Jake Johnson’s burning desire to safely return to a movie set in the midst of a global pandemic inspired the actor to write his newest indie comedy, “Ride the Eagle”.
“We were in the middle of the pandemic and it was long before the vaccines had come and Trent O’Donnell, who I did about 70 episodes of ‘New Girl’ with, and I just decided we wanted to make something. We missed acting, we missed filmmaking, we missed storytelling, we missed it all, so we just committed to one another that we were going to make something and pay for it ourselves,” Johnson told ET Canada.
“We put a shooting date on the schedule, we just made it up, and said no matter what, we are starting to film that day. We then figured out what we had access to in terms of equipment, and what we had access to in terms of locations, and we just started writing a movie based on what we knew we could get. We very slowly broke this story and came up with it and then wrote the movie,” he added.
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“Ride the Eagle” follows Johnson’s free spirited Leif as he learns his estranged mother Honey (Susan Sarandon) died and left him a “conditional inheritance.” Before he can move into her picturesque Yosemite cabin, he has to complete her elaborate, and sometimes dubious, to-do list, such as calling the ex-girlfriend “who got away” (spoiler: the character is played by D’Arcy Carden).
In order to get back to work without the risk of contracting COVID-19, Johnson figured out a way to write a story where the actors were never in the same room together. Though the plot tracked without even a mention of the virus, Johnson does admit it was strange to be on set by himself.
“I love acting with other actors. It’s one of the things I like most about it. I like connecting, and I think a lot of actors are really fun to be in the same space with, but we knew in this movie we couldn’t do that. We knew going in there would be certain restrictions, and we did a lot of rehearsals,” Johnson said.
“D’Arcy Carden and I are never in the same space, but we’re very connected in it so we spent tons of time rehearsing together,” Johnson added. “We did tons of Zooms so we could find each other’s rhythms because when we shot those scenes, she wasn’t there for mine, and I wasn’t there for hers, so we had to remember what the other one did. We had time to write this script. It was not an improvised movie. We had time to rehearse this script, we just didn’t have a lot of time together to shoot this script, so it was opposite of a lot of projects.”
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Adhering to country wide restrictions, the small crew opted out of a hotel for the cabin they were shooting in and traded restaurant outings for home cooked meals.
“We all stayed together. In that year of the pandemic when there was no going out, we weren’t sure about hotels so we had to bring food because there weren’t restaurants so we packed coolers and took turns making dinners and breakfasts and packing sandwiches like kids again,” Johnson said. “Our crew was only seven members deep when we were up in the mountains so we didn’t have a lot of people. We were a really tight unit and we all helped each other make everything work.”
Since it was a quick shoot, Johnson and the crew didn’t have a lot of one-on-one time with Mother Nature so they embraced her while the cameras were rolling.
“The enjoyment for Trent and I doing this movie was when we realized we were up in Yosemite making a movie,” Johnson said. “So while he’s doing a drone shot and I’m kayaking on the lake, it wasn’t lost on us that I was on a lake, and I was kayaking, and they were filming it. We did absorb as much beauty as we could while we were working.”
Johnson hopes viewers find beauty in embracing one another again after screening his film.
“I think the message would just be to remember how nice it is to be around people again, and even if it’s people you didn’t always agree with, it’s okay to forgive and go back to the fun parts without dissecting everything that was bad,” Johnson said. “Honey and Leif had a rocky relationship. They were both wrong, but the message that I really wanted in this in terms of the characters is that he would have had a lot of fun with his mom, like all the paintings that she did, her style, her comedy. She was a fun woman, but he was so mad about stuff from so long ago that he selfishly missed out on fun so the only message would be to selfishly forgive people so that you can have more enjoyment.”
Decal will release “Ride the Eagle” in theatres, on demand and digital on July 30.