This is a story about two guys from different sides of the country who shared a single dream.
Tyler Nilson was from the Outer Banks of North Carolina. He knocked around his home state doing odd jobs, but what he really wanted to do was make movies. So, he left North Carolina and headed for California.
In Los Angeles, he worked more odd jobs. He had bit roles in a few movies, made corporate films, acted in a few commercials, and worked as a hand model, even doubling for Brad Pitts’ hands. But he wasn’t living his dream. He wanted to write and direct his own movies, but that wasn’t happening.
Enter Michael Schwartz. Michael grew up in sunny California and was Tyler’s neighbor in Los Angeles. Like Tyler, Michael had a dream of making movies. So, they decided to work together.
When things didn’t work out quickly enough for the duo, Tyler moved back home to the Outer Banks. Michael went with him on a temporary basis, but when he met a young lady and fell in love, he decided to stay. So, as long as they were together in North Carolina, they decided to make a movie. Problem was, they really didn’t know how.
Tyler had a vague idea for a film, so they just started shooting. Tyler did the acting, Michael did the filming. They shot a bunch of scenes around Colington Island and Bodie Island in the Outer Banks, and then strung the scenes together, added voiceover, and created a narrative. There was no script. The resulting short film was “The Moped Diaries,” about a hard luck guy who suffers one loss after another. His mother leaves, his father dies, his brother goes to prison, the love of his life marries someone else. Despite that description, the film has a sense of humor and pulls at the heartstrings. Take a look:
“The Moped Diaries” earned Tyler and Michael some fans, but fame and fortune still alluded them. After shooting the short film, they volunteered at a camp for people with disabilities. They were talking about wanting to make a movie when one of the campers, Zach Gottason, said he wanted to be a movie star. Tyler and Michael believe that you should never talk down to or patronize people with disabilities, so, according to Michael, they told Zach the truth: “Hey, bro, that’s really unlikely. You have Down Syndrome, and nobody makes movies starring people with Down Syndrome.”
Zach was unfazed. “Why don’t you make me a movie. We can do it together.”
The thing about Zach was, he could act. He had attended theater high school and he knew what he was doing. Tyler and Michael figured, why not? They wanted to make a movie, Zach wanted to be in a movie, they should just go for it. They figured Tyler could do the acting and Michael could do the filming, just like in “The Moped Diaries.” And Zach could be Zach.
Once again, the problem was that they really didn’t know how to make a movie. So, Tyler and Michael went to the library and checked out books on how to write a script. They also watched movies they wanted to imitate, like “Stand By Me” and “Mud.” They wrote the script, and figured they could make the film for about $30,000. Of course, they didn’t have $30,000.
They went back to Los Angeles to try to find funding, but they couldn’t get anyone to read their script. After a while, they ran out of money and ended up living in a tent in a park. They were broke, but they knew they’d probably have to create a trailer for the film to get anyone interested in it, so they threw something together and waited.
On New Year’s Day, actor Josh Brolin posted on Instagram, “This year I want to help people.” Tyler and Michael saw the post, and responded “Josh, this is perfect ‘cause we’re looking for some help.” They told him about their script and he replied, “No, this isn’t what I meant. There’s no way I can do your $30,000 movie. But…I’m gonna do it.”
With Josh Brolin on board, people started reading the script. Talent agencies offered other actors, and the script started to take off. No one would give Tyler and Michael the $30,000 they needed, but they were offered $3 million.
With $3 million to make the film, Tyler was no longer cast in the lead role. That went to Shia Labeouf. And Josh Brolin ended up having to drop out of the film due to scheduling conflicts, but was replaced by Thomas Haden Church. Also in the cast are Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern, John Hawkes, and the guy who started the whole thing, Zach Gottason. Tyler and Michael wrote and directed the film, which, of course, is what they wanted to do all along.
The film has already won enthusiastic praise from film festival audiences. It received the Narrative Spotlight Audience Award at South by Southwest, and received a perfect score of 100 on Tomatometer.
In case you were wondering, the name of the film is “The Peanut Butter Falcon” and it opens in theaters on August 9, with wide release on August 23. Here’s a featurette to tell you a little more: