Houston isn’t exactly known for a booming film industry, but local filmmakers Justin Petty and Joey Graham are breaking the mold and just completed their first feature length film, Nothing Really Happens, which was entirely shot in the city. Written and directed by Petty and produced by Graham, who also stars in the film, the surrealist comedy presents a unique take on adapting to adulthood. Following the completion of the film, Free Press Houston spoke with Petty and Graham about its conception, filming and their plans for a release.
Free Press Houston: How did the idea to make a full length film come about and what inspired the script?
Justin Petty: It was around 2013. Joey and I had been making comedy shorts as The Straight Guys for several years at that point and I don’t think we ever officially called it quits, but there had been a general feeling within the group that we wanted to try something different. I was nearing 30 and the idea kind of originally came about with me looking at that and trying to make sense of what it means to be a grown 30 year old man, mainly because I certainly didn’t feel like I had any right to call myself an adult. That and the idea has always been interesting to me that there is a communication barrier between people that interact everyday simply because they are so wrapped up in their own personal stuff, or simply don’t care. I had recently watched the film Wrong by Quentin Dupieux [Mr. Oizo] and its awkward, surreal tone kind of struck a chord with me and, while very different from what we ultimately ended up with, it acted as fuel for this 15 page short film I wrote. I went through the script over a few beers with Joey and Richard, the other guys in The Straight Guys. The result of that was them basically saying, “This is a good start but what happens next?” From that point, I just kept writing pages and sending them to Joey. I had never intended to write a feature. I wanted to ease into bigger projects with a short film we could push into festivals, but Joey kept pushing me to write more and to see where this story took us. I ended up with a lot of pages. Well over 2 hours worth. In the end, we slimmed it down to around 90 pages and it had become a vastly different thing than what we started with.
Joey Graham: Please forgive us for The Straight Guys. But yeah, I was kind of done with internet sketch comedy around the age of 30 as well, and wanted to do some other things. I liked the peculiar vibe of his thing Justin wrote so I just kept pressuring the hell out of him to finish it. Still am really….there’s a few more things to do to finish the movie.
FPH: How long did it take to complete?
Petty: Writing the script took about a year and a half with about 9 different drafts in total. Shooting took another year and a half and post production has taken us a little over 6 months.
Graham: Ugh. Too long. Luckily my beard didn’t go completely gray.
FPH: How did you find locations to shoot in Houston?
Petty: I went into this project knowing if we were going to realistically be able to make a film, we had to work around what was available to us. So much of the film takes place in residences, parks and yards. We would just kind of come together as a group and talk about connections and friends who had interesting looking houses or access to fun locations and go from there. We did a bit of scouting for some of the outdoor scenes and scoped out a few parks around Houston. We tried to see what we could get away with quickly in public with a small crew while not drawing too much attention to ourselves.
Graham: Yeah. We utilized the Houston Film Commission a bit. But mostly just talking to people. We only did super illegal shit for one scene.
FPH: Can you tell me how you found the actors?
Petty: The original short was written with a specific friend in mind as lead, but as I started developing the characters and fleshing out the story more, I realized we needed to go in a different direction. Our lead, Adam Edwards, had been a friend of ours for a while and worked with us periodically some music video productions. I don’t remember the specific moment we decided Adam was right for the role but we both kind of realized he was the only person who could play Dave. There could be no one else.
Graham: I told JP, Adam had the most emotive eyes, and the most free time. That’s like 80% of acting. A lot of the other casting was just cherry picking people we love from past comedy shorts or music videos. We had produced a few of Fat Tony’s music videos, so we had to bring him in as the talking mime. We had done a few videos for The Suffers so we snuck Kam Franklin in as a phone operator. And so on.
FPH: What are your plans for a release?
Petty: Our goal is to hit the festivals hard in the fall. We’re planning on submitting to various Texas festivals for sure but who knows. Depending on the budget we have to work with after the fundraiser, we’d like to get it in as many festivals across the country — world? — as we can afford. The more audience members we can get in front of this thing, the happier we’ll be. We don’t have any official plans for an actual release yet, but we’d like to see where the festival circuit takes us and go from there.
Graham: Festivals aren’t what they used to be for indie film. But a true indie like this doesn’t really have a ton of other options. It’s a movie about a mattress store owner, not a documentary on Mattress Mack…which probably has, uh, some sort of built in audience.
FPH: How can people see it?
Petty: We’re currently doing an IndieGogo fundraiser to support the cost of our festival entries where you can buy a ticket to our private cast and crew screening on June 26th as one of the perks. We’d like to do a few more test screenings around Houston to feel out how the film is received… maybe make some minor changes along the way, but we don’t have anything officially planned yet.
Graham: Yeah. Come to the screening. It’s a really weird movie. Bring drugs.
FPH: How does it feel now that it’s completed?
Petty: This thing has been a labor of love for us for several years now and it feels super weird that we’ve finally gotten here. 4 years ago I never could’ve imagined we’d be sitting here with a completed feature film and it kind of amazes and terrifies me. It’s real and now people are going to ingest it. That’s crazy. The hard work of so many people have gone into this and it’s kind of a small miracle when any film reaches completion in tact, let alone one that was funded out of pocket and was made on nights and weekends over the course of multiple years. I want to thank everyone that sweated for this thing to exist.
Graham: Justin stole my small miracle line. This thing has driven me crazy, and it’s equally crazy to be done. I can go back to living a normie life after this. Thank God.
Check out the trailer for “Nothing Really Happens”
A New Local Film: “Nothing Really Happens” syndicated post