The high school-set comedy is one of five new titles that the sales company will be offering at the upcoming Cannes Film Market.
Lightning Entertainment has picked up international rights to the high school comedy Struck by Lightning, starring Chris Colfer, and will offer it at next month’s Cannes Film Market.
Struck, which was directed by Brian Dannelly and written by Colfer, features the Glee actor as a high school journalist who blackmails his fellow students. It just had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival.
The comedy was produced by David Permut, Roberto Aguire and Mia Chang and executive produced by Jason Michael Berman, Colfer, Glenn Rigberg and Lawrence Kopeikin. ?ICM and Traction Media sold international rights to Lightning, and the deal was negotiated by Joseph Dickstein, the company’s senior vp of acquisitions, with Richard Guardian serving as a consultant on the film for Lightning.
The movie is one of five new titles that Lightning, headed by Robert Beaumont, will be selling in Cannes. The others include Servitude, a comedy about waiters written by Michael Sparaga and directed by Warren P. Sonoda, that will have its U.S. debut at the Newport Beach Film Festival on April 29; One Last Look, a thriller that marks the feature debut of writer/director Phillip Roberts; ?Heaven’s Door, a family film written and directed by Craig Clyde; ?and Black South-Easter, a thriller that Carey McKenzie is currently shooting in Cape Town, South Africa.
Chris Colfer has already proven himself singing, dancing and acting his way into the hearts of fans worldwide in Fox’s hit TV show “Glee.” On Sunday, Colfer proved himself to be a quadruple threat after world premiering his snappy and ambitious screenwriting debut, “Struck By Lightning,” at the Tribeca Film Festival, to a standing ovation.
Colfer, who’s 21, started working on the screenplay when he was 16, before “Glee” came along. He began by developing the many characters that make up his coming-of-age tale and in his junior year molded it into a 10-minute piece for a speech and debate event, Original Poetry and Prose, where he played every character. Fast forward five years later and Colfer’s expanded script finds its way to the screen with “Saved” director Brian Dannelly at the helm, and a cast that includes Allison Janney, Christina Hendricks and Dermot Mulroney.
In “Struck By Lightning,” Colfer plays Carson, a senior who will do anything to get into his dream school, Northwestern University, and away from his depressed and alcoholic mother (Janney), who keeps holding him back from realizing his dreams.
Indiewire caught up with Colfer the day following its world premiere.
I feel like I’m interviewing one of the Beatles.
I’ve never experienced the “Glee” mania before.
Do you ever get used to it?
No. I hope I never get used to it.
I want to know about last night in terms of the nerves you must have been feeling.
I don’t think I’ve ever physically been that nervous before in my entire life. Aside from maybe auditioning for “Glee.” The studio network tests, probably. But never before. I felt like I was getting married. I felt like it was my wedding. I saw relatives in the audience, there’s some strangers. Everyone was waiting for me. And yeah, it was crazy.
How did it go over?
Pretty well, I think. We’ve gotten a really good reception to it. And the fans who were there, who I pretty much made the movie for, seemed to really enjoy it. So that’s all that matters.
About the film’s genesis, I know it started back when you were in high school, but I want to know exactly what inspired the initial 10-minute piece.Basically, day-to-day frustrations. It was a screenplay in my head before it was the speech and debate. And I would just come home and I’d vent into the script about my frustrations with my classmates and my teachers and my hometown and high school. And then I found out what OPP was and I was like, “Oh I gotta use this for that,” and I did. And I did horrible in it. I don’t think I even made it to the finals round with it. And then I was on “Glee” and found myself on a platform where I could make the movie and I jumped on it.
How did you whittle it down to 10 minutes? Because the script is so expansive. There’s so many characters.
I whittled it down to four characters. I was Carson, the mom, the grandmother and the principal. So those were the only four characters that made it.
I was still writing the screenplay when I transferred it to there, so it wasn’t like a finished project or anything. But I really just made it a story that focused on Carson’s journey and kind of how he found happiness right before he died. Did the same thing in the movie where it’s flashbacks to people speaking at his funeral and how they really treated him in life.
Carson’s such an interesting character. I’m so used to seeing you on “Glee” so it was kind of jarring to see you play this… you know, he’s likeable but he has qualities that are kind of hard to…
There’s no reason to like him, but you like him for some reason, yeah.
Is he you?
I wish!“I was never brave enough to blackmail anybody in high school. Much.”
Obviously, you share some similarities.
Yeah, we look almost identical (laughs). He really is who I wish I was in high school. And there’s tons of traits that are me. I guess the drive, for one. The need and wanting to get out and do something. But I was never brave enough to blackmail anybody in high school. Much.
Well, the whole blackmailing came from me from when I was in high school and I did a show called “Shirley Todd” which was a spoof of “Sweeney Todd.” None of my friends wanted to be in it so I kind of blackmailed them into being in it. There was a vegetarian, a die-hard vegetarian, and I found a hamburger receipt in her car. I was like, “You’re going to be in my show.”
Obviously people are going to be comparing the character to you given the fact that you were the head of your own writing club…
Right, but that’s really the only autobiographical element there is.
Are you ready for people just presuming that this is your story and that you’re putting it on film for the world?
Yeah, but it’s funny. I should remind people that I’m not dead.
So they should know that it is a work of fiction because I am, in fact, still alive. But I’m not really worried about it as much as my parents are worried about it. My mom is scared shitless because she’s afraid people are going to think that’s her. And those are not my parents. My parents are still happily married. And I have a sister. I never had a traumatic divorce that I had to be a part of. But there’s some real-life elements in there.“My mom is scared shitless because she’s afraid people are going to think that’s her. And those are not my parents. My parents are still happily married.”
So it seems like you come from a healthy upbringing.
For the most part. I have a sister with special needs, so I had a very rough upbringing because it’s really hard to watch your sister go through that and not be able to help her. So I think that’s one of the reasons why I had Carson’s parents go through this horrible divorce because I wanted to show something that made him, the reason why he was so smart. Too big for his britches. The reason why he had to grow up at this young age.
What inspired the character of the mother because she’s so clearly defined and the relationship between you two, so beautifully rendered.
Honestly, what inspired me the most was this woman that I saw at Legoland once.
There was this woman at Legoland who was in a bathrobe, dark sunglasses, was with her kids, did not want to be there and she was really kind of the inspiration for Sheryl. And also just the contrast of him. Carson is a guy that’s stuck in the future, and she’s a woman that’s stuck in the past. And that’s why they clash so much.
What was it like seeing an actress like Allison Janney speak your words?
Well, Allison was the only actress I ever had in mind to play that role. In fact, when I did it in speech and debate, I kind of imitated Allison. She’s the only actress I’d ever envisioned. And it’s so crazy that we signed her on. She’s an incredible woman and so so talented. It was just an honor to get to work with her.
And Polly Bergen. It almost hurts my soul that people my age don’t know what a legend she is. I mean, I could list her resume, but she was the first woman to ever play the president ever in anything. That’s crazy. And a Broadway legend. She’s just an icon. And I’m so glad that she was a part of it. And we got Christina [Hendricks] and Dermot [Mulroney] and won the jackpot. And Rebel [Wilson] was cast the night before we started filming.
I love Rebel.
She deserves it. She deserves everyone to be in love with her. She’s awesome.
I interviewed her recently at Sundance and she did this 30-second impromptu rap in the middle of her interview. It was very good.
Were you the only one in the room?
Yeah, I was the only one there. I asked her to, but she did it.
So take me back to the first day on set and what it was like to see it come to fruition?
The first thing we filmed was the death scene. When I died. And we went over and filmed the scene where I’m beating the sign. So that was the first day. And I was exhausted because I had literally gotten off a plane the night before from the “Glee” tour. So I had just gotten in from London and I was jetlagged and so tired. So maybe in that breakdown scene, I was really having a breakdown (laughs). But yeah I was tired, but so excited. Physically exhausted, but so mentally alert and ready.
Let’s talk about the grueling schedule because the press always makes note of the fact that Ryan Murphy runs you guys to the ground on “Glee,” with all the touring, rehearsing, recording and shooting. When did you find time to write/shoot this?
I honestly wrote this script on set on “Glee,” in between scenes, in between lighting setups on set. Which doesn’t seem like a lot of time, but we’re there so much it actually was quite a bit of time to sit down and write. I just wrote it on set.
What gave you the drive to get this made with the fact that you’re so busy?
It was “Glee,” it really was. It was meeting kids that loved “Glee” and hearing their stories about how they had all these aspirations but no drive and no support. A lot of them didn’t have any support in their life to set them in the right direction. And I really wanted to show the story of a kid who did not have any support. The only support system he had was his grandmother who doesn’t even remember him. But he’s still driven because all he had was drive. I was so sad to hear these stories meeting these kids with all these aspirations, but no belief in themselves. And I thought that was really an important story to tell.
Ryan Murphy must no doubt be very supportive of this endeavor.
Yeah, he hasn’t seen it yet, but I’m assuming so, yeah.
Is there a reason you didn’t include any of the cast [of “Glee”]? People are going to be curious given that it’s a high school-based film.
We had just got off the tour! I didn’t want to have any of them do the movie. I was the only crazy schmuck doing a movie between the tour and set. But it was funny because they were all like, “Why didn’t you include…?” or “I would have been in the background.” You were taking a nap, come on!
But you wanted to?
Yeah, I think. Well, I don’t know. I think I’m too young in my career to have those tongue-in-cheek moments like “Oh this is my best friend in real life.” I should keep my roles separate for a while.
You’re probably going to get this question a lot, but is there a reason why you didn’t clearly define the sexuality of your character?
A big reason, yeah. I feel like the character has a major message, a story to tell. And I was afraid that if we labeled him as gay or if we labeled him as straight, whatever orientation we identified him with, anyone watching with the opposite orientation would not identify with the message. And just in my experience with “Glee,” you have this story about gay kids, the straight kids stop listening. You have a story about straight kids, the gay kids stop listening. You think, “Oh this isn’t about me, I can’t relate to this.” I want to make sure anyone can relate to him. But to sum up Carson’s sexuality, I would say that Carson has a crush on Rachel Maddow and it confuses him.
(Laughs) Rachel Maddow?!
That’s his pin-up girl. That sums up his sexuality.
“I think he has a crush on Rachel Maddow and it confuses him,” laughed Chris Colfer Sunday afternoon, describing the main character of his film Struck By Lightning, which had its world premiere Saturday night at the Tribeca Film Festival. The film follows Carson Phillips, an extremely ambitious high school senior who, uniquely for most stories with a high school setting, is devoid of a romantic plotline, or even an overt sexual orientation.
“For one, me of all people, I didn’t want to do another sexual identification story,” Colfer, who both wrote and starred in the movie, explained. “In my opinion, if you address a character’s orientation and they have a really strong message to tell, kids who don’t identify with that orientation won’t identify with the message. So I feel like if he was gay in the movie, straight kids wouldn’t listen as much, and if he was straight the gay kids wouldn’t identify as much. And I think, selfishly, being part of Glee, I didn’t want to do another couple! (Laughs.) I just wanted the point of the movie to be the message, not who he was sleeping with or what he jacked off to.”
The film has bigger fish to fry than sexual identity, as Carson fights against a variety of forces holding him back — inept teachers and administrators, a student body satisfied with the simple status quo, and a mother who thinks it’s better to sabotage his dreams then let him suffer the same fate of hope and rejection that’s befallen her. The trick of the film, however, is from the first moments you know Carson is doomed to never achieve his most lofty goals, as he’s struck by a bolt of lightning, with the film told in flashback through his senior year. Colfer says the real tragedy of the story is that Carson doesn’t realize he’s happy until just before his death.
“I think the point was that he focused so much on escaping that he forgot that he was actually doing what he wanted to do,” Colfer said. “He wanted to be this journalist, he wanted to change lives. He realized that, he found his bliss, and unfortunately he found it right before he died. He’s also such a driven person that it took a bolt of lightning to stop him.”
Colfer himself is equally driven, and luckily hasn’t met any stray lightning bolts in his 21 years. The script began as a way to vent his frustration while in high school in a similar town to fictional Clover. “I internalized everything in high school, I never said anything that I felt out loud,” Colfer explained. “So I created this character who did as a way to do that at home on my computer were no one could beat me up for saying it. I had never seen a character like this before with a passion for writing, except for Harriet the Spy.” As for other young people with similar aspirations, Colfer said the best inspiration he could give them was “pictures from last night.”
“I can’t believe, when I would sit in my small bedroom in the house where I grew up looking at my view of my side yard and gardening tools, and now I’m sitting here with a view of a Chrysler Building.” (When someone tries to claim it’s the Empire State Building, Colfer schools them — “I’ve seen Ninja Turtles, I know that’s the Chrysler Building!”)
Colfer, who is strongly identified with his breakout role of Kurt Hummel on Glee, pointed out many stark differences between Carson and Kurt and how they handle situations, nothing that they come from very different backgrounds.
“When Kurt walks into a room he thinks he’s the most fabulous but he doesn’t let people know. He lets people discover that for themselves. I think Kurt comes from a long line of very harsh bullying and has unfortunately learned to keep quiet. Like, you’re in a conservative town, you do not make yourself really known in this environment. Kurt’s more subdued and internal, where Carson doesn’t give a crap about anything. He’s very much more outward, he’ll never die of a heart attack. He has no filter.”
He also cited Glee as a training ground for being able to play Carson, noting “If this had been my first acting thing I would have been so stiff and terrified.” Colfer was admittedly nervous on Saturday night before the premiere, likening it to his wedding. “It kind of feels like my wedding, to be quite honest. Everyone I know is here, they’re all here supporting me.” The star took time to sign for fans on his way in, and he even described that as nervewracking. “I was shaking, I felt bad,” he said. “They probably have me on this pedestal and now they’re like ‘oh he’s a wimp.’”
He was calmer by Sunday, post a warm reception that included a standing ovation from a packed house of both people associated with the film and diehard fans, and celebrity supporters including two of his Glee co-stars, Ashley Fink and Amber Riley. Harry Potter star Emma Watson also attended, and managed to ask a question during the film’s Q&A session to which Colfer jokingly replied, “You look so familiar!”
Struck By Lightning isn’t the only project on the Golden Globe winner’s plate. His children’s novel “The Land of Stories” comes out July 17th, and he doesn’t yet have adaptation aspirations for that piece of work. “I really would like it just to be a book first. People jump the gun way too fast. Let’s let it be a book first, people!” He will, however, go into production for his next movie during the Glee hiatus this summer. “It’s a genre change for me, it takes place in a 1930s asylum, which is similar to high school but it’s a very different film. I wrote it as well, I play a supporting character. I’m a crazy ass patient, crazy crazy patient.”
Spare any freak lightning storms, there’s nothing stopping Chris Colfer right now.