Exclusive Interview with Writer/Actor Robby Storey

10 05 2011

Robby Storey is a locally based actor/writer/producer who’s currently working on the Frank Mosley Directed project Hot/Cold .  Robby took part in an email interview for PSD in which he discusses his career so far.  Enjoy our Exclusive look into one of North Texas’ more dynamic writers and actors.

1. UTA seems to be a growing hub for a lot of the local talent making films. What is it about the atmosphere, professors, freedom that allows for such a group to emerge?

I’ve heard that UTA’s film program has really blossomed in the last few years.  I was on the outskirts of it while I was there.  My degree is in Psychology and film was basically an extracurricular for me at that time.  However, I met people like Jonny Cruz, Frank Mosley, Gabe Patterson and Fred Trevino and we all sort of came up together.  I’m sure that’s probably how it is with every generation of students — you get a few talented people who band together to pursue a shared vision.  I’m a big proponent of collaboration and group mastermind.  Really it’s essential to find people who will hunker down in the trenches with you.  The “one man armies” out there, talented as they may be, aren’t nearly as likely to succeed.

2. What made you change gears from Psychology to acting (theatre)?

Actually acting came first.  It was my first love (either that or baseball or a girl in pre-school who stole my strawberries.)  It was the answer to whatever brain abnormality had me “playing pretend” long after the other children lost interest.  I’m not sure why I was so keen to assume other identities or why the joy of inhabiting characters has followed me into my adult life.  But it is what it is.  When it came to higher learning though I didn’t see it as a viable option at first.  I went with Psychology for the purpose of becoming a therapist, which I knew would enable me to make a positive hands-on contribution to people’s lives.  There’s more to life than making movies and though I love it I have found the commercial pursuit of it to be pretty unfulfilling.  It’s much more fun when it’s not about money at all, which is one reason why I’d like to get back to the stage.

3. In your writing it seems you easily float between comedy and drama.  Do you have a favorite?
I need both.  I maintain equilibrium by indulging in each and both can be extremely rewarding.  “Dramedy” is my genre of choice because it’s the closest representation of real life.  My life, anyway.
4. Having a collective of friends, like Backyard Movies seems to be a great motivating tool. Is it more of a competition amongst friends or a chance to try new and unique elements with trusted people?

Backyard Movies owes its existence to Frank Mosley, and he’s done some really nice things with it.  I love that it’s open to anyone and challenges the participants with its mandated improvisational style.  And the inherently high energy of any Backyard shoot ensures a fun time.  No, I don’t think it’s ever really been about competing.  I try to avoid the clashing of egos in any circumstance, even “friendly competition.”  It detracts from the creative experience.

5. Where did Lions’ Den spark from and how much does improvisation impact your writing?
LIONS DEN was the brainchild of Frank and a few of his old high school buddies.  One night I got a call from Frank on my way home from an acting class and he said, “Hey, we’re making a movie, come on over!”  When I got there I think the only direction I received was, “Okay, so you’re the douchebag of the bunch.”  And the rest, good or bad, is improvised history.  As a writer, I admit, I do love my dialogue and there’s a protectiveness that comes with that.  But as an actor and a filmmaker I love freedom on a project.  If you’re working with people you can trust then it’s incredible to turn them loose on a scene and see what else they can come up with.  The projects that have been most rewarding for me as an actor were those where I was given this kind of freedom to explore.
6. Relation is a hard subject matter with wonderful performances. What inspired the idea to tell an incestuous drama? I love the contrast of Frank (blue shirt and goatee) versus you (red shirt and chin strap). How much did that scene of the two brothers play into the full plotline?

The director told us she wanted to do a brother-and-sister piece.  She had no idea what she was in for.  Frank said, “Incest” to which I replied, “Absolutely” and unanimously we swore, “No sensationalism!”  We wanted to do something different with it by forcing the audience to see the characters as human beings first and foremost, not just as social deviants.  We accomplished this ultimately by making the incest a backdrop to the main conflict, which is the pregnancy dilemma.  Actually the scene between my character and Frank’s is almost cut in half from its original length.  Initially the two brothers find more of a resolution on the issue and show that the love of family can (and should) trump differences in beliefs.  This edit wasn’t our decision and I think it gives the film a darker, less hopeful tone.  But it was a well-learned lesson about collaboration.

7. Hold deals with a tough subject matter, but from a POV that is usually ignored or forgotten. Alan Marsh’s journey is a slow and painful one. Do you feel that Alan Marsh is someone we should like or dislike?

The plight of the secondary victim should not be overlooked, and so hopefully Alan is someone that people sympathize with at least.  That was the intention.  I wasn’t overly concerned with writing or portraying a likable character (i.e. charming or even particularly interesting) but I did want to present a good man who loves his wife and tries desperately to be the rock he thinks she needs.  And this came into sharp focus with rehearsal and through Frank’s direction.  I told Frank once that Alan reminds me of Boxer from Animal Farm.  The noble, but dim-witted horse who always insists, “I will work harder”…even as he’s hauled off to the glue factory.  For both Frank and myself Alan represents the emotional burden of many men trapped by their perception of what a man is supposed to be.  I probably wouldn’t go to great lengths to be friends with someone like Alan Marsh, but I do admire his heart and empathize with his struggle.

8. With the plot coming from real life news, what moment in the script made you realize you had a good film?

You can only hope that you’ve written something of quality and that it will evolve into a good film.  Sitting there and watching HOLD as a finished product for the first time I was struck by its stark honesty and disciplined restraint.  It exuded the heart I had hoped for.

9. You’ve got to work off dynamic actresses that have to fight through some of the most challenging emotional struggles. What was it like working with those ladies?

They make it so easy to do my job.  They’re wonderful.  Chemistry really is everything and I’ve been fortunate to work with actresses who became both temporary soulmates, and more importantly, on-set buddies.  Cases in point, Stephanie Peterson of RELATION and Stephanie Rhodes of HOLD.  We didn’t have a whole lot of prep time for RELATION so it was crucial to find an actress who could step in and successfully elevate the material from page to screen in a crunch.  We gave Peterson the role without hesitation, having previously witnessed her dramatic prowess.  She’s also hilarious, by they way.  On RELATION it was astounding how she did so much with so little time.  And I think as a duo we were able to delve into the nuances of such an unconventional and complicated relationship.  Stephanie Rhodes was a Godsend.  We only auditioned a handful of actresses for HOLD and after she came in I said, “Yep, I want her.”  It was exhilarating to see Laura Marsh completely come to life through Steph and I couldn’t have asked for a better person to go on that journey with.  We worked hard and immersed ourselves in that pretend life for months and it was very surreal.  HOLD is by far the most phenomenal experience I’ve had as an actor and I credit that to Steph and to Frank.

10. I really loved your role in Small Timers, easily you two funny cops stole scenes. Where did you come up with mumbling the lines? How do you write comedic characters? Do you have a favorite comedian or funny writer?

I think Detective Meeks probably originated from the punchline.  Jonny and I go quite mad during our writing sessions and I’m sure one of us probably just said, “Hey, what if this guy got shot in the mouth and can’t talk right?”  The funny thing is how the relationship dynamic changed once we cast D. Ellis as Detective White.  Suddenly Meeks, unlikely as it seemed, had become the straight man of the two, and I think that’s what makes it work.  I do believe comedy comes from truth.  Translation — you can’t force it.  Even with absurdity, there has to be something honest in it.  And it really, REALLY helps to understand human nature, especially as it pertains to the ego.  From the ego arises much comedy.  I have no doubt that I have many subconscious influences when it comes to my sense of humor.

11. Even though DFW has a long history with Film and TV, it’s always been in the shadow of Austin and UT. Also with the struggles of your eyesight I’m curious if being in Austin wouldn’t be an easier fit for a writer/actor like yourself? In other words, what draws you to stay in our city (grateful as we are that talent like you and Frank stay!)?

Love keeps me here.  Home is wherever they love you the most and for me that’s DFW.  There’s probably also a fear element to that.  Uprooting and relocating to a place with no love is a scary proposition.  In a very real way you’re forced to start over.  However, change is an unyielding force and if the Universe wants you somewhere else…well, then you go.  So I can’t say I won’t make an escape in the relatively near future.  Most assuredly somewhere with diversity and adequate mass transit.  Every time I visit L.A. or NYC it gets harder to leave, so who knows?

12. What was the festival experience like for you at DIFF last year when you screened HOLD?

They took good care of us, made us feel more special than we probably are.  It was surreal, it was gratifying, and it was stressful.  I was grateful to be a part of it.

13. What does Robby the producer bring to a project like HOT/COLD?

In short — ass-kicking!  Actually…more along the lines of moral support.  First I’ll beat the hell out of your script and make sure it’s made of steel, and once it’s there I’ll help you get the ball rolling.  I’ll organize your world and keep your head from exploding.  I’ll communicate with other human beings, if I must, and I won’t let you make a single casting decision that isn’t superb.  Most importantly, I’ll remind you from time to time that you are the Master of the Universe, and that this project will be exactly what you want it to be.  Mostly I’ve been a producer out of necessity, not because I particularly like the work.  Straight up, the job would be easier with a good-sized budget to back you up.  But having to do it without that is probably the best way to learn the job because it teaches you to be resourceful.

14. What writers or filmmakers most inspire you (both classic or modern writers and filmmakers)?
There’s really just too many to name.  I’m a sucker for anyone who deals in honesty, brings a lot of heart to their work and can make me look at something differently.  Or ridiculous, yet clever comedy.  (See our webseries Cool Wheels for an example.  Yes, that’s a shameless plug.)
15. In interviews you’ve discussed TV writing as something that interests you for the ability to be in a serial format and build characters.  Do you have a favorite show(s) that you look to for inspiration?
Mmkay, this is where I just list a bunch of awesome shows:  The Office, Arrested Development, 30Rock, Freaks and Geeks, Flight of the Concords, The Simpsons, It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, The Wonder Years, Six Feet Under, Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Deadwood, Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: TNG, The West Wing. The Wire, Twin Peaks.  Believe me, the list could go on.  All of these shows are either brilliantly written or bring some unique element to their genre.
16. What are you writing these days, if you don’t mind me asking?
I’ve written two new feature scripts: one a comedy, the other a drama.  (Surprised?)  I’m very fond of them; they’re definitely the best work I’ve done so far and that is a tremendous victory in itself.  Having them produced would be a nice bonus.
17. I’m curious if you’ll broach your eyesight in a script?
Maybe.  Truth is, it’s a difficult conflict to convey.  My life has a semblance of normalcy and I’ve been very blessed.  So many extraordinary people have overcome far worse.  Really it’s the in-between that’s most difficult; not normal, but not so abnormal that normal is totally out of range.  It’s a hundred little obstacles a day and a thousand thoughts that are just tough to put on paper.
18. Chin strap, Full Beard, or Clean Shaven?
Usually somewhere in between.  I typically can’t commit to a full-on grow unless I know I’ll be shooting something.  But I can say with confidence that the chin-strap is unlikely to make an appearance any time soon.

19. Anyone you’re dying to work with (on a local, state, or national level)?

Whether or not my level of talent and experience can afford it, I’m very selective about the people I work with.  I don’t want to be a part of garbage.  I use the word “garbage” loosely because quality is completely subjective when it comes to art and entertainment.  But my own definition of quality is firmly in place.  If you’re making something of real substance, something with heart and you’re a competent storyteller then I’m open to it.  Everyone has a right to try their hand at the entertainment business — few people have what it takes to succeed.  Life is too short for garbage.  For the record though, there are many talented people in DFW who deserve to get their due, and I’m always thrilled to see their breakthroughs.

Stay Tuned for Much More from the HOT/COLD team!!




3 responses

11 05 2011
Stephanie Peterson

Fantastic piece – Robby’s talent can’t be avoided. 🙂

11 07 2011
Welcome! « Stephanie Peterson

[…] Robby Storey had this to say about Stephanie’s work on the film (taken from an interview on PearlSnapDiscount):“We didn’t have a whole lot of prep time for RELATION so it was crucial to find an actress […]

11 07 2011
Welcome! « Stephanie Peterson

[…] Robby Storey had this to say about Stephanie’s work on the film (taken from an interview on Pearl Snap Discount):“We didn’t have a whole lot of prep time for RELATION so it was crucial to find an actress […]

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