YOUR LUCKY DAY Interview: Writer/Director Dan Brown and Actor Jessica Garza on American Stories, Balancing Ideas with Excitement, and Getting a Kidney Stone While Filming

Contributing Writer; Chicago, IL (@anotherKyleL)
YOUR LUCKY DAY Interview: Writer/Director Dan Brown and Actor Jessica Garza on American Stories, Balancing Ideas with Excitement, and Getting a Kidney Stone While Filming

Screen Anarchy met with filmmaker Dan Brown and actor Jessica Garza to discuss their new film Your Lucky Day, which follows several characters in a convenience store after a $156 million lottery ticket win turns from celebration to desperate fight for survival. In our review, we praised the script, filmmaking, and performances, so the interview is also an opportunity to gush to two exciting creatives about their work.

The interview includes minor spoilers and has been lightly edited.

Screen Anarchy: Thank you both for the film, I really loved it. Can you speak to the tone of it? I was amazed at how it’s such a thrilling genre piece but also incredibly grounded in reality and the desperation we all live in under American capitalism. So I’m wondering if you can talk [about] balancing that.

Dan Brown: I will try. I just love that that’s what you got out of it. I don’t know if I have anything to say that’s too profound. I think that was always the hope, that it would work in that way so it’s just wonderful to hear that that’s what you’re getting from it.

I think first and foremost I wanted to tell that kind of a story. I think I heard in an interview with Martin Scorsese talking to Roger Ebert and he calls it “some filmmakers are smugglers.” I felt like that’s sort of the thing that I was hoping this movie would do is smuggle in ideas under the guise of hopefully a fun genre piece.

But at the same time it’s still working on both levels and not doing one so that it can stop and do the other, but always in conjunction and those things make it both more fun and richer as an experience.

Absolutely. Jessica, can you talk to acting in that world? Doing these really exciting action pieces but also having these conversations of “we have a baby on the way, what do we need to do here?”

Jessica Garza: For sure. Yes, as an actor I don’t have a lot to do with tone so I just trust Dan and trust that he’s taking me in the right direction. As an actor this piece had everything. It had deep vulnerable moments, it had deep fearful moments, funny moments, very physical heroine moments, [and] it had everything in between.

I’m trying to think back. It was such a quick shoot and it was such a whirlwind. We didn’t have a lot of time so it was always about getting what we needed and moving on. So I can’t think back to the process of switching between scene to scene, tone to tone, because we just had to roll with it and do what felt right in the moment and hope that it worked out.

At least on my end, I’m sure Dan had the entire picture in his head, but for me I’m just like “Am I doing this right? Am I giving what everybody wants? Who knows?” And I’m glad that people seem to agree that it’s a great blend of so many things.

Yeah, as a viewer it doesn’t feel like you’re switching at all. It feels like there’s a real continuity of character through all these different experiences.

Jessica Garza: Perfect, then we made something real! Cause in our day to day we don’t think about that kinda stuff, so we made something real.

Day to day and making something real leads me to my next question which is: How did y’all achieve such naturalistic dialogue? I don’t know if that was a collaborative thing or if, Dan, the script was really tight? I was amazed watching it how some of the conversations people are having are, you could argue, on the nose about the issues the film is addressing. But also every single one of those conversations feels so real and so natural that it never feels didactic in any way. It feels like people stuck in a desperate situation who are having real conversations real people would have in that situation. So I’m curious, how did you all land on the words spoken, how they were spoken, and all of that?

Dan Brown: I think I can speak to some of that. A lot of that is on the page I hope. And then the other thing that I just tried to be open to with everybody, and especially Angus [Cloud], was just sort of like, if there was any part of it that didn’t sound like something they would actually say. I’m not in love with my dialogue in the way that’s like “this is the way it should be,” it’s more like “let’s have a conversation about that and if it’s not working or you’re not connecting with it, how can we make that more like something you would say?”

So I think hopefully it’s a bit of both, but again I’m just happy to hear that that’s working. Because everyone has something to say, there’s a lot of intention behind a lot of it. But hopefully it just comes across like people are having a conversation and it doesn’t feel like bullet points or like you’re hearing a piece of dialogue that you’ve heard before in the news.

So hopefully it is doing some of that but in a way that sounds like a real conversation not like a scripted, [pause] but it is scripted, I don’t know that’s weird, I’m going down a rabbit hole, Jessica take over.


Jessica, did you have anything to add as the person speaking the dialogue?

Jessica Garza: I think like Dan said it was mostly there on the page with some maybe suggestions or requests or lens of people’s own way of speaking. I think for me it mostly was on the page, I didn’t have too much to add or change or delete or whatever. For me it was all there, but there were times where, maybe some other characters or other scenes, we rearranged some stuff and played with some changes.

Absolutely. Yeah, it made me remember: I’m from LA and when I last visited there was a condo for sale for millions of dollars and right across the street there was a tent city. And I was like “if someone put this in a novel it would be too blatant, but it’s reality.” And that’s sort of how I felt about some of the dialogue in the movie and I mean that as the highest compliment.

Dan Brown: [laughter]

It’s so clear and so honest about what’s being said but it does also feel so real and so grounded so I really loved that.

Switching to something that hopefully is not so real and so everyday for people, can you talk about the portrayal of violence in the movie? I love the feel of chaos and the focus on impact and how something can so quickly go from everybody shouting to all of a sudden someone is dead. Can you talk about how you all worked on that and achieved that?

Dan Brown: Yeah, I’d love to hit Jessica on this and then I’ll jump in after cause she had a very physical role.

Jessica Garza: Yeah, it was really fun [laughter] in a fucked up way. How many times do we as humans get to “participate in violence” but not actually. You know in a safe way where everyone is taken care of and it’s safe.


As an actor I haven’t gotten to partake in a violent nature thus far in my career. In past projects I was a viewer or a spectator of violence but this time I was directly involved and it was a lot of fun and it was very cathartic.

There are some scenes in there that, if anyone has seen the movie you’ll know which ones I’m talking about, [made] my kneecaps hurt for days, my shoulders hurt for days, so many things hurt for days I wasn’t sure if I was ever gonna recover. Because when you’re doing these scenes, hopefully if you’re doing them right, you’re in the moment and you’re not really taking into account the effect it’s having on your body. That happens later.

And that was the case, these moments were so visceral, they were very cathartic. We were very safe and did it in a manner where I was allowed to really go for it. We had fake beer bottles I could use and I had fellow actors who encouraged me to go for it and were like “Don’t be scared, don’t be worried, I’m a big man I can take it,” [laughter] And it was something I hadn’t gotten to do and I had a lot of fun being able to step into what that violent world would feel like for me, for someone.

Dan Brown: On the filmmaking side, I think what you’re describing is exactly what the hope was. I love the visceral violence. I do like it in movies when [action scenes] are very stylized but I felt like the goal here was to have it be fast and quick and violent. Hope that it hits in a way that felt realistic to a point, you know it’s still a movie.

I love the 60s Sergio Leone Westerns, where there’s a focus on the moment before and the moment after, and the moment of violence itself is sort of quick. That was definitely the goal, but it was “how can we rush through some of that stuff?” because it happens really fast. I feel like violence happens in a chaotic sort of way and afterwards you’re taking stock of what just happened. As opposed to: “I have a whole plan.”

Kind of on the flipside, but also speaking to having a plan for the violence: Did you storyboard? Did you work with choreographers? I know a lot of the stuff earlier in the film is much more on that chaotic side, but there’s some stuff towards the end that feels like you must have planned things out a little bit in some way?

Dan Brown: Yeah, I definitely planned it out in a lot of ways.

Good. [laughter]

Dan Brown: Because the way this got put together was very very fast and I had about a month of prepro. So just for fun, I had storyboarded the opening action shootout sequence. Then the rest was I would do these really rough drawings every morning. That would be the shot list that I would then give to my first AD and be like “hey this is what I’m thinking of the order we should go in” and then trying to visualize it, based on that.

And a little bit of that came from the design of the store. Knowing we were gonna build these things in a certain place to allow us to do certain things in a certain order. So it was sort of like “this needs to be set up here so I have a clear line of sight for this other thing that’s gonna happen at the end of the movie.” So we had conversations like that just from a production design standpoint. So I would say it was storyboarded and it wasn’t.

But also, one of my favorite things in the movie is you have a plan and then… There’s a scene that takes place by a train at night with Elliot [Knight] and I was driving around and I knew I needed to be close to the location. We found an empty train track and I was like “we’ll shoot it here” but I knew I didn’t have enough time to do it the way I had imagined.

So one of the first things I did was think: “OK, how can I simplify my camera set-ups but still get what I want out of it?” Then we had Steve [Terada], who was just great, the stunt coordinator who worked with us and really helped everybody, really got on board with a realistic sort of violence. Like here’s what we want to do, like no one’s a Karate expert, no one’s great at this. I mean some of the characters have training but in general the goal was to be messy and sloppy in the way that people who don’t do this all the time would.

Jessica Garza: We also had a great prop guy, Red Dog. He very much helped me, who doesn’t have tons of experience with firearms do that in a way that was safe and very realistic for someone who has little to zero experience in that. So it was nice to have the expertise in Red Dog.

I know y’all have been doing a bunch of press, and I know I’m cheating a little bit here, but is there anything you haven’t been able to speak to in doing all this press that you’d love to talk about?

Dan Brown: There’s people’s names that I should’ve said and should have been saying more often that I think get kind of lost in the shuffle of all this. So like the movie wouldn’t be happening if I hadn’t met Jessica Sherman, who’s the casting director and was able to put together this amazing cast.

Honestly, this movie wouldn’t exist without Jessica. I remember her taking a chance on the script and sending it out, and her backing changed the game. And once we had a casting director, we were able to do everything else. So Jessica I would love to give a shout out to her.

My editor, I’ve talked about him once or twice, but Nicholas Pezzillo was really influential. My best friend since basically college and was there for me. I lived at his house while we were shooting, he was just there for me.

I had a rough time with some parts of this movie, just an exhaustion or I had pushed myself too far and I got a kidney stone at some point in this process. So we’re shooting nights and I wake up at maybe eight o’clock in the morning, and we had finished at six, in just incredible pain.

I struggled through it for a long time. I didn’t want to go to the ER 'cause I was like “I can’t lose time if I get COVID” and was just concerned about what could possibly go wrong. So it took me a long time to even call anybody. Anyway, I called Nick and said “I’m not doing so great, man” and he just heard my voice and was like “alright I’ll be right there.”

It was a commute to get to where I was, so I almost passed out on the floor and he showed up like “alright, we’re ready to go!” Just a great friend in that way. If I needed anything, he was there. I remember building the set and we’d lost somebody and I was like “I’m gonna need you to go pick up some stuff for the store” and he would go do that. It was just having one of those collaborators who made a big impact.

Then there’s [producers] Luke [Barnett] and Adam [Baxter] and everybody. I just feel like I want to make sure I highlight those people. And Justin Henning who was the DP on the movie was a really wonderful partner. And everyone who’s a partner. Mitchie McGhan who’s our first AD.

People who come on and really become the heart of the movie behind the scenes. It’s what you need. It was a hard shoot and then because of COVID, it was a very intense time. There wasn’t as much continuity between rolls sometimes, where we’d have a gap in one day and then you’d have to go somewhere or the dolly would have to go. So we were changing out people and then they’d come back or never come back, so having this core group of people who were really invested made all the difference in the world.

Amazing! Well, I will also thank them as someone who enjoyed the movie and I hope you’re doing better on the kidney stone front.


Dan Brown: Yeah it’s ok, it was a rough day and then like a week after we finished shooting it came back. [pause] Anyway we don’t need to go into it. [laughter] But that was the epitome of how things were going. Waking up in excruciating pain, doubled over in the bathroom being like “I don’t know, but I know I have to keep going.” So drink water before you go to bed everyone!


Jessica Garza: Important lesson! [laughter]

Dan Brown: What about for you, Jessica?

Jessica Garza: You said so many beautiful things, I feel like anything I would say after that would be garbage. I don't know, I’m trying to think. I think something that I’m so honored that Dan was very receptive to hearing us actors’ suggestions or requests or thoughts or opinions. And one that stands out to me that I don’t think we’ve talked about on this press tour is the taking off of the shoe in that monologue scene. Do you know what I’m talking about when I take off my shoes and put them back on?

Dan Brown: Yeah, I remember!

Jessica Garza: I just remember bringing this idea to you and we worked it and I love that it’s in the film. That was something we talked about day of and just did it and I love that. I love that it’s just a cute little spontaneous, but very real moment that made it into the final cut.

Awesome, thank you. Did you have any specific touchstones? Things that came to mind for me while watching: Dan, was STAGECOACH and the microcosm of society in a genre film. And then for Jessica, honestly you at some points of the movie make me think of Ripley from ALIEN. I wonder if either of you had either of those in your head at any point?


Jessica Garza: I did not but you’re not the first person to have made that comparison. I love to hear that and I will fully take that on. [laughter]

Did you have any performances that you were pulling from or inspired by?

Jessica Garza: Yeah, there were a couple. A lot of just working with myself but one performance that always stands out to me as being the ultimate badass in a very physical role is always gonna be Uma Thurman. In almost anything she does but in particular Kill Bill there’s something in her eyes that just speaks to so much. These two characters couldn’t be any more different but for some reason there’s something.


There’s a tenacity, a need to get something.

Jessica Garza: It’s just something about the will to survive in both characters that I connected to.

Dan Brown: I don’t know if I was thinking particularly of Alien. Although I did really want a strong female character and I think Alien is so internalized I don’t even think about it. But just talking about it I’m like “oh yeah.”

Because part of the goal was very much for [Jessica’s character] Ana Marlene to emerge from the background or from what you thought she was. And then at some point you’re like “oh she’s kind of taken over now.” I hope it’s very strategic, but she’s got more and more to say, and more and more to do. I think in that way, that [Alien] was on my mind in that that’s a character who started [on the side] and then took over so definitely without thinking about it it was on my mind.

But then Stagecoach, I don’t know. We’ve talked about this a little bit but it was important to me that this be a very American story and that means everybody. That can kind of come across forced sometimes and I hope it’s not here.

I’ve mentioned this idea of, we hear the history of how we came to America and everybody is an immigrant. And if you hear modern immigrant stories they’re so incredible and the things you hear that people did to get to America, just having come with these incredible stories.

I felt like within this American dream, this idea of “how far would you go for this?” is really baked into our cultural DNA. Whether or not that dream is as you hoped it’d be when you got there is another story. But I think that idea of sacrifice for the future is an American story.

Yeah I love the opening title card [which states “Based on the American Dream.”]


Dan Brown: Thank you.

The film is now available In Theaters and On Digital via various platforms. Visit Well Go USA for more information

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Dan BrownJessica GarzaAngus CloudElliot KnightThriller

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