Child actors have a certain lot in life. They are hired to be cute and to occasionally have a catchphrase that can sell t-shirts. However, when a child actor suddenly wishes to take on roles that have a little substance or, shall we say, grown-up situations, then more often than not they are scooted over to the side and left there until they can either make a name for themselves as criminals, drug addicts, or porn stars.
But there are those child actors that take a different path and don’t bother to wait for that perfect role that they will audition for only to lose it to some other version of themselves, instead they create their own identity by taking charge of their careers and apologizing to no one.
People like Rider and Shiloh Strong who, in just a few years, have managed to build a reputation as writers, directors, producers, and stars of their own short films (Irish Twins, Method, and Dungeon Master) that have gone on to win awards at various film festivals around the world, including the well respected Tribeca Film festival where their second short, Dungeon Master took home the 2011 prize for Best Short (online). They were also the masterminds behind MoveOn.org’s political ad for Obama that ran on Comedy Central (the first and only political ad to ever run on the comedy channel).
After the break FOG! Chats with the Strong brothers about their careers and what’s next on the horizon.
FOG!: There’s the old adage that says “what all actors really want to do is to direct” but the two of you seem to have taken that expression to the extreme by virtually becoming a two man production house (The Strong Brothers Magic Show). What made you guys decide to tackle the daunting task of writing, directing and producing your own short films?
Rider: When we were little kids we were always making movies in our backyard, you know and whether we were in front of the camera or behind it didn’t really make a difference. Once we became successful as kid actors, it was all the same. We never stopped writing; we never stopped making our own projects and wanting to do our own stuff.
Shiloh: Rider, didn’t you write a play when you were like nine or ten years old?
Rider: I wrote a play when I was eight called “A Fish Story”
Rider: It was in 2007 that, um, a lot of it came from being dissatisfied with the acting for the both of us. Either we aren’t getting enough work or the work we were getting wasn’t what we wanted to be doing and we sort of looked at each other and said we’ve always been talking about this idea of actually making our own stuff why don’t we just do it and we wrote three different short films and passed them around our community of friends and other creative people and we were like, which one do we make and then we sort of jumped in and that was Irish Twins, and that one we spent way more money on and we didn’t know what we were doing but we learned a lot.
Shiloh: I remember having a conversation with you early on where you said as an actor you get to express yourself but ultimately you’re saying other people’s words and you have a lot of loss of control and when you go on auditions as an actor you’re a tool for the director to help you tell the story in the best way, not to take away your talent as an actor, but Rider and I have always wanted to be the storytellers not the mechanism to tell the story.
FOG!: Your first foray into shorts was Irish Twins which went on to win a bunch of awards from Best First Time Director (DC Shorts) to Jury and Audience Awards at various festivals. Were you both completely surprised by the reception or were you pretty confident in what you were trying to accomplish?
Rider: It was sort of a mistake in a way. I think we thought we were making a feature film that was twenty minutes long. We are definitely really proud of it but we’ve learned that shorter is better and that a short film doesn’t need to try and do everything that a feature film can do.
It was about our commitment level. We shot it on film; we wanted to make it look as good as possible, sound as good as possible. We didn’t compromise on anything. We’ve since learned how to save money and get people to work for free.
Shiloh: I remember when we got that call that we had gotten into Tribeca with Irish Twins. We had never really done a film festival and they (Tribeca) treated us so well. And we were so green, looking back on it now, we were so stoked and when Dungeon Master got into it this past year, we were able to go back having learned a lot from that first round of festivals.
FOG!: The Obama “Hope” campaign commercial was insanely brilliant and hilarious, when you submitted it to MoveOn.org’s ad contest did you ever dream that you would get selected?
Rider: No. When we first heard about the contest we were like, Should we do this? Could we do this? And we sat on it for a day and the deadline was like in three days and we were like, “You know, what let’s just do it, let’s just commit to it” and we came up with the concept. We sort of knew that we wouldn’t win the contest because we were going for humor and MoveOn was going to air one commercial and they were going to air something more serious, that’s not so tongue-in-cheek, but we almost didn’t care because we were having so much fun coming up with the lines and who we could put in it of our friends and we were like we have to make this, we couldn’t stop it once we started.
Once we found out that we were a finalist and MoveOn raised the money to air it, it was all that we could do. I mean we had gotten all that we could get out of it which was to make something that we believed in politically and also so much fun to make.
Shiloh: What was great about that experience was that it really taught us a lesson in how far people were willing to help out if they believe in your project.
Everybody did that for free. It was like, “Hey can you be here tomorrow? We need to get a soundstage, can we get it for free. We need lights, can we get it for free?” granted, it was all people willing to help out Obama’s campaign, but it was really awesome to see it come together and the only money we really spent was on lunch for everyone.
FOG!: Your newest short, Dungeon Master, is an interesting morality tale on the old story of hipster vs. D&D nerd, how did you come up with the concept and, more importantly, are both of you closeted basement-dwellers?
Shiloh: Yeah, totally. We both played Dungeons and Dragons when we kids, we were super, super in to it and that was the impetus for the short, that it was all based on a true story. I mean it basically happened exactly that way.
Rider and I were at a party with a mutual friend of ours and we kind of had this moment of “Geek Out of Closet” to find out how geeky you used to be or still are and we realized “Hey, we used to play D&D, we should try again” but we didn’t know the rules so we invited a friend of a friend to come by. He didn’t show up in a cape, but he was a true gamer.
He was really into it and knew all the rules and was completely invested in the character and Rider and I were the hipsters…we were the bad guy (Adam Busch’s character, Shane, in the short), we didn’t make fun of the guy but there was an insecurity in us that we weren’t willing to completely let go and become these characters, whereas this guy did voices and had drawings of his character and all this stuff and we were like “Why do we want to make fun of him? What is that?” you know. He’s playing the game the way you are supposed to play it. He’s out there and there’s something so amazing about that kind of quality in somebody who is willing to dress up in costume and go their favorite convention and care so much about it and are so into it.
It’s awesome and should be relished instead of being made fun of.
Rider: The Geek culture is becoming more mainstream, it’s cool to be a geek, and that was kind of our thing (about the short). These hipsters (Chris Wylde and Adam Busch) are like, being a Geek is cool, I used to play D&D blah, blah, blah but the reality is that they can’t take it to that level of real Geek.
FOG!: Well I’m glad that you had Adam in the short because he scares me ever since I saw him on Buffy (Adam played Warren) and everything I see him in frightens me so he was perfect for that.
Rider and Shiloh (laughing)
Rider: Adam was also in our Obama ad too but we ended up cutting him from the commercial, but when it came time to make this we were like “Who’s the guy that you believed used to be a geek when he was younger but now he’s a little too cool for it and you just believed could be really mean…ADAM. And he nailed it; he’s so good at it.
Fog!: Finally, what is next for The Strong Brothers Magic Show? I heard that you were finishing up a graphic novel are you moving into that world as well?
Rider: We already have written all six issues of our comic book (that is becoming a graphic novel) and we are just waiting for the art work right now; the first issue is going to be released in September (Blood Merchant-Image). We’re excited to do that, but also because we are writing a screenplay adaptation of it, so it will definitely be a feature.
I don’t think we will direct it but that’s the way Hollywood seems to be going. Graphic novels and movies are so interchangeable now and we would love to write both and continue to work on both and this is our first time doing it and it was so much fun.
We’ll do whatever we can to get the story out there.
We are definitely done making shorts, as much as we would like to make another one, we can’t afford it.
Rider: We just need to find someone willing to give us a little bit of money to make a full-length feature. It’s hard because there’s not really a distribution for short films. We can play all these festivals but when we are done there’s nowhere else to go. We can put our films online I guess but they don’t reach as big of an audience as feature films so we gotta make a feature.
Someone should really give these guys money…