Daniel Scheinert needed a reminder that alongside Alabama’s bumbling rednecks and divisive public officials, there’s still plenty to love about his home state.
The filmmaker’s perspective changed after reading the screenplay for the cheekily titled The Death of Dick Long, a Deep South satire that playfully tweaks stereotypes.
It was written his friend by Billy Chew, a New England native who met Scheinert at Emerson College in Boston and subsequently relocated to Alabama for a few years.
“He started telling me how amazing it was, and I didn’t believe him,” Scheinert said during the recent Dallas International Film Festival. “Our friendship kind of became sharing Alabama stories. He kind of taught me to love where I’m from.”
The movie follows garage-band partners Zeke (Michael Abbott Jr.) and Earl (Andre Hyland) as they try to conceal the unspeakable and embarrassing circumstances behind their friend’s death from their families and the authorities, but can’t seem to keep their story straight when it matters most.
“I got to see Alabama with a set of eyes that wasn’t from there,” Chew said. “The movie I was writing was subconsciously to convince Daniel that Alabama is a fascinating place.”
For the filmmakers, that “fascinating place” made its more eccentric residents into targets for both mockery and sympathy. The characters came from quirky people they encountered or worked with, or met through their various artistic endeavors.
“The comedy or drama wouldn’t work if the characters weren’t grounded in realistic feeling,” Chew said. “It was important to us not to just treat the South like a punchline, if for no other reason than we’ve seen that movie a million times.”
Scheinert (co-director of Swiss Army Man) said the film is more universal in its comic examination of the grieving process taken to outrageous extremes.
“If I documentarian secretly recorded me when I went through a tragic experience in my life, it would be hilarious,” Scheinert said. “People are so awkward and bad at communicating. Smart people act really dumb. Movies are filled with unrealistic geniuses, but nobody goes through tragedy that way.”