This interview was conducted in January 2016
Did you ever have an imaginary friend? What about when you were 19?
For the last few years, Charlie McDermott – best known as Axl Heck from the television show The Middle – has played with that imaginary friend concept alongside his real-life friend Nate Hartley. Both of them co-wrote the screenplay for a movie called ImagiGARY.
“Nate and I wrote the first draft around 2010, but it’s hard to remember now,” says McDermott. “We wrote the first draft in a couple months and then scrapped it and rewrote again in less time.”
The movie, which McDermott also directed and stars in alongside Hartley, has finally seen a recent release. The film was shot during the course of four weeks back in 2012.
“It just feels nice knowing it’s released,” says McDermott.
ImagiGARY could be best described as a passion project for McDermott as he self-funded the entire film.
“I was expecting to go into it and lose all my money. And I did,” he says. “The amazing dream would [be to show the movie] at Sundance or something but the amount of time it took to get the thing made, I wanted to release it. I funded the whole thing myself and I wanted to retain ownership.”
Trailer here –
The main focus of ImagiGARY is Henry (McDermott), who had an imaginary friend named Gary, (Hartley) when he was a kid. Henry had just started college and for some reason, Gary made a return. There is also a girl named Sarah (Haley Ramm), her boyfriend Josh (Jack Briggs), a roommate named Kiefer (Brian Dunn) and of course, comedic moments mixed in with some dramatic ones.
For such a low-key movie, it wasn’t tough for McDermott to recruit help. He brought on board his friend, Andrew Tsoules, who has a production company named LMT Films. With that decision, Tsoules also added Patrick Murphy (first assistant director) and Ryan Lang (editor.)
“They all went to film school together and all three of them are very good,” says McDermott.
The process of rounding out the rest of the cast turned out to be surprisingly easy as well. He recruited his tv sister Eden Sher for the role of Drunk Girl, a character who pops up at certain points in the movie.
“I’ve known Eden for a long time. She is a good friend of mine. I’ve been friends with Haley, who played Sarah, for over 10 years now,” says McDermott.
Neil Flynn and Chris Kattan, who are current and former presences on The Middle, also pop up in one sequence.
“The original actor who was going to play Kiefer, he actually pulled out of the movie less than a week before he started shooting,” says McDermott. “We found Brian, who in my opinion is the funniest part of the movie.”
The crew was made up of roughly 50 people. The majority of the production was shot in Pennsylvania and when it moved to LA for some filming, a handful of people flew themselves out. “We didn’t ask them to, they offered. It was a nice environment,” says McDermott.
Originally, McDermott had expected to release the movie within a year of filming. One of the problems was pretty much his learning curve, which McDermott called a “film school” experience.
“I get a feature film out of it. Regardless how good it is, at least I have a product that I learned to film from beginning to end.”
Technically, the movie had been completed for a full two years but the biggest holdup was the music. Simply put, there was no money left for the music. Some songs would clear and others wouldn’t and they had gone through several different soundtracks.
“I found this kid on Youtube, Shawn Wasabi, a couple years ago,” says McDermott. “He did the soundtrack for the whole film (around 19 original compositions) that was really good and then there were just a few tracks leftover that I had to fill in. Friends from a band called Cheers Elephant lent me their songs for really cheap, which helped. The bassist from the band, Matt Rothstein, he did the final two tracks we needed. We actually mixed the soundtrack, only a week before the movie was released. It barely made deadline.”
The edit process of the film itself proved a challenge. The first ‘assembly’ cut of the film came in at a little over two hours. McDermott found that first viewing to be exciting, but it became rather clear that the movie didn’t work. The final cut is around the 71-minute mark. The entire first act was cut out and the film got rearranged in editing.
“The rearranging was good because it turned into a whole different film, which I enjoyed,” says McDermott. “Once you recognize the movie doesn’t work, it becomes very easy to cut out the things you shot. The sense of pride of completing it is still there, but it’s more about the product instead of savouring what we had done.”
Even with the money woes, McDermott and Hartley scrounged up enough cash to film another scene, which took place in 2013. It was eventually cut as well, to add to the frustration, although it was also part of the learning curve.
“I don’t think I would do [the experience] again, but I wouldn’t take it back either.”
The movie was also worked on outside of McDermott’s television time. The Middle is still chugging along in its impressive seventh season. “It’s a fun place to work and great gig,” he says. “We are halfway done season seven now and season eight looks promising.”
McDermott was even getting his hair cut for an upcoming episode. “They just tell me when they want to cut it. I walk in and they cut it. I don’t have a say in the matter.”
ImagiGARY was released on Christmas Day 2015. Those interested in seeing the movie can check out the official website – imagigary.com.
“Ryan, who runs the website, said there were downloads from all over the world. Which I thought was pretty cool.”
This reporter has seen ImagiGARY and enjoyed it. The humor was on the quirky side and the dramatic beats worked well. The imaginary friend combined with the college setting comes across like a crazy idea but somehow it was executed well. Picture-quality wise, it looked good and felt like a feature film.
Potential viewers, be aware there is coarse language throughout the film. People should not expect something like The Middle.
Overall though, it seemed like the cast and crew really cared about the project.