Kevin Chenault Talks ‘Different Drum’, Awkward Road Tripping
How’s this for an awkward situation: Tod, a penniless musician (the film opens with him stealing clothes from a thrift shop), is forced to drive with his pregnant ex-girlfriend Lydia from South Dakota to Indiana for a wedding.
In Different Drum, written and directed by Evansville, Indiana filmmaker Kevin Chenault, we see how Tod and Lydia (played by first-timers Zach Zint and Isabella DeVoy, respectively) react to being stuck with one another in a cramped car, the cloud of their rocky break-up hanging over the trip, and how they learn to accept each other once again. It’s a well-executed, unique love story about rebuilding a relationship in an improbable and uncomfortable of situation.
Chenault, Zint, and DeVoy chatted with us about their initial plans for the film, the evolution of the script, acting for the first time, hospitable robbers, their favorite unplanned scenes, and much more.
Where did you get the idea for the film?
Kevin: I was listening to the Stone Poneys song “Different Drum” a lot, and that’s where the initial idea came from: Linda Ronstadt and that song. It’s interesting how things change. Initially, that song would be in [the film], but obviously we can’t afford the song, but it probably wouldn’t even fit in the film now anyway. [I worked with Jill Nellis on the initial ideas for the film, took pieces of what we worked on together (while listening to the song) and wrote the script.]
The soundtrack is really great. Talk a bit about the songs you chose.
Kevin: There’s a great selection of songs by The Underground Youth…Francis Castle, who is an artist from London has some great songs in there as well. I just tracked down songs online, emailed them, and asked them if we could use their music in the film. That’s not a very good answer, is it? (laughs)
No, it was fine! I love the “Murder in my Heart” song.
Kevin: Yeah! That’s Home Blitz. Oh man, they’re great. We’re trying to organize a soundtrack, a vinyl release. We’re orchestrating all of the bands and musicians to hopefully get them all onboard. Fingers crossed.
ABOVE: Zint and DeVoy
Zach and Isabella, this was your first time acting, correct?
Isabella: Oh yeah. (laughs)
Was it difficult? Comfortable? You guys seem to get along very well anyway.
Isabella: Zach and I had never met, and Kevin came out of nowhere. I’d never met him before. They had somebody else for the role, but she couldn’t do it, so they were like, “Please do this!?” Zach and I had to drive in the same car together for two weeks, so we got to know each other pretty fast! (laughs)
Zach: Something cool that happened is that the radio in the car just broke, a spur of the moment kind of thing. The first car ride was, like, 6 hours of us having to talk to each other.
Isabella: “Having” to talk! (laughs) That was before we filmed anything. It was 6 hours of bonding.
What better practice could you guys get for a road trip movie, right?
Isabella: Exactly! (laughs)
Kevin: Wouldn’t it be great if that was planned, like we took out the fuse for the stereo? That’ll forge a relationship really fast.
One of the major motifs of the film is that it’s split into chapters, signified with sketched out intertitles, with each city representing a chapter.
Kevin: One of the early concepts of the film was that it would be small vignettes, each represented by the city or town they were in. The initial idea was that the tone of the film would change for every city; the color palette, their outfits…everything would change. The idea kind of got scrapped, because once we got out there shooting it we realized that [that separation] seems to happen anyway, whether you’re in Milwaukee, or Sioux Falls, or Chicago. There’s a different overall tone to those cities. We made the insert titles over at Zach’s house.
How many cities are in the film? Did you actually travel to all of them?
Kevin: We did, actually. I believe there are 9 cities. We went location scouting a few months before we hit the road. Myself, Tim Hallahan, who helped produce the film, and Eddy Scully, who’s the cinematographer. The three of us drove straight to Des Moines, then up to Sioux Falls, and kind of location scouted, taking a lot of pictures and finding places we could film at. We basically made the same trip we do in the film.
Was one of your objectives with the film to capture what that area of the country is like?
Kevin: Absolutely. I’m not sure if we did or not, but…
I think you did. You see a lot of road trip movies that don’t really pay much attention to the locations they travel to, but yours does. Speaking of which, what are some of your favorite road trip movies?
Zach: Easy Rider is amazing!
Kevin: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.
Isabella: I was going to say that! That one’s fun.
Zach: The movie Road Trip isn’t to shabby! (laughs)
Kevin: (laughs) They really set the bar for all other road trip films.
ABOVE: Pre-production shot of Tim Hallahan, Zach Zint, and Kevin Chenault (from left).
Did you go into shooting with a solid script that you stuck to, or did you write as you went along?
Kevin: There was a basic outline. I think the script was 55 pages, so it was a small, skeleton script. There were specific, important scenes that we rehearsed before we even hit the road. We had those planned, but Isabella and Zach…I hate to say improv-ed…but there were places in the film that weren’t in the script at all. We filmed on Navy Pier in Chicago, and in the script it just said, “Exterior. Chicago. Night. They walk on Navy Pier.” We went there and we kind of just fleshed it out.
Zach: That’s my favorite part of the movie.
Of all of these sort of unplanned moments, what were some of your favorites?
Isabella: My favorite is the scene in the gas station. I didn’t know he was filming us. We had our microphones on still, and we were just getting coffee. I said, “I’m gonna drink all of this” and Zach says, “Well, it’s your funeral.” Then I say, “Is that a threat?” It’s in the movie, and that was probably my favorite part that was improv-ed. One that wasn’t in the movie was where I was singing TLC’s “Waterfalls” and I rammed into a telephone pole with a car! (laughs) That was a good one. Zach and I both looked at the camera and yelled, “Oh no!”
Zach: Something that I liked was the people who lived in the first seedy hotel we stayed at. We got them on film just sitting around, and this is what they did every day. They were really interesting people, and they did nothing but yell at us the entire time. (laughs)
Kevin: We had to deal with people yelling at us during takes, threatening us. Overall, the people we met on the road were awesome. They invited us in for soup! We didn’t take them up on it, but they were really nice. (laughs)
Zach and Isabella, this was the first time acting for both of you, so what was the dynamic between you like? What was it like feeding off of each other?
Isabella: Our characters were [ex partners], so there’s awkwardness between them anyway, and since we didn’t know each other that well, that worked for us. There was a familiarity that we had built on that 6-hour trip, so that was good, too.
Zach: We all sort of had a similar sense of humor. I guess that’s why we’re friends with each others’ friends. We had to turn it on when it was time [to act], but it mostly felt like we were just hanging out. There were points where we really had to concentrate.
Isabella: Whenever I had the eye patch on and I was driving and I had to be mad in the scene, I was actually pretty mad! It’s hard driving with one eye, especially in Chicago traffic.
What was the most difficult scene for you guys to shoot?
Zach: I had to hear that my uncle had died while I was pooping. We did a lot of takes, and I remember there was one where I got it, but you could see my dong in it! (laughs) I got upset and said, “I want my little sister to see this movie!” That one was probably the most challenging for me.
Isabella: Whenever I had to talk on the phone to my estranged boyfriend, that was awkward. It was 4 in the morning, and it was the only big piece of dialog I had to do. That was really tough for me. That whole scene was really serious, and it was tough.
You do some interesting stuff with your camera, Kevin. Do you have any that you’re particularly proud of?
Kevin: I don’t know if I could pick out a specific scene or shot, but I’m proud of the tone of the film. My overall goal was to have a tone that doesn’t waver. No matter what that tone might be, if it stays solid throughout the film, that’s something to be proud of.
That’s interesting, because that’s so different from your initial vision, where the tone would change constantly.
Kevin: Yeah, totally different! (laughs) The thing with putting the song “Different Drum” in the film…it would have worked with the initial concept, but it wouldn’t work now. It would feel forced and foreign.
You’re not afraid of silence, with a lot of scenes in the film being very visually driven. Do you like quiet, visual storytelling like that?
Kevin: Absolutely. Absolutely. Some of my favorite films are sparse dialog-driven films. I immediately think of 2001: A Space Odyssey. That film is amazing. In that film, you can go vast, vast lengths of time without dialog. (laughs) Not to be comparing our film to Stanley Kubrick’s! (laughs)
No, no, I see what you’re saying! Your film is very singular, but a lot of indie films of this nature tend to feel very talky. Now, you’re a relatively young filmmaker, with two films under your belt. What’s your experience operating in the independent film world been like?
Kevin: To say that I don’t like independent filmmaking would be silly and pointless, because we were able to make the film for hardly any money. Our budget was so shoestring. We were able to pull it off. The hardest thing to do is, once you complete the film, then what do you do with it? There are film festivals, but what if it doesn’t get accepted? The film just kind of dies a slow death. Even if your film gets into SXSW, it doesn’t guarantee that anyone outside of that festival would see it. You have to take it upon yourself to release it and get it out into the world.
To your question, I think we like making films with our friends, and even though we didn’t know each other before this, we’re friends now, and hopefully we’ll make more films together.
Isabella and Zach, now that the film’s done and you’re on the other side of the tunnel, what does this story mean to you?
Zach: I guess it’s about being in a relationship, and then having to deal with each other after the fact. A lot of people have weird break-ups where they start to become friends afterwards, but there’s clearly a rift with this relationship. Then, they’re forced back into it. It’s interesting, because if they weren’t forced to be around each other, they would have never reconnected. Therefore, anybody can do that. You’d think that would be impossible to do that after a break-up, but if you put the time into it, things heal.