Comedy has been a passion for Jason Headley. Before 2015, he had written, directed, and starred in a number of comedy short films, some of which had gotten picked up by Funny or Die. He had written a number of screenplays for features as well, but those wound up languishing in his drawer. “I got tired of not making movies,” he said recently.
Thus it was that this fortysomething native of West Virginia who now lives in San Francisco came to Fort Worth to shoot his first feature film. The comedy A Bad Idea Gone Wrong premiered last month at SXSW, where it won a special jury prize for best ensemble cast, and this past weekend it had its second showing to a packed house at the Dallas International Film Festival.
A graduate of West Virginia’s Davis & Elkins College with a degree in environmental science, Headley moved to California after school to start a band. “We were post-grunge,” he said. “That’s grunge when nobody wanted it anymore.”
He fell into advertising, which not only paid the bills but also gave him experience behind the camera directing TV commercials. Meanwhile, he kept up his creative endeavors, publishing his novel Small Town Odds and then writing a screenplay version of that. While filming a series of web shorts about cavemen called Pioneers of Language, he couldn’t help but notice that the amount of pre-production work required for it was the same as for a feature-length film.
That was the impetus behind A Bad Idea Gone Wrong, a farce about two guys with dead-end lives (Will Rogers and Matt Jones) who decide to rob an empty mansion, only to become trapped inside. The great majority of the film takes place inside the house, with most of the dialogue delivered by three actors, the third being Eleanore Pienta as an unexpected houseguest.
“I wanted to write something that could get made, so I engineered a story around a few moving parts,” Headley said.
The different story elements are stitched together in impressive fashion, with setups ranging from a torn fifty dollar bill to the meaning of the name of the wine grape in Chianti all being laid down early and then paying off later. “That was very purposeful,” Headley said. “I wanted to challenge myself and make sure that it all worked.”
The film could have been shot anywhere, but Headley had been to North Texas before, making commercials for Reliant Energy with Troy Aikman and working with Fort Worth-based Red Productions to make ads for the digital marketing agency iProspect. He asked Red Productions founder Red Sanders for advice on making a feature film and suddenly found himself with a producer for his project. After scouting all over North Texas for a location, Sanders found a suitable house in the Rivercrest neighborhood, where the movie was shot over 17 days in late 2015. “We’ve been fortunate to have great people in Fort Worth who care about independent projects,” Sanders said.
Texas’ state incentives, he continued, were “key in bringing the movie to Fort Worth.”
Headley does have a dramedy that he’d like to film next, but right now he’s only just begun taking the film around the festival circuit. “It was so great to bring it back to Texas and see it with audiences who appreciate it,” he said. “This has just been the perfect start.”