Filmmaker Brian Petsos on Working with Andy Garcia and Oscar Isaac on his New Film “Big Gold Brick” | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Filmmaker Brian Petsos on Working with Andy Garcia and Oscar Isaac on his New Film “Big Gold Brick”

Escaping Reality

Feb 23, 2022 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

Filmmaker Brian Petsos builds worlds. Over the course of days, weeks, months, and years, his mind is at work, thinking about landscapes and settings, houses and those who might inhabit them. This is how he builds his movies. It’s not what some may think: he doesn’t sit at a keyboard and plunk away until he has it. No, he does it from the big picture to the miniscule.

Petsos’ latest film is the indie triumph, Big Gold Brick, which portrays a writer going through a meltdown before rising up from those proverbial ashes. It’s funny, dark, and involves a big cast with big names like Oscar Isaac, Andy Garcia, Lucy Hale, and Megan Fox, to name a few.

We caught up with Petsos to ask him about how he makes movies, how he got into the art form, and what it was like working with such marquee names. Big Gold Brick is due out this Friday via Samuel Goldwyn Films.

Brian Petsos
Brian Petsos

Jake Uitti (Under the Radar): What was your relationship to film as a young person—were you one of those people with a video camera in your hands at all times?

Brian Petsos: My relationship primarily was as a fan. That probably stemmed from both of my parents being pretty big film buffs. There was a period when I did make stuff as a kid, but I can’t say I was a young Spielberg constantly shooting 8 millimeter. It was much more as a film fan. In fact, my first year in art school was kind of focused around film. I later moved away from that as a concentration. But I remember just being really depressed when the curtain was ripped open and [I got a real] understanding the mechanics of how a film was made, I was really depressed about it! But I got it all back!

Was it just, like, the closer you are to something, the less special it seems?

I guess it was the idea that I would never get to just be purely a fan now that I knew how the sausage was made, which was sort of disappointing to me. But then what happens is you find the beauty in it when you start really worshipping the medium, you know?

How did you get better at making movies—writing and directing them? I believe I read that Second City in Chicago was involved?

I was very discouraged when I was studying film. It was so vocational and I was always more of an ideas person. So, I was really discouraged away from continuing to study film by that. So, I worked in other mediums for a while. Even after college I was making paintings and I did a lot of mixed-media and collage work. I made music for a long time. And then my current composer, coincidentally enough, egged me on and urged me towards going to Second City as a performer.

So, I started studying there always with the idea of, like, I just always knew I wanted to get back to making movies somehow. But I loved being at Second City. I studied over the course of several years there and by the day of my last conservatory show in Chicago, I packed up a truck and moved to New York with this goal of trying to make movies eventually. It started off through performing and I was writing at the time, as well. Then I started making short films and kind of abandoned performing to stick behind the camera.

Oscar Isaac
Oscar Isaac

That’s interesting, this idea of getting disillusioned about making movies and then finding your way back in via, perhaps, a less academic way. Okay, well can you tell me about New York? I believe that’s where you developed a relationship with the big-name actor, Oscar Isaac?

I have to get down on my knees and be very honest, Oscar is—you know, I consider him one of my closest collaborators. He’s a very close friend. I owe him a ton. The two short films that we did together prior to this, Ticky Tacky and Lightingface, really got out there pretty widely. He’s such a talent and he’s someone who’s sort of universally loved.

His agreeing to mess around with me and make some crazy stuff has absolutely helped and so I’m totally indebted to him. But it’s not that I don’t think—I think he also respects me as an artist because, you know, it’s not like it’s a charity case situation. I think we really like working together! [Laughs] And I think we plan on continuing to do so.

What is it you two connect on, what is your creative bond, would you say?

At risk of sounding super generic, it’s a chemistry thing. When he and I first met, I remember—the first night we actually went and hung out, we got a couple drinks and then we went back to his apartment and I think we played music for each other for, like, six hours! [Laughs] Some of our own music, as well, but mostly just music that we dug. We connected on music in a very real way.

Oscar is someone who is really, really funny in real life. And I’m someone who just likes to play in my own real life. I’m constantly doing bits with friends, that approach towards conversation and living is something that I really quite like. And he’s the same way. We connected in that way. And when it came time to do Ticky Tacky, the first short, I gave him the script for it. I don’t even know if I asked him to do it, I just gave him the script and he was like, “I want to do this!” And I was like, “Really, man?” He was like, “Yeah!” And I was like, “Okay, cool. That’s awesome!” That’s how Ticky Tacky started and the rest is history!

What was the genesis of your latest project, Big Gold Brick? To me, it’s an abstract realist movie about a writer who has a breakdown and discovers a gift. But what would you like to say about the film?

The genesis was sadly someone pretty close to me suffered a pretty traumatic brain injury after an assault. And the person is now fine. But watching the return to “normalcy”—the several year long return to normalcy—was unfathomable how tough that was. Starting with hallucinations and ending with the darkest dark depressions. And so, of course, me being me, I say, “Oh, there’s a dark comedy there!” So, then it comes to—I knew I didn’t want to tell that story in a real way. I wanted to use it as a jumping off point, which I did. And I probably projected a bunch of my own stuff into the film there. But that was the initial bedrock of what got the screenplay kicking.

How did you go ahead and manifest the movie, which includes a great big cast, and actually make the movie from there?

My process is—I don’t know if it’s unique or not, but the way I work is, I kind of do really passive world building over the course of a year or two. And then by the time I’ve got a good handle on my characters and my beginning, middle, and end, I’ll start to outline. And then the last process for me is creating the actual physical screenplay document, which, by that point—I write pretty tightly, so there’s not a lot of going back in the screenplay. By the time I’m in the screenplay it’s like putting the final layer of paint on.

So, then you got the screenplay and it’s time to go and try to get the movie made! And so obviously Oscar was attached first. That absolutely helped in getting some attention. And, you know, you spin the thing around, you raise a bit of money and the next thing you know, you’re on the phone with Andy Garcia. That’s kind of the way it worked with this one. As soon as cast starts accumulating, more cast is interested. It starts seemingly slow and then it gets quicker and quicker and then you’re flying to Toronto and shooting. It’s a strange lifestyle.

Emory Cohen and Andy Garcia
Emory Cohen and Andy Garcia

Do you have a favorite Andy Garcia story from your time working together? [Laughs] There’s so many! What’s coming to mind immediately right now is Andy came to set and there are several actors who are wearing wigs and he looked so perplexed by it and was like, “Are you serious with all these wigs?” And I’m like, “What do you mean?” He goes, “What is this, is this like a wig comedy?” And I was like, “You can call it what you want!” So, he started calling it a Petsosian Wig Comedy. But that was sort of the running joke. There’d be a lot of times when Andy would look at me and shake his head like I’m crazy and just walk away. But truthfully he was very invested and I know he stands behind the film.

Do you have a favorite Megan Fox story?

My favorite Megan Fox story is we were shooting one of the law office scenes at night and we were on, like, the 56th floor, or something, of this building. And someone pulls the fire alarm. And I think that was our second or third location that day. And Megan Fox and her assistant ran down 56 flights of stairs. She took her heels off. And then about 30 minutes later had to walk up 56 flights of stairs. [Laughs] And it’s just like: Welcome to indie film!

Lucy Hale
Lucy Hale

How about any favorite Lucy Hale stories? You know what, I’m not ducking the question here, I’m just going to show some love to Lucy because she is the sweetest thing ever. She’s so good and she’s such a pro. She is like a darn sharpshooter. It’s amazing. She’s like an acting robot. I don’t think we ever did more than, like, two takes. She was just amazing. I’ve never worked with her, so we met on set. And she was just amazing and I can’t say enough good about Lucy Hale.

Final question: what do you love most about what you do?

Well, this is an interesting one, and this is cliché, but it’s the old saying, if you love what you do, you’ll never work a day in your life. And that is what I do. Most of my time is truly spent with my writing hat on. Most of my time is writing. So, I create worlds for a living. And it’s an incredible thing. Some might say I’m escaping reality but if that’s the case, then I’m fine with it. Because that’s what I spend almost all of my time doing.

(Big Gold Brick will be available across all digital platforms and theatrically starting this Friday, February 25, 2022. Click here for info on platforms and theaters.)

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