J.D. DILLARD director/co-writer first turned up Hollywood’s interest when his breakout script “The Death of John Archer Newman” was featured on the Hit List, an annual collection of the industry’s highest voted screenplays, and put him on the year’s Young and Hungry list. Dillard and his writing partner, Alex Theurer, struck lighting and went on to set up a science fiction coming-of-age film with Paramount Pictures and JJ Abram’s production company, Bad Robot. Dillard stepped behind-the-camera with “Sleight,” his directorial debut, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and sold to Blumhouse & WWE.
On the surface director and co-writer J.D. Dillard’s indie film “Sleight” might be viewed as deceptively simple; it is not. Co-written with his writing partner Alex Theurer, starring rising young thespian, Jacob Latimore is all about magic and it’s impact on the believers and non-believers alike.
Opening wide April 28th, the quirky family-suspense-drama-supernatural thriller focuses on charismatic Bo, a gifted street magician whose ability to dazzle is considered “supernatural” and mysteriously authentic: how did he do that? Bo is great at hiding in plain sight and as an African American kid whose selling drugs on the side, to help support his himself and his little sister, orphaned after the death of their mother, magic is the best way to survive and stay together as a family.
Skillfully made with an untidy neophyte spin, Dillard does manage to create a unique and intimate portrait of disfranchised people in modern Los Angeles with that magical twist filled with paradoxical characters that take the ordinary and kicks it to the curb: bam!
“Just say no to drugs” is not easy when you are broke, under age and trying to be the sole bread winner and the emotional foundation left by the absence of a mother and father.
Here is a brief excerpt that director/co-screenwriter J.D. Dillard had to say about “Sleight” and his new project, the remake of the iconic film “The Fly.”
LA SENTINEL (LAS): The casting of Jacob Latimore in the lead role (Bo) made was tremendous.
What makes Bo special?
J.D. Dillard (JD) Thank you. My writing parter Alex Theurer and I knew it was important to strike a balance, with that character, somewhere between the familiar and the fantastic. In so many stories, we’ve seen the young black kid who needs to resort to drug dealing. While it may seem overused, we wanted to hit this trope with a sense of empathy. Bo has everything going for him. He’s a brilliant student, a talented magician, and a role model to his little sister. When he loses his parents, a harsh reality sets in – maintaining a decent life for his sister is going to require personal sacrifice. Jacob understood it and he brought that understanding to the screen.
LAS: “Sleight” has a lot of quirky plot twists and magic —dare I say — is a character as well. Thoughts.
JD: Magic’s always been a part of my life. It’s something I’ve loved since I was a kid. You know, “Sleight” actually started as a short script – something Alex (Theurer, co-writer) and I wrote just for fun. Then we realized that there was this natural relationship between magic and crime: they both require a certain degree of deception and that was became the premise for this film.
LAS: Was it hard to show magic on screen? I believed it. In fact, I feel there is a possible franchise set up in “Sleight” like maybe Bo is becoming a new superhero. Thoughts.
JD: Wow. You got all that? Interesting. I can’t share about a possible franchise. On creating magic on screen it was challenging and delicate. We are updating traditional sleight-of-hand magic and aligning with modern day street sensibility. Thankfully we discovered Fontaine, aka Zach Meuller who is a magician and practices the growing art of ‘cardistry,’ which means those fancy shuffles, the acrobatic cuts, the cards flying and the things that really shape and create illusion and awe.
LAS: How did your journey into film begin? Who were your early influences?
JD: Great question. My first jobs was at JJ Abrams’ production company Bad Robot (2010) where I was hired as the company’s receptionist. I learned a lot, naturally, because JJ Abrams is a director of great talent. I admire his temperament and his entire presence is inspiring. I think that’s part of the reason there’s a palpable energy on [J.J.] his sets. People are happy and excited to all be bringing the vision to life. I’d love to bring that energy to my own sets.
LAS: What’s next? According to Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, Fox is developing the re-boot of “The Fly” — with you behind the camera. True or False? No “sleight” answer
JD:(laughing) Perhaps. I am a big fan of David Cronenberg‘s classic film, “The Fly,” which he made in 1986. 20th Century Fox is developing the horror/sci-fi classic for a brand new audience. The 1986 version was also a remake from the 1958 B-movie classic. I grew up watching and admiring “The Fly” and “The Thing.” Remaking [“The Fly’} is such a high bar for any creative filmmaker to clear but because of the rich source material, it’s a great place to begin.
If a remake is going to be successful, they’re going to need to do what Cronenberg did with his reboot — have something new and relevant to say about technology and deliver some gnarly creature effects and utilize the best of the new technology, pushing that even further.
Perhaps. I am a big fan of David Cronenberg‘s 1986 horror/sci-fi classic, “The Fly” which 20th Century Fox has been developing for a new audience. Itself was a remake from a 1958 B-movie classic in 1986. I grew up adoring the 1980s versions of “The Fly” and “The Thing.” This is a high bar for any filmmaker to clear but it’s also a huge opportunity to play with some rich material. If a remake is going to be successful, they’re going to need to do what Cronenberg did with his reboot — have something new and relevant to say about technology (and deliver some gnarly creature effects (in audible) and used the very best technology, pushing it even further.