Ohio Native Brings Award-Winning Indie to Columbus
The Peanut Butter Falcon, a Twain-esque dramedy about a young man with Down syndrome who escapes his residential nursing home with the dream of breaking into professional wrestling, is hardly your run-of-the-mill blockbuster. Cincinnati native and film producer David Thies realized that from the start.
Almost the start.
Owner of the production and production services company TVACOM, Thies had once worked with the film’s writer/director, Michael Schwartz, on a VISA commercial. The two became friends, and at one point Schwartz asked Thies to read a screenplay.
“I said OK, but for whatever reason – life gets in the way – I didn’t read it for a couple of months,” Thies admits. “I don’t know if it was a fear of not liking it and having to tell your friend you didn‘t like it or what. But then one day he calls me up and he says ‘Dude, read the script.’ And he hung up on me.”
“I read the script and it was the fastest read I’d ever done,” he says. “I couldn’t wait to get to the next page, the next page, the next page.”
Thies immediately joined forces with Schwartz and his co-writer/co-director Tyler Nilson, both first-time filmmakers, and looked for a way to start the process of moving this script to the big screen.
“We set about to shoot a proof of concept,” he says. “My company owns cameras, audio, lighting, drones – everything you need to do production. So I loaded a sprinter up and drove it from Los Angeles all the way to the Outer Banks. We just pulled select scenes out of the movie.”
This was the first time Thies met Zack Gottsagen, the actor for whom Nilson and Schwartz wrote the film.
“I had a little bit of concern, thinking this was going to be a little bit of a challenge,” Thies admits. “Zack came in with a pencil behind his ear and a script opened up with marks on it. He said, ‘I have some concerns about my character.’ I looked at the directors and said, ‘Oh, we’re fine.’”
“It’s amazing how Zack is involved with everything from the get go,” Thies says. “And when he acts, he acts.”
The proof of concept drew the attention of veteran Hollywood producers Albert Berger and Ron Yerxa.
“Albert and Ron helped land some actors and we ended up with an amazing cast,” Thies says. “I couldn’t see anyone else playing any of these parts. It was a dream team.”
Surrounding Gottsagen in leading roles are Shia LaBeouf and Dakota Johnson, and the film’s ensemble impresses from top to bottom with supporting roles filled by the likes of John Hawkes, Thomas Hayden Church, Bruce Dern and Jon Bernthal.
“I want to say that I knew this movie was something special, but you never know how other people are going to react,” he says. “And when film festivals like Toronto and Sundance turned the film down and the big movie distribution companies didn’t want to buy the film, it was like, guys, do you not see what we see?”
The Peanut Butter Falcon went on to win the audience award at SXSW this year and boasts a 97% fresh rating from Rotten Tomatoes.
“Anyone can do anything they put their minds to,” Thies says. “This film proves that, from first time writer/directors to Zack, an actor with Down syndrome who is the first name on the call sheet above Shia, Dakota and everybody else.”
“I wanted to do a movie that was, to me, like a Stand By Me,” Thies explains. “Something that was a journey, that was a coming of age film and that just resonated with myself the way Stand By Me did. And when I read the script, I thought, this is my Stand By Me script.”
Thies brings The Peanut Butter Falcon to the Gateway Film Center this Wednesday, August 21 for a free screening in advance of its national release. He will be on hand for a Q&A accompanying the film, moderated by Columbus Underground film critic George Wolf.
The film opens theatrically in Columbus Friday.