AN INTERVIEW WITH Casey dillard
Screenwriter and Actress for Driven
Fanworld: Tell us a little about how you and Glenn started to work together.
Casey: We met when our city’s first improv team (West of Shake Rag) was starting up. He thought I was a good actor and asked me to be in a movie that he was working on and as the years went by we became more and more collaborative. I have hundreds of stories about the path to this team-up as it exists today, but I don’t think you want a five page answer.
Fanworld: Driven came out of Glenn being intrigued by the idea of a feature set in one car. As a writer, was that a gift? It seems like so much focus is on characterisation and interaction. Were there any particular challenges arising from that at the writing stage?
Casey: Is it weird to say that the idea actually meshed really well with my shortcomings as a writer? My original acting roots are in theatre, where a lot of single-location stories are told with a focus on relationships and dialog, so that’s where my mind goes naturally. I guess another way to put it is that it meshed well with my writing strengths, but I’ve never been one for positivity. I definitely ran into issues where I was trying to write scenes with scares or action, but it was an interesting challenge.
Fanworld: What’s your writing process? Are you team ‘maintain a firm schedule while swearing at the blinking cursor as it mocks your lack of progress’, or team ‘jump to action whenever inspiration strikes’?
Casey: It depends on the day. I’ve definitely found that I’m more productive at night, try as I might to be on a working person schedule. I need background noise, but not something I’ll engage with like music or TV that I have to concentrate on (trash TV and ASMR videos are very helpful). At the time I had my cat Trippy who would helpfully take up residence in my lap so that I couldn’t get up and procrastinate as much. I need another lap cat. My productivity has taken a hit.
Fanworld: It was revealed recently that Roger’s last name is Ostrand. How much backstory did you give him and Emerson? Are there any other little tidbits you can reveal?
Casey: A lot of backstory. Roger’s great great grandfather was a real evil bastard and Roger has been through some stuff getting to the point that he is when we first meet him. His family has actually done a some good with their money, but at the end of the day they were OK with knowing people were being possessed in exchange so even if they weren’t all as bad as great-great, I wouldn’t describe them as good people. Emerson has a lot of jobs aside from the one with Ferry and has a very strained relationship with her father. That being said, I know some writers out there have their own ideas about them, so any of mine that don’t appear onscreen don’t have to inform your creative decisions.
Fanworld: You’ve said that Roger is your favourite of your characters. What is it you particularly like about him?
Casey: For one thing, he was just a lot of fun to write. A lot of people have described him as the “straight man” in the movie because Emerson is the comedian, but I think she’s more of a straight man reacting to the bizarre circumstances. He’s so socially clumsy that even when he’s well-intentioned he struggles with it. I also just appreciate that he’s a very good person. Breaking the curse may be the thing that brings ruination down on him, he isn’t endowed with super strength or powers to help him along the way, he’s just doing it because it’s right. The world would be better with more Rogers in it, cloddish though he may be.
Fanworld: You told me once that there was a line you heard in Rich’s before he was even cast, and in some ways, Roger is the character in which I see the most of the Rich that I know. Did the writing for him change at all once Rich accepted the role?
Casey: Not very much. For one thing, I’m very egotistical and I liked the script as is. For another, I assumed he was highly competent and could mold himself to the character rather than the other way around. Glad I was right about that, in hindsight.
Fanworld: You and Glenn met Rich at the Oxford film festival a couple of times before you approached him for Driven. When you’re considering an actor outside of your usual circle for a role, how much weight do you put on what they’ll actually be like to be around for 2 weeks?
Casey: A lot. I was very nervous about bringing him on. Not because he was anything less than very pleasant when we’ve met him, but because it’s easy to be pleasant for a couple of hours out of your life. Speaking from experience, if someone isn’t a team player or isn’t kind then film shoots are very rough. I think my nightly prayers included some variation of “please don’t let Richard turn out to be a jerk” in the weeks leading up to it. Fortunately, I think I was more of a problem child than he was.
Fanworld: Your leading man came to the project with a huge fanbase. We’ve talked about fandom a lot over the past couple of years and how this was your first time being so entrenched in that world. What’s surprised you the most about that community?
Casey: That there are so many subsets within it. If I had the time, patience, and resources to do a documentary about fandoms I think that would be a fascinating deep-dive. I may yet try to explore it in fiction.
Fanworld: I want to talk about Emerson for a bit. Was the intention always that you would play her or was there someone else you had in mind when you were writing her?
Casey: The hope was always that it would be me, but I was down to try to get another name if possible or find someone who was a good fit in our regional talent pool (note to directors: hire southeastern actors for your southern projects. Your actors don’t have as good of accents as you think and a lot of people around here are very beautiful and talented. I will make you a list.). I figured that got pushed aside when we had to move our shoot date up by a few months, but Glenn recently said that it was never his intention to have someone else play the role, which meant a lot. When you have a hard time believing in yourself, it’s really reassuring to have someone whose opinion you value so much in your corner.
That being said, in a perfect world with limitless budget there are probably lots of people who could have done well with it. I would love to see a Michaela Coel, Lizzy Caplan, or Issa Rae take on Emerson.
Fanworld: Emerson’s comedy is such an important part of the movie and a key way we connect with her character from the get-go. If Driven were to get a sequel, would we get to see more of that side of Em? And yes this is just me asking you to please give me an outtake which is just her stand-up set.
Casey: If there were a sequel I think we’d find her putting in a lot of time going to open mics, and interacting with other comics (and probably having a few sets go really badly, tbh). I think she’d learn to get more introspective than observational of the outside world with her comedy. Tell you what, if we get to #1 on Amazon I will try to write a 5-7 minute Emerson set and perform it as her.
Fanworld: The now famous running gag through Driven really emphasises the disparate backgrounds that Em and Roger come from. I feel like a lot of people who’ve had a shared living situation will be nodding along. Did you feel from the moment you wrote it that it would be the takeaway comedy moment?
Casey: It became pretty clear when it was an odd-couple pairing that a fun thing to play with is Roger’s inability to relate to needing money and what weird or gross realities you face when you don’t have it. Wealth is a much bigger barrier between people than people with money realize most of the time.
Fanworld: What scene are you the proudest of?
Casey: For comedy: the scene with Em, Roger, and Grace
For performance: Roger and Emerson’s blow up
For technical achievements: The gas station scene. The whole thing.
Fanworld: Driven had some success on the festival circuit. What’s the experience of taking your movie to a festival really like? How terrifying is it to watch your creation with an audience?
Casey: I wanted to bail on the first screening so badly. If I’d had an aisle seat I probably would have and in truth, I ducked out on a lot of later screenings because I don’t like watching myself very much, but I try to hang close to the door so that I can hear audience reactions a bit. Hearing people laugh at something that I was part of (that was intended to be funny) is very gratifying. But even when people don’t like it, there’s usually something to be learned from why. I highly recommend the festival circuit to aspiring filmmakers, but it is nerve-wracking.