(Photo credit above by Fernando Martinez)
Brave New Jersey, which is set in a small New Jersey town in 1938, had its world premiere at Austin Film Festival over the weekend. The film depicts the reactions of a small town as they are overcome with mass hysteria on the night of Orson Welles’s legendary 1938 War of the Worlds radio broadcast, the hoax which fooled millions into believing America was being invaded by Martians.
During the Festival, we spoke with Director/Writer Jody Lambert, and actors Anna Camp, Tony Hale, Heather Burns and Matt Oberg about the film and its unique concept.
How did the idea of creating this film around the 1938 War of the Worlds broadcast hoax come about?
Jody Lambert: Mike Dowling and I, who I co-wrote the movie with, we went to college together and we were actually actors at the time and started to dabble in writing stuff. He came to me one day and said ‘How about a movie about a small town on the night of the War of The Worlds broadcast that doesn’t focus on Orsen Welles but on the town and how it changes their lives in the course of one night. I thought this was a really great idea for a movie. This allowed us to have a bunch of characters that need for something like this to happen and whose lives are all changed in different ways by an event like the world is going to end but it doesn’t and how do you go on the next day. Are you still the same person the next day and have you changed over the course of the night? It just felt like a really fun way to deal with comedy with bigger themes than a comedy normally does because its about people who think their live are going to end. It just felt like a movie somebody was going to make eventually and thankfully we beat them to it.
What attracted you to doing the film?
Heather Burns: I’ve been involved with the film for a long time. I went to college with Jody and Mike and they had worked on it over the years. Jody went off and had worked on two other films but it was such a strong script that he kept coming back to it. So I’d do readings, workstations and they would tweak it and when they got the green light, I was thrilled to come on.
Tony Hale: I had known the casting director, Denise. She told my manager and I about it. I had coffee with Jody about it and he wanted to take this topic of this town hearing the news that the world is going to end and he had this really quirky edge he wanted to bring to it and the mass hysteria that ensued and I said that sounds fun, lets do it.
Anna Camp: I was really excited to be in a movie about this. I’m shocked there hadn’t been a movie made about this before. Its such a fantastic concept and such a rich period of time. I thought it was incredibly well crafted and each story line is well developed and specific and everybody gets their moment. I just loved Peg. I just adored her journey and wanted to play her so bad.
What was it like as an actor, bringing that era to life from the clothes to mannerisms?
Tony Hale: Weird actually. They wear some hot clothes. A lot of clothes.
Heather Burns: They did wear some hot clothes. I got luckier. I had a silk dress but the guys had a lot of wool and it was 110 degrees some days in the summer in Tennessee.
Tony Hale: We were really fortunate with the location. There was this town where this street was. They were selling this abandoned town they had used. This guy had this property that had these restored general stores and church from that time period and it was just a perfect setting and it was really by chance.
Heather Burns: It was really by chance. The producer, Taylor, his mother was from Tennessee and they thought, “Let’s check it out.” You obviously couldn’t shoot in New Jersey. They went and this man’s town just appeared. Everything was just there.
Matt Oberg: I could be wrong about this but I think our grandparents were just of a mess as we are now and it just sort of hard to imagine that people were that kind of chaotic because the time seems more formal. Certainly there is differences in your language and your mannerisms a little bit but I think that’s the moments in a period movie when you are like ‘That’s what I would do.’ is what makes period films fun because it shows you the human condition has been the same for a long time. There is something comforting about that.
Anna Camp: I found it fun to play Peg, who is a woman who didn’t really have a lot of options. She lived in this small town as a school teacher and didn’t really realize there was anything greater out there and there were many other choices to be made. To be confronted with a night where she thinks ‘Maybe i can live my life the way i want to,’ to see what it feels like for a woman like that to go for it and grab life by the balls, haha, or by the reins.
Matt Oberg: …by the ball reins.
Anna Camp: Even if it was just for one night, it was really exciting to play because I doubt a lot of women were able to do that back in the day, were really doing that. It’s still frowned upon cheat on your fiance but I mean it’s a very dramatic thing to happen in your life obviously.
In continuation to that, your character had probably the biggest transition in the film. She went from 0 to 100 the moment she found out this could be it. What were your thoughts on why she reverted back to this tame life when the smoke cleared?
Anna Camp: Great question, for so many reasons. There is this bit a shame and embarrassment that she is holding the next day. There is sadness, like on a smaller scale, if you are a kid and finding out Santa didn’t exist. It’s so sad, I remember It was sad and I got so mad but what do you really do in 1938 and you have been engaged and been with him forever. What is she going to do now? Is she going to go out and have a life now with Sparky? With that guy? She is filled with questions and a million emotions the next day. I don’t think she is doing to stay forever. I wanted to make sure at the end of the film, you saw that she might not quite be done and there may be some fire deep down in there because she found something for the first time. I think there are a lot of things going on and she may be paralyzed right now but i don’t think that’s going to continue.
Matt Oberg: I think it’s a human thing to realize there are so many other choices available to me and how I’m going to live my life but how and when i can possibly make those choices or act on any of those options are the hard part.
It was interesting to see some of these characters make a complete 180, as soon as they found out their lives could end. What was the process of creating the mindset for some of these characters?
Jody Lambert: Great question. We started with ‘What characters would be fun to track through this?’ We knew we wanted it to be an ensemble movie that had a big cast of characters but not too many but we didn’t want it to feel like you aren’t really in the mind or the head of somebody because you aren’t spending enough time with them. So we started with ‘Who would be in this town?’ and we narrowed it down to who we thought would be the most interesting ones. We narrowed it down to who we thought were the most interesting ones. A little bit using the tropes of those 50’s disaster movies like the War of the Worlds movie. We have a small town so how about the mayor, how about the teacher, how about the lonely house wife, how about the priest and once we had our core characters and what their internal conflicts were before the movie started we knew we arrived with some fun characters to track over the course of the night.
This time of situation, I feel could have only occurred then. I wouldn’t imagine a hoax like this being as successful in the modern world with social media and technology. Hypothetically, how do you think our society would react to this time of situation?
Jody Lambert: I agree with you that it would probably be difficult, the reality would spread much quicker. We are in the golden age of fact-checkers. So i think it would be pretty quick that they would shut it down. But I do believe that circumstances that led people to believe the broadcast was real, are still around now. There was the threat of war, people are afraid of invasion, people were just on edge so when the broadcast happened people were just ready to believe something. Granted it was just radio back then and newspapers. But I think people want to believe the media and the powers above them when they say something is happening and when this happened, it felt like it could happen in a way today. Maybe not in the same way. The human instincts and people’s emotional frugality hasn’t changed all that much so you never know what happens when you put fear and terror and invasions and all that stuff together. Things happen. It does feel relevant to me in a way.
If you were in a similar situation as these people, how do you think you would react. What would be your first instinct? Would you relate to any particular character or your own?
Jody Lambert: I wouldn’t say I relate to her the most but I kind of like how Peg, Anna Camp’s character, kind of goes to the dark side. I don’t think I would do that. I think I would be the person that says ‘Lets party! The world is ending!’ Kind of a more excited, frantic end-of-the-world approach versus an introspective one. I think we all would find a place inside of ourselves but I think I would go for the excitement.
Tony Hale: My character is a lot calmer than I think I’d be. I think I would be a little more of “What the hell is happening right now?”. He was pretty chill.
Heather Burns: It’s hard to know. I remember when I went skydiving one time and I didn’t really pull the string.
Tony Hale: You didn’t pull the…
Heather Burns: Luckily I was attached to a man but I went through all this training but I didn’t look at the altitude and everything. I did the signals and then I kind of just sit there.
Matt Oberg: I live in LA, so I think about earthquakes all the time. I wonder what I would do. They keep telling me ‘Well, have a plan’ but in reality I think I would just hunker down and hope it doesn’t hurt me. In terms of how I identify with my character, he isn’t really a likable guy, but I still identify with him. He is a guy that has been handed a lot of stuff, it seems and when extenuating circumstances are working to take something away from him, it just doesn’t compute. He is like ‘What? I deserve this.’ Haha, I can identify with that. To have anything taken aware from me, seems unjust.
Anna Camp: Haha, I love it. If it was in 1938, It probably wouldn’t be different than how I wouldn’t handle it now. I would definitely get lots of wine and get very drunk and try to have a little party. I’m like one of those people that would ride off the storm with a positive vibe, turn on some music and hope to god they are friendly.