Peanut Butter Falcon is ‘a love poem to this community’

By on August 23, 2019

Filmmakers Nilson (center) and Schwartz (right) along with East Carolina Radio’s Tom Hoggard (photo by Mark Jurkowitz)

This weekend, amid a swirl of warm reviews (Variety called it an “odyssey audiences won’t soon forget”) The Peanut Butter Falcon opens in more than 1,000 theaters nationwide. But nowhere is the anticipation or excitement greater than on the Outer Banks, the home turf of one of the film’s writer/directors, Colington native and Manteo High grad, Tyler Nilson.

The film, which focuses on an unlikely and uplifting relationship between a young man with Down Syndrome (played by Zack Gottsagen) and a beleaguered fisherman (Shia LaBeouf), is playing at both Manteo’s Pioneer Theater and R/C 10 in Kill Devil Hills.

And as Nilson’s co-director and co-writer Michael Schwartz succinctly put it: “This is like a big homecomin’ for the movie.”

On the morning of Friday, Aug. 23, Nilson and Schwartz made the rounds of East Carolina Radio and stopped in at 98.1 TheScore to tell the story of how their improbable film came to be the subject of a national buzz.

On the origins of the movie  

Nilson: “I’m livin’ in LA and I met a guy named Zack, and Zack is amazing. He’s a friend of ours. He has Down Syndrome. We met him eight years ago…”

Schwartz: “…eight years ago and we were making a short film with him and he’s making really good acting decisions. And he wasn’t getting a shot in Hollywood cause there’s not a lot of roles written for people with different abilities. And we’re having dinner one night and he goes, ‘Hey guys, I want to be a movie star.’”

When Schwartz and Nilson cautioned that stardom for an actor with Down Syndrome could be a difficult proposition, they said that Zack replied, ‘No worries. Let’s do it together. You guys write and direct it. I’ll star. We got this.’”

Nilson: “Mike and I said, ‘you know what, that’s actually a good idea.’ We were looking to get into long-form storytelling so we went to the library and checked out some books on how to make movies, and we just started studying. And we spent a year writing a script, studying, tailoring a script for Zack to sort of show off his talents, thinking we were going to come here, to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, to shoot this move.”

But fundraising locally proved hard and Nilson said the film was ultimately shot in Savannah, Georgia for tax purposes.

On attracting big names to the movie

The Peanut Butter Falcon features a big-time cast including LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Thomas Hayden Church, Bruce Dern, John Hawkes, and even two former top-tier pro wrestlers, Jake ‘The Snake’ Roberts and Mick ‘Mankind’ Foley. (Spoiler alert: Wrestling plays a significant role in the movie.) The writers/directors then explained how they managed to get all these stars to sign on the dotted line. As Schwartz notes: “Our cast is crazy.”

Schwartz: “You can find any email you want if you search hard enough. You stalk.” And they started off by contacting actor Josh Brolin.

Nilson: “We said, ‘hey, we need help. We’re trying to get someone to say ‘yes’ out here. And he [Brolin] responded and said, ‘I’m gonna help you guys. Let’s do this.’”

Schwartz: “Then you can start calling producers and saying, ‘Hey, we got a movie with Josh Brolin in it.’ And they’re like, ‘oh, really.’”

On The Peanut Butter Falcon as a tribute to the Outer Banks

Nilson: While the movie was shot in Georgia, “we faked everything” to make it appear as if the location was the Outer Banks. “We had to change all the cars’ license plates, we painted boats to say ‘Colington,’ we painted a giant seventy-foot shrimp trawler…”

“A lot of people in the movie are named after locals, we show maps of the Outer Banks. It is an Outer Banks film…If you’re out there on the Outer Banks, this is your movie. We made this to show this community off in a way that’s beautiful, and dare I say, ‘poetic’ in its own unique way…I think it’s a bit of a love poem to this community, for me.”

And finally, on what’s at stake this weekend

Schwartz: “We’ve been doing this [movie project] for five years, sort of dedicated our whole lives to it for five years. And then it opens in a thousand theaters nationwide, today. If people go [to see it] over the next three days, then it’s a success. If they don’t go…”


Click here to read Kip Tabb’s review: Peanut Butter Falcon premier highlights local color in a must see film

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  • Stevejo

    Great Movie !!!!!!

    Sunday, Aug 25 @ 9:41 am