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Bart Got a Room’s Brian Hecker

April 3rd, 2009 by Rebecca Harper Editor

Earlier this week, Hulu spoke to first-time writer/director Brian Hecker about his coming-of-age comedy Bart Got a Room, which opens in select theaters this weekend. It centers on a high school senior’s efforts to land a date to prom, but it’s not just another teen movie. Bart Got a Room is also about family: Hecker’s own parents were the basis for the overly supportive — and oh-so-embarrassing — parents played by William H. Macy and Cheryl Hines. You can catch the film’s trailer and a two-minute sneak preview right here on Hulu. —Rebecca Harper

Hulu: You’ve said Bart Got a Room is semi-autobiographical. Can you tell us a little about Steven Kaplan, who plays the lead, Danny, and why you chose him?

Brian Hecker: There was a lot of pressure from the producers to cast someone who was a known actor. A lot of the kids who are in that 18-year range are very, very charismatic, very good-looking and very polished. And it was very important to me, based on having suffered through my adolescence, to find a kid who wasn’t a heartthrob. There’s no way I suffered through high school to have some kid with girls flanking him on a regular basis on the set.

Steve Kaplan came my way and he was such a charming, authentic and earnest actor. He’s a really, really cool kid and he was one of ten kids on this DVD from a New York talent agency. I had all the kids audition with the ice cream parlor rejection scene and I just really felt bad for him. He did the scene and my heart went out to him. He was so earnest and endearing, and I knew he was the boy to play Danny Stein, my alter ego — me as a nerd when I was 18. So I had him fly from New York to L.A. to read with William H. Macy. I knew that I would be able to convince everybody that Steven was right for the role because I’d just tell everybody that William H. Macy was insisting on him. That was my secret plan, because of course no one was going to question William H. Macy.
Now he’s one of two actors being considered for the lead in Brighton Beach Memoirs, the Neil Simon revival on Broadway.

I was just reading a review of Bart Got a Room and the article mentioned how your film is reminiscent of Brighton Beach Memoirs.

That is a great honor, to be associated with Neil Simon, because he was certainly an influence in many respects to my writing.

You worked with an all-star cast: William H. Macy, Cheryl Hines and Jennifer Tilly. Were there any great moments on the set?

This is a case of life imitating art imitating life because the movie is based on my life growing up as a kid with these embarrassing parents. William H. Macy and Cheryl Hines play my divorced parents in the movie. And on the set, my parents were very supportive and helpful. My dad helped find some really cool locations for the movie and my mother was very involved with the extras casting. She helped get hundreds of seniors in the retirement communities of South Florida to be in the background. My mom is a frustrated actress who used to perform with the community theater and perform songs. And there would be times between takes when William H. Macy and my mom would sing songs while he strummed his ukulele in his trailer. It was a really cool, thrilling experience, a real family affair. Not only is this movie, in a way, about my experiences, but to have my family so actively involved in the filming was a real thrill.

Did you manage to get your parents in the film?

Cheryl Hines plays a realtor in South Florida in the movie and my mom is an extra in one of the scenes; she’s a realtor in the background. My dad and mom are both in the big bar mitzvah scene where everyone’s running around dancing the horah. In one of the frames, you can see William H. Macy with the curly hair. My dad, with the same curly hair, is in the background. They’re mirror images almost.

What do your parents think, now that this film is out there for everyone to see?

Of course it exposes our family’s idiosyncrasies in a way for thousands of people to see, but I think they’re charmed by it ultimately. As much as the movie talks about the ways they embarrassed me growing up, it’s also a celebration of how much unconditional love and support they’ve given me over the years. The parents, in a way, are the heroes of the film. To a certain extent the movie starts out being about the prom, but it’s really a celebration of family. In a way, it’s a love letter to my parents.

I think that’s evident. It ends up being a wonderful, touching story about family.

We opened at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York last year. My dad hadn’t seen the movie, but I asked him to come and wear one of his cream-colored suits. He was in the audience with about 450 people while I was up on stage for a Q&A. Someone asked me why I chose to have William H. Macy wear curly hair, and I said “Dad, could you stand up for a moment?” He stood up in the middle of the audience, and here was my dad in the cream-colored suit and the curly hair and everyone was laughing really hard at that. He just stood there with a big, goofy grin. It was a pretty funny moment.

William H. Macy - Bart Got A Room

What do you think makes this different from other coming-of-age prom flicks?

One of things that I sort of went into this moving thinking was if, for example, Woody Allen wanted to do a teen movie, what would it be? So it’s sort of like a John Hughes movie or Judd Apatow movie-meets-Woody Allen. A lot of teen movies hyperfocus just on the element of teenagers, the high school arena. I think that, sometimes, it’s funnier or even more accurate to take a step back and look at all the variables that surround the teenager’s experience, and family is a big part of it. What does a teen go through not only in high school, but also with their family? It’s sort of a portal into someone’s psyche. To me, that was really important, to have a three-dimensional perspective of what this boy’s going through. I think that John Hughes does this really well, and Judd Apatow certainly does that.

The movie uses South Florida as a setting, which gives it a timeless feel. Can you talk a little about the location?

The setting was really important to me. We tried to establish this timeless quality of a retirement community sort of stuck in another time. To me, a lot of the best movies, especially in the teen genre, particularly the John Hughes films — and Risky Business in particular -— are very much about a place, an environment. And those movies have a timeless quality about them. They’re very, very specific. It was really important to shoot this in South Florida, the area I grew up, and to utilize all these elements that are indigenous to that particular region. I wanted every frame to somehow include a color palette that was reflective of that environment. We rented egrets and lizards. We had seniors in every frame, and tried to incorporate the puffy white clouds against the baby blue sky, the golf courses, and all of the homes off of canals, with water very present in the movie. The cumulative effect of that was to add this quirky but still very specific flavor and tone to the movie.

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