For those searching for a fun and animated take on the theatre scene, Tankhouse has just been released in theatres and video on demand. The film follows Tucker (Stephen Friedrich, Vice) and Sandrene (Tara Holt, Z Nation), a passionate, yet melodramatic couple, who return to Sandrene’s hometown of Fargo after being banned from their New York theatre company.
In addition to its many comedic moments, Tankhouse also has a strong emphasis on relationships and the importance of building a family within the community. When push comes to shove, is this enough to satisfy Tucker and Sandrene? Or will they keep fighting to excel at their craft?
Writer-director Noam Tomascoff and writer Chelsea Frei spoke to Screen Rant about the process of turning their love for theatre into a feature film.
Screen Rant: We have this very passionate, over-the-top couple who goes to the town of Fargo, puts together a team of actors, and decides to start a “theatrical revolution.” What inspired you to write this story, in particular?
Chelsea Frei: Noam and I were in New York City. Living there, we were mainly doing theatre. Off, off, off, off-Broadway theatre, and then we started doing sketch comedy on the side. That had kind of become our focus, we both loved sketch comedy. We loved how fast it was. We loved that it kind of put us back in control of our careers. When we were finally leaving New York and moving to L.A., we thought it would be fun to do a last tribute to our time in the theatre world in New York.Advertisement
We had this idea of doing these really heightened versions of ourselves, this pretentious, pretentious theatre couple living in New York City, who end up leaving and going to a small town. So we just got ten of our funniest, best friends together and said, ‘Pick the worst person you’ve met at theatre school and improvise as them for like, two hours. Go.’ So we all went into this room and did this improvised, ridiculous audition sequence.
Noam Tomascoff: By this room, she means a decrepit, asbestos-laden theatre that was the only place we could possibly afford to do anything. I think the entire budget was about $300 and it was just a bunch of silly people in ridiculous costumes running around this black box with three camera guys following us around. It was really, really fun and we played Tucker and Sandrene. That was originally how it was.
Screen Rant: When you first develop a film and write it, it’s different than what the audience is actually going to see onscreen. What was the creative process of bringing this to life like? Are there a lot of changes or is it pretty similar to what you’d imagined?
Noam Tomascoff: We had this rare opportunity to write for Fargo. When we had cut that short that we just talked about down to about eight minutes and we screened it at a festival in Denver called SeriesFest. That’s where we met our producer, Matt Cooper.
He was sort of on a mission to find something that could be set in the town of Fargo because he knew people out there who wanted to produce a film. Our short was set in a fictional small town and he said, ‘Hey, do you think you could change it to take place in Fargo? It’s basically the same thing as what you were doing, but now you have this specific location.’
And we said yes, and once that interest ended up being real, we were able to do some research online and talk to people who live there and find locations and things that are specific to Fargo and incorporate them into the script as we were writing it. So all these places—the Fargo Theatre, the Troll Bar with all those wooden carvings, and the exterior locations, as well—these are all real places in town that we incorporated into the scriptwriting phase.Advertisement
Screen Rant: Was that the biggest change that you saw? Changing the town to a real place?
Noam Tomascoff: Initially, this was only conceived of as a short, and then we had ideas of possibly doing it as a show. But once the idea of a movie solidified, that really became the guiding notion—the idea of doing it in Fargo and making that central to the story. There was no feature script before we wrote it for Fargo.
Screen Rant: You mentioned that, at first, you were playing Tucker and Sandrene. Once you got this cast—Tara Holt, Stephen Friedrich, Austin Crute—what was like it bringing them all together and seeing it play out?
Noam Tomascoff: The difference between the characters we had written and seeing what the actors ended up doing, it was like the difference between having a food described to you and tasting it. The minute they started doing these parts, they just exploded into life in a way that we could never have imagined.
Every single one of them completely embodied, expanded, and elevated the job they were given, which is why they were cast. That part of the job was made easier because we put together a cast that was so close to the characters and had such facility with the characters, that anything they did was already in the ballpark. So we were free to shape as opposed to getting them to do what was intended. They were already there pretty much the entire time.
Screen Rant: There are so many different aspects of this movie. There are some really good relationships that form, really strong bonds, and there’s a bit of a found family trope in there, as well. Was this something you were purposefully trying to emphasize on?
Chelsea Frei: Absolutely. I think the movie, at its heart, is kind of about oddballs finding their community and that there is a home for everybody. Our first home in New York and the entertainment industry was our theatre community, and to this day, those are some of our closest friends.
We feel so lucky to have gone through those times in New York together when we were so young and just trying to make it and figure out what worked and what didn’t work. You kind of fall on your feet together and you perform in front of audiences with less people in the crowd than in the cast. So those things kind of humble you and define you as an actor and an artist. So, absolutely, the found family was very important to us.
Noam Tomascoff: Theatre, at the end of the day, at its core, for those who create it, is all about the community that’s formed by the ensemble. And in the movie, Sandrene says, ‘What did we achieve here? Well, we brought people together and helped them find their voices as artists.’ Right? And so when Chelsea’s talking about that theatre company in New York called Shakespeare in the Square—I joined that company my freshman semester of college—they brought me together and they helped me find my voice as an artist.Advertisement
That is the legacy of all these small theatre companies across America, and I hope that we pay homage and respect to them because—of course, we have Broadway, we have for-profit theatre, we have the people who change the art form—but on a grassroots level, it’s about community. It’s about people coming together, and, through that shared safe space of exploration, finding themselves as people.
Screen Rant: To wrap it up, I was going to ask what your favorite takeaway from this experience was. But it sounds like building the community was a big part of that.
Chelsea Frei: Yes, I think that probably was the biggest takeaway. Also just being so grateful to work with such talented people. I mean, this script was our baby, and to then just hand it off to these actors who brought it to life in the most amazing way and make these characters feel like real people and find things that we would have never found. I think that, to me, was an incredible experience. I’ll never forget it. The first time hearing them say those words–it was just amazing.Advertisement
Noam Tomascoff: The thing that I’m most proud of, as the person who was in charge of the process, is that I did feel that at our best everybody from the actors to the various department heads had license to go all the way with their impulses. A lot of times as actors, as artists, we can’t do a hundred percent of what we want.
There are commercial constraints, there’s structure around what we have to do, and I just hoped at all times to provide an environment—from the art design to the talent—where everybody’s like ‘That thing you want to do—that thing you’ve always wanted to do that’s too crazy, too loud, too ridiculous—here’s the place where you can do that.’ Because that’s the identity of this movie. It’s infused throughout the art design and the acting and the costume, and I’m very happy about that. It’s one of those things that—certainly in the commercial world—you don’t get to do a lot of the time. You don’t get to go full tilt.
After being blacklisted from the New York City theatre industry, Tucker and Sandrene decide their only course of action is to move to Fargo, North Dakota, and start a theatrical revolution.
Tankhouse is currently available in theatres and video on demand.
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