DARING DUO

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DARING DUO
Screenwriting Partners Casey Twenter, Jeff Robison score with ‘Rudderless,’ But Their Eyes Are On the Future

By Heide Brandes

Award-winning actor and director William H. Macy once said of Oklahoma City screenwriters Casey Twenter and Jeff Robison that every time the guys go to “the bathroom,” they come out with a new script.

The comment was sarcastic, but was meant to show how many scripts the Oklahoma City writing duo put out. Both natives to Oklahoma, Twenter and Robison are local filmmakers who not only managed to reach the incomparable Macy, but convince him to take on their script “Rudderless” as his directorial debut.

Now, fresh from the Sundance Film Festival, “Rudderless” is set to be released this year as a major motion picture, but the two Okie boys are still writing… and working their day jobs.

“Rudderless” is a music-based drama about an advertising agent who has to face up with the untimely death of his son. Sam, played by Billy Crudup, finds out that his son had almost magical musical talent, and he forms a band to bring his son’s music to life.

Much like the writing duo, the film combines humor with heartbreak, music with melodrama and entertainment with seriousness.
It’s not the last film the boys are writing either.

THE ROAD TO RUDDERLESS

Casey Twenter is a funny, serious fellow who works as a graphic designer at Funnel Design in Oklahoma City. He and Robison met 12 years ago in a Fantasy Football league, and Twenter learned Jeff had written a screenplay.

“He wrote a screenplay as an act of catharsis,” said Twenter. “He always wanted to do it, so he just did it.”

As an English teacher, Robison is no stranger to writing. The screenplay was a comedy about golf, and as Twenter talked about his passion for filmmaking, the two formed a bond.

“When I was a kid, I wrote all the time,” Robison said. “My dad bought me a Super 8 camera, and after I was married, I got the Final Draft software and still use it today. I just started writing. Casey wanted to write too.”

The first screenplay the two wrote was “Bunion,” a story about a “Napolean Dynamite” kind of character. Soon, the two were writing screenplays left and right, and today, the duo has 14 full screenplays completed.

“We’ve been writing one that we just finished that we will be producing ourselves,” Twenter said.

“Rudderless,” however, was a different story.

“Rudderless was about fathers and sons,” Twenter said. “One of our big things is to include a sense of humor – the message that even when awful stuff happens, it’s okay to laugh. It’s okay to inspire and manage to laugh even when the unthinkable happens.”

The screenplay focuses on the character Sam working through the death of his son after discovering the mind-blowing music his son created.

“We developed the idea of putting a father in a downward spiral after losing a child, and then made that child his savant son,” Twenter said. “He finds his son’s music, and realizes his son could have been the next great musician, the next John Lennon.”

“Both of us are fathers,” Robison said, “The possibility of losing a child is just something you’re prone to thinking about, and we wanted to write that. But, we wanted to combine both humor and drama.”

THE MAGIC OF MACY

How “Rudderless” became a major motion picture reads like a script itself. Twenter and Robison wrote the first draft in three months in 2008. Twenter sent the script to Macy’s agent.

“Casey sent the script to his agent, because we loved Macy as an actor and had heard he wanted to direct,” Robison said. “It was a fluke that we got through, really. It rarely happens. A week later, we got on the phone with him. It all comes down to money, though, and once we told people we had some money to put in, they started reading it.”

However, just having a big name director doesn’t ensure success. For three and a half years, Twenter, Robison and Macy talked to people to try to get the film into production. Finally, producer Keith Kjarval agreed to come on board.

Finally, the film started production.

Macy acts and directs in the film, but big name actors Felicity Huffman (Macy’s real-life wife), Selena Gomez, Laurence Fishburne, Billy Crudup and Anton Yelchin were cast as well. The production was filmed in Oklahoma at places like Hefner Lake and in Guthrie. The actors learned the songs, performed the songs and committed to the roles.

All in all, filming “Rudderless” in Oklahoma had an estimated $3.5 million economic impact to the state.

“I think (Macy) liked the idea of a rock and roll movie, but he also liked the blend of drama and comedy,” Twenter said. “It’s a very real story. One of my issues with films is that they are either all light or all gloomy – life isn’t like that, and our film deals with dealing with tragedy, but also focusing on the good.”

THE FUTURE

Although “Rudderless” is a success, the writing duo has no plans to leave the Sooner State. In fact, they are working on new scripts and plan to independently produce a horror movie in the coming months. One script, “Swimming Lessons,” deals with the parental love of an autistic child. Another script, “Switching Gears,” is about two estranged brothers traveling across country on a couples’ bike.

“We hope to raise the money and shoot that film in Oklahoma,” Robison said.

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