Putting Together a Cast for an Indie Comedy Is a Crazy, Bewildering Process
We always assumed we were going to get our movie made. Not because we knew something other people didn’t, but because we were young(ish), naive, and hopeful. Ultimately, it’s taken us nearly a decade to get Flock of Dudes from the page to the screen. We had no idea what we were getting into when we began this process. But the whole ordeal taught us a thing or two about this insane industry, particularly when it comes to casting and talent.
In the three (3!) years since we shot the movie, I’ve probably been asked how we assembled our ringer-filled cast more than any other question. Actually, it’s second to “why the hell hasn’t it come out yet?” but that’s more frustrating than entertaining to answer, so let’s forget it for now.
Flock of Dudes is a low-budget indie comedy starring Chris D’elia as Adam, a 30-year-old guy who decides to break up with his friends in order to finally grow up. Alongside my writing partners Brian Levin and Jason Zumwalt, we wrote the movie on spec with the hope it would help us break into Hollywood.
When we began writing this film in 2007 (yes, 2007), we drew from our personal experiences being single and living like animals in New York. We filled it with characters we hung out with, or combinations of people we knew. Howie (Brett Gelman) was the older friend I looked to for guidance when I moved to NY and didn’t know what the hell I was doing. Barrett (Bryan Greenberg) was our stylish pal who had no problem bringing girls home even when he was living on our couch. Jamie (Melissa Rauch) was the girl at work who was always trying to set me up with her Jewish friends. Beth (Hannah Simone), Mook (Eric Andre), David (Skylar Astin), and Butler (Tim Simons) were a combination of people we worked or got drunk with. And Adam (Chris D’elia) was that part of each of us that was kinda tired of the whole scene.
From the very first draft we talked about our ideal cast. Adam would obviously be played by Adam Brody. The three of us had never seen an episode of The O.C. — or anything Adam Brody had done, actually — but we knew who he seemed like the type of guy who played the lead in these kinds of movies.
Mook was probably our favorite character, and we knew whoever played him had to come with big fun energy. Our #1 choice was Charlie Day from the new show It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia. The female lead in Flock, Beth, had to be cool, beautiful, and give off that slightly unobtainable vibe. Laura Prepon was the obvious choice.
As we wrote draft after draft of Flock on spec, we always aimed to capture our friends’ voices, but it was fun imagining their words coming out of someone else’s mouth.
In 2008 Imagine Entertainment came on board to develop the movie with us. After countless tremendously helpful re-writes under the guidance of Erica Huggins and Erin Fredman, Flock Of Dudes was ready to go out to the town.
Before they sent it to the studios, though, they wanted to see if they could attach a lead actor. Our agents at UTA were quick to recommend Andy Samberg, who we couldn’t have been more excited about. As we waited for Andy to read the script, we made lists of all the other potential Adams to send it to. From James Franco to Adam Brody, everyone was on there, and we were anxious to get Flock to all of them. Now!
Except, we learned, that’s not how Hollywood works. We had to wait for Andy to pass before offering it to anyone else. And since Andy was shooting SNL and knee-deep in several projects of his own, that was going to take a while.
By the time he eventually passed, Imagine was so anxious to get the movie out they decided to forego packaging and just do it. Which was a huge relief, because who the fuck knows how long it would’ve taken for Tobey Maguire to pass?
Flock ended up at Lionsgate, and after a couple of drafts where we tried turning it into the next Hangover, it died a year later. It wasn’t until the head of their low-budget film division read the script in the summer of 2011 that it rose from the ashes like a phoenix. Suddenly Flock of Dudes was definitely happening and we were in meetings at UTA talking about our dream cast.
Adam Brody wasn’t our first choice for Adam anymore. Actually, we kinda liked Charlie Day for Adam now. But of course we were open to a few other up-and-coming guys who were being pitched to us, like Jake Johnson and Chris Pratt.
Our list for Mook was two names long: Aziz Ansari and Donald Glover. We were so obsessed with those two, we never even entertained anyone else. That includes UTA’s pick- a comedian they were positive was about to blow up: Kevin Hart. (Note: they were right.)
But Bill Hader or Nick Swardson as Howie? Of course! TJ Miller as Barrett? Definitely. And if there was even a small chance we could get the girl from How I Met Your Mother to play Beth, then all would be right in the world.
The movie never actually came together at Lionsgate, and all of the casting meetings with agencies and drinks with potential stars like Adam Pally were for naught. Which sucked. What we didn’t realize at the time, though, was there was a slight silver lining to that shitty grey cloud of failure: a lot of actors read our script.
When making the movie independently became a reality in 2013, one of the first things we had to do was go through the script with a fine-toothed comb and determine which roles were essential. We were working with a budget now, and when each actor opened their mouth and words came out, it got more expensive.
All of the WAITERS and CLUBGOER #1’s lost their ability to speak immediately. Multiple Dudes in the extended group of friends combined to form one speaking Dude: Ro (Kumail Nanjiani). The character Gabrus (Jon Gabrus, naturally) started as a speaking role, but had all of his lines cut for budgetary reasons right before we started shooting. Thankfully Jon is a friend, and still agreed to do the movie. He wasn’t supposed to speak, but when he improvised a line on the fifth day of shooting it made everyone laugh so hard our producer said “fuck it” and bumped him up to a speaking role.
Shooting with a small budget and a summer start date that we needed to hit, we didn’t have the luxury or holding auditions. The movie was cast entirely through personal relationships and talent meetings held at The Blu Jam Cafe on Melrose over coffee, or next door at the Village Idiot over drinks. In fact, as the director I only insisted on two things during the casting process: 1) that we get our core four dudes together before the deals are finalized to make sure they fit together, and 2) we hold chemistry reads between our Adam and Beth(s) to ensure there’s a connection. I went 0-2.
Since we were making it on our own and our financiers gave us a lot of leeway to find the next wave of big stars, we loved the idea of casting friends from New York like Eric Andre, Pete Holmes, and Nick Kroll. Eric actually read the script when Lionsgate sent it out and cornered me at a birthday party to talk about Mook. Shortly thereafter he jumped to #1 in our Mook Power Rankings. So now that we finally had the power to pull the trigger we didn’t waste any time. Eric was the first on board.
Nick and Pete were both busy shooting shows with their names in the title, so in their absence our agents at UTA and our incredible casting director Emily Bates made sure I met every available actor in town. I don’t know how much money I spent on cups of coffee and pints of beer over the course of those meetings, but it was probably more than we spent to make the movie.
Kumail and I drank beers and talked about the part of Ro. He had just signed onto Hot Tub Time Machine 2 so it was unlikely he’d be able to do more than a couple of days on Flock, but I told him we would make it work.
I drank coffees with Skylar Astin, Tim Simons, and Carly Craig and immediately went home and watched Pitch Perfect, Veep, and Role Models.
Eric sent the script to Hannibal and got him to play the part of Stinkwhistle. A few days after we met, I got a call from his agent saying that Hannibal wanted to do the movie but hated the name. She asked if were we open to changing it. While we were coming up with a new name, we told Eric about it. Unbeknownst to us he texted Hannibal: “With the guys, your new name is Pussypop.” Hannibal texted back something like “Oh man, that’s worse. Wait. Is it better?” We got a call the next day from the agent: “Hannibal is good with Pussypop.” It was a very confusing call, but we went with it.
Our producer Aaron Kaufman got his pals Bryan Greenberg and Jamie Chung interested. They were in New York, so I never actually met them in person before shooting — our casting meetings were done over Skype.
And then there were the actors I didn’t meet at all until we were on set. The first time I shook Hilary Duff’s hand she was already wearing a wedding dress, ready to shoot her first scene. When Marc Maron arrived in Artesia for his day of work, the first thing he asked me was if he had to shave his mustache. When I said ‘no,’ he replied, “Ah, thank God, I had this big fight with you in my head the whole drive here because I thought you were going to tell me to shave.” I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect Marc Maron introduction. And Ray Liotta? He’s in this movie! Of course Ray Liotta is in this movie. Why wouldn’t Ray Liotta be in this movie?
We were fortunate we got to fill the rest of the cast with some more of our friends. I worked on season 2 of The Burn with Jeff Ross, so I persuaded him to sign on as the “Masturbator.” Melissa Rauch performed standup with Jason and I at “Joe Franklin’s Comedy Club” in Times Square a decade earlier, so it was awesome reconnecting with her. And Kelen Coleman starred in our 2011 Comedy Central pilot Playing With Guns, a show that a lot of great comedians auditioned for — including Chris D’Elia and Brett Gelman.
We all became big fans of Chris and Brett when they auditioned for our buddy cop comedy that Comedy Central never picked up to series. When I sat down and met with Chris I thought we were going to be talking about the role of Barrett, but he was super, super passionate about Adam. He wasn’t what we pictured in the role — he’s a long way from Adam Brody — but after talking with him it just made sense.
I had begun worrying throughout my talent meetings that Adam was going to be a more difficult character to cast than expected. The whole premise of the movie is Adam breaks up with his friends; it was easy for the character to come off like a whiny baby. Adam had to be a dude, but he also had to be funny… and a romantic lead… and a guy you wanted to watch for 90-something minutes. It was a lot.
After talking with Chris I went home and read the entire script with his voice in my head. I called Brian, Jason, and our producer Aaron that day and said that he was the guy.
With Chris set as Adam, the final missing piece was Beth. After meeting Hannah at Mama’s Secret on 3rd St and getting to know her, it was obvious to me that she was perfect. She, herself, was naturally everything we wanted the character to be. I was hopeful she would fit well with Chris, so when I got home I pulled up two windows on my laptop. I loaded a picture of Chris in one and a picture of Hannah in the other and stared at it for a while. I walked over to my wife and asked, “what do you think? Does this work?” That was the chemistry test.
Now, I don’t want it to sound like casting was smooth the whole way through. It was definitely stressful closing deals and working around schedules. We’re lucky we had so many great people — from our producers, to our casting director, to our manager Itay, to our hard working agents at UTA — doing all they could to pull it all together.
The one thing everyone in the movie had in common when we talked about Flock Of Dudes for the first time, was they all responded to the script. They liked the tone we were going for, and they wanted to be a part of a “dude comedy” that was a little bit different.
In the end we managed to assemble an unbelievably impressive cast. In fact, in the three years since we shot the movie it’s gotten even more impressive. So I guess now it’s time to start working on the sequel. Get ready for Flock Of Dudes 2, coming in 2024, starring who the fuck knows. (With a special cameo by Ray Liotta. Of course.)
Flock of Dudes is in theaters and on iTunes starting today and comes to On Demand on October 7th.