Big Gold Brick Dir Brian Petsos on Oscar Isaac, Emory Cohen & More
Brian Petsos is a regular jack-of-all-trades creatively in Hollywood in front and behind the camera doing his share of acting, producing, writing, and directing. Surprisingly enough, he's just directed his first feature in Samuel Goldwyn film Big Gold Brick that saw him reunited with a frequent collaborator in his shorts in actor Oscar Isaac. I spoke with Petsos about how he planned the film as writer and director, influences growing up, casting, and the grueling schedule of indie filmmaking. The film recounts the story of fledgling writer Samuel Liston (Emory Cohen) and his experiences with Floyd Deveraux (Andy Garcia), the enigmatic, middle-aged father of two who enlists Samuel to write his biography. But the circumstances that lead up to this arrangement in the first place are quite astonishing-and efforts to write the biography are quickly stymied by ensuing chaos in this darkly comedic, genre-bending film.
"Someone pretty close to me suffered a pretty serious head injury," Petsos recalled. "I'm chuckling now. That person is absolutely fine now, but it was quite a thing for a while. So that was the initial sort of foundational kind of inspiration and the rest of my life." Given the highly visual nature of the work, he broke down the extensive process. "The way I work is I tend to kind of like build out the world before I start writing the screenplay in Final Draft," he explained. "Building that work almost takes two years worth of writing outside of the screenplay program. I sort of got the whole movie thing, and then when I go into Final Draft to write the screenplay, I tend to write pretty tightly. I fully outlined and knew what every character was going to do: the beginning, the middle, the end of the movie. Then it's a matter of really just writing what we're going to shoot. The nature of this particular film, obviously, there's going to be a fair amount of visual effects. So that stuff interplays with Samuel as the lead character ends up reconciling with his experiences."
While Petsos doesn't reference a specific filmmaker as influential for Big Gold Brick, his experiences at home and film school shaped his style. "If I told you a period piece was my biggest influence, you'd probably be surprised, but that is the case," he said. "My parents were both pretty big film fans casually, but we definitely watched a lot of movies in my house growing up. Commercial movies were a huge kind of early thing. As things progressed, I started kind of going down my own rabbit hole, finding some more esoteric stuff from my first year in art school was actually; I was a film student. I kind of have always somewhat tinkered with the history. To this day, I watch a pretty steady diet of stuff: late thirties to present day. I'm kind of all over the place, and I don't really focus on… It's hard for me to say that like 'filmmaker A, B, and C are my biggest influences.' I tend to be influenced by individual films in terms of my film influences, but probably just as influenced by music and literature as I am by cinema, to be honest."
When it came to casting, Petsos already worked with the Moon Knight and Star Wars star on shorts Ticky Tacky (2014) and Lightningface (2016), and it made natural sense for him to play Anselm in Big Gold Brick. "[Oscar and I] are quite close working on a handful of projects," he said. "He was sort of the first one who came to bat. The script was done and started kind of circulating around at that point. Andy [Garcia] is someone I had thought of. I've just sort of always admired him to such an incredible degree. Having the ability to have Andy show up was just a dream come true. Although I knew Emory [Cohen] from 'Place Beyond the Pines,' I do have to be honest. When I saw 'Brooklyn' (2015), I just was so blown away. His versatility is incredible, and getting the chance to work with him was amazing. When we had those two in place, we were able to sort of put together the rest of the cast. I have to say, for my first feature, I just feel so fortunate because it was incredible working with everyone, and everyone was on board to make the same movie. There were times when I would just be working. I would be marveling over the stuff that was happening in front of me. It was truly incredible, and I'm very proud of all of them and what they did in the film."
When it came to finishing the film, Petsos recalled his personal final day filming as a grueling 22 hours with three different crews. "Not every day was like that, but that was that sort of that was kind of the vibe of this shoot. It was squeezing a lot of sausage into a little bit of casing. I was probably sick for about a month after getting home [laughs]." Big Gold Brick, which also stars Megan Fox, Shiloh Fernandez, and Lucy Hale, comes to theaters, digital and on-demand on February 25.