Austin Film Festival 2016: Interview with Jody Lambert and Heather Burns

Jody Lambert wrote and directed “Brave New Jersey.” The film is about what happens to the town of Lullaby, New Jersey when they hear the “War of the Worlds” on a radio broadcast and believe that Martians are invading.  We chatted with Lambert and Heather Burns who plays Lorraine Davison and is fighting to break free from an awful marriage while preparing for the end of the world.

Why do you think this story was never told before?

Jody: I can’t answer that, to me it’s one of those great pop culture moments that’s always been sitting out there and waiting to be made into a movie. They had made some TV movies that were cheesy, but I don’t know why anyone never focused on the town that hears it and loses it and what happens over the course of the night. And we said let’s do this before someone else does.

Interviewer 1: Did it start with Tony Hale and then the rest of the cast assembled from there?

Jody: We had our wonderful casting director and asked is there someone out there that is charming and funny and heartbreaking and can make you laugh and root for him, but maybe he’s never done a lead and doesn’t seem like he’d be the hero of a movie. I was like I don’t think this person exists and she was like it’s Tony Hale. And we were like oh my god you’re so right and once he said yes,  we got the movie off the ground pretty quickly.

Heather Burns as Lorraine / Photo by Corey Walter
Heather Burns as Lorraine / Photo by Corey Walter

Interview 2: You’ve worked with so many great directors. What attracted you to this project?

Heather: It’s so well written and that’s what always attracts me because it’s the most important part for an actor and because I knew Jody since college and was there as the script evolved, I had always been a part of this script and was thrilled when I got to be in the movie.

What was your favorite part about your character?

Heather: It was so fun doing a period piece because I usually tend to do more contemporary work so it was really fun. Lorraine is so well written and what struck me is that I watched a lot of films from that particular year (1939) to get a grasp of the culture. We usually imagine it as this time where women didn’t have a say or much power in society, but the female characters at the time in films are so well written and original.They are stronger, bigger part of the film and i thought that this film was like that. She’s a fully dimensional character and struggling with the time and fights through it.

Heather Burns as Lorrraine and Sam Jaeger as Paul / Photo by Corey Walter
Heather Burns as Lorrraine and Sam Jaeger as Paul /
Photo by Corey Walter

Talk about writing the vocabulary and comedy in the 1930s. Each character had one or two great 30s lingo and jokes from that time.

Jody: We actually pulled back a lot of that stuff because our first draft was a lot of “Gadzooks” and all that kind of wackiness and we felt that it was really taking away from being there. We went through and stripped a little of it out and wanted the movie to feel more contemporary than you’d expect a period movie to feel. At the same time there’s so many wonderful texture in the language of the time and we didn’t want to completely toss that aside because it helps the audience feel like they are part of that world too.

Interviewer 1: Was there any thing you did to try and immerse yourself in your character and catch the tone of the film?

It happens organically when you put the costumes and hair and makeup and working in the incredible town that they found which was a restored town that was untouched and built in 1901. Wardrobe really helps because you realize that it was just a more formal time, more formal time and you’re a little more constrained and the language is a little more formal. It naturally happens and you have to carry yourself differently because you’re in a lace dress and very delicate and in heels walking through the mud.

Where does the town go after this?

Jody: Personally, I’m a big believer that when a movie ends that my telling is over otherwise we would’ve continued the film for a few more hours and leave it up the audience to think about what happens, but I don’t know. It’s really up to you. When it ends, we’ve said everyon

Heather: We made up a whole story. We decided Lorraine and Clark would move away from the town because she’s a little wanderlust and probably because her ex-husband woudl still be there and he’s a jerk. And Clark wouldn’t want to be mayor anymore, Lorraine wants to move to New York, but would have to settle for Princeton or New Haven a nice sized town where Clark can take some music lessons.

You had the cast listen to the original broadcast, do you think this mass hysteria could happen today?

Jody: Not in the same way, obviously with Twitter and instant reaction to events and fact checking that is on everyone minds, it would be shut down very quickly. But I think the environment that allowed this to happen, fear, paranoia and war being on the horizon and the depression had just ended and people were just in a state of anxiety. That doesn’t change and people’s reactions to events doesn’t change. I think human emotions and psychology hasn’t changed much, so I think people could get sucked into something that was false and not get out of that.

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