Robert Rugan Interview: Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganyemede (2011)
Posted on August 6, 2011 by michael
Buddy Holly Is Alive And Well On Ganyemede
Download a free digital copy of Bradley Denton’s 1991 book
Robert Rugan Interview
Robert Rugan began his career as an award-winning editor. “I was an AVID editor first. Then I wormed my way into visual effects and worked on an inferno (flame) for a while, then started directing from there.” From his commercial work Robert is perhaps best known for his Durex Condom ad. Along his career path Robert also wrote for TV commercials, shorts and several feature length films as well as for a few optioned screenplays. As you can see in Robert’s CD Reel, his work spans creative concepting, directing, visual effects and post.
Robert Rugan is attached to Direct the feature film Buddy Holly is Alive and Well on Ganymede, adapted from Bradley Denton’s 1991 sci-fi novel. The story follows Oliver Vale, a common young man suddenly called into unexpected adventures when TV screens go blank across the world and the 1950s rock-pioneer Buddy Holly is alive again, performing from Ganymede, a moon of Jupiter and holding a sign that suggests viewers should contact Oliver Vale for an explanation of this TV intermission. Vale then sets out to the site of Buddy Holly’s grave to see if Buddy Holly is in fact alive, all the while being chased by a suspicious public and disguised aliens.
BHIAWOG is currently in a fundraising phase. The trailer above is a teaser development trailer. Jon Heder is signed to play Oliver Vale and Robert Rugan is attached to direct. This independent film is produced by Dahlia Street Films.
Hi Robert, first off congrats on the development of the teaser trailer. How has it been received so far?
Oh. Thanks! Yeah, people seem to really be digging it, and it also seems to be opening up a lot of doors for us. So that’s huge. Initially, the development teaser was engineered to do a couple of things for us – give people a taste of the general tone of the movie, give us a chance to showcase Jon Heder as Oliver Vale, and then ultimately, help spearhead the fundraising for the feature. But it seems to have done much more than that in the sense that it keeps opening up opportunities for the film that have been completely unexpected. For example, just a few weeks ago, we were able to screen the teaser for Maria Elena Holly, Buddy’s widow, in New York at P.J. Clark’s – where Buddy proposed to her on their first date! And she loved it. We ended up hanging out with her all weekend, listening to her tell old Buddy stories. It was really amazing. So, there continues to be unexpected twists and turns as the project moves along on down the line.
I read that you are attached to direct but that you also wrote the adapted screen play. How faithful to the book will the movie be?
As with any screenplay adapted from a novel, you end up losing some things – lots of things – just due to time constraints and the differences in the way a book tells a story versus how a movie does. So, there are things that are different about the screenplay but I feel like we kept the story in tact, and we definitely made every attempt to retain the spirit and tone of the book. Bradley Denton – the author of the novel – is very involved in the project. He has read and re-read evolving drafts of the screenplay and has given his stamp of approval, so I think that fans of the book will dig it. While they might see some changes to some of the details, there is a tremendous amount of the book that is still in the screenplay. And yes, to the fans of the book that have been asking online – “Is Ringo, the cyborg Doberman, going to be in the movie?”…the answer is – “Absolutely! It wouldn’t be Buddy Holly is Alive and Well if he wasn’t.”
The teaser trailer has several subtle inside jokes referring to Buddy Holly and Bradely Denton’s book. Is there specific significance to all the keychains hanging from Vale’s waist?
Haha. Yes. There are a few subtle Buddy jokes through out the teaser and some not-so-subtle ones as well, and there are even more Buddy references in the screenplay, and then even more in the book. So I would say that this project is chock-full of Buddy Holly- from the obvious stuff like Buddy’s music down to the guitar pick wedged behind the pick-guard on the Stratocaster. As for the keychains and “stuff” hanging from Vale’s waist, I’ll leave that a mystery for now.
BHIAW seems to appeal to a wide demographic of fans. Do you see this as a cult status film or a mainstream movie?
We keep hearing the phrase – “Epic Indie,” which I like. This is an independent film. It has always been a project we felt like was bit outside the box. Anyone who knows Bradley’s novel, knows it is NOT your typical Hollywood story line, but it also doesn’t fit into the more cynical viewpoint of a lot of independent cinema. This is a sci-fi comedy, road-trip with a dash of cyborg Doberman and a healthy dose of rock n roll. It’s fun! But it’s also got some real heart to it. That was something that was so appealing about the book. It hooks with you the humor and the fun of it all, and then you look up half-way through it and you realize that you really care about these characters, that there is a deeper lifeline running through it. That’s the movie we are making.
I have a suspicion that Bradley Denton is tweeting on behalf of Oliver Vale?
What? He is?! Haha. Yes. You are correct, sir. Bradley is tweeting as Oliver Vale. Like I mentioned, Bradley has been very involved in the project, and he is genuinely excited about being a part of the process. So when things started to ramp up this year, we were doing the new website and finishing the teaser, I asked him if he would help me with Oliver’s twitter, and he agreed. Two months later, it is Bradley exclusively. He is tweeting like a madman. And it’s really good stuff. Haha. Anyone who is a fan of the book will love it. It’s like having B-sides of dialogue from the book. Follow him @olivervale.
How did Jon Heder become involved in the project? He plays Oliver Vale well in the teaser.
We have been getting such a good response about Jon in the development teaser, with people commenting on the fact that he “really gets its” or that he “is perfect for this role”. And Jon is really into it, which makes everything SOO much easier. Molly Mayeux, the producer on the film, got the script to Jon’s manager, who read it and liked it. She encouraged Jon to read it and he really liked it as well but he wanted to meet and talk about it before ultimately committing to it. His first question to me was – “What’s your take on this story? It’s quirky. How are you planning on doing this? ” My answer was, “I want to play it straight.” And he sort of grinned this mischievous grin and was like “That’s what I wanted to know.” We went on to talk about some very specific places in the script that he and I liked a lot, and he was attached to play Oliver Vale shortly after that. Jon gets it.
Any hints on who you would like to play Buddy Holly?
This is such an important role, obviously, so we are being very picky and careful about who we go after. We are smack-dab in the middle of casting the film right now, so we will see how it all pans out. I’m sure it will be a pretty big announcement when we find the right fit for Buddy.
I recently read on the BHIAW blog that Songmasters will be collaborating on a soundtrack for the film and that BHIAW is committed to donating a portion of the film’s proceeds to the Buddy Holly Guitar Foundation. I don’t think this is common with feature films, donating proceeds, but it seems like a forward thinking idea where everybody wins.
Yes! This is a huge thing for us. We are collaborating with Songmasters and with producer Peter Asher on a portion of the soundtrack for the film, including some amazing recordings of Buddy’s music by artists like Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson, Jeff Lynne, Chris Isaak and more. Which is awesome in itself – to have these legendary artists in their own right covering some of Buddy’s tracks. Really amazing stuff. When you start to develop a movie like this, where music is a huge piece of the puzzle, you end up meeting a lot of cool people who are doing a lot of what they are doing just because they LOVE the music. As a film, we are benefitting from knowing these people, being connected with them, and collaborating with them – so giving back to those people is definitely a win/win situation.
How do you plan on balancing Buddy Holly songs in the soundtrack? Will there be a heavier weight on obscure vs. distinguished songs?
So much of this is about what tracks are in the screenplay for one reason or another and then the licensing rights to those tracks. Music licensing is insane, but we are determined to land a few of the more key tracks. There is actually a pretty good mix of “obscure vs. distinguished” Buddy tracks in the screenplay with us hitting a few of the really well known tracks that everyone will recognize and then some lesser known beauties that only the hardcore Buddy fans will know. And as with any artist, the tracks released for radio play are not the only good tracks in the artist’s catalog. With Buddy’s stuff, it is sort of hard to go wrong (popular vs. obscure) but there are some tracks that fit with the movie better than others, so we will see where everything lands. Considering that the film is also set in 1989, there is also room for some pretty RAD eighties tracks as well.
Has your previous experience in editing and vfx aided you as a writer or director?
Oh. Definitely. I think every director decides what films he/she wants to make with some of their background in tow. For me, coming up through editing and visual effects, I tend to gravitate toward stories that are more visual in nature, and most of the time, have some level of elevated reality. But I also think visual effects can be a trap. I see a lot of films that pile on visual effects in place of a story or characters. That just seems like the wrong way to go about it to me. Don’t get me wrong, I like visual effects, but I just like characters more. I also like having restrictions when it comes to visual effects. With some bigger movies, the budgets are such that the director can create anything he/she wants to create – time and money are no option. To me, this luxury can also be a curse. With restrictions, you are forced to be creative, to find solutions that a lot of times are better for the story, better for the characters…because story and character development are free. I can name a lot of movies where I didn’t think twice about a bad (or dated) visual effect because the story and characters were so incredibly compelling…(cough, cough)..Jaws.
The film’s production company Dahlia Street Films offer money raising advice and even free sample business plans. Do you have any additional advice for new filmmakers who are working on their first film?
Oh yikes. Advice. Hmm. I really shouldn’t be giving advice, but…okay, you asked for it. – Don’t lie. There is enough lying going on in this business without adding one more to the mix. – You don’t have to be an asshole to be a director. We have all seen the clips of directors yelling and acting a fool toward cast and crew. I am not saying I have not lost my temper, but the idea that a director has to be a consistent asshole to get things done is a fallacy. Stick to your guns. Know what you want. And do you best to treat everyone with some respect. – Listen to the crew. If you have the luxury to be on a set with a good crew, listen to them. These guys and gals have probably been on more sets than you and I have and a great number of them are really smart, creative people. This doesn’t mean you have to do everything they tell you, or agree with them all the time, but sometimes they do have really great ideas. – Make as many short films and mistakes as you can before trying to develop a feature film. Seriously. – If you have limited funds (who doesn’t) and you are trying to decide what to spend money on, spend it on crew, cast, and the perfect location. Remote follow focus and the newest, state of the art car mount is nice to have, but a boat load of grip and electric and cranes will not get you nearly as far as the right people and a perfect location.
Thank you for doing this interview Robert, as a last question, what are your five most played mp3s?
Thank you! We appreciate your interest in the project. Really.
“A Change is Gonna Come” – Sam Cooke (My top play count in itunes!? Wow, I did NOT know that.)
“She’s So Cold” – Rolling Stones
“re: stacks” – Bon Iver
“Wonderful Life” – Nick Cave
“Texas Flood” – Stevie Ray Vaughn