Every once and awhile the stars align and allow friends to turn their creative visions into realities. Such is the case with long time friends Patrick Renna (“The Sandlot”), Tommy Savas (“The Sopranos”), writer Justin Mooney and director Jason Schnell (creator of Reckless Tortuga) joined forces. Along with a cast made up of some of the funniest actors in film, television and social media today, this dynamic foursome created the hilarious new dark comedy, “Bad Roomies.” (The films hits digital/VOD on December 1st, 2015.) The film centers around two best friends who live together who, after losing their roommate, go through a series of disastrous interviews to find a new one. They settle on an apparently harmless but beautiful girl and all seems to be going well, despite the simmering rivalry, until a drunken, horrible mistake starts them on a downward spiral. A hilarious yet disastrous game of roommate vs. roommate takes a turn that will change their lives forever. Jason Price of Icon Vs. Icon recently sat down with Tommy Savas, Patrick Renna and director Jason Schnell to discuss how their friendship lead to their latest creative venture, the challenges of bringing “Bad Roomies” from script to screen and the lessons learned through the process.
I have to start by saying you guys really hit it out of the park with “Bad Roomies.”
Jason Schnell: Oh my gosh, thank you so much. That is great to hear!
Before I get into the movie, I want to give everyone background on each of you. You all come from different worlds, so to speak. How did you each get started with a career in entertainment and what continues to excite you about it today?
Patrick Renna: You know, I started in the early ‘90s and one of the first auditions I went out on was for “The Sandlot.” I booked that movie and it was kind of a pretty wild experience for a first movie because it was 20th Century Fox, a studio picture, and it was playing baseball with a bunch of friends over the summer. I think that my image of Hollywood and the movie industry was a little wrong after that film! [laughs] Not that it is worse or anything but it is definitely different when you come back to the daily grind and realize it is a job, a wonderful job, but one you have to stick with. That was my introduction into it. I think what keeps me going is the potential to do things like “Bad Roomies” with these guys. For me, the thing I love so much about this movie was being able to have creative control over everything and being able to put all of our artistic thoughts and wishes into the movie. You normally can’t do that. You can’t always have that much control, so I think that potential is what keeps me going.
Jason Schnell: I have always known, since I was 13 years old, that this is what I wanted to do. I pretty much spent my life finding a way to get to this point. I knew early on I wanted to be a director. Entertaining people via storytelling has always been something exciting and personal for me. I have never wanted to do anything else. I have spent my life taking any job I could get and scratching and clawing my way to where I could be in the position to direct this movie. Finally getting to the point of directing my first feature film has been like a dream come true! I am so excited about the potential to continue.
Tommy Savas: For me, I have a story very similar to Patrick’s story. I was the youngest of four kids and I fell into the role of being the family’s entertainer. At a young age, I really found my voice doing that. When I was 16 years old, I won my first role on “Sopranos” on HBO. That is where my story is similar to Patrick’s. I got a taste of what I thought Hollywood was like: being on what was the number one show at the time. Being an Italian kid from New Jersey on “The Sopranos,” you couldn’t have asked for a better job. When I got that gig, it was something I fell in love with and continued you. When I graduated high school, at 17 years old, I moved out to Los Angeles. That is where I met Patrick and Jason, almost 15 years ago now. It really became a passion of mine. Being able to work with your friends and being able to create something without someone in a suit breathing down your neck and telling you what you have to do is an experience I loved and will always cherish.
How did you all cross paths in the creative sense and what led to you working together to bring “Bad Roomies” to life? Was working together a no-brainer?
Patrick Renna: The flash answer is, “Yes. It was a no-brainer.” Like Tommy had said, I have known them both for about 15 years. Jason was a co-creator of the YouTube channel Reckless Tortuga, which is pretty huge. Tommy has been one of the main actors on the channel through the years. They had worked together quite a bit. Watching them work so well together, I knew we would be a great fit. Us three would mess around doing short films over the years, so we knew there was a great chemistry there. When we all got this opportunity to make a feature, it was a no-brainer. Then you throw the fourth person of our team in there, our writer, Justin Mooney. He is so hilarious and we knew it was the perfect fit with “Bad Roomies.”
Tell us a little about the script. What made this story the one you wanted to tackle as your first feature as a team?
Jason Schnell: Well, I have a pretty strong background in comedy with all the online stuff I have done and creating Reckless Tortuga gave me a leg up. We were doing scripted comedy on the channel when nobody was doing scripted comedy! [laughs] I think from the get-go we all wanted to do a comedy because we knew we had strength in that area. Honing in on the story, the four of us developed multiple stories and finally landed on “Bad Roomies.” We felt it was our strongest first outing.
Tommy Savas: Yeah, I believe “Bad Roomies” was the fourth script we had written. The first one was about zombies, the second was about herpes and I believe this one was the obvious choice! [laughs]
Jason Schnell: I think as far as dark comedy goes, if you are at all familiar with Reckless Tortuga, it has a harder slant and edge to it. From our perspective, the thing that excites us more than anything is stuff that has a strong message that is presented and is more equated to how people actually speak and relate to one another, along with some scenarios that could actually happen.
What goals or expectations did you have creatively going into this project?
Tommy Savas: You know, as we were saying, we have all had our own unique experiences working in the film industry, both good and bad. We wanted to do something to show people you can produce a film, it can be done correctly and it can be done morally and ethically. You can also be in the situation where everyone gets paid. When you give people points in movies, those points can actually mature and be given. We looked at what we felt was a flawed model in Hollywood and wanted to show that four not so affluent kids, who are all in their 30s [laughs], could break that model and be successful in our own right!
Jason Schnell: To that point, with all the production that has gone on with Reckless Tortuga through the years, there was a lot of stuff we were able to do based on how much we had taken on ourselves and how well we know ourselves to be able to produce at a budget level that would not excite anyone from a studio system, which allowed us the freedom to create whatever we wanted. When we looked at what is happening these days with the model of how money gets spent on a movie, we looked at it from a different perspective. We looked at it and asked, “What do we need to tell our story?” We settled on an amount that would make most studios laugh and what is probably closer to their craft services budget on “Avengers.” [laughs] Because we had honed these skills over the years, we were about to trim a lot of the fat in filmmaking and put something forward that we are really proud of and is of a certain quality and one I think most people would be surprised at the actually price tag of.
Patrick Renna: Yeah. We had the decision-making ability of putting everything into the budget. We didn’t have a big budget but we put it all on the screen. We are all pretty proud of that because it is something we worked pretty tirelessly to do. It truly is all on the screen because it didn’t go into anyone’s pockets. From us to the crew to the other actors, everyone was willing to do it for next to nothing to make what we feel is a really funny movie.
Have you all had or been bad roomies in the past?
Patrick Renna: Yeah, haven’t we all. I think even more than bad roommates, this film came from past experiences with women and relationships. I think everyone can say they have had bad experiences there. I think that is at the core of it — our poor broken hearts! [laughs]
Tommy Savas: A lot of the moments in the movie are ones we all pulled from our real life. I won’t name them all because some of them, if I admitted they were real, I would be shamed but the roommate application scene is true to life. A lot of those characters you see during the scene, for example the erotic puppeteer, is a real story from my life! [laughs]
It really shows through. Let’s focus on the other cast members of the film as well. What went into finding the right mix of people to bring the script to life on screen?
Patrick Renna: Yeah, that was a wild experience. Probably not as wild for Jason because he has casted before as a director but for Tommy and I, we had never sat on the other side. I have to be honest, even when someone was good, it was cringingly awful to be on the side we were on as actors. I am sure you hear actors say all the time that casting is one of the hardest things about Hollywood and being on the other side is definitely one of the hardest things I have ever done. You feel the pain of every person coming in. It was a good experience to have as an actor. We put a lot of work and time into it because we really wanted to find the right characters, especially for the two lead girls. I think that is where we spent most of our casting time. A lot of the auxiliary characters are played by friends of ours, who we already knew were great actors. We knew there was no need to search Hollywood when we already had a bunch of great actors willing to do the project with us. With the two girls, we battled between the four of us, especially when it came to the lead girl. It was so important to us to have the right person. I don’t know if you have been watching “Project Greenlight” at all but it really reminded me of when they picked the director for the show, they went with the director who had the most clear personal view. I think that is what we ended up doing in our situation with our lead actresses. We went with the best actress and the one who scared us the most because she was different than everyone else. At the end, it was a choice we were all very happy we had made.
Jason Schnell: Casting for me, from a directing point of view, I knew that 50% of my job was done before we even step in the room because we had Patrick and Tommy. I knew, no matter what, I was going to get something amazing from them. It was really about pairing them up with someone who we all thought would really compliment the movie. With the casting of Annie Monroe, to be honest, initially I was not thinking on that area. I think we were thinking a little more broad. I think the thing she really brought to the table was a very interesting tone to the movie that the movie benefited greatly from. It doesn’t feel like your conventional, everyday comedy. It has a heart and a lot of depth to it. I think what everyone brought to the table as far as casting is concerned has really made me tickled pink.
You also dabbled in crowdfunding during the process. What was that experience like for you and is it something you would delve further into in the future? I am sure it is full of pros and cons.
Jason Schnell: It is. Being in the digital world and having been in the digital world for a very long time, at the point at which we did crowdfunding it was the flavor of the month, if you will. It seemed like everyone was doing it but it was something none of us had tried before. We thought it might be a great fit to try with our movie. I think going through the experience, it definitely has its pros and cons and almost needs to be supported by an already engaged audience to even have a shot at success. At the end of the day, I really feel the old model works well in the sense that there is something to be said about people paying for a movie that they are eventually going to pay for to see. Speaking for myself, it not something I see myself doing ever again. I just don’t know if it is a model that really makes sense for the business of making films.
Tommy Savas: One thing that is great is that now with crowdsourced funding, you can actually give ownership to a project to those who are investing in it. I think that will become a whole new realm for crowdsource funding.
Jason Schnell: Oh really? I didn’t know about that.
Tommy Savas: Yeah, yeah. I read about it about a month ago.
Jason Schnell: Yeah, if people could share in it, that is something I would be interested being a part of it.
I am sure you all took away something special from the experience of bringing “Bad Roomies” to life. What is the biggest lesson you took away from this project?
Tommy Savas: In doing a production of this size, where we had crowdsourced funding and an executive producer, it is very important that everyone wears the hat of the role they are supposed to be wearing. For example, the producer is the producer and the director is the director. You allow people to do their specific jobs and operate in that way they are accustomed. There was a time, early on, when I thought we could be in trouble if we had a producer trying to insert something or doing something other than his job. All in all, on the production side, that was the biggest lesson I learned. On another side, I would say, if I had my way, I would always work with my friends. Working with your friends and people you have a lot of love for makes the experience that much better.
Jason Schnell: For me, the biggest lesson I learned was a bit more general, which was managing a production on that scale. It was something I had never done before. What I had done in the past was on a smaller scale in a short film form. The difference between long form content and short form content, on the outside, seems like it is only more time but it is such a completely different animal. An entirely different set of problems occur when you go to long form. Being able to manage on that kind of scale is a learning experience that provided invaluable information to me.
Patrick Renna: I agree with both of them! [laughs] The only thing I would add to what Tommy was saying is that the ins and outs of pre-production and post-production. As an actor, it is a side of the process you don’t know. After this process, especially post-production, you realize how much goes into those areas. The more pre-production you can do, that is good financially for what you have, the easier the shoot will be. The more post-production you allow yourself, the less stress you will have at the end of it. That is what fascinated me most about post-production. You just don’t realize that the crew almost doubles after shooting a film. The amount of trades that go into completing a film is pretty shocking and spectacular. Learning to separate those processes out was important as well, as our poor director had to do many of them at the end. I think to be able to allow a director to just direct and get him an editor he can work with to have everything lined up for post-production.
There are so many great scenes in “Bad Roomies.” Which are your favorites and what were the more difficult ones to pull off?
Patrick Renna: I have two favorites. The first was watching Tommy Savas guzzle milk. That is just part of my mean-spirited friendship with my bud but it was unbelievable! When the sound cut out on one of the takes and he had to do it a third time, it was just amazing! [laughs] My favorite scene to shoot was probably the drug trip in general. It was its own day and we had a lot of time to have a lot of fun. I think the most challenging scenes came from all of our non-house scenes being at the beginning of our shooting schedule. We were on location for the first week of filming. I think that was a challenge because we were running around Los Angeles for the first week that any of us had ever done a film and we are on location. Because of that, I feel that section was the most challenging. After that, the house stuff became a bit easier.
Jason Schnell: I think my favorite scene is the first time Ray and Bobby are in bed together. To me, it sums up the whole theme and narrative of the movie, which is the grass isn’t always greener on the other side. The idea of something is always better than the actuality of it. Their relationship is so perfectly quantified in that scene. I just love it so much! The biggest challenge in the filming was the stunt work. We only had one day to shoot the entire fight sequence! I had never worked with a stunt coordinator or filmed stunts before. Managing all of that was a big challenge. Watching Tommy go through a table was probably the most nervous I had ever been in my life, next to having my child! [laughs] The whole experience was very scary to me, especially since I hadn’t done anything like it before. I think, ultimately, it turned out wonderful and I am very proud of that as well!
Tommy Savas: Yeah, my favorite scene was definitely the stunt scene where I actually got to go through the table. I was so excited to do it! I actually went through it twice and the second time was just because I wanted to! [laughs] A funny story about that is I had just gotten off a show called “The Last Ship,” which is produced by Michael Bay. I was lucky enough to hit it off with the stunt coordinator on that show. I told him I was making an independent film with my friends and he was really into it. We were really lucky he came on and gave us some of his guys to help us with the scene. So some of those scenes you have in “The Rock” and “G.I Joe,” same stuff as “Bad Roomies!” [laughs] That was my most favorite scene for sure! I would say the most challenging scene for me is when we are burying a body, at the beginning of the movie. It is a dark comedy, so figuring out how to play that scene where you still see the levity of the situation and the comedy in what happens, even though somebody is dead, so the stakes are still there. That was the most challenging thing for me. That and shooting it at 4 in the morning in the middle of the woods.
Is it safe to say we will see you all working together again on another project in the near future?
Patrick Renna: Yeah, I think I speak for us all when I say we would love to! Assuming there will be some great things to come from “Bad Roomies,” we would definitely love to work on another film together.
Tommy Savas: Absolutely. We would love to go all “Fast and Furious” on this bitch and go eight deep! [laughs]
Jason Schnell: Eight deep! [laughs]
I have to say great job on this film, guys! It looked great and the characters and story just jump right off the scene. I can’t wait to see where you are headed next!
Patrick Renna: Thank you, Jason!
Jason Schnell: Thanks, we really appreciate it!
Tommy Savas: Thanks and take care!
“Bad Roomies” hits digital/VOD release on Tuesday December 1, 2015. Click here to purchase!