Randall Emmett has come a long way and made many friends and contacts along the way as a producer. Deciding a need for a change of pace, and decided to enter the world of directing. His first feature is the crime drama Midnight in the Switchgrass with a script from Alan Horsnail. The story follows an FBI agent and Florida State officer team up to investigate a string of unsolved murder cases. I spoke to Emmett about what made him decide to get into directing, assembling his cast, and persevering through the pandemic. "About two years ago, I kind of was starting out creatively as a producer," Emmett said. "I just felt that like I had lost kind of my artistic self as a kid that I was always growing up in the arts. I felt like I needed to challenge myself, and when I found the script, I wasn't 100 percent sure that this was the right script for me. I asked Emile Hirsch to do a table read for me, and twenty-five minutes into it, I wrote a note to him on the back of the script and said, 'I'm definitely going to direct this. Would you do it?' He said, 'Yes.' So that was kind of the catalyst for me putting the movie together and beginning the journey of me directing it. I wasn't one hundred percent sure until the table read, but I knew that I had to do something different in my career because I felt like I was just creatively struggling as a producer."
Bringing Midnight in the Switchgrass Together
Emmett didn't waste any time tapping into his resources and getting everything prepped to tackle his first feature. "I had a lot of confidence in that putting a movie together because I've been doing this for so long," he said. "Having the familiarity of being on a set for 23 years on over 100 movies, the mechanics of how preproduction and how to prep for a movie, all of that stuff, I have a lot of experience, because I produce a lot of directors. I think the new part of it for me was having to be present every day, having to be in the moment, and not being able to multitask and do seven other movies at the same time. I had to just be there on this one film, but at the same time, that's creatively what I needed badly in my life. That is the perk of a director being creatively involved in every aspect of the film. As a producer, I came there with a lot of experience in the logistics of making a film. At the same time, I was petrified and filled with a different type of whether or not I could even pull this off as a director just because I've been sitting in a different chair for four decades."
The director felt grateful for recruiting acting veterans like Hirsch, Fox, and Bruce Willis to work off of to make the film work. "I just felt like I was very blessed by bringing veteran actors who had a lot of experience in our industry, helped me to be a better director," Emmett said, crediting how their communication has been especially helpful throughout filming. "Lukas Haas is such a perfectionist, and so are Emile and Megan, but Lukas really would come and meet with me a lot during the week. He'd say, 'Hey, can I come over? Can we work on the script again?' I was like, 'Again?' He really pushed me to be the best version. He wanted every scene because then to really be the most authentic. I wanted the same thing. Emile said the same thing. I was very fortunate that they allowed me to do what I needed to do with my vision. At the same time, they would ask questions or question me on certain things, and I would be open to trying that. It was a real collaborative process. They were there for me and the things that I wanted to achieve as a director. I also was very open-minded with them when they had ideas that they wanted to experiment with, and I enjoy that part of the process which I like the most."
Midnight in the Switchgrass Seecond Wind
Emmett's toughest challenges were filming during the pandemic, and he credits his cast for helping him go through it. "After our initial shutdown, we went back in July," he said. "We shut down again because somebody had gotten COVID in Los Angeles, and so we couldn't start shooting with the quarantine again. Ultimately, I moved to the movie to California because I found a rash that I could travel everybody in, and I realized that that was going to be the safest move and which we went back. Finally, I rebuild all the sets, an entirely new crew. It was really hard, and I was very blessed that the cast kept me motivated because they really were in it. They just kept saying to me in text messages, 'We'll be there for you, and you just tell us when.' I was fighting every day to get the movie finished. It was a lot of heartbreak, but it was also a lot of it that just inspired me to be better. It made me a better producer, but it definitely made me a stronger director than I thought I would have been if I just did the movie straight through. It goes with the kinds of things that the world was going through during the pandemic."