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David Cross Makes a Seamless Move to Director with the Dark Comedy Hits

Matt Walsh in David Cross’ Hits

Jeremy Kinser

Hits premiered last January at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival and screens again at Sundance London beginning Saturday, April 26. 

Familiar as a reliably hilarious and popular presence in sitcoms such as Arrested Development, sketch comedy series like Mr. Show, as well as dozens of feature films, award-winning comic actor David Cross has gradually been expanding his résumé. In 2013 he offered an acclaimed dramatic turn as the father of poet Allen Ginsberg in the Sundance hit Kill Your Darlings. It was while attending the 2013 Sundance Film Festival that Cross became inspired to write and direct a film of his own. Some 12 months later we have Hits, a dark-edged comedy that explores the nature of fame in 21st Century YouTube-obsessed America.

“Hits” is constructed on a very intriguing premise. What inspired it?

David Cross: Well, it’s an idea I’ve had kicking around for a while, but the impetus to sit down, write it and say this is my next project came directly from last year’s Sundance. I’ve been to three of them now. Last year I saw two films that really bothered me and angered me, that I thought were just garbage, while a friend had a film rejected by Sundance that I thought was so much better. So I thought, “Fuck this. I’m going to write a movie that I can make for under a million dollars.” It was not necessarily to get it into Sundance, although I’m thrilled that it is. I decided I would stop complaining about this stuff and make my own. I had a hundred ideas and this one felt like a cheaper, easier to make movie. It was shot around where I live in upstate New York, so a lot of those locations are places that friends have. I stayed at my house through production and had other people stay there. It was about putting my money where my mouth is, in other words.

You’ve been a prolific writer in a number of arenas for many years, but had you always planned to eventually direct a film?

The writing and directing were part and parcel. I knew I was going to direct this thing I wrote. The impetus was returning from Sundance and just sitting down and writing this script.

How does the sensibility of “Hits” compare to some of your previous work?

It’s not as overtly funny or silly or broad or arch as some of the other things I’ve done. The similarity it shares is that it tells a story, which is important to me as a viewer and consumer of entertainment. I like there to be a story. It’s not quite as funny as people think it may be. It has moments. We just screened it for the cast and crew and a comment I heard a number of times was “yeah, it’s a little darker than I expected.” The darkness was always there on the page, but while we were editing it we found ourselves taking out a little of the comedy here and there to balance the story.

Many of your past costars and fellow comic actors appear in the film. Did you just send the script out to your friends?

The bigger roles that were cast were the leads, the boy and the girl. I don’t know that world of actors and actresses, but pretty much everyone else is a friend who I sent the script to. I said, “I’m making this film, do you want to do it?” There are a handful of people I wrote it with them in mind. I wrote it with Matt Walsh in mind; Amy Carlton, and Jeff Waters I had in mind while I was writing it. Then after I finished writing it I sent it to friends and they all came aboard.

Your Arrested Development costar Michael Cera has a cameo and says he just walked to the set from his house.

Yeah, we shot 16 days upstate and three days in Brooklyn. A few of those days I walked to set as well. It was a seven-minute walk to the set from my apartment.

Is there a message you’re imparting with the film?

I’m not trying to change anyone’s opinion or change any kind of behavior or make a social commentary that will ignite a movement or anything. It’s just my somewhat sweet-and-sour take on youth and pop culture and the lack of meritocracy in what people decide has entertainment value. I just want the audience to enjoy it and maybe it will stay with you for a little bit and that’s really all I can hope for.

You’re also acting in Jenny Slate’s “Obvious Child”, which is also premiering at Sundance and screening at Sundance London.

I haven’t seen it, but I’m a big fan of Jenny Slate and I’ve known her in the comedy community for a long time. I was sent the script and I didn’t even have to read it. I said, “Sure.” I imagine that was a similar process as with my movie. She sent it out to friends.

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