“Playing God” indie film stars Houston in lead role

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Luke Benward, Michael McKean, Hannah Kasulka

Photo: Courtesy of Scott Brignac

At first glance, Houston director Scott Brignac’s new thriller / dark comedy “Playing God,” which hits theaters and digital platforms on August 6, tells the story of two brother-in-law crooks attempting to commit the scam of their lives by fooling a Jeff Bezos. like bags of money believing he’s talking to God. But, beyond that, Brignac says it’s a heart-shaped box for Houston.

“I see the film as a love letter to Houston,” Brignac said at a cafe in the Heights recently. “It’s funny. Our production designer, who lives in Austin, we took her to all the places, and she was like, ‘I didn’t know Houston looked like that.’… And then when people see the movie. , they say, ‘Wow, your locations are amazing.’ ”

Houstonians will recognize much of what’s on screen, from the Alessandra Hotel in downtown and the subway line to the late Fitzgerald’s club in the Heights (the movie was filmed in 2018). “I wrote with the idea of ​​Houston,” he said. “I said ‘I’m going to do this in Houston’ from the start… I’m not saying I’m only going to shoot (my movies) in Houston, but it’s definitely a great place to shoot.”

Michaael McKean and Alan Tudyk in the movie “Playing God”, which was shot in Houston.

Photo: Courtesy of Scott Brignac

They will also recognize at least three of the main cast: Michael McKean (“Better Call Saul”, “This Is Spinal Tap”), Alan Tudyk (“Arrested Development”, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”) and Marc Menchaca (” Ozark “,” The Stranger “). McKean is “God”, or rather the former bowling con artist Micah (Luke Benward) and Rachel (Hannah Kasulka) recruit to help them end their scam. Tudyk is the lone billionaire, traveling the world in search of spiritual enlightenment. And Menchaca plays one of the reasons Micah and Rachel put on this stunt; they owe him a lot of money – and he’s a very impatient man.

Brignac says a lot of the credit for the casting goes to his casting director Lindsey Weissmuller, someone he met at Sundance. McKean’s name came up, and Brignac was immediately intrigued. “I was like, ‘Oh, man, if he would do it.’ And sure, I was at Memorial City Mall and Michael McKean called me.… We had a conversation about it. He actually has family in Houston… And then I did FaceTimed with Alan, and I loved it because he kind of hit it on the head. He said, ‘So you’re just over there in Houston making movies.’ I said, ‘Dude, let’s try.’ “

Moving to Houston

Brignac, originally from Houma, Louisiana, went to Louisiana State University, where he “was just making short funny videos with my friends or roommates or whatever.” He eventually moved to Houston, where he met Cody Bess, director of photography and producer of “Playing God”. Along with two other partners, Aaron Benward and Cliff Young, they formed Watershed Motion Pictures.

The director has also helped on other projects, such as the editing of Menchaca’s first film, “This Is Where We Live” from 2013, the Hill Country family drama which is one of the best Texas movies of the last two. decades. It was a very personal project for Menchaca, who resides in New York but is originally from San Angelo, and ultimately led to him being cast in “Playing God”.

Scott Brignac, director of the film “Playing God”

Photo credit: Scott Brignac

“We hit it off, and pretty much any chance I get to work with him, I’m going to take it,” said Brignac. “It occurred to me for this role.

Menchaca says he was drawn to the role because it offered a break from the villains he often portrays. “It was a bit of a stretch, not the usual villain that I play, that I’m always happy to walk away from that,” he said in a separate interview. “I thought it was a nice little script.”

“Playing God” was inspired by a conversation Brignac had with his then 5-year-old daughter. “One night when I was tucking her in, she said, ‘Hey, if you ever talked to God on the phone, what would you ask him? And I said, ‘Oh, you can ask God questions all the time.’ She was like, ‘No he’s to the phone.'”

But Brignac didn’t want to just reimagine, for example, “Oh, my God! , The 1977 film starring George Burns as The Big Guy. “I’m not really interested in doing this, but I find (interesting) how people can be duped and ripped off in different ways,” he said.

Marc Menchaca made one of the best Texan movies

Marc Menchaca is known to viewers for his roles as problem-prone Russ Langmore in “Ozark” and alcoholic police inspector Jack Hoskins in “The Outsider”. He also plays Vaughn, a man who just wants his due, in the movie “Playing God” set in Houston on August 6. But they might not know that San Angelo-born Menchaca is also a director and screenwriter who, along with Josh Barrett, directed the unknown “This Is Where We Live,” a 2013 film set in the Hill. Country which ranks alongside the best films to come out of the state.

The story of a relentless family grappling with dysfunction and disappointment, it’s a gripping ensemble piece in which Menchaca, who also co-wrote the screenplay, plays a visiting handyman who befriends him. with the adult son with cerebral palsy. While it captured the attention of film festivals – winning awards at the Nashville Film Festival and the Heartland Film Festival, nominated for a Jury Prize at SXSW – it sank without a trace upon its release. It’s still available to stream on Amazon Prime.

But Menchaca, 45, is happy with the turn of events. “I think the majority of the responses we’ve received from the movie have been great, and sometimes I get a message or meet someone who says something about the movie, and that means more to me than most of anything. that someone else will say, “he said. said in a telephone interview. “I am proud of what we have done.”

These days, he’s more likely to be recognized in public as Jack from “The Outsider”. “I always find it funny when people recognize me in ‘The Outsider’,” he said. “I mean, I love meeting people, so that’s fine with me.”

-Cary darling

Not a confessional film

He doesn’t want “Playing God” to be seen as a denominational film. “I watch confessional films the same way I watch horror films. They are in their own way, ”he said. “We’re men of faith, but we didn’t want to make this genre film. We just wanted to create something that a lot of people can relate to. That it doesn’t sound like some kind of subculture that you don’t know about, but that you see some universal themes that can then spark a conversation. “

Brignac’s next project, “Chasing Oslo” tells a very different story. It revolves around a girl who becomes obsessed with a social media influencer named Oslo Green. And that, too, was filmed in Houston, a fact that sometimes elicits outside remarks.

“You talk to people in Dallas and they have their opinions, but in LA everyone is like, ‘Oh, interesting. What’s going on in Houston? ‘… They say,’ Oh, I walked through the airport once ‘or’ Oh, NASA. ‘ It’s funny. They don’t understand that there is so much, such a good arts and culture scene here. And it’s such an international and diverse city, ”says Brignac. “If it wasn’t so hot. “

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  • Cary Darling

    Cary Darling joined the Houston Chronicle in 2017 where he writes on arts, entertainment, and pop culture, with an emphasis on film and media. A native of Los Angeles and a graduate of Loyola Marymount University, he has served as a reporter or editor at the Orange County Register, the Miami Herald, and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. In addition, he has freelance work for a number of publications including the Los Angeles Times and the Dallas Morning News.


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