'Intramural' finds success in return to local film fest

Filmmakers from the cast and crew of ‘Intramural’ celebrate winning the Cinema Dulce Best of Fest award Saturday evening during the fifth annual Hill Country Film Festival, which held screenings Wednesday through Saturday throughout Fredericksburg. —Standard-Radio Post/Ken Esten Cooke

By Matt Ward— “Intramural,” a sports comedy which got its start thanks to networking at the event in 2012, won the Cinema Dulce Best of Fest award Saturday evening at the closing ceremonies of the fifth annual Hill Country Film Festival (HCFF).

“Every festival has been special and each year keeps getting better,” HCFF Executive Director Chad Mathews said. “The theme for year five was definitely ‘more’ — more days, more free community events, more films and more filmmakers.”

This year’s event is expected to see a moderate increase in overall numbers from last year’s event, according to festival director Amy Miskovsky, with 65 filmmakers from Austin, Houston, Dallas, Daytona Beach, New Orleans, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Toronto in attendance.

“We were thrilled to showcase nearly 100 films this year — almost twice the number screened in 2013,” Mathews said.

The event expanded to two venues — Fritztown Cinema and Fredericksburg Theater Company — for the first time, which allowed festival staff to expand the lineup to include films chosen from more than 300 submissions.

“Filmmakers tell us our festival is a comfortable and laid-back event where they not only network, but they get to really connect. Someone told me this year it was like ‘film camp,’” Mathews said. “That says to me they are seeing films they enjoy, they are learning, they are making new friends, and they are being inspired to create and that’s a great compliment.”

Full circle

The Hill Country Film Festival served as a coming home for “Intramural” as writer Bradley Jackson and director Andrew Disney developed the foundation of the production team during the 2012 festival.

“There’s a certain pride to bringing it to someplace where it’s like ‘This was the launch pad of where we all met,’” Disney said. “Everybody seems so approachable (at small film festivals). It’s such a good time that you can just hang out and get to know everyone.”

Disney’s feature “Searching For Sonny” received the Cinema Dulce Best of Fest award at the 2012 event, while Jackson’s film “The Man Who Never Cried” won the Best Short Film award.

“It has been a blast watching the success of ‘Intramural,’ since it was the result of friendships that began two years ago at our festival,” Mathews said. “Writer Jackson, director Disney and producers (Russell) Groves and (Andrew) Lee connected at the 2012 festival and decided to collaborate on this comedy. It was gratifying to see the film and filmmakers get such a warm reception at HCFF.”

“Intramural” debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, April 19, after filming around Central Texas last summer.

“(At Tribeca), you’ve got a party over here and another party over there,” Jackson said. “It’s all over the place and you have to try a lot harder there to try and connect with and get to know people, whereas here, it’s like, we’re just hanging out and it’s a little bit more laid back. It’s not as intense a networking-type thing. That’s why I think we really connected at Hill Country (Film Festival).”

Gridiron fun

The film is a sports comedy starring Jake Lacy of “The Office” as a fifth-year college senior looking for redemption on the intramural football field after a tragic accident to his best friend during freshman year.

“I think it fits right in between ‘Brian’s Song’ and ‘Dodgeball,’ right in the center of that sweet spot that everybody wants (in a sports film),” Jackson said. “You could make a version of our movie where it’s jerky handheld cameras and a little more realistic, but Disney got that the comedy came from ‘Let’s not make this look realistic. Let’s make this one epic. Let’s make this look like we’re shooting the Super Bowl or a $20 million Oliver Stone movie.’ That’s what got me excited about him directing.”

While the cast features several current “Saturday Night Live” members, including Kate McKinnon, Jay Pharoah and Beck Bennett, Lacy plays the role of the “straight man” within the comedy structure of “Intramural.”

“It’s a challenge to find your way into participating in the comedy without being a nut job. For me, I want to be a weirdo, but that’s not how this movie works. You need someone to facilitate the beats of the story,” he said. “The thing I took away was watching someone like John Krasinski (of ‘The Office’) be the straight man to weirdoes and how he walked that line participating and playing along while maintaining a sense of normalcy all within this very specific world and trying to do my best to shamelessly steal for this project here.”

Unlike most football movies, the actors in “Intramural” were required to perform their own stunts and take hits in hot conditions while filming in Manor last July and August.

“We had these great guys who did the football coordinating, wrote up plays and gave us playbooks. They worked with ‘Friday Night Lights’ and not intramural football, actual cinematic fake football,” Lacy said. “For them, they can have ex-college players run the plays because the helmets and pads are on. As long as you’re the same size, nobody’s going to know and then the star pops his helmet off and says ‘Way to go guys.’”

“That’s not true for us. You’re going to know if there’s a stunt double for a dozen guys on the field and you cut in and he looks nothing like the dude you just saw running around,” he added. “I played sports in high school and it was a thrill to run plays again, to be working out and running around in the heat, to be doing our lazy version of two-a-days.”

Coming home

The filmmakers said bringing “Intramural” to a packed audience at HCFF was a rewarding experience for them.

“When we were driving down this morning, I got really giddy and was like ‘Can you imagine like two years ago to think that we would be back here with a feature that we all made together that just premiered at Tribeca, that people seemed to like with all these actors that I love,’” Jackson said. “It’s one of those ‘pinch me’ moments to be back here two years after we came here with other films.”

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