Interviews: Director Francis Stokes Talks About His Comedy Harold Buttleman: Daredevil Stuntman

Academy Award Nominee John Hawkes (Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri) is Harold Buttleman, a small town tuxedo salesman who thinks he's the next Evel Knievel, in director Francis Stokes’ award-winning comedy Harold Buttleman: Daredevil Stuntman. 

Buttleman (Hawkes, Winter’s Bone, The Sessions) is on the brink of TV stardom, a 3 am spot on the late night cable access, but the life of a daredevil stuntman is harder than it looks. Harold's parents want him to move out of their basement and his girlfriend wants him to settle into a career selling bathtub parts. For Harold, it all depends on his big break. He gathers the entire town for his gala premiere celebration, but there's a surprise in store. An offbeat comedy about following your dreams, and the finer points of being shot out of a cannon. 

Leomark Studios presents a beautiful re-scan from 35mm film of the classic, award-winning comedy. 

An all-star cast, including Anita Barone (Curb Your Enthusiasm), Karen Black (Easy Rider) and Dan Castellaneta (The Simpsons), feature in wonderful gem of a film gets the chance to be introduced to audiences worldwide. 

Available on iTunes, Amazon and Google Play now. It’s been 17 years since writer/director Francis Stokes first started principal photography on Harold Buttleman: Daredevil Stuntman. The film gets an overdue VOD release this month. We ask the director, ‘why?’ 

TMS: We’re talking today about a film that’s… how many years ago? 

FS: We shot it in 2001, and finished it in 2003. Good thing is, people are still talking about it. 

TMS: Did you ever envision it’s long life? 

FS: Well, I hoped for it. We played the festival circuit and won some awards, but never sold to a major distributor. It was heartbreaking, because I knew this movie had an audience, if it could get out there. I went on and did a web series, God, Inc., set in the corporate offices of God - and it became a viral hit. YouTube came to me and proposed I put my feature up on their site, as part of a sponsorship deal. It was actually the first narrative feature ever uploaded to YouTube, and it was watched over a million times. But I still held out hope for a real release, like this one. 

TMS: Why was the time ripe to re-release it? 

FS: One of the reviews talked about how this feels like a 90's indie film, the kind you don't see anymore. Indie films today - the ones you actually hear about - generally have stars in them, or deal with a very serious topic. But the truly independent comedy has become a rarity. I love those movies, and I miss them. Thematically, I think the movie is even more relevant today. The basic story is anachronistic, now. Harold's longing for fame clearly exists in a pre-YouTube world. But his obsession and the lengths he'll go to for it... That's such a big part of our culture. So for those that don’t know, what’s the film about? It's a comedy about a small town tuxedo salesman who thinks he's the next Evel Knievel. But he's not. His stunts are not exactly death-defying. He gets by on his unwavering belief in himself. 

TMS: What initially appealed to you about it? 

FS: I related to it. I'm not a stuntman or a daredevil in any way, but I grew up in the Midwest with dreams of Hollywood stardom. I know what it's like to believe in yourself, and feel the pressure of questioning whether you really have what it takes. 

TMS: Would you compare the storyline to anything we’ve seen in earlier films? Anything you can say is an intentional homage?

FS: Not really - I've always identified with characters like Harold, who are fighting an uphill battle and are sort of dismissed by society. And who are a little bit deluded. I think we all have to live that way, a little bit deluded, to really believe in our dreams. 

TMS: Do you write with a budget in mind? 

FS: Yes. When we made the movie, digital filmmaking wasn't a thing yet. So the cost of shooting a movie was first and foremost about the cost of the literal film. I wrote the film to be shot partially on video, which is how Harold documents all of his daredevil antics. It makes sense for the story, but it also cut down on the cost. 

TMS: Did doors originally open for you as a result of the film?

FS: I had a lot of great experiences as a result of the film - on the festival circuit, etc. I met a lot of amazing people, some of whom I still work with. My career has had ups and downs. It's all about persistence. But no, it didn't lead to a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Yet. 

TMS: Has it all gone according to plan for you? Anything you’ll do differently next time around? 

FS: If you mean, my next movie, I'm already applying those lessons. My second feature film, Wild Honey, is currently playing the festival circuit. It's an offbeat romantic comedy about a lonely phone sex operator in Chicago who falls for one of her callers, and goes out to LA to find him. It stars Rusty Schwimmer, who plays Ronnie the bartender in Harold Buttleman, as well as Timothy Omundson, Stephnie Weir, and Todd Stashwick. But as far as going according to plan - the plan was always to keep making movies. And I'm determined to stick to it! 

TMS: Maybe a reunion sequel? 

FS: Fade In: Hospital Room. Harold Buttleman, in a full body cast... Great questions!!! Thank you so much for the Q&A. I have a small favor to ask: If you can fit the Facebook link somewhere into this article, it's the best place for readers to learn more about where and when the movie will be available. Thanks again!!!

You can read our review here.