GUTTERBUG is a new indie film which recently won the Dances With Films Festival in Los Angeles. As raw as it is ultimately heartbreaking, Gutterbug is an outstanding first effort from director, ANDREW GIBSON. His debut is slick, sure-handed and powerful. Equally impressive is his talented cast, JUSTIN PIETROPAOLO, HANNAH MOSQUEDA and particularly ANDREW YACKEL who is riveting in the title role. Yackel’s performance is so convincing that, until you meet him, it is hard to believe he is not the real deal. This kid is a star in the making.
The film’s sales agent, Glass House Distribution, arranged a sit down with the two Andrews, Gibson and Yackel, at the Figaro Bistro in Los Feliz where I couldn’t wait to ask them about their new feature.
Splash: Hey, guys. Congrats on winning Dances With Film. You were at the airport, waiting to board your flight home when you heard that you won. What happened next?
Andrew Gibson: I had just gotten through security and I sat down to order breakfast when I got an email from the festival asking me to cancel my flight and be at the awards ceremony the following night!
Andrew Yackel: I had already left and was back in Atlanta when I found out. I got on a flight the next morning and flew back to L.A. I was pretty excited.
Splash: Who were the first people you called to tell them you won?
Andrew Yackel: I called my mom! I had been busy running around that week so I was planning to just to say hi, but it was nice to be able to share some great news!
Andrew Gibson: I called our Executive Producer, Mike List. He was stoked!
Splash: Give me three words to describe your film.
Andrew Gibson: Do It Yourself.
Splash: How did this project come together?
Andrew Gibson: I developed it with my co-writer, Chris Tobin. It started as a short story about a homeless street punk trying to find a job, that morphed into a short film we made and Chris starred in, then Chris wrote the 97-page screenplay that resulted in the feature.
Splash: How many actors did you see for the role of Bug and how did you find Andrew Yackel?
Andrew Gibson: We only considered 2 actors seriously from our Boston casting session, then once we opened it up to online casting we started getting a lot more interesting options. As soon as we saw Yackel’s tape we knew he was the one.
Splash: Andrew Yackel, how many pages of the script did you read before you decided you want to be a part of this film?
Andrew Yackel: I knew pretty early on. Before I read the full script I saw sides for one scene and I loved it. When I was actually able to sit down and read the entire screenplay, my thinking was, I really hope this doesn’t suck, because I was already sort of counting on it and was excited by the concept of the movie. So to answer your question, I’d guess that it wasn’t more than 6 or 7 pages and I was sold.
Splash: How old were you when you decided to be an actor?
Andrew Yackel: I didn’t start until I was 28. I was pursuing illustration beforehand but had problems with my wrists, and still do, so I ended up taking two years off from any kind of artwork. I didn’t know how far I could get with acting but I had always been interested in film and I knew that I needed a new dream to go after. I started auditioning for everything I could find in the Pittsburgh area and eventually began branching out and finding projects out of state. When I got the lead in Gutterbug I realized I had to move to a bigger market and try to make it a full time career.
Splash: Andrew Gibson, you got some incredible and realistic performances from your cast. Did you have rehearsals or go right into filming?
Andrew Gibson: Yackel came up to Boston a few days before we started filming, so we had a couple of days of rehearsal and I was able to take him to all the locations and go through scenes together.
Splash: What was your best and worst day on set?
Andrew Gibson: The best day, and to be frank, the only day I really enjoyed, was when we filmed the basement punk rock scenes. Both bands are really good friends of mine, and all the extras were friends from the local rock scene as well, so that whole night the vibes were off the charts. The worst day was when we filmed at the Corner Store. The owner was getting pretty sick of us and kicked us out before we were able to get the most important scene shot, the one where they rob the place. Our producer, Leigh Lanocha, was able to convince him to let us in after they closed for the night, so we went back and he gave us exactly one hour to shoot the scene.
Splash: As a first time feature film director, what’s been your favorite part of the process so far?
Andrew Gibson: I would say writing the script with Chris Tobin. It was just the two of us holed up in my apartment in Allston every weekend for about 3 months in the winter of 2017. We watched a ton of VHS tapes, played epic games of chess, sometimes lasting 4 hours, and drank too many Miller High Lifes, but we got the creative vibe just right. We worked hard, but not too hard! Once the script was done, all the stress of production began, and I hate all that stuff.
Splash: With the opioid crisis and homelessness a huge problem in the US, did you pick this subject to highlight these issues, or were you looking to just to tell a compelling story?
Andrew Gibson: A little bit of both. We definitely didn’t want to make a movie just about drugs, so Bug’s narrative was the focus from the start, but drugs do play a big role in how his story unfolds. It’s an issue thats huge right now in Massachusetts and across the country, and it’s certainly something I’ve been exposed to over the years, so we were trying to humanize the characters a bit and try to understand what it might be like to be them, and understand why they make some of the choices they do.
In addition to the opiod and homelessness crisis, we also wanted to explore how mental health disorders can effect those things.
Splash: Andrew Yackel, you seem like a pretty clean cut guy in person. Were you ever profiled or discriminated against looking the way you did while making Gutterbug?
Andrew Yackel: Possibly, but I didn’t notice it. The film crew was around me for most of the shoot so my mindset made me not really care about what onlookers thought. The only memory that does stand out is that a guy in a truck gave me an ice cold bottle of water while we were shooting a scene of me begging for change, and that made it into the movie.
Splash: What was your most difficult scene to film?
Andrew Yackel: Damn, there were a lot of them. The suicide scene was tough because we were getting kicked out of the location before we even started. The fight with my dad was also difficult. It got intense fast.
Splash: That river you were swimming in seemed pretty dicey too. Were you worried about catching some nasty infection?
Andrew Yackel: I’m a bit of a worrier sometimes so yeah, in the back of my mind I may have been a bit freaked, but it was the first day of shooting so my mindset was that I had to show these guys I’ll do whatever, that I’m not afraid of this river or whatever’s in it–or eating pizza out of a dumpster, or rooting through trash, or hanging out in a sketchy park with heroin needles on the ground.
Splash: How difficult was it to leave Bug behind at the end of the day, or did you stay in character throughout the shoot?
Andrew Yackel: It was tough. I stayed at Gibson’s house while we made the film and we had production meetings and meals in the backyard every morning. The frenetic pace of filming meant that I never really got a break from it, which was fine with me. It wouldn’t have felt right to run around as Bug during the day and then go back to a sterile, clean hotel room and be alone at the end of the night. Staying in character was natural and sort of easier, so I didn’t fight it.
To be honest, it’s tough to leave Bug behind even now. I get so nostalgic watching the movie and being around these cool people again. It was an amazing experience.
Splash: That car crash at near the end of the movie looks pretty convincing. Did you guys have a stunt team on board? How did you get that shot?
Andrew Gibson: We did have a stunt team, although we didn’t actually crash the cars. We used a few different shots to cheat it, the best one is probably the above angle shot from the street corner where we shot plate shots of each car crossing through the intersection, then we stitched them together and used VFX to make them crash in post. The music and SFX in that scene really help sell it too.
Splash: It worked.
Andrew Gibson: Thank you.
Splash: What feeling do you want people to walk away with after seeing Gutterbug?
Andrew Gibson: I want people to walk away with all kinds of feelings, not just one in particular, I want people to laugh and cry, and every emotion in between!
Splash: Nice. So what’s next for you guys?
Andrew Yackel: Gutterbug is playing at some more festivals which I am planning on attending, and I’ve got a few more projects coming out over the next few months, including an episode of Swamp Thing, a fun TV series I worked on for DC Universe.
Andrew Gibson: I’ll be going to our next Gutterbug screening at the Woods Hole Film Festival in Cape Cod on August 1st. We are also developing our next feature film that we hope to shoot this coming winter.
Splash: Good luck, guys, and congratulations of Gutterbug. Having made such a solid movie I am sure we will be hearing a lot more from both of you.