The Peanut Butter Falcon

 In Music/Entertainment, OBX Community

Editor’s Note: The Peanut Butter Falcon opened across the country in mid-August to glowing reviews. Movie makers Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz even participated in some Q&A following the playing of the movie here on the Outer Banks. We, at My Outer Banks Home, are very pleased and proud to present to you the interview that Rebecca Orr conducted prior to their premiere.

There is palpable power in the movie The Peanut Butter Falcon. The power of self-actualization, determination, and heart. Passion is energy, and it gives you power. Power to move your world forward by sheer will, determination, and belief, as a force of human nature.

I have a little sign on my desk that resonates within me: “ Follow your passion, follow your dreams, but most of all, follow your heart.” The Peanut Butter Falcon, a new movie released in August, has that heart factor all over it. Both in its story and in the story of its creation. It is a tale of the self-actualization of believing in, and following your dreams. Pushing on even though everything tells you “no!” Then going past that and even further, because you know it rings true for you.

It’s the love, support, and help from friends and family of your choosing. It’s not just the hand of people you were dealt in life. There’s more that makes a dream’s journey worth your greatest effort to achieve. So it is for Zak (Zack Gottsagen), the main character of this tale, as well as for its co-writers/directors, Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. In both cases, their passions are the energy which creates the film’s power.

A love story to the Outer Banks

The Peanut Butter Falcon is set in the Southeast and partially filmed locally on the Outer Banks. It’s about a 22 year old with Down Syndrome named Zak. Zak’s family has abandoned him to a nursing home of old folks. Zak’s dream, his passion, is to become a professional wrestler and study with his idol, “The Salt Water Redneck.” Zak has two failed escape attempts from the home. He is then labeled as a flight risk by his care giver, Eleanor. Undaunted, and with the help of his cantankerous roommate, Carl, Zak and Carl instigate an elaborate escape plan to launch Zak’s journey to his wrestling dream. Zak ventures forth on his quest wearing only his underwear. His heart and his purpose are geared to battle the world. Eleanor, sets off to find Zak and to bring him back, turning him into a hunted man.

Meanwhile, Tyler, a hard luck tidewater fisherman, has been in a downward spiral since the death of his brother. He destroys some fishing equipment of local crabber Duncan. Now Tyler goes on the lam with Duncan out for blood and on his trail. By chance, the intrepid pair of Zak and Tyler meet and decide to flee together. The inevitability of a bond begins to form between the two. The outlaw Tyler promises to get Zak to his destination, to realize his dream, no matter what. A rafting trip worthy of Huck Finn ensues. It’s a buddy movie as if Mark Twain had written Rainman.

About The Peanut Butter Falcon Writers/Directors

We don’t usually realize, until we get there, that the act of moving toward our dreams is, ultimately, the destination of our journey. That journey is the purpose of our effort. It is true for Zak and Tyler on their quest, as it was for the creators of The Peanut Butter Falcon, co-writers/directors, Tyler Nilson and Michael Schwartz. The movie had its world premiere at South by Southwest on March 9th of this year, and received the Narrative Spotlight Audience Award. A checkmark in the dream column!

About Tyler Nilson, an OBX native

Tyler Nilson is a born and bred Outer Banker. Raised in Colington, and a 2000 graduate of Manteo High School, he describes this film as many things, but most of all, “it’s a love story to my hometown.” He adds, “That community…was influential in my growing up, and I am grateful to have written a story that honors that.” Particularly, Nilson grew up loving old surf films and dreaming of telling his own stories (much like young OBX local Logan Marshall). Specifically, making films of his own. It was in his early 20s that Nilson moved to California to seek a film career, after a stint as an adventurer in the South Pacific. 

About Co-Writer/Director Michael Schwartz

Michael Schwartz is a producer and filmmaker from Northern California. In 2014, Schwartz and Nilson co-founded their production company that they named Lucky Treehouse. Together they make both films and commercials. Their initial independent film was a 2014 short entitled, The Moped Diaries. That film was also filmed in Nilson’s beloved Outer Banks, on a very small budget, and with the major help of family, friends, and Wanchese locals. “Our community gave help to one of their own with warm, open generosity, yet asking nothing in return,” Nilson said. Nilson takes great pride in his heritage and the plain fact: “that’s who we are on the Outer Banks.”

The challenge of The Peanut Butter Falcon for Nilson and Schwartz has been a five year effort of love and persistence, surmounting great odds by will, determination, and hard work to move their film to fruition. Nilson considers this film his “PhD in movies.” Initially, the filmmaking duo met Zack Gottsagen while volunteering at a camp for disabled artists. It was Gottsagen’s dream to become an actor, so Nilson and Schwartz decided to craft their story around him.

Production of The Peanut Butter Falcon

Lucky Treehouse Productions produced a charming and intriguing 5 minute trailer for The Peanut Butter Falcon as “proof of concept.” In essence, an enticing advertisement for the film so compelling that you would want to see more. On the strength of that notion, Nilson and Schwartz were able to obtain financing, which turned out to be no easy feat according to Nilson. As a whole, everything was challenging about it.

“Convincing somebody to give us millions of dollars to make ‘art’…They’d be banking on guys who hadn’t yet made anything (no major film), were movie nobodies, and had a Down Syndrome lead actor…Nothing was guaranteed.” Fortunately, Armory Films led by Christopher Lemole, came on board as producers, and the burgeoning film was enhanced by the line-up of their notable cast, which includes:  Shia LaBeouf, Dakota Johnson, Bruce Dern, Thomas Haden Church, John Hawkes, Jon Bernthal, former WWE stars Mick Foley and Jake Roberts, and rapper Yelawolf.

Thanks to more Outer Banks involvement

Another Outer Banks native is also involved in The Peanut Butter Falcon. Melissa Walker, best friend and Manteo High School classmate of Tyler Nilson (and daughter of Marie Walker, who worked many years for our parent publishing company, Three Dog Ink), serves as the costume designer for the film. An alumnus of UNC-Chapel Hill, Walker also studied costume history for a year in the art mecca of Florence, Italy.

Melissa Walker’s task for this movie was to create costumes that were “real and natural” for all the characters. This entailed “color palettes, mood boards, light packages, and patina tones.” Walker also said, “The film itself created a family atmosphere.” The most challenging facet of the film, she thought, was the water work…”Coordinating boats, the heat, racing daylight, and bugs”. But “the challenges were met by such kind, good people…who watched out for each other.” 

Tyler Nilson was effusive in his thanks and appreciation to the Wanchese locals who assisted in their film. Winki and Nancy Silver: They built the raft in Winki’s junkyard, and Nancy sewed the sheets for its sail, among numerous other things. Neil and Sharon Carrigan, for the loan of a truck for a couple of months. Nilson also thanked Bree Voyavich, the kids of Baumtown Road, and many others. Folks who “just wanted to be a part of it and help.”

Where on the Outer Banks was The Peanut Butter Falcon filmed?

Wanchese and Baumtown Road were the main locations for the part of the film that was shot in North Carolina. Contrarily, the balance was filmed in Savannah, Georgia, because North Carolina’s film incentives had been canceled.

Making films is a business, not only an expression of art. As such, it is a business that can bring local communities financial boons for their economic growth. For the most part producers of films look for states that participate in tax incentive programs. Markedly, this assists in funding their processes. That is why the production moved to Georgia. Ultimately, it wasn’t until 2018 that North Carolina had reinstated their incentive program for filmmaking.

Follow your heart to the movie theater, folks. Believe the dream! I can guarantee your heart will be lighter and a smile will be on your face after you see The Peanut Butter Falcon. ♦

Rebecca Orr is a transplant to the Outer Banks from the Midwest. She is here following her heart, passion, and dream to become a writer. And, of course, to find buried pirate treasure. Comments, questions, and treasure maps can be emailed to:

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