Brett Haley has become as much a Sundance institution as the trams that circle around Park City, Utah.
The indie filmmaker has premiered three films at the festival in four years, scoring with the likes of “I’ll See You in My Dreams” and “The Hero.” His latest effort, “Hearts Beat Loud,” will close out this year’s gathering. It’s the story of a Brooklyn record store owner (Nick Offerman) who tries to convince his college-bound daughter (Kiersey Clemons) to start a band. At a time when many Sundance offerings are bleak or medicinal, “Hearts Beat Loud” is unabashedly uplifting and, shudder, entertaining. That also bodes well for its commercial prospects — something that should help the film attract a buyer as it searches for distribution.
On the eve of another Sundance, Haley spoke with Variety about his work ethic, his box office track record, and what inspired “Hearts Beat Loud.”
You are wildly prolific. Are you perpetually finishing one movie while prepping to shoot another?
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That’s correct. My goal is to make a movie a year. Marc Basch, my co-writer, and I have a rule. If we get a movie into Sundance then we start writing the next one. We always try to finish a draft, even if it’s terrible, before Sundance starts. I love to work. I’m happiest on film sets. It’s my form of therapy.
What inspired “Hearts Beat Loud”?
I’ve always wanted to tell a parent-child story. I don’t have kids, but I think of the fear of raising them only to say goodbye to them. At the end of all that, you have to let go and allow them to go off and be their own person. It’s universal. It’s a story about love, and I just wanted to put some goodness out in the world right now and make a film that makes people feel good. There’s so much anxiety out there and we’re bombarded with so much bad news, that I wanted to provide kind of an antidote to all that.
What’s the source of that cultural anxiety?
I’m not really a political filmmaker, but whether you’re on Trump’s side or not, you have to admit he’s causing a great deal of anxiety.
This seems to be a different role for Nick Offerman. I’m not sure we’ve ever seen him anchor a movie or be so vulnerable and paternal. What made you think of him for the part?
I worked with Nick on “The Hero” and he’s such a wonderful human being and such an incredible actor. The thing about Nick is he’s a chameleon. Look at his resume from “Fargo” to “Parks & Recreation,” he’ll change the way he looks and acts. He disappears. He’s one of the great character actors, but he’s also a leading man who can carry a film.
Your films have been successful at the box office. “The Hero” made $4.1 million and “I’ll See You in My Dreams” made $7.4 million, which is solid business for low-budget indies. Do you care about the commercial results?
I take a great deal of pride in it. I want great reviews, but I what I really want is for people to see the film. Show business is a business, and that’s how I get to keep doing this. My films haven’t been runaway $100 million hits, but they’ve found an audience outside of New York and Los Angeles. I ant my films to do well there, of course, but I want them to play in Middle America. I don’t consider being a commercial artist to be a dirty word.
What’s your next project?
I can’t tell you much, but it’s very different than what Marc and I have done before. It’s much bigger. It’s the movie I’ve been wanting to make since I was a kid. It’s a different genre for me and a different level of storytelling. That’s what I want to do. I want to tell great stories and go from one genre to another.