For a Sundance virgin, expectations can run high. For Chris Galletta, the writer of the already well-received and snapped up 2013 Sundance competitor Toy’s House, expectations pre-festival were an unnerving mix of “incredible” and “horrifying.” Toy’s House, his first script, a 2009 Black Lister, is a coming-of-age comedy about three high school boys who venture out into the wilderness to live an adult-free life. We caught up with the 31-year-old Columbia film school grad last week in the hours before his trek to Park City. As he packed for the fateful trip, Galletta talked about first time filmmaking, getting Ron Swanson and Tammy 2 cast, and being open to one Eyes Wide Shut-esque Sundance party, or two.
Where did the idea for the film come from?
It’s based on or inspired by a bunch of friends I had growing up on Staten Island. We used to goof off in the woods a lot. One of us, he kind of had the run of his house during summer vacation. His parents were divorced. We would go to his house and play all day. It just kind of felt like we were running the household, and I thought that would be a funny idea for the movie, this sort of inverted Step Brothers idea—like a bunch of kids running a household, and 14-year-olds behaving like 30 year olds.
Tell me about casting process.
Obviously, Nick Offerman was the first person who got attached. You never really know who that first name is gonna be—that first person who gets the ball rolling. And when we found out that it was Offerman, we sort of felt like it was kind of a godsend.
Are you a Ron Swanson fan?
Oh yeah. I’m a huge Parks and Recreation fan. I think it’s the funniest show on TV. That has nothing to do with Offerman either. I think it’s the best ensemble on TV, and it’s got the smartest and most interesting jokes, and the characters are the most endearing. And Chris Pratt is a completely inspired dude.
Tell me about Nick Offerman’s character.
He’s a construct. He’s not anybody that I grew up with. He’s not based on anyone’s dad. He’s kind of like the dad from Calvin and Hobbes. And the dad in that is just very dry and very droll and gives him a hard time, but he loves him. They don’t communicate well, but they do love each other. And I feel like the dad here is just not a great communicator, and they’re both kind of angry men, but they don’t know that they’re the same person, so they butt heads. And Offerman nails that, because he is really funny when he’s angry.
Is he sporting any facial hair in the movie?
He has a beard. He’s got a pretty good salt and pepper beard going on. I hope that the fans are okay with that. [Laughs]
And Megan Mullally?
She’s really hilarious too. She’s definitely more ripped from the headlines as the Italian suburban moms that I grew up around.
How has the film transitioned from script to screen? Is it the way you envisioned it?
Some of it is frighteningly, literally the stuff that was in my head. And then other stuff, it’s just the product of the collaboration of a bunch of people who really cared about it. For Jordan [Vogt-Roberts] the director, and Ross [Riege] the DP, and Terel [Gibson] our editor—this is our first feature, so everyone brought their A game. It’s an amazingly humbling thing to have a bunch of people grab a page of your stuff and give it your all. Clearly, they improved upon a lot of the script. It can’t not happen that way. Then other stuff was like, Wow, that’s exactly what I thought it would be. It’s unbelievable. It’s like that funny Roman Polanski quote, “There’s only one way to shoot a scene.”
How long have you been writing?
This is my first script. I went to Columbia Film School, and this was the thesis for that process. I finished film school in 2010, and this was already sold to Big Beach Films by that time. That’s every film student’s dream, right? I was hoping to be in production by the time that I graduated, but you know, it’s only fair that I waited a little until we cast it up. I had not finished a screenplay before that, other than I think I wrote something in high school, with my friend J about the Staten Island Ferry, but I choose to not count it. Not that it’s bad, I was just 18. That was before I knew anything.
How are you feeling going into Sundance?
I mean, I have no idea what to expect. I’ve never been to the Sundance Film Festival before. [Laughs] Jordan’s been there before and he keeps on telling me these horror stories about how I’m not going to sleep, and I’m gonna wind up in some weird Eyes Wide Shut kind of party up in the snowy mountains.
Does that sound that horrific though?
Well horrific in the way that it’s going to be an insane experience, like the movie’s going to be secondary to the experience of being in Sundance for 10 days. I’m just packing right now. I’m open. I have no idea what to expect. I’m nervous about the movie doing well. I want people to laugh. I hope they enjoy it. That’s worth everything. I didn’t fully grasp the idea that it was a big deal ‘til a couple of weeks ago. And now I feel like it’s a really big deal, but obviously it’s an incredible feeling to go there, because they picked the movie. And it’s really great that my parents and some of my friends are coming. It’s great to be able to give people an excuse to come party in the mountains.
So what’s the next script?
Next is an action comedy I’m doing it with this guy Todd Strauss-Schulson who directed Harold and Kumar 3D. We both wrote the story, and I wound up writing the script. He’s going to direct it. We’re kind of a package deal. We met a year and half ago and sort of hit it off and wanted to work together. He had this idea for an action comedy that is set in Brazil, and if we did our job, it would feel like an old Romancing the Stone, 80s romp-like action adventure thing. We would hope with updated characters and humor, but I’m very, very big on trying to put sort of absurd people inside the construct of ’80s movies, because that’s what I grew up with. With Toy’s House, it’s very hard to not think of The Goonies or Stand by Me. It’s just the stuff I grew up with.
For more on the film, see the director’s movie look book here.