, plus my short got into Sundance, SXSW and a ton of other festivals, so it was a much-needed confidence boost after my failed pilots (not that failed pilots are rare by any means), and it allowed me to really start trusting my creative decisions again too. By playing a grounded character similar to myself, it opened up tons of new ideas and “The 4th” is really the product of my excitement for this new approach. It’s not necessarily a feature version of the short, but more of a continuation of the same spirit of “Funnel” — one character’s journey on a low-stakes, pathetic adventure.
“The 4th” originally started as an exercise to learn how to edit with the new Adobe Premiere program, at the time I was seeking financing for a feature script I had written and kind of created “The 4th” as a smaller side project. Originally, I thought I’d shoot a short film over a two-day shoot period. I also wanted the piece to have more moving parts, actors, scenes, etc. than I was used to having, so it would be kind of like a practice run for when the time comes that I actually get larger financing for my other feature script. 

Then I just thought, why don’t I try to shoot a feature over four days instead doing another short film in two days? Which I knew was a tall order, but if it didn’t work out it’s no biggie I’ll still get a short film out of it. My manager, Michael Rizzo, who I’ve done a number of projects with, financed it, plus I called in a million favors from actor and comedian friends like Shane Bruce Johnston, Johnny Pemberton, Brent Weinbach, Eliza Coupe and Anna Lee Lawson. Shane Bruce Johnston, who was also the DP, on “Funnel” came on a producer and one of the two DP’s on “The 4th,” which also included my buddy Charles J. Gibson.

The rest of the crew also came mostly from a combination of my friends and various people via HotHouse Productions, like line producer Eric Binns (Rizzo’s production company) and we pretty much approached it like an experiment allowing for little to no pressure. I knew once I finished the film, I’d either have a low budget feature, a long short film, or a mess I could learn from. 

After our first four-day shoot in May, we had about 70% of the film in the can, so instead of shooting pick-up shots of fireworks on the fourth of July, we scheduled a full three-day shoot. The whole thing ended up shooting over the course of twelve days between May and into the fall, shooting a few days here and there as I edited it together. 
Similarly to my other past works, most of the ridiculous situations and characters in “The 4th” are loosely based on my own encounters I’ve had with roommates, police and road-ragers. I love to find humor and absurdity in low-stakes, realistic situations. When presented in a grounded and naturalistic fashion, I feel the comedy of everyday life hits much harder. 

“The 4th” premieres at the Sundance Film Festival at 8:30PM on Saturday, January 23 at the Prospector Square Theatre.

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