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Turkey Bowl: Football with Friends

Kyle Smith funded his feature debut by crashing into a wall on a reality show. Now that's dedication to one's craft! Available On Demand via Tribeca Film.


Kyle Smith's breakout debut, Turkey Bowl, is a comedy set in L.A., focusing on a group of longtime friends about to turn 30. Now available as part of the Tribeca Film slate of sports films  currently available on VOD, Turkey Bowl is the kind of easygoing, entertaining film that makes for a great night with buddies, so invite some people over and fire up your VOD platform of choice.


Turkey Bowl centers on a group of friends in LA—their adopted city—as they gather for their annual touch football game, the prize of which is, what else, a turkey. Throughout the game, which is shown in real time, the friends bicker and tease, and undercurrents of jealousy and unrequited love are revealed through game play, banter and subtle interactions. The movie stars Smith's real-life friends, including Kerry Bishé (Nice Guy Johnny, Scrubs), Jon SchmidtZoe Perry, Zeke Hawkins and Tom DiMenna, and has an improvised feel.


Smith talked to us recently about his narrative feature, which he funded entirely from the money he won on a reality/game show. Seriously. It's a great story—read on!


Director Kyle Smith


Tribeca: What inspired you to tell this story?


Kyle Smith: I wanted to make a movie with some personal resonance to it. Every year, I would come home and have this touch football game with my friends, and every year we were growing apart a little bit. It just seemed like a good thing to document, while making a funny and entertaining movie about young people. A lot of these mumblecore movies are so talky and dull, and I wanted to make a movie that was exciting and funny, and that related to things that I knew.


Tribeca: Did you make the movie in LA with your transplanted friends?


Kyle Smith: Everyone in the cast was a friend of mine, from either undergraduate or grad school, except for Sergio [Villarreal], who I met on the first day of shooting. We shot it in a park close to East LA.


Tribeca: How did you find your location? Was it easy to find a place you could shoot in for that long?


Kyle Smith: No, it was really difficult. I looked at around 100 parks in the city over the course of a month—it was very difficult to find the right mixture of elements I knew I needed: no shade, so we could keep the real-time look; no traffic issues; not very crowded. Actually, the park I ended up going with was the first one I looked at. I looked at 100 more, but I went back to the first one.


Tribeca: That’s always the way, huh? How long did it take you to shoot?


Kyle Smith: 10 days. We shot Monday to Friday, took the weekend off, and then Monday to Friday again. So around 10 10-hour days; they were short, because at some point, the light would become unusable. And we shot in story order; it was all done sequentially.



Tribeca: How hot was it? It looked brutal.


Kyle Smith: I don’t think it ever got below 95; there was one day where it was like 105 to 107. I think we drank around 1400 bottles of water, which the environmentalists don’t want to hear. The great thing about the heat was that it kept people away from the park—very rarely do you see anyone in the background. I had permitted the park, but I still didn’t want to kick out families who were having barbecues or anything. The heat also kept the clouds away; there was only one morning with any kind of cloud cover; otherwise it was completely sunny.


Tribeca: I didn’t even think about the sun and the trees and the clouds, but that’s a good point; you don’t want shadows to interfere with continuity.


Kyle Smith: If you watch closely, you might be able to see some shadows and say, “Oh, that’s the end of one day and that’s the beginning of the next day.”


Tribeca: What about the clothes? How many outfits did each person have?


Kyle Smith: Everyone had just one outfit. I had them all use their own clothes. I knew I wanted them to roughly match whites and colors.


And a few people I asked not to wash their clothes. For example, Adam gets so dirty, and by the end you see his shirt has a hole, and he smelled so bad. His girlfriend was furious with me—she would drive him home and night and the car would just reek. It was bad enough that when he wasn’t shooting, he would just take it off.


Tribeca: How much of what we see in the film was in the script? Was there a lot of improvisation? Did the actors play themselves?


Kyle Smith: I think about 40% is improvised. The opening 10 minutes is almost entirely scripted—when they arrive at the game, explain the rules—that’s all me, setting the scene, really.


Some of the characters were written specifically for the actors playing the roles. Other ones, I knew I wanted the personality of the character to be the personality of the person. Tom, for example, is almost entirely ad-libbing his lines. He’s a funny guy! Other actors, who were a little more traditional, almost always wanted to go straight from the script. So a lot of it was trying to find a middle ground between the professional actors and the nonactors.


I didn’t do any kind of rehearsal. I just met with the actors individually and said, “I want you to be yourself. I’ll give you the script, but I want you to wing it a little bit.” And that was that. And I think having people use their own names made people more comfortable, too.



Tribeca: Why did you choose to have some “outsiders” in the game, rather than just having your friends interact?


Kyle Smith: I used to play in a football game in LA every week—actors and directors—and these local kids who would show up every week. It was interesting to see how we integrated them into the game. From a lifetime of playing sports, you know—if you’re playing pickup basketball or pickup football—people interact differently. You may want to make them feel comfortable with your friends, but some others kind of don’t want them there.


It also created tension in a situation where [otherwise] I could only bring in so much back story without alienating my audience. So we explored the ways people become friends, how a group brings new people into the fold.


Tribeca: Tell me about how you funded your film; I understand it’s an interesting story.


Kyle Smith: In 2009, I was finishing graduate school (and staring at debt), and Morgan Beck—from the movie—was working as a dishwasher at a burger joint. We were somehow cast in this reality game show called Crash Course on ABC. (They shot 6 episodes, and they only aired 3 of them, for a number of reasons: for one, the producer allegedly killed his wife in Cancun, if you remember that guy.)


So they flew us to Detroit and we shot for 3 days. Morgan did a stunt where he basically did the opening to Knight Rider: he drove a car up a ramp up the back of a semi-truck, going about 30 miles per hour—one of the most impressive things that a friend of mine has ever done. I drove off a ramp in a car, and there was an explosion, and Morgan was riding shotgun. We hit a concrete wall that broke in half—we both had whiplash and were sore for a week. But we got out of the car, they made sure we were okay, and they put the fire out (the car was on fire), and they told us we had each won $25,000.


I didn’t get the money until about 6 or 7 months after that, but I knew that I had kind of a “gimme,” and I could either be reasonable with the money—invest it and pay off what I owed—or take it as my chance to make a movie. And I decided I’d rather do that, and if it didn’t work out, I’d go home to the Midwest with my tail between my legs. So I spent the next year planning the movie and getting it ready. I shot the movie about 13 months after I won the money.


Tribeca: Did the money cover the whole movie?


Kyle Smith: Yes, just about. I had to live during that time too, but I had some other jobs that helped pay for that. But yes, the cost of shooting the movie was funded entirely by the reality show.



Tribeca: What do you think Turkey Bowl says about that decade after college, about people starting to grow apart?


Kyle Smith: It’s what I’m experiencing now. When you go to college, you live in a dorm, and it’s a completely arbitrary thing—I was actually put in an engineering dorm, and I was studying film—but then those guys become your closest friends. Because you’re in a part of your life where everything is new and unusual, you just gravitate towards the people you were randomly assigned to.


And now nine years later, I am still friends with these people. And it’s like—I could have lived in any dorm on that college campus, and become very close with people. It’s the last time, I think in your life, where you’re friends with people just because of proximity, not necessarily because of any shared interests or career.


The characters in the film are the same way. Now they all live in California together, and they feel like they need to keep being friends, but time has slowly made it so they’re not really around each other as much, because they have different aspirations in life. So that’s kind of where that was coming from.



Tribeca: What do you want audiences to take away from the movie?


Kyle Smith: I wanted the movie to feel like hanging out with your friends for an hour. I wanted that feeling that was fun and light, and hopefully, you have a sort of emotional connection to what happens, but mostly you just enjoy it.


Tribeca: As a first time feature writer/director, what advice do you have for aspiring filmmakers?


Kyle Smith: I’d always wanted to make a movie about a game in real time—a nugget of an idea that never went away. And I knew that rather than being about style, it should be about what I care about: characters. And that became the football movie. I knew that no one would ever fund it, and you hear this advice a lot, but I just did it: I set a deadline, I got people on board to do this, somehow, and I got them to spend two weeks in the heat. I just knew I had to do this thing


The great thing for me was that because I funded it myself, I had complete control over it. I guess that’s my advice—if you want to do something, just go out there and do it, and hopefully, good things follow.


Tribeca: And maybe win money on a game show?


Kyle Smith: [laughs] Yeah, live in Los Angeles and get on a reality show.


Turkey Bowl is currently available On Demand via Tribeca Film.


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