We were at Rooftop Films Friday night to check out the first New York City screening of “Fat Kid Rules The World,” the film adaptation of KL Going’s YA novel of the same name and Matthew Lillard’s directorial debut. The film has been a decade in the making and well worth the wait.
The story of an overweight, depressed teenager who figures out where he belongs when he discovers punk music still resonates with this generation of young people. If anything, it’s even more poignant as many teens struggle with fitting in and music is an ever-more-important factor in their lives and forming friendships. The film, like the book, doesn’t shy away from controversial topics, from drug use to suicide to complicated friendships and family relationships.
Following the screening, Lillard explained that he got involved with the film project while recording the book on tape — he was moved by the story because, like the main character, he was a lost kid in high school until he discovered acting. He immediately contacted Going and bought the film rights. After the film took home the Audience Award at SXSW, the opportunities that Hollywood presented were “kinda crappy,” according to Lillard. The Hollywood system doesn’t see a film about a fat kid as a big money maker, so Lillard and his crew are teaming up with Tugg.com — a sort of Groupon for films — to distribute the film.
At the screening, we talked with Lillard and Rick Rosenthal, the film’s producer, about why they chose to make this story, how social media is changing the film industry, and why they turned to Kickstarter to raise funds to get the film to theaters. [They’re currently a mere $16,000 away from reaching their goal with just four days left!]
Ypulse: It’s clear from the group here supporting the film and from the number of backers you’ve found on Kickstarter (nearly 2,000 people have donated) that this is a community made film and everyone continues to work hard to support it.
Matthew Lillard: It’s been a long run to make a movie about an obese teenager. All the way along the line, [Hollywood] couldn’t see the box office potential or the investment return potential. Sometimes, a movie doesn’t have to be about werewolves and fantastic abs; sometimes you can make a real story, and it will connect with people.
YP: Can you talk about how social media is changing the film industry — for example, your campaign on Kickstarter and working with Tugg?
Rick Rosenthal: The film industry is radically changing. The traditional methods of distribution are being shaken at their core, and no one really knows what iteration will emerge. We’re trying something, other people are trying other things. We have a unique situation that we’re combining a punk rock tour — Warped — with Tugg. The whole idea behind Tugg is a variation on what is called “four walling” where you rent theaters [to show the film], but we aren’t renting theaters. We don’t work with the theaters unless there’s demand. It’s a unique model that hasn’t been tested. No one has used Tugg to launch a movie with a concentrated, coordinated campaign. We don’t know what will happen — we’ll learn from it.
ML: They’ve been saying this is the new golden era of filmmaking, and I agree with that because you can find a film maker in Iowa, anywhere in the U.S., anywhere in the world. All you need is an iPhone and you can make a great movie. The next bastion is finding distribution; how do you get your movie to people? I feel that we’re on to something really exciting. As co-sponsors of the Vans Warped Tour, we’ll be telling our audience that they can set up their own screenings. We’re empowering the people. We made a movie for a very specific demographic, and we’re going directly to that demographic saying, “We made this for you, believe in it, support it.” With Tugg, the kids make 10% of the box office. They can set up multiple screenings, and we’ll send them books, CDs, the movie itself, or even Pearl Jam concert tickets (Mike McCready did the soundtrack). It’s an incentive for them to get involved. There aren’t a lot of movies that are made for kids that are outside the norm. We’re trying to satisfy that niche.
YP: Speaking of that, it seems that you keep coming back to the genre of teen coming-of-age films…
ML: Normally I’m a gun for hire — I’m not picking and choosing my own trajectory. But this movie I’ve kept as a part of my life for the last nine years because I see myself in that kid. If I found a movie that related to me as a 42-year-old man, I’d gladly do that. But about teen stories, the drama and the angst, the life and death stakes is really appealing to story telling. There’s something about that time in people’s lives that everyone can relate to.
YP: The film touches on a lot of scary subjects — suicide, depression…
ML: …drugs, homosexuality. We brushed along a lot of it, but all those things are real in that kid’s life.
YP: Did you have any concerns that those things don’t get “fixed” in the movie?
ML: No, because I don’t think life is “fixable.” A kid doesn’t experience drama and then the next day everything is better. Hopefully this is a touchstone for a kid out there who is lost. We made this movie with a reason. My hope is that if there’s a kid out there who needs this movie, we can connect to them and they’ll see the movie and it’ll help.
YP: Music is a major piece in the film. Troy (the lead character) isn’t a cool kid, but music gives him a sense of belonging…
ML: He finds a piece of acceptance. I believe everyone has a place. Even if you don’t feel like you belong anywhere, there is a place for you. You just have to find it.