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Theater, Drama, Basketball. – A Conversation With Junk’s Kevin Hamedani and Brett Davern

A few months back, my friend Kevin Hamedani (Zombies Of Mass Destruction) invited me to a private screening of his recently finished movie Junk.  All I had known about the film was that he directed it and our mutual friend Brett Davern (Awkward, Beautiful Ohio) was one of the actors in the film.  Truthfully, I’ve become jaded with movies friends make and had low expectations with the film.  Boy, was I pleasantly surprised.  I enjoyed it so much, I repetitively requested Brett and Kevin set aside time to talk about the film with me.

Synopsis: Kaveh and Raul are two b-movie co-writers who have suffered a bitter falling out. Kaveh’s lost his girlfriend, and spends his days getting high in his apartment, while Raul is off studying at Columbia University. But when one of their films (“Islama-rama 2”) is accepted by a film festival, the two ex-friends are forced to tentatively re-connect in order to pitch their script to the mysterious producer, Yukio Tai (James Hong). Along the way, they will have to brave brutish bodyguards, cutthroat colleagues, inept agents, romantic entanglements, prima donna actors, and the trials of their own bitter friendship.

Finally, one cold night in December, Brett and Kevin took me up on my offer and met me at a local bar where we sat down and talked about Junk, Samurai movies and Gremlins 3 (It’s real, people!).

So who do we have here?

BD – “Brett. Davern. With a D.”

KH – “Kevin. Hamedani.”

And we’re here to talk about Junk.  So, Kevin, tell me about the movie.

KH – “Well, I co-wrote it with Ramon Isao.”

Whom also is your co-star in the film.

KH – “Yes.”

Was there anything else he partnered with you on to get this film made?

KH – “No, I directed it.  We co-wrote it. And that was his acting debut as well.”

And how did Brett get involved?

KH – “Well we -”

BD – “I basically told Kevin I was not going to audition.”

KH – “Hah, yeah that’s right.”

BD – “And I was joking. Just joking around but then he called me and he was like NO! You can have this part! And I was like, OK let’s do it!”

Did you write the part of Billy with Brett in mind?

KH – “Yes.  Well, Ramon came up with the idea of a liaison. I came up with the idea of him being a Christian.  And then when we really started talking about it, I saw Brett in my head wearing one of his sweaters.”

(Brett just nods and smiles.)

KH – “We did this play back in high school…”

Wait wait wait, hold on.  You both went to high school together?

BD – “Yes.”

KH – “And middle school.”

BD – “Kevin and I have known each other a long time.  We grew up together in Edmonds, Washington.”

KH – “Theater, Drama, Basketball.”

BD – ” We played on the same basketball teams growing up.  We did theater together.”

KH – “Brett was in my first play.  The first thing I ever wrote and directed.”

BD – “That’s right, it was a one act for Edmonds Woodway High School’s One Act Festival. Yeah it was great!  It was a detective’s drama. A mystery.”

KH – “Damn, you remember!”

BD – “Yeah, it was awesome.”

And somehow, your paths have crossed again.  Both moving to Los Angeles, and Brett is still acting in work you’ve written and directed.

KH – “We have collaborated in one way or the other.  Even in high school when I shot this little film, Brett was there.  He even shot some scenes.”

BD – “I even held the camera a little bit.”

KH – “We both loved films growing up and were fortunate enough to have the same classes. We were both the better actors of our grade, which isn’t saying much.  It was like ten actors total in our high school.  But still, we were two of the few who actually believed we could do this for the rest of our lives.”

BD – “Yeah, I think you find those people.  You gravitate towards them.  We would sit in the back of Science class and read the AFI Top 100 book and debate, you know, whether Godfather was better than Godfather 2.”

KH – “2 was way better.”

BD – “Right!?”

Godfather 2 is totally better.

BD – “I believe we’ve come to a consensus. So we gravitated towards each other because of our similar interests but then went our different paths after high school. I took a year off and then went to a little conservatory in New York.  Kevin went to University Of Washington and went the four year route.”

KH – “Brett leaving was always kind of inspiring to me. I guess you have to relocate sometimes to really focus and make your dream a reality.  I was in comfy Seattle maybe a year too long.”

BD – “Yeah but where-as I would come back and visit you in your dorms, I was jealous of what you were doing.”

The grass is always greener.

KH – “The grass is always greener.”

BD – “We were always staying in touch and stuff.  I then moved to L.A. and at some point I was up in Seattle visiting and Kevin was shooting his movie Zombies Of Mass Destruction.”

KH – “And I wanted Brett to play a role in it.  I thought he was going to.”

BD – “Oh yeah!  I came in and read for you.”

KH – “There wasn’t even a question. He was perfect.  Brett had just done his first feature Beautiful Ohio.  It was a really Hollywood film so Brett was in The Union.  And we were like a no budget indie.  So I was like…he has a manager?  I don’t even know where to begin! And we didn’t end up going SAG, so…”

BD – “Yeah that’s the thing.  It was a Non Union film so I couldn’t be a part of it.”

So Kevin, speaking of, talk a little about Zombies Of Mass Destruction.

KH – “Woah, okay.  I haven’t done this in some time…Zombies is a low budget horror/comedy/satire kind of in the vein of  Shaun Of The Dead and Dr. Strangelove about contemporary politics put in a genre film.  It’s about Middle Eastern people and terrorism and post 9/11 hysteria…uh….with zombies.”

And you did this with Ramon?

KH – “That’s where Ramon and I first started working together.  We grew up together and met him way before I knew Brett.  I was a little kid and my neighbor was Ramon and his family.  Ramon was five years older so he and my brother were friends. I used to tag along.  And then, of course, I lost touch with Ramon.  So I wrote Zombies and got the producer attached and I kept insisting it was really not ready.  I went through a couple of writers that didn’t work out.  Ramon had just come back from Japan and was pursuing a writing degree at Columbia.  So I asked him if he’d want to write a scene to see if he clicks.  He wrote the gas station scene and that was it.  I was like, oh okay! That’s easy!  And that was it.”

So from the experience of being on the festival circuit for ZMD, came the idea which inspired your new film Junk.
KH – “That is correct.  ZMD did a lot of festivals, fortunately.  Ramon and I went to the first festival together. ”

Were these mainly horror film festivals?

KH – “No.  Actually more ‘arty farty’ festivals.  It was considered like a midnight genre festival film.  You know what I mean?  Because it had a political tint to it.  So anyway, Ramon and I met.  First festival we went to was in D.C. and it was a weird experience.  He went back to New York and I spent the rest of the year doing film festivals.  He decided to come to one last film festival almost a year later and we met up in Austin.  I started telling him all these festival story ideas.  And then from there, we started to discuss about if it was a film.  Then I met two filmmakers who are now my friends.  They shared the same special effects artist that we had for ZMD.  We started talking at the film festival and it turned out they had a similar script that Ramon and I had.  We both had a Western script that we both were trying to pitch to Michael Keaton.  Anyway…yeah that’s where the idea came from. And while we were in the writing process, we started hanging out with Brett because he lives ten minutes away.  And then it just came together.  It’s like the universe was telling us what the film was going to be.”

Was it planned then for both you and Ramon to not only co-write Junk but also co-star in it as well?

KH – “First it was nope, I’m not going to act in it.  Then, I don’t think I’m going to act in it.  Then I did a little acting for Lynn Shelton, this director in Seattle.  I did okay, there was a lot of improv.  She does this improvisational Mumblecore style that I was not very familiar with.  So I was on her set and we were improvising.  She had two cameras and it was really fun.  So then I decided maybe it’s not that hard.”

BD – “Bit by the bug again!”

KH – “That’s right.  I hadn’t acted in a long time but as any actor will tell you, you do it after a long break and it’s still fun.”

BD – “And Kevin was the best actor at our school. He was much better than me.”

KH – “No!”

BD – “He’d win contests.”

KH – “Okay maybe in high school but not anymore.”

BD – “Contests and scholarships, all kinds of things.  He was very very good.”

So were you planning on casting for the roles of Raul and Kaveh?

KH – “We weren’t even that far.  We were outlining and were already thinking Brett and we were thinking my roommate Cooper.  We were saying, ‘Who else can we get?’ I knew my friend Nick could be in it.  And Cooper played Conner in the film.  So anyway, long story short, by the middle of rehearsal, I kept seeing Ramon as Raul.  Whenever he would pitch me a joke in the writer’s room, he’d act it out.  Ever since ZMD, and he’d always make me laugh.  So I was like, duh!  If he can do that in front of me and he can do that in front of a camera, we’re fine.  So we went out for a smoke and I was like, ‘Let’s get this dialog going.  Why don’t you play Raul?’.  I didn’t tell him but I was kind of auditioning him.  Five minutes in and I was like, ‘Oh yeah! That was great improv.  You’re in the movie!’ And he was like, ‘Are you sure? Are you sure?”

He had no problem with it?

KH – “He was worried.”

BD – “He was nervous.”

This is his first experience acting?

KH – “Yeah.”

BD – “He’d never even done plays or anything. And he kills it.  He’s so good in it.”

KH – “Some people are just actors, you know?  I don’t know what kind of range he has.”

If you can tell a story and entertain an audience, on a certain level, you’re a performer. If you can captivate an audience, there’s some sort of performer in you.

BD – “That’s the thing.  He’s very captivating to watch.”

KH – “As a person, he’s very engaging.”

BD – “He nailed that role.”

KH – “Then we got Brett.  Billy was the least developed role.  Raul and Ramon are kind of similar.  Kaveh and myself are kinda drawn from the same place.  The liaison was based on fiction more than any other character.  So we gave the working actor the hardest part.  We told him it was half written and to have fun with it.  And then Brett went off and created something…we had no idea….I mean…it was one of the most educational experiences for me as a director to watch  Brett create Billy.  I am not kidding.”

BD – “Wow.  Thank you.”

KH – “He would come on set and he’d throw out suggestions. I’d be like, ‘That’s ridiculous, that’s too over the top’ but I’d give him one take and maybe he’ll surprise me.  Nine out of ten times, it was like OH! THAT WORKS! And so, I learned a lot.”

BD – “Thanks man!”

KH – “And even Ramon, we’d go back to his parents house and he’d be asking, ‘Where did Billy come from?’ and all.”

Hmm, where DID Billy come from, Brett?

BD – “You know what?  I don’t know.  I gotta say, working on Junk has been my favorite experience.  In all seriousness, and not just because Kevin is sitting here.  It really was.  The freedom that we had was incredible.”

When you say freedom, are you referring to creatively?  Improvisation?

BD – “He had the scenes written.  There’s lines on the page, for sure.  I mean more the freedom to say the lines how you wanted to say them or to come up with your own suggestions.  You know, sometimes you go into a job and you don’t know the director.  You may be afraid to approach them maybe.  But with Kevin, it’s like…and obviously we’ve been friends for years so I’m not afraid to come to him with an idea because the worst he’s going to say is no.  This is probably the way it is all the time, but you may also have that social anxiety added.  We’ve worked together so many times that I know I can just say to Kevin, ‘Hey what do you think about this?’ and if he’s like, ‘No’ or I could read his mood and know not to approach him at that time….I guess what I’m trying to say is he keeps up a good rapport on set. And it was a lot of fun.  I can even begin to imagine the hours of footage not in the movie containing the fun little avenues we went down.”

KH – “What we’re probably going to do for the DVD is have like a Billy section.  The first cut I put together, before the editor came in and took over, it was three hours long and there was an entire story line with another character and Billy.  Unfortunately, in the end some people got cut entirely and Billy got trimmed down.”

BD – “I think I said to Kevin early on, I was making a suggestion or something, and I said, ‘Look, if I’m annoying you just tell me’ and he said he would if I ever overstepped my bounds.  From then on, I’d just come to him with stuff.”

The one thing that stood out for me when I watched the film, was the relationship between Kaveh and Raul.  It seemed like a darker version of Swingers in a way.  I just kept seeing the dynamic of Vince Vaughn and Jon Favreau from that movie through the relationship your characters have on screen.  Was that movie an influence here in any way or am I just talk out my ass?

KH – “That movie meant a lot to me when I went through a break up.”

Yeah, at one point in my life, I ended up being that guy who called the girl seven times in a night and left a bunch of messages.

KH – “Well I wasn’t that retarded.  No, I’m kidding.  I’ve done worse stuff, my friend.  But yeah, Swingers is fucking great.  It’s one of the most honest modern male break up MTV generation films ever made.  I mean…I still say ‘Baby’ sometimes.  It’s probably because of that film.  Okay maybe I don’t really say ‘Baby’ -”

You said it twice now.

KH – “- but I want to say ‘Baby’.”

Three times.

KH – “There you go.  But the movie’s awesome.  But darker?  Is it because we’re literally darker?”

It was darker, to me, because of the context of the story and how the characters interact between each other and those around them.  It was more crass, dealing with horror genre references, and focused more on the depression felt by Kaveh from the breakup.  It just felt darker.

KH – “The blood.”

Well yeah, you guys play people writing and directing a horror film.  I know enough people who do that to know, things are just a bit darker and weirder in the world through their eyes.  And speaking of darker and weirder, who’s idea was it to add in these bizarre movie within the movie interludes in the film? They definitely helped break up the pace of the film, especially when it may have gotten a bit heavy at times.  For instance, where did the Gremlins 3 thing come from?

KH – “Gremlins Part 3 is a real thing that Ramon and I have discussed for years before Junk was even an idea. We had Gremlins 3 and then, well I think it started with the idea that we had to show the film Islama-Rama 2 that they’re there for.”

Great title, by the way.

KH – “That was all Ramon.  And then along the lines, what if we see TD Largo’s film? And then what if this and what if that?  Okay?  That’s the kind of film this became.  We were going to go back and forth.  So, yeah I’m rambling, but Gremlins 3 is a real thing.  Islama-Rama 2 is satire. Both films existing within the movie.”

I mean, you completely sold me with the samurai sequence. That, and Gremlins, and Child’s Play, Sam Raimi…I mean you have so many great references in this film that any genre fan would love.

KH – “Yeah, we love Kurosawa, Sam Raimi…”

And it’s like you combined them both here.

KH – “Oh, huh, I didn’t think of it that way.  That’s pretty dope.  Well you know, we had a Japanese Garden in Seattle where we were shooting, which is what you saw.  And it’s just sitting there so, you know, part of writing this movie is thinking about what you have to work with.  What actors do we have?  What locations do we have?”

BD – “I think you guys doing this movie, you really captured a child like…ok, if you were in high school and you were writing a movie and you could do whatever you wanted, what movie would you write? Oh! We’d do a Gremlins thing, we’d do a Child’s Play thing, we’d do a Samurai thing, we’d cut people’s heads off.  Junk literally encompasses, I think, everything you would want to do if you were making a movie.”

It’s great as a writer to have that ability to tap into your inner child because a lot of people tend to lose site of imagination.

KH – “But we also wanted to create a human story.  I think that’s where the vignettes came from.  We were a bit afraid of coming off too serious.  Now that we’re talking about it, I think that was a way of protecting ourselves of being too depressing and too serious.  I mean, come on!  All these festival films seem to be about coming of age hipsters…wah my girlfriend!  But this was reality and I told Ramon I wanted to talk about my break up.  And he was like, ‘Aw man, you’re such a douchebag!’ And I was like, that’s the film! I’m a douchebag and you don’t want to talk about my break up and that’s sort of how it got started.”

And Billy, he goes through a bit of a transformation too.  Was that scripted?

BD – “Well, Billy was…”

KH – “Everything in the movie that Billy does was 50% an idea.  Like, Billy does something bad.  But we didn’t know what that something was.  But the transformation of the character itself was more Brett than us.  Like the mirror scene in the bathroom?  That was Brett’s idea.  That wasn’t even in the script.”

BD – “I gotta be honest, thinking back, I don’t even remember how Billy kind of evolved. It just sort of happened organically.  We had a week of rehearsals.  And again, because we’re such good friends, it just came about while sitting around shooting the shit.  Like, oh wouldn’t it be funny if this happened?  Or wouldn’t this be crazy?”

KH – “I don’t know where he got Billy but it was fun to watch him get there.”

BD – “I don’t necessarily know if I can take credit completely for it.  I think it just sort of evolved through spitballing ideas.”

KH – “I think when people see Junk, they’ll watch Brett’s physicality.  Sometimes when I was watching him on set, I’d think Brett is just acting.  But when you see it on playback, it’s like seeing a puzzle coming together.  He became that character.  And we shot the scenes out of order.  Ramon and I just watched him feeling like we were observing this greater force than ourselves.”

BD – “Hah!  It was fun.  I think I had a thing to while we were filming where I tried to make Ramon laugh a lot.  So I would try to make him laugh and he would go to Kevin and be like this is funny, let’s do this.”

KH – “Yeah that’s true.”

BD – “I kind of used Ramon as a Go-Between a little bit. I mean, because that’s a lot of responsibility.  Kevin had to think about starring in, directing, writing, and all the things that come along with shooting a low budget movie.  So Kevin was pretty stressed.  So a lot of times, I wouldn’t go directly to Kevin.  Instead I’d take my ideas to Ramon. I’d say don’t you think this would be funny and he’d agree and say he’d go tell Kevin.”

Was this your first ever on screen sex scene you had to do?

BD – “Err…nnnnyyyyyeeeeaah.  In the act sex scene?  Yeah.  I’ve previously done the leading up to, and then the post, but never the during.”

I’d imagine that could be kind of a weird experience.

BD – “It was alright.  We had fun.”

That had to have taken a while to shoot.

KH – “A couple of hours.  I mean, we couldn’t have a naked girl there all night because then we’d have to be like….alright we’re sorry. We’re not paying you enough to have you nude for six hours.”

BD – “Yeah that was fun.  That scene was definitely scripted.”

KH – “That was the one Billy transformation scene that we had on paper.  The smoking, the hair, the glasses, that was all Brett.”

BD – “But I think that also lends itself to the rehearsal process.  That’s so important, you know?”

KH – “I think so.”

So, where to now that the movie is complete?  What are the plans going forward with Junk?

KH – “Well, we just got a consultant attached.  We’re looking for a sales agent and waiting on film festivals.”

Do you have any ideal festivals you’d like the movie to be accepted to?

KH – “South By, Tribeca, Berlin…all those.  There’s too many to really name right now but I’ve been seeing emails here and there.  Right now, I’m just waiting to hear.”

BD – “It’s funny because it’s going to start being like the movie.  It’s a vicious cycle.”

Well once this craziness dies down, what’s next on the horizon for you guys?

KH – “Me and Ramon are developing four projects.  People are reading a couple of them.  I can’t really say much more about that right now.”

BD – “We’re starting up Season 2 of Awkward soon.  Lots of big stuff.  I’ve been in the writer’s room.  There’s some crazy stuff that’s gonna happen.  Some things people are not going to see coming.”

KH – “They gonna rape her or something?”

Team Jake!

BD – “Hey! Hey! This is not one of your movies!”

And with that, our night came to an end.  Kevin and Brett are currently busy with a number of projects. No new news yet has surfaced about Junk’s status in the film festival circuit but I have a good feeling we’ll be seeing this movie in theaters by year’s end.  And besides the new Season of Awkward, you can check Brett Davern out later this year in the Indie Horror film The Culling.

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About Aaron

I was born a poor black child.

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