Bryan: What attracted you to this project? What did you first like about the story?
Daniel Petrie Jr: I met the writers at the Austin Film Festival and I noticed on their nametag their title of the script and the fact that they were finalists in one category and semifinalists in another. So I asked them about it. Turns out they were from a neighborhood called Silver Strand in California. I actually had a house near Silver Strand. I knew it as a very blue collar surfing community with a lot of tension between the locals and other surfers they regarded as non-locals or really anybody. It’s a kind of community that people don’t know about and don’t think about when they think of surf culture. They think of million dollar homes on the beach and not the real grit of it, the danger of it. So I thought that the story had an intriguing setting. It seemed like a small American tragedy.
Bryan: Was it originally set in 2008 or was that a change you made in the development process?
Daniel Petrie Jr: It was originally written as set in 2008, but you know how long it takes to get a movie made. By the time we were in production, the economic conditions had changed a lot, and many of the original people had moved out of these communities. But we wanted it grounded in that perspective.
Bryan: You said in an interview that you liked the script but it needed work. What was the development process like? For instance, was the flashback structure in the original script?
Daniel Petrie Jr: The flashback was in the original script and it was another thing that drew me to the project. As far as development went, there weren’t so much major changes as much as sharpening. We were trying to get at the author’s intentions and drawing them out to clear relief.
Bryan: What skills as a writer do you utilize as a director? Is there any overlap?
Daniel Petrie Jr: There’s tremendous overlap. Directors are storytellers, just as writers are. There’s a different toolbox but you’re trying to tell the same story and you’re trying to ensure that everybody else is trying to tell the same story. That the production designer tells that story; that the cinematography does; that the performances reflect the story that you’re telling. You’re really drawing on a lot of the same muscles.
Bryan: Do you think that having spent time as a writer that it helps you as a director?
Daniel Petrie Jr: Maybe so. I might depend on story more when communicating with actors and the crew, and maybe a director who’s come up through theatre might have a different vocabulary that they use.
Bryan: What do you think Scott Eastwood brought to the character of John?
Daniel Petrie Jr: He brought much of his life to the role. He is a surfer, for instance, and even though his father is very famous, he didn’t grow up in that world. He did all kinds of things to support himself, so he could identify with a surfboard shaper with no prospects for the future.
Bryan: You’ve worn a lot of hats in the industry, which one do you like best?
Daniel Petrie Jr: When I’m writing something, I like directing best. Because writing is such a lonely business. Directing is the epitome of the collaborative art of film. When I’m directing however, and I’m getting up at five in the morning, I’m thinking ‘What am I doing? I had the perfect life as a writer!’ I get up at 11, and if I felt like working I’d work. I really have a grass is greener feeling about whatever I’m doing at the time. It’s a happy mix of both things.
Bryan: Can you tell me a little bit about your production company, Enderby Entertainment?
Daniel Petrie Jr: We founded Enderby because the studios have gone out of the business of making smaller movies. The studios want to make Spider Man 2, without even, ideally, making Spider Man 1 because there’s too much risk. All the movies I’ve done for studios would be done independently today. So we thought that there was a real opportunity for a company that emphasized story and emphasized financial transparency to succeed in that space.
Bryan: Enderby’s website says it puts story first. What makes a good story?
Daniel Petrie Jr: The writer, Terry Rossio, had a great summation of a movie story. He called the strange attractor. Something that was new, the audience hadn’t seen before, but at the same time had elements that the audience could relate to, find familiar, and attractive. Hence the term strange attractor. I think that’s a very good test for what at, the very least, makes a good movie idea. Something that is different but not so much so that the audience is repelled.
Dawn Patrol is out on DVD now!